Leinster Rugby’s Head of Fitness stresses the importance of recovery in training at all levels
As head of the elite fitness team behind the scenes at Leinster Rugby, Daniel Tobin has performance and recovery down to a fine art.
“My job is to basically manage the physical wellness of the players, making sure they are recovering properly from games, managing individuals who may need to modify their training and preparing them for games week on week,” Daniel explains.
The former Ireland 400 metre sprinter, first joined Leinster in 2006 as Academy Strength and Conditioning Coach, before moving on to the same role with the senior team and in 2012 he became as Leinster’s Head of Fitness.
With a BSc in Sport Science and Health and an MSc by research in speed and power in rugby union players in UCD, Tobin’s credentials speak for themselves. And he is keen to share the expert knowledge of the Leinster backroom.
“Our staff has grown over the years, we have someone specialising in strength and power training, somebody else in rehab, I would take a lot of the conditioning and speed based work, but it is very much a team approach and I coordinate that team,” Daniel adds.
As a sprinter Daniel has always had a keen interest in improving running mechanics. However, in more recent years he has discovered through his work at Leinster that the key to better speed performance is about making players strong and powerful first.
“We do a lot of plyometric training now to improve reactivity and we make sure that filters well into their running as well,” Daniel explains. “We probably spend less time now on mechanics than we would have five or six years ago.”
There is no quick fix solution for improving speed, Daniel explains, but there is a definite science to it.
“You have to first of all consider how much force you can produce by getting stronger in the gym and then you think about how quickly you can produce that force; how powerful you are, how high you can jump, how you can lift weight for example. Then you apply that force when you are running,” he says. “So when you are accelerating you drive off at a low enough angle to apply that force to the ground. Those would be the things we work on a lot with our players.”
In sport, particularly at an elite level, Daniel believes that there are always new things to learn, even for the experts.
“The more we do, the more we learn,” Daniel says. “So even things we would have done maybe ten years ago, for example we might have done twice the amount of weights that we do now, to try and get people bigger, but you realise after a while that there is a certain point and when you go beyond it you are not really getting any more from training, your just effecting your recovery more.”
The importance of recovery for those who train, even those outside the elite sphere of professional rugby, cannot be emphasised enough according to Daniel.
“Your adaptation is happening during your recovery periods, so if you try and smash something every day, thinking that is the best way to do it without getting appropriate recovery it can actually stunt your development,” he explains. “Focusing on recovery, eating the right foods during the day, and getting the right amount of sleep is vital.”
“That is usually more difficult to do as a recreational person or amateur because you’re going to be working fulltime or studying, so you don’t have the same focus on recovery that a professional athlete has, but it still has to be taken into account. For longevity I think ‘less is more’ is a reasonably good piece of advice in terms of maintaining a programme of fitness long term,” Daniel adds.
However, for professional athletes such as the senior Leinster squad, fitness and performance is a huge team effort, day in and day out.
“As soon as they arrive in for training in the morning, we monitor the players physically and we monitor their mental wellness, their mood, their fatigue,” Daniel explains. “They also then will have rehab and prehab programmes, which are ongoing the whole time, where we might target certain areas where we know a guy is at risk, so that he stays away from injuries as much as possible, but even with all that being said and done, you will still end up with issues, it’s just the nature of the game really.”
And coming back from an injury, while maintaining fitness, can be a particularly difficult endeavour, even for the pros.
“The amount of work that we ask an injured player to do is way above what fit players will do,” Daniel says. “When you have an injured player you are trying to maintain fitness as much as you can, as well as really honing in on the injury to get him back as fit as possible- so it’s tough for the players, but the rewards are there in getting back as efficiently as you can.”
The science behind sport is constantly evolving and at Leinster Rugby, the team are at the forefront of both innovative fitness techniques and groundbreaking research into the area, which they now share at an annual, daylong seminar.
“We are in a pretty privileged position, we are the only real professional sport in the country and we have access to a massive amount of learning material here in terms of seeing how people respond to training,” Daniel explains. “The value that we think we can offer people is to give them an insight into how we think science can be applied day to day and I suppose form our own point of view the revenue that we get from it, goes back into our own department, so it will finance our research.”
Some of the revenue from last year’s conference was used to fund Leinster’s ongoing player GPS tracking system research.
“It basically comes full circle,” Daniel explains. “As some of the research from the GPS, funded by last year’s conference-which basically gives us a snap shot of what the demands of that training session or game were on the players- will be presented at this year’s conference.”
And in time, the Leinster Rugby fitness team hopes to use this knowledge to design more specific training programmes and further building on this bridge between science and sport.
Daniel and a number of his team members will be speaking at Leinster Rugby’s annual Elite Performance Conference, taking place on Saturday 28th February 2015 in the RDS.
Health & Living