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Inside England’s strength and conditioning programme

Strength and conditioning has grown ever more important in elite rugby. You can have the best skills in the world but if you don’t have the fitness to be able to execute those skills in the 80th minute, you will struggle to make a positive impact.

So what are the S&C programmes of international teams like? Jon Clarke, England’s head of strength and conditioning, gives us an insight…

England’s strength and conditioning programme: An average Test week

“We usually have two gym sessions, so lads would do an upper-body session and a lower-body session within them,” says Clarke. “Within that will be some power work and strength work.

“Then on the field it will depend on what we’re doing that week, who we’re playing against, what the focus is. For example, we might be playing Australia and have a big defensive focus, so the S&C would be based around that.

“We have big game training sessions, where we test them physically and mentally and tactically. On the other side of that, on recovery days and post-session, we really try to dampen them down. So we have recovery sessions – saunas, steam, a breathing hour where boys can join in and do some structured breathing.”

England’s strength and conditioning programme: Managing energy

“Energy expenditure and energy intake is a balancing act across the week and we have a nutritionist who works closely with the players,” explains Clarke.

“So we know on the big training days, they have to eat plenty, drink plenty, get plenty of fuel in. Then some days some boys have to be a little bit smarter than others and reduce their calories a little bit.

“Once we get nearer to the game, if it’s on a Saturday, we know the boys who need energy and we really load them up on a Friday with lots of carbohydrates, lots of protein, plenty of fuel for the game. Then, after the game, we try to individualise it – some boys really need calories and some boys don’t, particularly depending on game time.

“So, again, it’s a balancing act across the squad and the week.”

England also employ a caffeine strategy, with Clarke adding: “The players will work with a nutritionist, so they’ll work it out in terms of milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight. We generally use Red Bull pre-training, lads trying to get that energy kick before training, and sometimes we’ll use it at half-time.

England’s strength and conditioning programme

England players preparing for a training challenge (Red Bull)

“Some lads don’t like using it in the week, they just want to save it for game day, so they get the full effect of the Red Bull when they’re drinking it. So it’s individual and we always make sure that boys aren’t drinking too much.”

England’s strength and conditioning programme: Physical and mental fitness

Clarke focuses on getting players both physically and mentally fit, so sessions are designed to take players out of their comfort zones to prepare them for Test rugby.

“A game of rugby is physical but it’s also psychological, mental and emotional,” says Clarke, who has been part of the England set-up for three years. “We certainly allow for and coach players in each bit of that – the physical, the emotional, the psychological.

“The big games at the moment are usually down to what’s between your ears. So both teams can be physical, both teams can be tactically great, skilful, but it’s basically who holds their nerve the most in big games.”

To that end, Clarke teamed up with Red Bull to set the England squad a unique challenge during their Autumn Nations Series training camp in Jersey.

“The boys had no idea what’s happening. We basically told them to keep an open mind and, as we say, just adapt on the run, adapt to the situation and make the best of the situation.”

Find out what the players had to do and how they fared with a video tomorrow.

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