Improve maximal aerobic power for rugby players: the integrated method

Meet the demands of current rugby

The physical characteristics of rugby players and the differences between the playing posts are now well studied. This sport is defined as an intermittent activity of high intensity of confrontation and avoidance alternating phases of combat and races.  The activity requires strength, speed, and endurance, especially in the repetition of intense actions interspersed with random duration and intensity recovery phases. Analyses of the latest international competitions show a linear increase in ball in play (BIP-effective play time) with a shrinking number of sequences. The result is increasingly long game sequences in which players will be subjected to intense action repetition.

A number of authors have studied the impact of the ability to produce high-intensity actions by players on match performance. Subjects producing a greater number of Repeated High Intensity Excercise (RHIE) which represents the production of at least 3 intense actions (sprint, intense acceleration, ruck, tackle, maul) in a time of 21” as well as a greater amount of High Intensity Activity (HIA) are also the best performers.

However, as written above, there are large differences in tasks depending on the position being held. This is no longer to be proven, but let’s remember that the fronts are heavier, larger and have a larger fat mass than the rear. The latter travel more distance at high speed with a larger sprint and a minute footage greater than the forwards, in contrast the forwards complete more RHIE with a number of combat actions greater than the rear. Overall the forwards have a higher effort ratio than the rear. But the specificity of the activity means that within each line, there are significant differences between the posts (1L, 2L, 3L, half center, deep field). The consensus that emerges through this data is that all players must be in a high physical condition in order to meet their specific tasks.

The main challenge for the physical preparation staff is to obtain physiological improvements for the players that will allow them to perform in a match situation.

Develop your aerobic qualities by combining specific motor coordinations?

For many years, the development of aerobic metabolism has been a fundamental priority for a multitude of sports (individual and collective). Many professionals and scientists have experimented with this physical quality in order to find the most effective methods for their athletes. In collective sports such as rugby and football, we have long used Vo2max development methods based on running for a majority of them from athletics.

While the results were satisfactory in terms of improving aerobic abilities, professionals were still asked about the possibility of achieving better results using more specific methods.

Indeed, as seen in the first part, collective sports and especially rugby offer very different activity profiles depending on the position. Thus one could question the interest, taking into account the benefit-risk balance, to propose content based solely on the race to the front lines to name but one example.

Sure, their V02max will increase, but at what price? (injury, fatigue) Is there a way to improve the abilities of my athletes on the field by taking into account their real needs?

In rugby, integrated aerobic training is increasingly used. In the form of “fitness game” and intermittent work repeating activity-specific actions. Today, there is a growing use of high-intensity rugby training with specific instructions that allow players to experience similar or even superior conditions in matches using the worst case scenario for example (this part will be the subject of a later article).

Benefits of the integrated method

The Integrated Method – Similar Improvements in Aerobic Capabilities

Recent studies have shown that high-intensity intermittent training improves players’ aerobic metabolism, leading to a change in the ability to repeat actions on a solicitation involving the central factors of VO2max. At the same time, particularly in the field of football, recent studies have shown that specific aerobic training can improve player performance. Thus, reduced games and intermittent aerobic training have a similar positive effect on aerobic metabolism, peripheral factors, anaerobic metabolism (H-regulation and buffering ability) and the ability to repeat high-intensity actions with directional changes. The use of this specific form of training would therefore be an adequate way to develop physical qualities by integrating technical-tactical work.

The less intense perceived integrated method

In addition, “general” intermittent aerobic training was subjectively perceived by participants as more intense, while no objective difference in solicitation was found between the experimental groups (9). The same film per minute as well as similar cardiorespiratory stresses were observed in the two experimental groups (8) resulting in metabolic adaptations of the same magnitude.

This means that for the same drive volume, the overall load will be significantly lower after an integrated job compared to the dissociated work.

Let’s illustrate by a simple example of load calculation with the RPE score:

Athlete A:

25 min of dissociated LDCs


Charge – 25×8 – 200 AU

Athlete A:

25 min of dissociated LDCs


Charge 25×6 – 150 AU

With this simple example, it is clear that the integrated method allows to obtain the same external load (objective amount of work) , for a lower internal load (subjective perception) which leads to a lower total load, and therefore to a better ability to chain workouts in a conventional week.

The integrated method – more pleasant work

The pleasure perceived by the athletes was indeed significantly greater when integrated MAP development work was proposed compared to dissociated MAP training.

In my opinion, this parameter is not to be overlooked. We know that work done reluctantly will not produce the desired result. In addition, this form of training is generally very well experienced by players who come out of this job with good sensations.

The integrated method is a good way to learn motor?

To my knowledge, the effects of integrated aerobic training on improving technical or motor qualities has never been proven as very difficult to implement in a scientific protocol. However, it is easy to imagine that the rugby player who will chain specific actions in an energy work will, at a minimum, improve his motor coordinations by the repetition effect. Even if the goal is not to obtain technical improvements, one can think that the act of dropping or rucker and applying the right tensions and mechanical deeds will allow the athlete to get used to performing these tasks in a context of fatigue that he will find in the match.

Finally, this method seems to me to be even more interesting on adolescent audiences of developing their VO2max (U14 to U18), because they are known to make rapid and lasting progress over time when they are forced to repeat different motor coordinations. For this audience, one could aim for real motor learning through the integrated LDC and improve 2 physical qualities simultaneously.

In summary the integrated method:

  • Makes getting the same improvements of MAS (and thus indirectly VO2max and energy cost)
  • Is perceived less intense
  • Leads to a lower workload
  • Is more pleasant
  • Repeats specific motor patterns that can lead to motor improvements.

