Adjusting your training, how and why?
Recently we sat down with Rachael Burford, England and Harlequins rugby player, to talk about her training, changes due to COVID-19, recovery and challenges.
How do you think that your training has changed over the years you have been playing?
“Well, my first sort of real training began probably when I was about 14/15. I was part of a scheme in my local area that gave me access to gyms, and so I started to go along and use that equipment. So from quite a young age I started doing some forms of training and joining in with fitness training at rugby. My first ever real proper programme was when I was 16 when I was at Bath Rugby Academy and that was probably the first time that I started to understand a bit more about training, but it was very limiting. We didn’t do lots. Then as the years have progressed the number of changes, adaptations, learning about your body, learning what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, has probably been the biggest thing that actually has allowed my body to develop and change.
I think early on you very much follow a programme, or you only listen to your Strength and Conditioning coach, but then as you get older and understand your body a lot more you can actually have those conversations where I know that this works really well and I know that that doesn’t really suit me, to get the best out of you. I think that’s really important when you start coming to the later stages in your career, to maximise your training by knowing exactly what you need and what doses you need and where you’re going to get the most adaptations and changes and develop.
To get a training age underneath you, you obviously do a lot more volume; you’re probably a lot more able to do certain things, you’re probably less restricted, in terms of the number of years of playing. A high collision sport has an impact on your body. Injuries obviously have an impact on your body, so then that might mean you need to do certain things differently. So, I think as you grow into your career and as you get older, it’s really important that the programme adapts to you as an individual with all those things to bear in mind”.
Due to the COVID-19 virus, how has your training changed?
“So we’ve got a really thorough, detailed programme at the moment from Harlequins. What they’ve done is they’ve identified that this is a really good opportunity for a lot of players to get on top of existing niggle injuries and also maintain. I had a serious hamstring surgery last summer, so I’ve got a big opportunity here to make that really robust and really resilient. So, they are using that time to implement those things as well as our normal training. So, in terms of a general week, on a Monday, as an example, we’ve got speed and a body management session to do; we’ve got weights and a trunk session and also a resilience session. Tuesday is very similar, but we also do a running session. Wednesday is off feet conditioning; then Thursday we’re back to what we do on a Monday, so resilience – we’ve got a run session, body management, weight and trunk. Friday we’ve got a conditioning session off feet and weights again. Then on Saturday, we’ve got quite a big day; you’ve got some speed and a running session as well. Sunday is obviously a rest day to take a bit of time off. So, we’ve got quite a lot going on, but no more really than we were already doing. The only area that is probably a bit of a struggle whilst everybody is in this lockdown is the weights side of things. So, what they’ve created is programmes that use either bodyweight, or some players have got some form of kit that they use to help with that loading. They’ve also identified that this is a great opportunity to focus on technique and get that sharp. So, instead of looking at what we can’t do, they’ve looked at everything we can do that we don’t usually have the time to do”.
Check out our free training programme while in lockdown here.
Sleep is the most important recovery strategy, can you talk to us about your sleep and how you recover?
“Something that I have struggled with in the past is my sleep pattern and making sure that I’m getting good enough sleep every night and being consistent with those hours sleeping. I’m a massive night owl, so all my ideas and all my energy comes late at night, which is not useful. You need to be getting 9 hours of sleep and getting up between 6 and 7 in the morning. So, I came across a company called Silent Mode, and basically, it’s a sleep mask, but at the same time, you’re working on your breath. It’s almost like meditation, relaxation, and there are little snippets of 7 minutes you can do here, or a 20-minute nap and things like that, and it really does help me be able to refresh myself, re-set and go. It kind of allows me to live my life the way I want to live it in that I like to stay up later than average, but by having a little bit of the Silent Mode sleep mask in the afternoon for 7 minutes or 20 minutes. I mean, that’s not a lot of time to take out of your day to re-set and give yourself some more energy. So, that is something that I really try to do to recover, to rest, to re-energise myself”.
Is there anything that you do from a nutrition standpoint to help with recovery?
“I think our big focus is always around making sure that you’re eating enough protein during the day. I always notice that if I’ve not had a protein shake or a snack after training before dinner, then I feel so sluggish and tired. One of the things that I started to do a while ago was track what I was eating and how it made me feel. I noticed that if I really restrict carbs one day, or hadn’t eaten enough carbs, then I noticed what the next day felt like. I was really lethargic, my weights were down, or my numbers were down, or I was really irritable. So, I was trying to make sure that I could recognise how I was feeling to what I was actually eating. Protein used to always be the one that I would miss out on, so I tried to make sure I was getting a little hit, whether that’s just some yoghurt, a bit of milk or a shake, or something like that. Just little and often”.
What about your game day nutrition?
“I’ve actually worked out for myself that on an actual game day, I don’t actually like to have a lot and I don’t like to feel full. I go quite protein-heavy, and the carbs that I would have would be a fruit, like a banana or something like that. Eating that way makes me feel fresh and ready. I would normally start carb-loading probably two days before, at least the night before, as opposed to on the day. I’m not a nutrition expert, but years ago we were taught that there’s no point eating that bowl of rice on the day because by the time it gets into your muscles it’s not going to be there ready to be used”.
Can you talk about your mental preparation before games?
