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Fitness for Sevens

"When the skills are equal, fitness will win."

-- Jeff Butterfield, as quoted by Mike Williams

I doubt that anyone would disagree with that statement; one problem in applying it, however, is quantifying just what fitness is. The problem is many-fold: a) how do we determine what aspects of physical fitness are relevant to the game of sevens, b) how can players train to maximize their fitness, and c) how do we test players to determine their level of fitness.

There are many approaches to measuring and developing fitness; this section will discuss the approach currently being taken by USA Rugby fitness coach Ron Artingstall.

This chapter will deal with those attributes of fitness needed to play sevens to the best of one's physical capacity as well as training to best develop those attributes.

The second chapter in this section will give specific examples of how fitness for sevens is being tested in the United States.

The chapters will present the principles of fitness as applied to rugby in general, augmented with a discussion of sevens specific considerations.

Some of the material in this chapter has appeared in print before, either in Chapter V of the current USARFU Coaching Manual, a chapter contributed by Artingstall, or in his articles in Rugby.

Components of Fitness

Ron Artingstall has described the components of fitness and listed them in priority order:

  1. Aerobic base. An endurance type activity requiring oxygen (can be thought of as the ability to sustain activity over time: a 5-mile run, for example).

  2. Anaerobic endurance. The ability to repeat bouts of intense muscular exertion, up to 3 minutes, without oxygen (sprints, for example).

  3. Power. The ability to recruit muscle fibers quickly.

  4. Strength. The ability to apply a maximum muscular effort against a resistance in order to overcome that resistance.

  5. Strength endurance. Ability to constantly repeat bouts of maximum or near maximum effort during a game.

Aerobic Base

Players often object to running several miles at non-sprinting speeds, claiming that this is not what occurs during the course of a game.

Ron Artingstall agrees that training must be as specific as possible, but explains that a good, sound aerobic base is needed to be able to recover quickly from the specific demands of the game in order to be able to do them repeatedly with little rest: a good aerobic base, therefore, reduces the need to "pace yourself" during a game.

It is quite common in sevens to have to put together back to back long sprints with very little rest; as well as requiring excellent anaerobic endurance, described below, this requires a sound aerobic base on which to build that anaerobic endurance. In Ron's words,

although the large thrust of the energy source [in sevens] is anaerobic, there's an aerobic component as well. To be aerobically fit means you have the ability to reapply those high intensity bouts throughout the game.

We metabolize lactic acid, at rest, through our aerobic system. The fitter you are aerobically, the quicker lactic acid is cleared from the body and the faster you recover from bouts of high intensity anaerobic loads (between games in a sevens tournament or even between sprints in a sevens game).

So while it's largely an anaerobic sport, the aerobic portion of it is an integral part as well.

What are good aerobic activities?

Any activity that elevates the heart rate to approximately 85% of its maximum level for a sustained period (30-40 minutes) builds the aerobic base. The energy source for aerobic activity is largely fat metabolized in the presence of oxygen.

Aerobic conditioning should be done in the off season (long runs, ideally 4-5 miles). As the pre-season approaches, training should then more replicate the demands of the game (anaerobic via things like the jingle jangle routines [described later in this chapter]).

Anaerobic Endurance

Even the fastest and strongest person in the world will not be an effective rugby player without the ability to repeat episodes of maximum effort several times throughout the duration of a game.

A.T.P. (adenosine triphosphate), the body's primary energy source, however, lasts only about 30 seconds even in a trained athlete.

The only way we can compensate for its loss and continue to perform efficiently is, according to an Artingstall article in Rugby (May 1990),

by cultivating the other two types of the anaerobic energy system, 1) lactic acid system, and 2) alactic system.

Lactic acid is a waste residue caused as glycogen (a type of sugar molecule) is broken down to form A.T.P. The whole process is called anaerobic glycosis. Lactic acid, though, has a drawback that no doubt every rugby player has experienced: it puts pressure on nerve endings and makes arms and legs feel like lead. This anaerobic system supplies energy for all out work bouts lasting between 1-3 minutes.

