The 4 Pillars Of Pre-Season Rugby Fitness: Part 1 – VO2 Max

runningThere are many different factors that will determine a rugby player’s endurance and ability to maintain the same tempo and intensity throughout the entire 80 minutes. But studies show there are two key components of endurance that when improved can have a dramatic impact on overall performance; these two are your ‘VO2 Max’ and your ‘Muscular Endurance’. In the first of a series of four articles, we speak to the Sports Scientists at to see how you can improve during pre-season training to ensure your conditioning is far superior to the opposition once the whistle blows.

Experts have long known that your lung capacity (VO2 or maximal oxygen uptake) is a main determinant of your aerobic fitness (your ability to maintain a steady work rate for a prolonged period of time.) As far back as 1985, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that lung capacity was potential predictor of performance in elite middle distance runners training for the 1984 Olympic Games. It’s measured using something called your VO2 max, or maximal oxygen uptake, and it’s essentially the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilise during intense or maximal exercise. As previously stated, a rugby player’s VO2 max is the one factor that can determine their capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to aerobic endurance. Put simply the higher your V02 max, the better your cardiovascular fitness. It’s measured in millimetres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight per minute and the highest ever recorded VO2 max is 94 ml/kg/min in men and 77 ml/kg/min in women. Both were cross-country skiers. Elite athletes usually have a V02 of 70 ml/kg/min and the average person has a VO2 Max of around 35 ml/kg/min.

So how can rugby players increase their VO2 Max? Well, firstly sports scientists are quick to point out it must be achieved through ‘consistent aerobic conditioning’, put more simply this means getting on the treadmill or out onto the road 3-6 times a week and clocking up the miles is the best way to train the cardio respiratory system (heart, lungs…etc). Perhaps a better training method than this though was proposed by French exercise physiologist Veronique Billat who found that the fastest way to reach your cardiovascular potential is to run intervals at a speed that elicits your VO2 max, a pace known in lab circles as ‘velocity’. This pace is equivalent to 3,000-meter pace or the fastest effort you can maintain for about 8 minutes. To reap a training benefit, however, you only need to sustain that pace for 2 to 5 minutes.

proteinResearch conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Centre shows that you can increase your V02 Max from the comfort of your kitchen. Studies found that consuming a lot of fish such as salmon, herring, rainbow trout and tuna can improve lung capacity since they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs. This idea was later supported by the Linus Pauling Institute that discovered consuming omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in people who suffer from asthma. If fish isn’t for you, you can buy soft gels of Omega 3 from The Protein Works.

Further research at The University of Maryland Medical Centre found that people who suffer from chronic lung diseases are often deficient in a number of antioxidants and vitamins and that ensuring you have a sufficient supply in your diet could greatly help to reduce the amount of stress on your lungs and increase your lung capacity. Specifically mentioned throughout a lot of studies is Vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant.) In fact in one study conducted at Cornell University, it was found that dietary vitamin C may protect against the loss of pulmonary function i.e. your ability to inhale and exhale air.

Coming soon… ‘Muscular Endurance: The Pillars Of Pre-Season Fitness’

proteinBy Sports Scientist Ross Edgley