Side planks are an effective core exersise

England wing Mark Cueto on how to strengthen your core…

Everyone should do exercises to strengthen their lower back, core, glutes and hamstrings. Rugby is stop-start and there are a lot of sudden changes in speed and knocks involved, so you need a strong core to help support your back and prevent injury.

I found this out the hard way. In the early years of my career I used to get a lot of cramp in my calves, and whenever I have problems now they always start there. I thought nothing of it at the time, because when you’re young your body can easily bounce back, but in hindsight I realise this was a warning sign of what was to come. When I hit 26 I spent 18 months out with a back injury.

Now, I have a bulging disc in the lumbar of my spine. It’s very common and effects different people in different ways – I get sciatica through my glutes, my hamstrings and into my calves – but with careful management and training I’m fit enough to play Test rugby.

Just ten to 15 minutes three times a week is enough to stay on top of the problem, and I tag it onto the end of whatever I’m doing. Even if I go for a two-week holiday I’ll exercise every other day.

Start with three sets of 20 calf raises. Hold a dumb-bell in each hand and stand with your toes on a very slightly raised surface. Rise up onto your toes and lower down to get a full range of movement through your calves and ankles. Then sit down on a chair or bench and place a bar across your legs. Lift your heels off the ground so you lift the bar and lower them back down again. Do as many reps as you can.

Next, kneel down and get a partner to hold down your ankles as you lower your body to the floor in front of you. Then, bring your body back up using the strength in your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Do three sets of eight to ten reps.

You can also attach one end of a bungee cord to your ankle and the other around a dumb-bell stand or equivalent. Leaning on the equipment, kick your ankle out behind you, keeping your leg straight, so you’re using your glutes and the backs of your legs. Three sets of eight to ten reps on each leg.

Side and front planks are great core exercises. To make them harder, you can add leg raises to work your glutes at the same time. Make sure your body is in a straight line at all times – don’t let it sink. Also try the ‘superman’. On all fours, extend your opposite arm and leg and then switch sides. Hold these positions for as long as you can.

Mark Cueto Says…

  • Core exercises are relevant to every member of the squad
  • Work on your core at least three times a week
  • Remember, prevention is better than cure

This article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.

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