Figure 1. Rugby sevens fixture. The matching colours correspond to one leg where tournaments are interspersed by one week. Each is separated by 4 to 6 weeks.Specific to the physical demands, Rugby sevens is highly demanding from a metabolic and neuromuscular standpoint. Indeed, a game is very short and sharp (2*7min with 2 min half time). During those periods, players are required to perform high-intensity actions such as sprints, changes of direction, accelerations, tackles and so on. Over a tournament, a player runs between 20-25 km and 25% of this total distance will be performed at high-intensity (i.e. above 18 km.h-1 in our set-up). This suggest an important contribution of the anaerobic glycolytic pathway and neuromuscular system. Of course, the tournament format also requires a well-developed aerobic system in order to be able to maintain such a high activity over the entire tournament. Indeed, if you make a comparison with Rugby Union, the sum total of the sevens game performed over the entire tournament elicits a higher external load. HIIT Science: What are the main physical qualities you target? JR: A Rugby sevens player needs a well developed anaerobic and neuromuscular system, without neglecting the aerobic development. However, it is important to consider the tactics that coaches want to apply. This influences your whole physical development program. Here, we think that speed development is the key factor to work on based on our game plan. Hence, an important emphasis for us is put on anaerobic glycolytic development and the ability to repeat high-intensity efforts, such as sprint and combat activities (ruck, tackles etc). HIIT Science: What are the key HIIT weapons you use to develop an elite Rugby sevens player? JR: Regarding the HIIT weapons, it depends mainly on the period of the season (preseason vs in season). Indeed, during the early stage of preseason, we use mainly some short and long intervals to stimulate mainly the aerobic pathway, and we build these up to higher intensity with proper progression. Those strategies are also used during return-to-play periods when a player is injured. However, we shift quite early toward developing the ability to repeat high-intensity efforts through repeated sprint (or mixed with combat) ability or sprint interval training, as explained in HIIT Science. Additionally, we also use small-sided games, and we use this approach often because it aligns with our tactical goals and works nicely for Rugby 7s.
HIIT Science: How do you manipulate physiological responses to HIIT sessions? JR: It is an important part of the job because these manipulations allow us to align with the desired physiological target of our sessions or training blocks (as shown in the figure below).
Camp d’entraînement qui se termine fort 💥💪🏼 avec une belle séance énergétique pour #France7 🇫🇷 @FranceRugby #lactique #HIIT @hiitscience @Marvin_Oconnor @SachaValleau @terrybouhraoua Merci @staderochelais pour leur accueil et les échanges avec les joueurs et staff 🏉 🟡⚫️ pic.twitter.com/XT1DobVs70— Julien Robineau (@JulienRobineau) February 21, 2020
Figure 2. Key structural and metabolic targets of importance with HIIT, including the aerobic oxidative system, the anaerobic glycolytic system, and the neuromuscular system.First, it can be easily done by adjusting the training load related to the session by manipulating the total volume of the session. As we know, the intensity and recovery allow us to target either more aerobic or anaerobic demands. Due to the high running demands related to rugby sevens training we have also an important focus on the neuromuscular load related to the session. For example, if we observe at the end of the week through our monitoring process that players are experiencing serious DOMS, we will adapt the session by decreasing the number of changes of direction or the number sprints. Likewise, we can completely switch the plan and propose off-feet conditioning or even a swimming session in order to decrease this neuromuscular strain. HIIT Science: How do you balance game-based-HIIT and other HIIT weapons? JR: Once again it will depend mainly on the period of the season. The proportion is more in favour of formal HIIT Weapons at the start and we move toward more small-sided games as we approach the competitive period. In season, it is exclusively a small-sided games approach with individual top-ups as necessary. HIIT Science: Tactical periodization: How do you align physical, technical and tactical content with coaches? JR: It is an important point and in fact crucial. It is very important to make the sessions blend seamlessly. Indeed, while the tactical content must be appropriate for this specific period, it might not be the case for some of the physiological aspects. This is where working as a staff is very important. Here, my main input will be to guide and advise concerning the variables (number of players, pitch size, contact or not), which may affect the physiological responses – this is done in alignment with the present physiological objectives. HIIT Science: Random question… is there any particular HIIT session throughout your S&C carer that you remember vividly? JR: Hahaha… this is a tough one as there are so many! If I have to choose, it would be the following. It was just before the first tournament of the season in Dubai 2019-2020. It was a session in the environmental chamber with the whole team. We reproduced similar conditions as Dubai (40°C), and did 3 blocks of 5*6sec sprints on the bike interspersed randomly with long sprints (30 sec). While nothing may be considered out of the ordinary compared with the usual session, we decided to display video highlights across the former season, and this was a game changer! In fact, players were so excited to view their previous season that it made the session unbelievable, with full commitment, great team support, good fun and massive intensity. Perhaps motivation and other psychological aspects for some variables are not manipulated enough in our practice. HIIT Science: How do you monitor training load? JR: Like most of my colleagues around the world, I use GPS technology to gain a global overview concerning the external load. Regarding internal load, RPE is a must I feel, as it allows inclusion of gym work. I used to use many different monitoring tools to assess the response to the load (CMJ, CPK, sleep etc). However, I have since reduced drastically the number of methods employed due to the burden of it all, and the lack of player buy-in sometimes. I’m using a wellness questionnaire on a weekly or fortnightly basis. On top of that, I make sure I maintain a regular chat with each player throughout the week. Additionally, I have an assistant sport scientist (Nicolas Lopez) who helps me a lot, and I could not do the job without him. HIIT Science: Do you consider any non-training interferences? JR: Yes, we do. It is something we neglected in the past but the further we go, the more we notice its importance. Based on the fixture, we could be qualified as a “sport nomad”. Indeed, we are away more than 6 months per year, and even more so when it is Olympics or world cup time. This can affect some players who are far from their families and this need to be considered in our context. Consequently, we try to give our players as much time with their family as we can. To achieve that, we provide more and more home-based programs in order to keep them in shape, and it seems we have a good buy-in from the team. Another point we consider is what we refer to as the “double project “(combined academic and sport career). Some of our players follow such pathways and need to be guided, or need additional support. From an S&C/training perspective, this can be achieved through small adjustments in the program (individual session, recovery). HIIT Science: We would like to thank Julien for his time, insight and thorough answers. If you want to follow his work, check out some of the useful links below: Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulienRobineau ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Julien_Robineau2 Online course: The Application of High-Intensity Interval Training for Rugby 7s