Following such an intense work bout we continue to breathe fast and heavy even though the demand has ceased. The oxygen taken in at this time above resting consumption, is used to replenish our A.T.P. levels. This is the alactic portion of the system, also referred to as oxygen debt.

In 20 seconds, 50% of A.T.P. is replenished.

In 40 seconds, 75% of A.T.P. is replenished.

In 60 seconds, 87% of A.T.P. is replenished.

Within 3-4 minutes, A.T.P. is totally replenished.

So what we need to do as rugby players is to condition ourselves so we can "push through" the fatigue associated with massive lactic acid build up, by building a tolerance to it. One method is by deliberately creating lactic acid build-up with short duration, high intensity activity (like jingle jangles, peripheral heart rate training) and decreasing rest intervals.

[But only after an excellent aerobic level is established.]

Jingle Jangles

A jingle jangle is one 80-yard shuttle (40 yards out and 40 yards back). Jingle jangle training consists of several jingle jangles done back to back.

Many rugby players that have gone through jingle jangle testing and training consider them to be the devil's own invention.

Nevertheless, Ron Artingstall, although stressing that no one single regimen can prepare a player to be a complete rugby player, nevertheless gives it a ringing endorsement, as seen in the following quote:

If they just train for that test [number of jingle jangles completed in 4 minutes], they'd be pretty quick at rugby. I hope nobody does, because it's a bad way to go about it, they're going to miss a lot of components.

But if you had to pick one thing out to the exclusion of all the other things, if you just trained to perform well on that test, it'd equip you pretty nicely to get through a game [sevens or fifteens].

The method of training simulates the demands of a game more closely than other methods such as interval running, because of

o The constant change of direction,

o The shorter distance involved,

o The very short periods allowed

result in only partial recovery.

A procedure for training using jingle jangles is given in Appendix D1-A.


"Clappers" is a test and training regimen Artingstall devised in 1990 to build anaerobic endurance in a manner that is specific to the game of rugby: quick bursts of speed, falling to the ground and exploding from the ground.

He describes the routine as follows:

1) Measure of distance of 6 yards.

2) At either end of the 6 yards, create some kind of termination (with tape or cones).

3) Start this drill lying face down on the grass or gym floor.

4) On the command "go," clap your hands behind your back then sprint as fast as possible to the other marker.

5) Again assume a face down position and repeat.

Accent should be placed on exploding off the ground as fast as possible.

Whilst you are aiming at sprinting fast between the markers, you will find that fatigue will dictate the pace, and that's when you push yourself.

Although repeating that training needs to be varied beyond these two tests, Artingstall claims that clappers combined with jingle jangles will provide excellent value for effort expended.

Other training regimens that improve anaerobic endurance include peripheral heart rate (PHR) training and interval circuit weight training. Examples of both are given in the sample training program described in Appendix D1-A.

Speed Endurance

One subset of anaerobic endurance that is worth mentioning on its own is speed endurance, an attribute of fitness that is probably more important to sevens than fifteens.

Speed endurance can be described simply as the ability to maintain your maximum speed (or near maximum) for as long as possible.

Even maintaining top speed once over 100 meters involves an element of speed endurance, but much more demanding is the requirement of the sevens game that a player do this several times, often with little or no rest. Ron on training to improve:

There's several ways to work on speed endurance. One way is to find the longest possible straight length of ground -- a long [disused] airport runway would be perfect -- and run as fast and hard as you can until you're physically incapable of running another step, and then recover for three times the activity time.

So if you lasted a minute, you'd rest three minutes.

Do three of those -- which would probably wipe you out, and then you could repeat after 48 hours.

An example of a specific routine Artingstall has devised for speed endurance follows:

1) 10-15 x 250/300 yards flat out (no turns, and preferably on an uphill grade of about 4)

2) Walk back to recover

3) 2-3 times per week in pre-season

4) 1-2 times per week in season

Interchange the above with the following routine:

1) 8-10 x 200 yards flat out sprints

2) jog back recovery


Power is defined as the movement of a mass through distance over time (power increases with the mass and distance involved and as the time required decreases)

Speed itself, therefore -- the movement of a person's weight through a distance in time -- is power.

