As part of their preparation for their tour to South Africa, the Lions have been hitting altitude training, hard. Paul ‘Bobby’ Stridgeon explains how preparing for the altitude in Johannesburg is vitally important to their chances of success on tour, but also how altitude training helps to improve the players performance at sea level as well.
On his fourth Lions tour, and also the Head of Performance for the Welsh RFU, he knows a thing or two about preparing for test match rugby, and altitude training has been a key part of it for a long time.
So how will altitude training benefit the Lions?
Team sports, and especially rugby, rely on the ability to produce high intensity efforts repeatedly, with minimal recovery. Think about sprinting to the breakdown, hitting the ruck, and getting back to your feet as quickly as possible again across multiple phases until there is a break in play.
To improve the players’ ability to do this, they’ll undertake repeated sprint training in hypoxic conditions, replicating 3-4000m of altitude using our altitude generators, even if the test match is being played at sea level. This is known as repeated sprints in hypoxia, or RSH for short, and involves short sprints of 10s with incomplete recoveries of 20s on the Wattbike. When conducted at altitudes of 3500m, research has shown this training improved peak and mean sea level and altitude power output by 10% in elite rugby players – in as little as 2 weeks! This is vitally important to get the players up to test match speed quickly during a short training camp.
An example of a session may be three sets of 8 x 10s sprints, with 20s recoveries. Brutal on its own, but it quite literally takes the session to a whole new level when you add the 3500m of altitude.
Acclimatising for Johannesburg…
Now imagine sprinting to the breakdown, hitting the ruck, and getting back to your feet as quickly as possible again across multiple phases until there is a break in play, when the amount of oxygen available to you is reduced by ~15%. When the Lions play the second and third tests at Johannesburg, situated at an altitude of 1700m, the air will be thinner, and the amount of oxygen available reduced, which can impact physical performance pretty significantly. We use a similar method of training with mountaineers heading to high altitude, allowing them to acclimate before travelling with our altitude generators, or in our London based altitude chamber. The hypoxic training with the altitude generators helps to kickstart the acclimatisation process so the effect of altitude on performance is reduced when playing in South Africa.
As well as the performance benefits for the players, Paul ‘Bobby’ Stridgeon will be looking to benefit from the acclimatisation prior to travel, in order to minimise the effect of altitude on the players while in South Africa.
Take a look behind the scenes below: