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Enhancing the Initial Acceleration Performance of Elite Rugby Backs. Part I: Determining Individual Technical Needs

James J. Wild, Ian N. Bezodis, Jamie S. North, and Neil E. Bezodis

Purpose: This study sought to quantify the within-individual relationships between spatiotemporal variables and initial acceleration sprint performance in elite rugby backs and to establish a normative data set of relevant strength-based measures. Methods: First, the spatiotemporal variables, ratios of step length to step rate and of contact time to flight time, and initial acceleration performance were obtained from 35 elite male rugby backs (mean [SD] age 25 [3] y) over the first 4 steps of 3 sprints. Angular and linear kinematic aspects of technique and strength-based qualities were collected from 25 of these participants. Second, the same spatiotemporal variables were collected from 19 of the participants on 3 further occasions (12 trials in total) to determine the within-individual associations of these variables and initial acceleration performance. Results: Moderate to very large meaningful within-individual relationships (|r| = .43–.88) were found between spatiotemporal variables and initial acceleration performance in 17 of the 19 participants. From these relationships, a theoretically “desirable” change in whole-body kinematic strategy was individually determined for each participant, and normative strength-based measures to contextualize these were established. Conclusions: Meaningful within-individual relationships are evident between sprint spatiotemporal variables and initial acceleration performance in elite rugby backs. Individualized approaches are therefore necessary to understand how aspects of technique relate to initial acceleration performance. This study provides an objective, evidence-based approach for applied practitioners to identify the initial acceleration technical needs of individual rugby backs.

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Longitudinal Development of Physical Characteristics and Function in Japanese Junior Rugby Union Players

Akira Kumazaki, Tomomi Fujimoto, and Yuiko Matsuura

Purpose: To longitudinally investigate the development of physical characteristics and function during 3 years of high school among Japanese junior rugby players and examine the differences in these parameters between the positions. Methods: In 83 junior rugby players (forwards: n = 46, backs: n = 37) from one Japanese high school team who had participated in national high school competitions, anthropometric variables (height, body mass, fat and lean body mass, and body mass index), upper- and lower-body strength (eg, 1-repetition-maximum [1RM] bench press, isokinetic knee muscle strength at 60°/s and 180°/s), and sprint and jump performance were measured. Upper- and lower-body strength relative to body mass and lean body mass were also calculated. Results: All anthropometric indices improved with increasing age, and the values were higher in forwards than in backs (all P < .05). The 1-repetition maximum bench press (forwards: 40.8%, backs: 52.5%) and isokinetic knee strength (eg, extension at 60°/s, forwards: 15.4%, backs: 10.0%) improved with age (from 16 to 18 y), and they were higher in forwards than in backs (all P < .05). Meanwhile, the 1RM bench press relative to lean body mass did not differ between the positions. Isokinetic knee muscle strength at 60°/s and 180°/s relative to lean body mass and sprint and jump performance did not improve with age. Conclusion: These results indicate that Japanese junior rugby players need to develop larger physiques and continuously increase their lower-body strength to improve sprint and jump performance.

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Rugby Players Exhibit Stiffer Biceps Femoris, Lower Biceps Femoris Fascicle Length to Knee Extensors, and Knee Flexors to Extensors Muscle Volume Ratios Than Active Controls

Gokhan Yagiz, Nami Shida, Hironobu Kuruma, Masahiro Furuta, Koji Morimoto, Mutsuo Yamada, Tatsuji Uchiyama, Hans-Peter Kubis, and Julian A. Owen

Purpose: This study aimed to determine if hamstring-strain-injury risk factors related to muscle structure and morphology differed between rugby union players and controls. Methods: The biceps femoris long head (BFlh) fascicle length and passive muscle stiffness and relative and absolute muscle volume of knee flexors (KF) and extensors (KE) were measured in 21 male subelite rugby players and 21 male physically active nonathletes. Results: BFlh fascicle length was significantly longer (mean difference [MD] = 1.6 [1.7] cm) and BFlh passive muscle stiffness was significantly higher in rugby players (MD = 7.8 [14.8] kPa). The absolute BFlh (MD = 71.9 [73.3] cm3), KF (MD = 332.3 [337.2] cm3), and KE (MD = 956.3 [557.4] cm3) muscle volumes were also significantly higher in rugby players. There were no significant differences in the relative BFlh and KF muscle volumes. The relative KE muscle volumes were significantly higher in rugby players (MD = 2.3 [3.7] cm3/kg). However, the percentage BFlh fascicle length:KE (MD = −0.1% [0.1%]), BFlh/KE (MD = −0.9% [1.9%]), and KF:KE (MD = −4.9% [5.9%]) muscle volume ratios were significantly lower in the rugby players. BFlh muscle volume significantly correlated with BFlh fascicle length (r = .59, r 2 = .35) and passive muscle stiffness (r = .46, r 2 = .21). Conclusion: Future prospective studies should examine whether there are threshold values in BFlh passive muscle stiffness and BFlh fascicle length:KE, BFlh:KE, and KF:KE muscle volume ratios for predicting hamstring strain injuries.

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Training and Competition Loads in Women’s Rugby Sevens Athletes: Are There Implications for Cardiovascular Health?

Luca Napoli, Stuart Semple, and Andrew J. McKune

National- and international-level rugby sevens athletes are exposed to high training and competition loads over the course of a competitive season. Research on load monitoring and body-system responses is widespread; however, the primary focus has been on optimizing performance rather than investigating or improving cardiovascular health. There is a degree of cardiovascular remodeling, as well as local and systemic inflammation, in response to excessive exercise. These responses are moderated by many factors including previous exercise exposure, current exercise intensity and duration, age, race, and gender, as well as sport-specific physiology. For these reasons, high-performing female rugby sevens athletes may have a unique cardiovascular risk profile different from males and other rugby codes. This review aimed to characterize the training and competition loads, as well as the anthropometric and physiological profiles, of female rugby sevens athletes; discuss the potential impacts these may have on the cardiovascular system; and provide recommendations on future research regarding the relationship between rugby sevens training and competition loads and cardiovascular health. Movement demands, competition formatting, and training routines could all contribute to adverse cardiovascular adaptations. Anthropometric data and physiological characteristics may also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Future research needs to adopt measures of cardiovascular health to obtain a greater understanding of cardiovascular profiles and risk factors in female rugby sevens athletes.

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Effects of 2 Different Protocols of Repeated-Sprint Training in Hypoxia in Elite Female Rugby Sevens Players During an Altitude Training Camp

Janne Bouten, Maxime Brick, Antoine Saboua, Jean-Loup Hadjadj, Julien Piscione, Chloé Margot, Gregory Doucende, Nicolas Bourrel, Grégoire P. Millet, and Franck Brocherie

Objectives: Repeated-sprint training in hypoxia (RSH) is an effective way of improving physical performance compared with similar training in normoxia. RSH efficiency relies on hypoxia severity, but also on the oxidative–glycolytic balance determined by both sprint duration and exercise-to-rest ratio. This study investigated the effect of 2 types of RSH sessions during a classic altitude camp in world-class female rugby sevens players. Methods: Sixteen players performed 5 RSH sessions on a cycle ergometer (simulated altitude: 3000 m above sea level [asl]) during a 3-week natural altitude camp (1850 m asl). Players were assigned to 2 different protocols with either a high (RSH1:3, sprint duration: 8–10 s; exercise-to-rest ratios: 1:2–1:3; n = 7) or a low exercise-to-rest ratio (RSH1:5, sprint duration: 5–15 s; exercise-to-rest ratios: 1:2–1:5; n = 9). Repeated-sprint performances (maximal and mean power outputs [PPOmax, and PPOmean]) were measured before and after the intervention, along with physiological responses. Results: PPOmax (962 [100] to 1020 [143] W, P = .008, Cohen d = 0.47) and PPOmean (733 [71] to 773 [91] W, P = .008, d = 0.50) increased from before to after. A significant interaction effect (P = .048, d = 0.50) was observed for PPOmean, with a larger increase observed in RSH1:3 (P = .003). No interaction effects were observed (P > .05) for the other variables. Conclusion: A classic altitude camp with 5 RSH sessions superimposed on rugby-sevens-specific training led to an improved repeated-sprint performance, suggesting that RSH effects are not blunted by prolonged hypoxic exposure. Interestingly, using a higher exercise-to-rest ratio during RSH appears to be more effective than when applying a lower exercise-to-rest ratio.

