Rugby does not take a break just because it is cold outside but it does add another challenge for the players willing to brave the cold. World Rugby Shop’s Kimber Rozier takes a look at the steps you should take to be ready for when the temperature drops.
By Kimber Rozier CSCS, Pn1 – I am not a fan of the winter! Getting tackled on a cold, icy pitch ranks right up there with getting your wisdom teeth removed. And it does not matter the position you play; forwards have to dive head first in the snow repeatedly while backs’ fingers go numb while trying to make the perfect pass or catch in the wind, rain, and low temperatures.
To make matters worse, most club teams are forced to train after the sun goes down just as the temperatures start to drop.
Did I mention that I am not a fan of cold weather?
And yet, we trudge on through the winter season because we love rugby. There’s something about battling the elements with your mates that brings us all together. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make it easier on yourself with the right preparation.
Your equipment is your armor. Let them battle the cold and free your body to take on the opposition. Certain must-haves will keep your focus on the ball and off of the snow.
Hand warmers are hands down (pun intended) the most important bit of extra ‘equipment’ you can pack, in my opinion. Catching, passing, and tackling all require the function of our hands. If you can’t feel or move your fingers, that becomes a problem.
Buy some hand or toe warmers from your local pharmacy and stuff those puppies in your shorts or socks. During any stoppage of play, grasp on to those heat packets for as long as you can.
I then flex and extend the fingers on both hands before play is re-started to help keep blood flowing to these critical extremities.
Second Pair of Socks/Boots
Winter cold often comes with winter rain, sleet, or snow. Not only can dry feet help prevent things like athlete’s foot, but it’ll protect those little toes from frostbite. When you’re cold, your body already conserves blood by pulling it from the extremities. Add in exercise drawing blood towards the big muscles, the toes and fingers take a backseat. Running, cutting, jumping and kicking all necessitate nimble feet. The last thing you want is those toes sloshing around in freezing socks and shoes.
The rough conditions take a toll on your equipment as well. Even the best boots get worn down by hard surfaces, gritty cold mud or ice patches. I’ve said it before – your boots are an extension of your body. They make direct contact with the ground or the ball, so treat them as well as you would your own feet. Keep a pair of boots for training and a pair for matches. Your match balls are of a higher quality, so why wouldn’t your boots be? Keep the game fast and interesting with high quality gear.
For some players an extra pair of boots is asking too much but there is no excuse for not having a couple of additional pairs of socks. I make a point to put on a new pair (regardless of conditions) between games and do the same in training during a break midway through the session.
First Aid Kit
Although rugby players won’t back down from a fight, it’s not ‘cool’ to run around with open wounds or untreated black eyes. The more effort your body gives to healing itself, the less energy you have to play 80 minutes.
Bring along a first aid kit to clean up cuts, scrapes and bruises on site. Some of us are lucky enough to train at a fully equipped facility, while others are left searching for a new pitch or a space between intramurals each week. Untrimmed pitches might hide stray rocks and even the best-groomed grass isn’t immune to a good turf burn.
When it’s colder out, it’ll be harder for blood and nutrients to get to the injury site to begin the healing process. Prevent infection by stopping the problem before it starts.
Layers to Work Into Training
Sub suits, gloves and rain gear can make the difference between getting better or getting ill. Sitting in cold sweat for a while just yields wet clothes which can make you hypothermic. Obviously from a health standpoint, this is a no-go, but cold muscles are going to be slower to contract, less flexible and more susceptible to injury. Stay warm with layers to maintain that high performance explosive speed you’ve been training for.
- Cold gear skins to wear underneath your outerwear adds an extra layer for warmth. Grab yourself at least a few pairs of lower and upper body cold gear. Wouldn’t want to be stuck out in the cold because you haven’t done laundry!
- Bring a change of clothes for after training if you don’t have a changing room to shower in (at least another shirt). Sitting in cold sweat for a while becomes just wet and can make you hypothermic.
Gloves for warm ups – it’s difficult to wear full gloves and still catch/pass successfully. Beat the freeze during dynamic warm ups, conditioning or contact-specific drills by wearing a good pair of gloves. Your hands will thank you later.
- Sub suit is a must. These are the big puffy jackets you see the pros wearing on the sidelines. While waiting to go on, or as soon as you come off the pitch, keep warm underneath a large coat. Staying warm will keep your muscles limber and spry.
- Rain gear – with winter temps comes cold, awful rain. A good waterproof suit, both top and pants, can change your life. If you can keep dry, you can keep happy.
Drink Plenty of Water
Athletes already engage in voluntary dehydration – we sweat out more than our thirst demands. We’re so busy perfecting our craft that even during water breaks, our brief sips fall short of our actual hydration needs. Thirst doesn’t tend to register until 1-2% of your body weight is lost as sweat.
When it’s cold outside, you’re even less likely to be thirsty. As you start to warm up (finally), you still sweat. But rather than overheated and thirsty, you’re just happy to feel your toes again. The extra layers limit evaporation of sweat, decrease temperature regulation and lead to negative fluid balance. Even slight dehydration can increase heart rate, cause fatigue and affect performance.
Prepare for training by pre-hydrating. Try to drink about 500 mL of fluid 30 mins to an hour before training. Just pack an extra water bottle and drink it before warm up.
Make sure to keep water at room temperature or in a thermos to avoid freezing and increase drink-ability. Pay attention to electrolytes as well – mix in a small scoop of your favorite sports drink or electrolyte mix, shooting for a 6-8% electrolyte solution. Not only will it taste better, but it’ll provide much needed ions for muscle contraction and nervous stimulation.
After training and games, avoid sugar or alcohol and instead warm up with a bone broth or green tea. Bone broth contains natural salts and nutrients to re-hydrate and fight back illness, while green tea warms you up with EGCG, another disease prevention tool.
Plan, plan, plan
Rugby normally allows for minimal equipment and may mean you’re used to running out of the house last-minute. But during the winter, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Keep your body running like a well-oiled machine by preparing ahead of time. Pack extra layers, more water, and a warm drink for the ride home.
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union, and now has returned home as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C.