“I feel mentally prepared for a game when I’ve got a bit of a routine, but it’s not something where if it didn’t happen I would be all up in arms. It’s just something that makes me feel comfortable, confident and ready. I like to refresh myself over our gameplan, I’ll make sure that I’ve checked in with a couple of people before the game on certain things. Then I just write out a couple of things that are a focus for the game and a couple of quotes that I would say to myself to remind me of why I’m there, why I do it and to ultimately remember to enjoy it. Sometimes that can change depending on whether I’ve had a very tough session, or if it is a really big game where a lot of other things can overwhelm you and overtake your processes and mentality. Sometimes I’ll have a checklist of what I need to think about. Maybe at half-time I’ll check whether I’ve thought about X, Y and Z, is that going well, is that not, what do we need to do, how do we need to change things? I might tweak some of those things depending on the magnitude of what’s happening.
In terms of hard sessions, I think that’s just something that, over time, you have to learn to love the grind and love getting through it and reflecting on it after. Everybody who ever goes through tough sessions always comes out of it thinking more about themselves, more about their teammates. They feel that they’ve put even extra in the bank. Those things are what every player – once you’ve gone through them – everybody feels, and nobody regrets what they did, you only ever regret the session that you didn’t put enough in or you skipped. They are the sessions that you always regret. So, I think that mentality of sessions that are really tough is that ‘we’re in it, we’ve got to get through it, let’s just go for it,’ is something that takes time. Also, we were talking about training ages, the ability to know how much you can push yourself isn’t there automatically. I think you have to work at that and one of the best tools for that is working with people who can push you outside your comfort zone. If you’re the best in the class the whole time, then no one is really edging you on. So, making sure that your environment is right to push you to those limits because ultimately all that work that you put in has a direct effect on your mental preparation because you feel confident, you’ve done the work and you’ve done the hard graft”.
Check what other professional athletes do before games here.
What advice would you get to young players to help them develop?
“I think players have to be prepared that it’s not going to be a smooth ride. I got my first serious injury about 5 or 6 years into my career, and I don’t think I really understood until that time the amount of stuff you can still do to better yourself when you’re injured. I had other injuries, and I think beforehand you just think ‘oh, well I’ve got an injured ankle so I can’t do anything.’ That is out the window now, there’s so much you can do to work on, but the challenge is actually recognising ‘right, ok, so I’ve got my arm in a cast, what else can I do? I can get really fit on a bike; I’ll soon be able to start running.’ You work on those kinds of things that you aren’t able to do normally because other things get in the way of it. That’s definitely a challenge, recognising that you are going to have ups and downs due to injury. The other one is probably selection as well, that’s a big challenge because the competition is so fierce.
How you accept that and how you try to move on from it and continue to always want to better yourself and always want to push yourself further no matter what challenges are put in front of you. I definitely think growing up, I was very fortunate in a lot of the early years of my career. I was always the starting player, I was never taken off, and I think you have to always bear in mind that that is only going to happen for a certain period. What do you need to do is keep evolving and keep pushing your game on to make sure that you can still stay within that place”.
What is your thought process when you’re injured?
“I think it was even with you Lee where I tore my hamstring, and you gave me an upper-body programme, which absolutely slammed that, to make sure that I made gains in different ways. So there are always ways that you can get better somewhere else. Actually, when you’re injured, sometimes that’s the best time to get gains and get improvements in different areas. I remember my first time out with my hamstring problem, I couldn’t run for 12 weeks, but I could do a hell of a lot of passing. I remember my first session back in, and we had a guest coach, and we were doing a passing drill, and he looked at me and said ‘have you been injured?’ Because he could tell the amount of work that I’d put into my skills, because that’s all I could work on, in terms of rugby. I decided that was my focus while I was injured and that it was going to be my point of difference when I got back. That mentality wasn’t there at the start of my career. I used to be like ‘right, I’m injured so I’ll kick back and wait for it to get better.’ Now being injured in today’s day and age, you’re doing triple workload, because you’ve got all your training, you’ve got all your rehab, and then you’ve got your extras that are going to be your point of difference when you come back”.
Successful athletes and individuals always stress the importance of goal setting. How do you go about your goal setting?
“I always go bigger picture first, so I’ll look at what the end goal is first and then I’ll break it down going backwards. You have everyday goals that you kind of do subconsciously, but, for instance, if I want to play in the Women’s 2021 World Cup, then that is the longterm goal, and now I need to work back on what I need to be doing on a monthly, weekly, daily basis to get me to that point. That can give you some really clear snapshots. I think one thing that people forget to do when they set goals is keep reviewing them because sometimes you go ‘wait a minute, I’ve been doing my goals every day, I’ve been doing them every week but actually, have I got any nearer to where I need to get? No. Right, so I need to change something up.’ I think a lot of people will set their goals and think ‘I know what my goals are, this is what I’ve got to do to try and achieve them,’ but then forget to review them and just keep going along and suddenly when they get to the end, and they’ve not achieved it, that’s when they look back, as opposed to keep monitoring it as you go”.
We would like to thank Rachael for her time in answering our questions. You can check out the interview on our YouTube channel here.
You can find Rachael here on IG https://www.instagram.com/rachaelburf12/ and at her rugby academy here
Take a look at our free training programme here.
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