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The Effects of a Field-Based Priming Session on Perceptual, Physiological, and Performance Markers in Female Rugby Sevens Players

Billy R.J. Mason, Andrew J. McKune, Kate L. Pumpa, Jocelyn K. Mara, Alexander C. Engel, Liam P. Kilduff, and Nick B. Ball

Purpose: This study aimed to determine the effects of a field-based priming session on perceptual, physiological, and performance responses in female rugby sevens athletes. Methods: Thirteen highly trained female rugby sevens players (age: 20.7 [2.0] y; height: 169.3 [4.8] cm; weight: 68.8 [7.9] kg) completed either a 20-minute field-based priming session or a control condition. Perceptual, physiological, and performance variables were collected at baseline (PRE) and 5 (POST5), 30 (POST30), and 120 minutes (POST120) postintervention. Data were analyzed using Bayesian mixed effects models. Results: The priming protocol had a larger increase in mental readiness (maximum a posteriori [MAP] = 20, 95% high-density intervals [HDI] = −4 to 42, probability of direction [PD]% = 95, % in region of practical equivalence [ROPE] = 9.7), physical readiness (MAP = 20.1, 95% HDI = −4.6 to 42.1, PD% = 93, % in ROPE = 10.6), and testosterone (MAP = 14.9, 95% HDI = 0.5 to 27.7, PD% = 98, % in ROPE = 5.6) than the control POST30. Cognitive performance decreased POST120 in the priming condition for congruent (MAP = 0.02, 95% HDI = −0.06 to 0.00, PD% = 95, % in ROPE = 6.4) and incongruent tasks (MAP = 0.00, 95% HDI = −0.07 to 0.00, PD% = 98, % in ROPE = 3.2) when compared with the control. Conclusions: Perceptual and physiological markers improved POST30 in the priming condition. Findings indicate that perceptual and physiological responses to priming were not coupled with performance improvements. Priming was not accompanied by perceptual, physiological, or performance improvements at POST120.

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Next-Generation Models for Predicting Winning Times in Elite Swimming Events: Updated Predictions for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games

Iñigo Mujika, David B. Pyne, Paul Pao-Yen Wu, Kwok Ng, Emmet Crowley, and Cormac Powell

Purpose: To evaluate statistical models developed for predicting medal-winning performances for international swimming events and generate updated performance predictions for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Methods: The performance of 2 statistical models developed for predicting international swimming performances was evaluated. The first model employed linear regression and forecasting to examine performance trends among medal winners, finalists, and semifinalists over an 8-year period. A machine-learning algorithm was used to generate time predictions for each individual event for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The second model was a Bayesian framework and comprised an autoregressive term (the previous winning time), moving average (past 3 events), and covariates for stroke, gender, distance, and type of event (World Championships vs Olympic Games). To examine the accuracy of the predictions from both models, the mean absolute error was determined between the predicted times for the Budapest 2022 World Championships and the actual results from said championships. Results: The mean absolute error for prediction of swimming performances was 0.80% for the linear-regression machine-learning model and 0.85% for the Bayesian model. The predicted times and actual times from the Budapest 2022 World Championships were highly correlated (r = .99 for both approaches). Conclusions: These models, and associated predictions for swimming events at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, provide an evidence-based performance framework for coaches, sport-science support staff, and athletes to develop and evaluate training plans, strategies, and tactics, as well as informing resource allocation to athletes, based on their potential for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

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Team Behavior and Performance: An Exploration in the Context of Professional Rugby Union

Benjamin G. Serpell, Carmen M. Colomer, Mark R. Pickering, and Christian J. Cook

Purpose: To explore complex system behavior and subsequent team performance in professional rugby union. Methods: Here, we present 2 studies. In the first, we used global positioning system technology to measure player clustering during stoppages in play in nearly 100 games of professional rugby union to explore team (complex system) behavior and performance. In the second, we measured stress hormones (cortisol and testosterone) prior to team meetings and analyzed these relative to amount of time and the frequency with which players looked at peer presenters, as well as subsequent training performance, to explain how stress may lead to behaviors observed in the first study and subsequent match performance. Results: No link between player clustering during stoppages of play and performance was observed. When players (complex system agents) demonstrated greater levels of stress (as indicated by greater cortisol-awakening response and a greater decline in testosterone-to-cortisol ratio across the morning), they tended to look at peer presenters more; however, training quality declined (P = .02). Correlational analysis also showed that training quality was related to testosterone-to-cortisol ratio (P = .04). Conclusions: Team behavior is complex and can be unpredictable. It is possible that under stress, complex system agents (ie, rugby union players) look at (and cluster toward) their teammates more; however, meaningful interaction may not necessarily occur. Furthermore, while complex system (team) analysis may be valuable strategically in rugby union in the context of describing behavior, without understanding “how” or “why” intrateam/interagent behaviors emerge it may have little meaning.

