[Premium Content] An Interview With Nic Gill, Head Strength Coach Of The New Zealand All Blacks
When it comes to rugby, no team is more feared or respected than the New Zealand All Blacks. This month, we speak to Nic Gill, who has been the team’s head strength and conditioning coach for the last eight years, about the kind of training it takes to be the very best. Interview by Phil McDougall.
What are the key differences in programming between in-season and off-season?
I suppose the only difference between in-season and off-season for rugby players is that in the off-season we don’t play a game on a Friday or a Saturday, and we don’t really have the same level of contact training, which obviously takes its toll on the body. Typically, it means that in the off- season, we can get more work in. The type of work tends to be not that different: high-intensity running, maximal load-lifting, power development, etc. The key difference is that the players are not involved in rugby as much, and therefore, can attack the gym and do more running. We tend to focus on far higher intensities.
We know that in rugby there is a high risk of injury compared to other sports. Do you have any go-to exercises for increasing resilience to injury?
The injury risk in rugby probably hasn’t increased over the years in terms of the incidence, but what we’re seeing now is increased severity of the injuries. We can probably chalk this up to the fact that the players are better conditioned, bigger, stronger, faster, leaner and just generally fitter, making the collisions more significant than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Now, a lot of injuries are collision-based: broken bones, snapped tendons, torn ligaments, fractures of all sorts, and, of course, concussions. The key things that most of us are trying to do on the physical preparation side of things is improve the strength and durability of the most frequently occurring incidents of injuries. That’s a little bit dependent on the player’s position, but also on the player himself and his history.
With a list as significant as that, where do you start?
First of all, we address any prior injuries and make sure that we are continuing to rehabilitate them and making sure those areas are no longer a risk going forward. Past injuries are a big dictator of what we focus on with each player. The second thing is the positional differences with the players and which injuries we see more of in what positions. Typically, it’s our midfielders and loose forwards who have a greater incidence of concussion and neck or shoulder injuries. They tend to bank the most hit by collisions in a game.
We do a lot of shoulder work for those guys. But really, we do a lot of shoulder work for everyone because the shoulder is such a vulnerable joint and it tends to be involved in nearly all collisions. Another area we focus on strengthening up is necks. This is to help with the symptoms or the severity of concussions. And then we work on soft tissue areas like the calf and the hamstring. Pushing athletes tend to have calf issues and we’re constantly trying to strengthen that area and keep the mobility through the ankle. Then obviously with our running athletes, the strength, range of motion, functionality of the hamstring and posterior chain are the big focus for our speedsters.The success of the team over the last 100 years means that whoever puts on the all blacks jersey is expected to be at his best, Mentally and physically Click To Tweet
I know that you do a fair bit of crawling and band work with your players. Does that fall into the kind of injury-resilience category?
Not really. Like anyone involved in conditioning or working with any sort of athlete or team sport, I am focused on the need of each player, because the needs within the group are so varied. It’s a matter of what’s going to have the biggest impact. Crawling is great because it works on mobility, stability and activation. There are many areas that crawling helps improve. So yes, we do a bit of crawling, but it’s not something that we have a really big focus on. Likewise with the band work. Bands have the ability to load in many different planes and in different ways. They provide resistance, assistance and a little bit of fun. Bands are just another tool we use, but I wouldn’t use them any more than dumbbells, bars, crawling or bodyweight.
In a typical All Blacks’ training session, what percentage of time is spent on joint mobility, flexibility, and ground-based movement work?
In a field-based session, we spend a little bit of time getting ready for what we need to do from an individual skill perspective as well as a team perspective. So that’s my first priority, to get them ready to do that. We can spend anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes getting ready, mainly increasing the body temperature, moving through some ranges of motion that they will be exposed to in the tasks that follow. And there is some thought being put into getting mobile, increasing the flexibility and creating a little bit of recovery from what we did the day prior.
If we’re talking about a gym session, then we spend considerably more time on mobility and working on the range of motion through key areas; likewise with ground-based movement work. That’s really the crawling side of things. But that’s just part of our preparation-to-train or preparation-to-perform window. It only takes up about 10 to 15% of our time.Athleticism is about being able to express yourself in all sorts of ways, under all sorts of time constraintsClick To Tweet