Purpose: To identify the association between several contextual match factors, technical performance, and external movement demands on the subjective task load of elite rugby league players. Methods: Individual subjective task load, quantified using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Task Load Index (NASA-TLX), was collected from 29 professional rugby league players from one club competing in the European Super League throughout the 2017 season. The sample consisted of 26 matches (441 individual data points). Linear mixed modeling revealed that various combinations of contextual factors, technical performance, and movement demands were associated with subjective task load. Results: Greater number of tackles (effect size correlation ± 90% confidence intervals; η 2 = .18 ± .11), errors (η 2 = .15 ± .08), decelerations (η 2 = .12 ± .08), increased sprint distance (η 2 = .13 ± .08), losing matches (η 2 = .36 ± .08), and increased perception of effort (η 2 = .27 ± .08) led to most likely–very likely increases in subjective total task load. The independent variables included in the final model for subjective mental demand (match outcome, time played, and number of accelerations) were unclear, excluding a likely small correlation with technical errors (η 2 = .10 ± .08). Conclusions: These data provide a greater understanding of the subjective task load and their association with several contextual factors, technical performance, and external movement demands during rugby league competition. Practitioners could use this detailed quantification of internal loads to inform recovery sessions and current training practices.
Thomas Mullen, Craig Twist, Matthew Daniels, Nicholas Dobbin, and Jamie Highton
Craig Twist, Jamie Highton, Matthew Daniels, Nathan Mill, and Graeme Close
Player loads and fatigue responses are reported in 15 professional rugby league players (24.3 ± 3.8 y) during a period of intensified fixtures. Repeated measures of internal and external loads, perceived well-being, and jump flight time were recorded across 22 d, comprising 9 training sessions and matches on days 5, 12, 15, and 21 (player exposure: 3.6 ± 0.6 matches). Mean training loads (session rating of perceived exertion × duration) between matches were 1177, 1083, 103, and 650 AU. Relative distance in match 1 (82 m/min) and match 4 (79 m/min) was very likely lower in match 2 (76 m/min) and likely higher in match 3 (86 m/min). High-intensity running (≥5.5 m/s) was likely to very likely lower than match 1 (5 m/min) in matches 2–4 (2, 4, and 3 m/min, respectively). Low-intensity activity was likely to very likely lower than match 1 (78 m/min) in match 2 (74 m/min) and match 4 (73 m/min) but likely higher in match 3 (81 m/min). Accumulated accelerometer loads for matches 1–4 were 384, 473, 373, and 391 AU, respectively. Perceived well-being returned to baseline values (~21 AU) before all matches but was very likely to most likely lower the day after each match (~17 AU). Prematch jump flight times were likely to most likely lower across the period, with mean values of 0.66, 0.65, 0.62, and 0.64 s before matches 1–4, respectively. Across a 22-d cycle with fixture congestion, professional rugby league players experience cumulative neuromuscular fatigue and impaired match running performance.
Chelsea L. Oxendale, Craig Twist, Matthew Daniels, and Jamie Highton
While exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) after rugby league match play has been well documented, the specific match actions that contribute to EIMD are unclear. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to investigate the positional demands of elite rugby league matches and examine their relationship with subsequent EIMD.
Twenty-eight performances (from 17 participants) were captured using 10-Hz global positioning systems over 4 competitive matches. Upper- and lower-body neuromuscular fatigue, creatine kinase (CK), and perceived muscle soreness were assessed 24 h before and at 12, 36, and 60 h after matches.
High-intensity running was moderately higher in backs (6.6 ± 2.6 m/min) than in forwards (5.1 ± 1.6 m/min), whereas total collisions were moderately lower (31.1 ± 13.1 vs 54.1 ± 37.0). Duration (r = .90, CI: .77–.96) and total (r = .86, CI: .70–.95) and high-intensity distance covered (r = .76, CI: .51–.91) were associated (P < .05) with increased CK concentration postmatch. Total collisions and repeated high-intensity efforts were associated (P < .05) with large decrements in upper-body neuromuscular performance (r = –.48, CI: –.74 to .02; r = –.49, CI: –.77 to .05, respectively), muscle soreness (r = –.68, CI: –.87 to –.10, r = –.66, CI: –.89 to .21, respectively), and CK concentration (r = .67, CI: .42–.85; r = .73, CI: .51–.87, respectively). All EIMD markers returned to baseline within 60 h.
Match duration, high-intensity running, and collisions were associated with variations in EIMD markers, suggesting that recovery is dependent on individual match demands.
Mark Waldron, Jamie Highton, Matthew Daniels, and Craig Twist
This study aimed to quantify changes in heart rate (HR) and movement speeds in interchanged and whole-match players during 35 elite rugby league performances.
Performances were separated into whole match, interchange bout 1, and interchange bout 2 and further subdivided into match quartiles. Mean percentages of peak HR (%HRpeak) and total and high-intensity running (> 14 km/h) meters per minute (m/min) were recorded.
For whole-match players, a decline in high-intensity m/min and %HRpeak was observed between successive quartiles (P < .05). High-intensity m/min during interchange 1 also progressively declined, although initial m/min was higher than whole match (24.2 ± 7.9 m/min vs 18.3 ± 4.7 m/min, P = .018), and %HRpeak did not change over match quartiles (P > .05). During interchange 2, there was a decline in high-intensity m/min from quartile 1 to quartile 3 (18 ± 4.1 vs 13.4 ± 5 m/min, P = .048) before increasing in quartile 4. Quartiles 1 and 2 also showed an increase in %HRpeak (85.2 ± 6.5 vs 87.3 ± 4.2%, P = .022).
Replacement players adopted a high initial intensity in their first match quartile before a severe decline thereafter. However, in a second bout, lower exercise intensity at the outset enabled a higher physiological exertion for later periods. These findings inform interchange strategy and conditioning for coaches while also providing preliminary evidence of pacing in team sport.