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Profiling Professional Rugby Union Activity After Peak Match Periods

Samuel T. Howe, Robert J. Aughey, William G. Hopkins, and Andrew M. Stewart

The aim of this investigation was to quantify professional rugby union player activity profiles after the most intense (peak) passages of matches. Movement data were collected from 30 elite and 30 subelite professional rugby union athletes across respective competitive seasons. Accelerometer-derived PlayerLoad and global navigation satellite system–derived measures of mean speed and metabolic power were analyzed using a rolling-average method to identify the most intense 5- to 600-second passages (ie, worst-case scenarios) within matches. Player activity profiles immediately post their peak 5- to 600-second match intensity were identified using 5 epoch duration-matched intervals. Mean speed, metabolic power, and PlayerLoad declined sharply (∼29%–86%) after the most intense 5 to 600 seconds of matches. Following the most intense periods of rugby matches, exercise intensity declined below the average match-half intensity 81% of the time and seldom returned to or exceeded it, likely due to a host of individual physical and physiological characteristics, transient and/or accumulative fatigue, contextual factors, and pacing strategies. Typically, player exercise intensities after the most intense passages of matches were similar between match halves, positional groups, and levels of rugby competition. Accurate identification of the peak exercise intensities of matches and movement thereafter using novel methodologies has improved the limited understanding of professional rugby union player activity profiles following the worst-case scenarios of matches. Findings of the present study may inform match-representative training prescription, monitoring, and tactical match decisions (eg, substitutions and positional changes).

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Mental Fatigue Impairs Tackling Technique in Amateur Rugby Union Players

Demi Davidow, Mitchell Smith, Tayla Ross, Gwyneth Laura James, Lara Paul, Michael Lambert, Ben Jones, and Sharief Hendricks

Purpose: To test the effects of mental fatigue (MF) on tackling technique on the dominant and nondominant shoulders in rugby union. Methods: Twenty male amateur rugby union players and a total of 953 tackles were analyzed. A randomized crossover counterbalanced design was used across a non-MF (control) and an MF condition. During each condition, each player performed 24 tackles, divided into 4 sets of 6 tackles (3 tackles on each shoulder). In the MF condition, players performed the Stroop Task between each set of tackles. A video recording of each tackle was used to evaluate each player’s technical proficiency. A score of 1 point was awarded if a specific technique was performed correctly, and 0 point was given if not. The total score, measured in arbitrary units (AU) out of 11, represents the player’s overall tackling proficiency. Results: Overall, players displayed a significantly lower technical proficiency score in the MF condition compared to control (set 2: control 7.30 [7.04–7.57] AU vs MF 6.91 [6.70–7.12] AU, P = .009, effect size (ES) = 0.30 small and set 3: control 7.34 [7.11–7.57] AU vs MF 6.88 [6.66–7.11] AU, P = .002, ES = 0.37 small). For the nondominant shoulder, players had a significantly lower technical proficiency score during the MF condition at set 2 (control 7.05 [6.68–7.41] AU vs MF 6.69 [6.42–6.96] AU, P = .047, ES = 0.29 small) and set 3 (control 7.14 [6.83–7.45] AU vs MF 6.61 [6.35–6.87] AU, P = .007, ES = 0.49 small). Conclusions: MF can diminish a player’s overall tackling proficiency, especially when tackling on the nondominant shoulder. The physiological mechanism for this finding may be impaired executive function and suboptimal functioning of neural signals and pathways, which result in less skillful coordination of movement. To further understand and explain MF-induced physiological changes in tackling, the feasibility of monitoring brain activity (such as electroencephalogram) and neuromuscular function (such as electromyogram) needs to be investigated. The findings from this study may also contribute to the development of more effective tackle training programs for injury prevention and performance.