Speed training.

Can people really increase their speed? "They used to think, several years ago," comments Artingstall,

that whatever you were genetically dished out, that's what you were stuck with. We now know that isn't the case. You're not going to turn a tortoise into a cheetah, but the correct type of training can have a significant impact on a person's explosiveness, reflex reactions and ultimately, overall speed.

It has been shown that track athletes (specifically 100/200 meter sprinters) reach their maximum speed at about 60 meters.

A field athlete (rugby, soccer, lacrosse, etc.)'s longest average sprint in a game is approximately 30 yards.

The factor that dictates optimum speed in that 30 yard sprint is quickness over the first 5 or 6 steps. An effective method of developing quickness in these initial steps (referred to as "overcoming inertia") is a training technique Soviet athletes have been using for about 25 years called "plyometrics."


Plyometrics is a generic term for a large number of jumping exercises that effect both eccentric and concentric muscle contractions; these are explained in slightly more detail (but not enough to get you started) in an article Artingstall wrote in the April/May 1990 Rugby. More detailed information can be found in Radcliffe and Farentinos' Plyometrics (see Bibliography).

Examples of plyometric drills include jumping on to, off of, and on to again, a series of boxes ranging in height from 18" to 36."

Caution: Artingstall cautions that, because of the tremendous stresses place on joints, ligaments, and tendons, a requirement for beginning plyometric training is the ability to squat 1-1/2 times one's own body weight. Ron adds: "There are numerous plyometric routines. But seek experienced guidance before attempting them."

More on Speed . . .

Given the importance of speed in sevens, any successful effort to improve it will help one's ability to play the game. A 1988 book by George Dintiman and Robert Ward - Sportspeed - dedicates 170 pages to teaching athletes to run faster.

Their "can't miss stairway" to increased speed ("many Dallas Cowboy players have improved their 40-yard dash times by as much as .2 seconds") encompasses a seven-step model:

1. Basic Training

2. Weight Training

3. Ballistics

4. Plyometrics

5. Sprint Loading

6. Sportspeed

7. Overspeed Training

To the serious sevens player with high level aspirations, this book, referenced in the Bibliography, may represent a major opportunity to improve.


Artingstall refers to the need to build power in the "engine room" of muscle groups, among which he counts those in the thighs, buttocks, low back, hips, and abdominals.

Squats and deadlifts develop strength in the engine room muscle groups, and, at the very least, Ron comments, these should be the "bread and butter" lifts for a rugby player.

Front squats, being more specific to their position, are lifts that props might want to include in their repertoire.

Olympic-type Lifts to Develop Power

Having developed that strength, however, we need a method of transferring it into a ballistic type of release. In other words, we need lifts that recruit muscle fibers faster than do the squat and the deadlifts. Artingstall:

The motor cortex of the brain dictates an order of recruitment, and a speed of recruitment. To justify fast recruitment of fast twitch fibers it is necessary to load the muscles very quickly. Two lifts that do this, by the very nature of the explosiveness required to adequately execute them are the snatch and the clean. Prior to the 1984 Olympics, athletes from 14 different sports were electronically tested for foot speed. Number 1 were Olympic weight lifters.

Granted, these lifts require extensive practice, and need to be monitored by a person experienced in teaching such lifts. But if you are interested enough in improving your performance, you will go to those lengths.

Sevens vs. Fifteens


Although the two are certainly related, fitness for sevens differs to some extent from that required for fifteens. Asked to explain the difference between fitness for sevens and fifteens, Ron responded:

The easiest answer is that for the most part, everybody on a sevens side is playing the same position, everybody's a running back; you can't get away with not being fit.

Even at the national level, you can get away with not being fit in a fifteens squad, but you sure as hell can't get away with it in a sevens. The distances covered in a short period of time are a lot greater.

