Rugby players may not be able to train outdoors because of the COVID-19 lockdown, but they can still maintain an edge over their opponents if they make ballet and certain rhythmic (dance) moves part of their strength and conditioning training while indoors, according to a recent study at Stellenbosch University (SU).
“Incorporating rhythmic movements into their training can improve rugby players' flexibility, agility, power, muscular endurance and dynamic balance (maintaining postural stability while moving)," says Jocelyn Solomons who obtained her Master's degree in Sport Science at SU recently. She's currently enrolled as a PhD student at SU.
Solomons says she wanted to combine two seemingly different worlds namely dance and rugby because of the potential of rhythmic movements to be incorporated into the strength and conditioning programmes of rugby. She adds that the focus is on specific dance-inspired movements in the form of “exercises" as opposed to dance routines.
In the first study of its kind in South Africa, Solomons tried to determine the effect a rhythmic movement intervention would have on the performance of rugby players. She recruited players from the Stellenbosch Rugby Academy and the Western Province Rugby Academy to participate in her 16-week intervention.
Solomons says the players were very shocked and suspicious at first, but after she had shown them a YouTube video of the Wigan Warriors rugby team who use ballet as part of their training, they were excited to try something new and different from their normal rugby training.
As part of the intervention, the players ̶ both forwards and backs ̶ performed various rhythmic movements as part of their training with a specific focus on exercises that targeted bio-motor skills (flexibility, dynamic balance, agility, power, strength and endurance). These exercises included ballet, salsa basics, jumps and leaps (modern dance), grapevine steps and turns (used for example, in the foxtrot, polka, hustle, etc) and various dynamic and static stretches.
“There were statistically significant improvements from pre- to post-treatment in the players' power and some local muscular endurance bio-motor skills. Additionally, when considering backs and forwards, agility and power showed statistically significant improvements from pre- to post-test", says Solomons.
“The exercises helped the players to throw medicine balls further when seated and to jump higher from a standing position. They were also able to do more crunches in two minutes, as well as more pull-ups and single-leg squats."
“Multiple bio-motor skills can be trained simultaneously, which is advantageous to a demanding rugby-training schedule. In other words, rhythmic movements can be used as a tool to warm-up, as a conditioning method to improve specific bio-motor skills or, when required, as a form of recovery for players."
Solomons says that in order for the rhythmic movement intervention to be as effective as possible, it should be implemented throughout the rugby season and should include and cater to the positional demands of rugby players.
“The findings of the study are particularly relevant for coaches, along with other specialist coaches (strength and conditioning coaches, as well as technical and tactical coaches), who are frequently looking for new ways to improve the performance of players and to implement an alternative training strategy to their strength and conditioning programmes."
Solomons says players of all ages can do these movements as part of their training, adding that apart from rugby players. She points out that rhythmic movement has been used in some form in other sports such as soccer and has shown benefits. “Anyone from any sport can make rhythmic movements part of their training as long as they mimic the movements of the specific sport."
Solomons plans to share her findings with rugby coaches.
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