To go further

To further the subject, I summarized below the scientific study I conducted on the physiological differences between the dissociated and integrated method.

In addition, you can find examples of integrated sessions, as well as key points to be met during your energy training in the “small guide to the development of the LDC in integrated method.” The sale of these guides helps us finance the site.

Summary of study

I conducted this study in collaboration with Christophe Hautier and with the support of Arthur Pater and Baptiste Bouquet.

Objective: The study aimed to compare the effects of a dissociated maximum aerobic power training versus integrated maximum aerobic power training on Intermittent Maximum Aerobic Speed, horizontal explosive qualities, fatigue and perceived pleasure.

Topics: 65 ASVEL rugby junior players were divided into 3 groups called PMAD, PMAI, and GC

Experimental Protocol: PMAI and PMAD performed a 6-week protocol consisting of 10 dissociated or integrated aerobic sessions of the same ratio (only the modality differed) depending on their group of belonging. Intermittent VMAs (30-15 IFT) was evaluated 3 times (pre-test, post-test, retest) as well as weight, height and horizontal explosiveness. During the protocol, the fatigue felt as well as the pleasure perceived by the players, were noted for each session. A fatigue status questionnaire was distributed in pre-test to verify that there were no significant differences between the groups.

Main results: PMAD and PMAI recorded a significant gain of VMAI of the same magnitude (2.7% vs. 2.2% respectively) while GC had not evolved. During the training period, PMAI had a significantly lower RPE than PMAD, while the pleasure felt appeared to be greater or equal by age group.

Analysis of results

First, we can infer that the potential increase in VO2max was mainly achieved through an improvement in VO2max’s peripheral factors, because the sessions in place proposed actions requiring repeated significant muscle work, which would have potentially resulted in local acidosis. The appearance of the latter would not achieve cardiac and ventilatory intensities that could improve maximum cardiac output (Qmax), which is why we predicted that the improvements would be mostly peripheral. Specifically, the PMAI and PMAD groups likely improved their ability to transport and local spread in O2 through muscle capillarization and improved oxidative mechanisms through an increase in enzyme and mitochondrial number and activity. These parameters increase the arterios-venous difference (d (a-v) O2) which will help to increase the pressure gradient at the cardio-respiratory level (promoting diffusion), and which, more directly, theoretically leads to an improvement in VO2max.

Second, despite the training setting targeting these peripheral factors, it is difficult to isolate a well-defined aspect, which is why it can still be inferred that at the lung level, participants would have improved their diffusion capacity through an increase in the scattering surface allowing better use of alveoli and capillaries.

Third, at the cardiovascular level, we may think that the maximum cardiac output (Qmax) has been slightly altered. Specifically, the subjects would have increased their total blood volume, in addition to the fact that this phenomenon generates a decrease in hematocrite (despite the increase in red blood cells) making the blood more fluid favorable to gas exchanges, it allows an amplified ventricular filling added to an improvement in cardiac contractility as well as a decrease in peripheral resistance allowing better ejection. These parameters would lead subjects to increase their Maximum Systolic Ejection Volume (VESmax) leading to increased their maximum cardiac output (Qmax). Moreover, these actions require significant muscle work (decelerations/accelerations), they would induce a higher glycolytic contribution resulting in a higher concentration of lactate in the blood. Compared to the results obtained, these methods may be thought to be relevant in order to improve VMA 30-15 IFT because they create new adaptations of the metabolic of anaerobic glycolysis and allow it to participate more and more quickly in energy metabolism by involving increased and repeated muscle work. We may also think that these high-intensity training methods improve the efficiency of tampon systems and lactate transporters (MCTs), delaying the limiting effect of acidosis, which would have a beneficial effect for the diffusion of O2 between capillary and muscle cell.

The increase in the 30-15 IFT VMA could also be due to an improvement in the race economy of subjects who would have developed their ability to change direction and reproduce high-intensity actions with less limiting muscle work (braking-start).

WHAT about other performance factors?

With respect to the other performance factors evaluated in this study (see horizontal explosiveness), we found no effect of the training program with an increase in performance in the three experimental groups. For our experiment, therefore, we hypothesized that this phenomenon was mainly due to a learning effect in these young age groups who had little experience with the Broad Jump test (particularly the U16) which requires special motor coordination. We therefore cannot confirm the hypothesis that PMAI training would improve neuromuscular factors such as temporal, spatial and decreased discharge frequency through the pliometric components (compliance-raider) of certain actions proposed during PMAI sessions (placage, duel …) allowing to express a high level of force in a short time. We can also assume in addition, that aerobic training combined with explosive efforts, could give rise to some interference between metabolisms. In view of the results, we cannot therefore confirm the hypothesis that the subjects would have improved their mechanical efficiency (race economy) given by the ratio between the energy expended and the work provided, using an optimization of pliometric capabilities.

Impacts on training load

Based on the results obtained, we can say that the type of training proposed has an impact on the perception of effort and on motivation. Specifically, a different RPE is obtained between the two groups with an equal volume of work leading to a lower internal workload at PMAI. In comparing this data with the perceived pleasure we notice that for PMAI, the latter is higher or equal to PMAD. In this way, one might think that PMAI training is relevant, because it allows for a higher or equivalent motivation for a lower internal load, allowing better recovery, better execution quality as well as more assimilation of technical-tactical content.


In accordance with the literature these results show that both training methods induce similarly wide improvements in intermittent aerobic abilities and the ability to change direction, with PMAI representing a form of subjectively less intense work for greater or equal motivation to PMAD. From now on, the coaches and physical trainers involved will be able to choose between these two methods according to their different objectives and will be able to improve the effectiveness of their training.


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