Women’s game upping its fitness prowess

USA Rugby is now WORKFORIT Rugby

More than ever now in this new Olympic age, fitness, strength and conditioning are vital components in the preparation of top international Sevens players.

For years New Zealand’s men’s team has set its stall out and blazed a trail with impeccable fitness standards and now the finest in the women’s game are following suit.

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, we caught up with the Head Athletic Trainer for the USA Women’s Sevens side, Nicole Titmas.

The US women’s team is one of the quickest and fittest sides in the game and at each tournament the side is supported by a team which includes an athletic trainer, Nicole Titmas, a strength and conditioning coach, Jared Siegmund, and various other medical staff alongside the usual coaching team.

Titmas cut short her own playing career after seven years to focus purely on athletic training and also channelled that passion into gaining a bachelor's degree in Exercise Physiology and a master’s in Athletic Training. She is currently studying for a master's degree in acupuncture.

Balance of experience

“At the US Olympic Training Centre, where we are based for training, we have a very large support team consisting of a nutritionist, sports psychologist, acupuncturist, chiropractors, and massage therapists,” explained Titmas.

“I started working for USA Rugby with the Under 23s programme in 2006 and the USA Sevens programme in 2007 so I have a good overview of the needs and demands for rugby players at this level. Jared, who I work closely with has a very broad background in American Football, wrestling, hockey and track and field so we have a good balance of experience, which you need.”

Last year USA Rugby announced full-time funding for its men’s and women’s Sevens programmes, with the squads based permanently at the US Olympic centre in Chula Vista, California. The move has paved the way for a comprehensive training schedule.

“A typical week varies, depending on what phase we are in. A general week in-season includes a daily prehab programme, two weight training sessions with a third optional lift, one speed/ and agility day, three skills sessions and five team training session with varying intensity and durations depending where we are in the season,” said Titmas.

“On top of that the girls will have daily recovery sessions and weekend recovery programmes so it’s quite a busy schedule for them.”

The players work very hard but, according to Titmas, one positive effect of training together full-time has been a reduction in injuries.

“Since we have had athletes in residency over the past 18 months, we have been fortunate with few soft tissue injuries and few severe injuries. Some injuries that we have seen in competition over the past two years have been AC separations, ACL tears, and concussions which are all common in rugby.

“The other great thing about training together full-time is that the athletes have been able to really focus on creating their fitness foundation. They have made great improvements in learning what it takes physically, mentally, and emotionally to be a full-time athlete. Most athletes have improved significantly with their overall fitness, speed, and strength.”

Creating a core foundation

Titmas also has fitness advice for aspiring Sevens athletes: “Honesty I would just say, create the foundation. What I mean is that aspiring athletes should focus on building a good strong fitness base, which includes proper strength, anaerobic endurance, and an injury prevention programme."

"These are all very important because Sevens is played at such a high intensity with shorter duration in regard to time demands you might face in other sport. For us, we want our athletes to generate greater power outputs and withstand collisions at maximum force.”

And her answer to the “pace or power” question in Sevens: “Speed kills – but you have to have fitness!”