Speed endurance is much more of a criterion because of the distances covered.

It's not entirely true that all positions are the same: we need a couple of strong players to scrummage, and there will always be a couple of players more likely to make back-to-back 100 meter runs, but certainly the verb phrase "all players must . . . " has more objects in sevens than in fifteens.


As will be shown below, the development and maintenance of the different components of fitness depends on where we are in the playing cycle: off-season, pre-season, or in-season.

Since, in the US, the 12-week sevens season follows immediately on the heels of the spring fifteens season, the terms "off-season," "pre-season," and "in-season" lose their clarity.

Furthermore, depending on one's priorities, players will want to "peak" at different times. Appendix D1-A presents a slightly revised version of a six-month training program Ron devised for players planning to peak for the Hong Kong Sevens in late March 1988.

Each player will have to come to an individual decision as to how to interweave the different fitness components; this chapter and the Appendix that follows are intended to present guidelines only; the serious sevens player should consult a fitness and conditioning coach for more specific advice.

Appendix D1-A: A Customized Training Program

The training program presented in detail below is based on what was originally designed as a 6 month program designed to complete just prior to departure for the Hong Kong and Sydney Sevens in 1988. Ron Artingstall cautions that this should simply be considered an example of what can be done. Note that the athlete is varying not only the volume and intensity of the training, but also the training regimen itself.

The program was originally prepared to Eastern Rugby Union players with national aspirations immediately following the ERU's 1987 sevens camp; thus a September through November 15-a-side season (as played in the US East -- and Midwest and West) is assumed; this indicates the level of detail that needs to go into planning a program of this type.


The following types of tests are referred to in Table D1-1, which follows. Protocols for each specific test may be found following the table.

Circ Circuit Training

CV Cardiovascular

Int Intervals

JJ Jingle Jangles

PHR Peripheral Heart Rate Training

Plyo Plyometrics

PS Power/Strength

PSS Power/Strength/Speed

SE Strength/Endurance

Strch Stretch


Table D1-1. A Day by Day Training Program

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun

08/10/87 1 | SE1 | CV | SE1 | CV | SE1 | CV | Off |

08/17/87 2 | SE1 | CV | SE1 | CV | SE1 | CV | JJ |

08/24/87 3 | SE1 | JJ | SE1 | JJ | SE1 | JJ | CV |

08/31/87 4 | SE1 | JJ | SE1 | JJ | (1) | GAME | Off |

09/07/87 5 | SE1 | JJ | SE1 | JJ | (1) | GAME | Off |

09/14/87 6 | PS1 | JJ | PS1 | JJ | Strch | GAME | Off |

09/21/87 7 | PS1 | JJ | PS1 | JJ | Strch | GAME | Off |

09/28/87 8 | PS1 | JJ | PS1 | JJ | Strch | GAME | Off |

10/05/87 9 | PS1 | JJ | PS1 | JJ | Strch | GAME | Off |

10/12/87 10 | PS1 | JJ | PS1 | JJ | Strch | GAME | Off |

10/19/87 11 | Circ | JJ | PHR | Int | Strch | GAME | Off |

10/26/87 12 | Circ | JJ | PHR | Int | Strch | GAME | Off |

11/02/87 13 | Circ | JJ | PHR | Int | Strch | GAME | Off |

11/09/87 14 | ********************OFF********************** |

11/16/87 15 | ********************OFF********************** |

11/23/87 16 | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | Off |

11/30/87 17 | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | Off |

12/07/87 18 | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | Off |

12/14/87 19 | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | SE2 | CV | Off |

