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FITNESS FOCUS: What it takes to be a sevens player

7 September 2015

Rugby sevens is set to take the world by storm at the Rio Olympics next year - the first time the sport has been included in the Games - but Bath will be hosting its own exciting tournament long before then.

The Red Bull Uni 7s takes place at the Rec on Saturday 26th September - as part of an all-day Festival of Rugby - which will see some of the best university sides from across the world compete for the title. Sevens is renowned as one of the toughest, most exhausting sports around, so we spoke to our Academy Performance Manager, Australian Mark Atkinson, about what is required to make it at the top level.

In terms of physical demands, what are the main differences between sevens and 15s?

Very simply, it's the tolerance capabilities - the ability to tolerate high thresholds of activity, recover and repeat - and the impacts players are exposed to. Sevens is a lot faster and open, given the pitch size is the same as a 15-a-side game but with far fewer players. Recent investigations have shown that rugby sevens players spend a larger proportion of the game running at high intensity, and thus have superior intermittent aerobic endurance: consequently, they are leaner in shape than their 15-a-side counterparts. The higher tolerance demands and greater space would suggest they experience fewer and less powerful impacts compared to rugby union.

As for all-round athleticism, would you say that sevens players will be some of the most impressive athletes at the Olympics next year? What constitutes athleticism?

It's tough to pigeonhole, especially at such a diverse event as the Olympics. Let's say, if you were to have a medal for athletes that competed in every event at the Olympics and tallied up their overall results, I'd say sevens players would be up there given the diverse degree of skills and physical attributes needed. If anything, seeing some of the sevens players doing equestrian events or a floor gymnastics routine with a ribbon to prove a point would be entertaining...

How will a player like Jeff Williams, Bath Rugby's new signing, go about changing his sevens routine to a rugby union one?

In short, Jeff will do fine. He's an outside back with good size, and given the speed and power characteristics are similar between 15-a-side backs and sevens players, the physical transfer for him will be minor. Nutrition-wise, he won't be clocking up the same sort of training and playing volumes, so unless he's trying to put on weight - or pad up for the lovely English winter - he will probably drop his calorie intake a little and substitute high calorific foods for leaner protein-rich sources. The food at Bath Rugby is pretty special.

Will it be an easy process for Jeff?

Nothing is easy in an elite professional environment such as Bath Rugby, and playing in one of the best competitions in the world will always challenge even the best players. The major things to consider will be the positional and game management areas for Jeff. To answer the question: Easy? No. Challenging? Yes.

Is it easier to make a sevens player into a 15s player than vice versa?

It depends on the position. Given some of the similarities in physical and game play characteristics between sevens players and backs in rugby union, it will be easier for backs to transfer either way. Conversely, you'd probably get a better result from a screen door on a submarine than using a 15-a-side prop in a sevens game (and that's banking on the fact you could actually convince one to transfer!).

What sort of exercises or drills would you recommend for somebody looking to get in shape for sevens?

Bench press and bicep curls: if you are going to be playing sevens in Rio, Las Vegas or the Gold Coast you've got to be looking on point! In all seriousness though, your foundation training for sevens should consist of strength training - incorporating primary lower body and upper body pushing and pulling exercises - together with general conditioning on separate days. To specify a little more towards sevens you will look at then incorporating high intensity, short duration interval and circuit training which could include a variety of activities, for instance: lighter weights, running, wrestling, jumping, tackling et cetera. Specific attention to hip, knee and ankle mobility and tissue tolerance (high repetition, light resistance strength exercises) will aid your ability to withstand the workloads of sevens rugby.

To register your interest for free access to Red Bull Uni 7s event only, click here.

Tickets for the West Country Challenge Cup match between Bath Rugby and Gloucester, which takes place at the Rec on the same day as Red Bull Uni 7s, are now on general sale and can be purchased here, on 0844 448 1865 or in person at the Ticket Office on Pulteney Bridge.

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