12/21/87 20 | PS2 | JJ | Plyo | CV | PS2 | JJ | Off |

12/28/87 21 | PS2 | CV | Plyo | JJ | PS2 | JJ | Off |

01/04/88 22 | PS2 | JJ | Plyo | JJ | PS2 | JJ | Off |

01/11/88 23 | PS2 | JJ | Plyo | JJ | PS2 | JJ | Off |

01/18/88 24 | PSS | PSS | Off | PSS | PSS | JJ | Off |

01/25/88 25 | PSS | PSS | Off | PSS | PSS | JJ | Off |

02/01/88 26 | PSS | PSS | Off | PSS | PSS | JJ | Off |

02/08/88 27 | PSS | PSS | Off | PSS | PSS | JJ | Off |

02/15/88 28 | Circ | PSS | Off | Circ | PSS | Off | JJ |

02/22/88 29 | Circ | PSS | Off | Circ | PSS | Off | JJ |

02/29/88 30 | PHR | PSS | Off | PHR | JJ | Off | JJ |

03/07/88 31 | PHR | PSS | Off | PHR | JJ | Off | JJ |


(1) SE1 or Strch


Circ Circuit Training

CV Cardiovascular

Int Intervals

JJ Jingle Jangles

PHR Peripheral Heart Rate Training

Plyo Plyometrics

PS Power/Strength

PSS Power/Strength/Speed

SE Strength/Endurance

Strch Stretch

Procedures for these tests are described below.

Cardiovascular Training

The original cardiovascular routine was fairly complex; Artingstall feels that to establish a good aerobic base in the off-season, running 4 to 6 miles 3 to 4 times per week will do the job adequately.

Circuit Training

Notes:o Use only 60-70% of your maximum.

o Rest one minute between each lift.

o 15 reps on all lift.

In this order:

o Squat

o Standing Barbell Curls

o Incline Bench

o Leg Curls

o Push Press

o Power Pulls

o Fingers touching (push ups)

o Leg Extensions

o "Neider" Press (45 pounds)

2 minutes rest, then ----


90 seconds rest, then ----


1 minute rest, then ----


TOTAL -- 4 circuits.

Interval Training

3 X 40 yards: medium pace

4 x 100 yards: all out

2 x 70 yards: medium pace

6 x 20 yards: all out

Your rest will be taken as you walk back to complete another sprint. Rest two (2) minutes between sprints.

Jingle Jangle Training

Jingle jangle training progresses in plateaus, as described below.

Run as fast as possible. Stay at a given level if unable to complete at speed.

If you complete Plateau 1 you may move to Plateau 2 in the same workout. After that do only one plateau level per day. Then do this workout 2 days on, 2 days off until reaching Plateau 4. Then do every other day alternating from Plateau 3 to Plateau 4.

Level Total number of Protocol

jingle jangles

Plateau 1 15 Jingle Jangles 5 jingle jangles

10 second rest

5 jingle jangles

20 second rest

5 jingle jangles

Plateau 2 20 Jingle Jangles 5 jingle jangles

5 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles

10 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles

20 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles

Plateau 3 41 Jingle Jangles 10 jingle jangles

30 seconds rest

10 jingle jangles

30 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles

45 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles 45 seconds rest

5 jingle jangles

45 seconds rest

3 jingle jangles

30 seconds rest

3 jingle jangles

Plateau 4 45 Jingle Jangles 15 jingle jangles

10 seconds rest

10 jingle jangles 30 seconds rest

10 jingle jangles

45 seconds rest

10 jingle jangles

Peripheral Heart Rate (PHR) Training

The protocol below gives a good example of a PHR training session.

o Each exercise lasts 30 seconds

o No rest between exercises.

o Lift 50% of your maximum.

o Accent should be on speed, complete as many reps as possible in 30 seconds.

o After each circuit, rest for 2 min., then repeat (3-4 times)

Bench press.

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Jumping Dumbbell Squats

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Power Pulls

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Cheat Curls

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Leg Curls

30 seconds of squat thrusts


30 seconds of squat thrusts

Upright Row

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Monkey Jumps

30 seconds of squat thrusts

"Neider" Press

30 seconds of squat thrusts

Plyometric Training

Note that the following exercises are very basic exercises: "only the tip of the iceberg" according to Ron.

1. Hop on alternate feet: 30 yards up on one foot, then 30 yards back on the other.

Complete five (5) times each foot.

2. Stairs

Hop up stairs (every step) two (2) flights on one foot. Come down on other foot. Up and down = 1.

Complete six (6) times.

(Alternate "up" foot and "down" foot every round trip.)

3. Stairs

Both feet together (every other step) three (3) flights. Walk back down stairs.

Complete six (6) times.

4. Monkey jumps

Start with 5 x 10 reps.

Progress with this routine by increasing sets and reps as your capacity improves.


Power/Strength Training

Regimen 1

(Coded PS1 in Table D1-1). Note that although this regimen was originally scheduled for 9/14 through 10/18 (off season for sevens but in season for fifteens), it is preferably an off-season regimen.

Monday Wednesday Friday

squats or deadlifts power cleans (as Monday)

press behind neck push press

upright row pull ups (5x8)


Supplement these workouts with abdominal exercises and any other "supplementals" you desire (curls, bench, etc.)

Sets Reps

(Choose the weight that allows you to complete designated number of reps and no more.)

Week 1 5 5

Week 2 4 4

Week 3 1 to failure

Week 4 4 10/8/6/4

Week 5 3 or 4 2

A Guide to Rest Between Sets

Week 1 1 to 2 minutes

Week 2 2 to 3 minutes

Week 3 2 to 4 minutes

Week 4 2 to 4 minutes

Week 5 2 to 4 minutes

Artingstall emphasizes that he has given only lifts that address necessary muscle actions. What seems, therefore, like a sparse workout can be supplemented, as long as the above lifts take priority.

Power/Strength Training

Regimen 2

(Coded PS2 in Table D1-1).

Monday Wednesday Friday

power cleans plyometrics power cleans

squats/deadlifts dips (5x12) squats/deadlifts

push press pull ups (6x10)

Sets Reps

(Choose the weight that allows you to complete designated number of reps and no more.)

Week 1 4 5

Week 2 4 4

Week 3 3 4

Week 4 4 2

Note: For each workout, a minimum of 50 sit-ups.

Power/Strength/Speed Training

Monday * Tuesday * Thursday Friday

(heavy) (1st 2 weeks: (light) stair hopping

squats hill running squats downhill running

power cleans stair running power cleans jingle jangles

push press towing *) pull ups 5x10

(2nd 2 weeks:

down hill running

jingle jangles

* Monday: 4 sets of 3 reps at 90-110 % of max

Thursday: 5 sets of 6 reps at 75- 90% of max


o begin with token resistance

o player at back plants foot in sync with player at front

o pick a 20 yard distance

o 1 = one round trip (40 yards total)

o increase resistance after each rep

o change after each rep (player towing then gets towed)

Strength/Endurance Training

Regimen 1

(Coded SE1 in Table D1-1).

Monday Wednesday Friday

squats incline d/bell press squats

upright row standing b/bell curls upright row

pull ups (4x8) close grip bench press pull ups

(fwds: neck bridge dips (4x8)

4x15) push-ups (fingertips (fwds: neck bridges

backs: lunges) touching) 4x15)

(backs: lunges)

Any abdomen exercise: 3 x 25.

Sets Reps

(Choose the weight that allows you to complete designated number of reps and no more.)

Week 1 3 12

Week 2 3 10

Week 3 3 8

Week 4 4 5

Week 5 5 3

Strength/Endurance Training

Regimen 2

(Coded SE2 in Table D1-21).

First two weeks:

Monday Wednesday Friday

squats: dead lifts repeat Monday's

2x15 3x10 instructions


standing barbell

d/bell shoulder curls: 3x10


2x15 - 30 lbs incline d/bell bench

2x10 - 35 lbs press: 3x10

pull ups upright row: 3x12


Third and fourth weeks:

Monday Wednesday Friday

squats: dead lifts repeat Monday's

1x10 1x10 instructions

2x8 2x6

2x6 2x4

standing press cheat curls

behind neck: 2x8

1x10 2x6


1x6 upright row


pull ups 2x8


dips: 5x12

(Choose the weight that allows you to complete designated number of reps and no more.)

Supplement with abdominal exercises: minimum 3x25 per session.

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