The new rugby season in UAE is seven weeks away, and Abu Dhabi Harlequins have wasted no time in getting back on to the field to ensure they are in peak condition when they play their first game against Dubai Hurricanes on Friday, September 26.
Like in any sport, pre-season is all about getting back to being match fit, and part of the schedule involves bleep tests, lifting and improving the players’ cardio and agility abilities.
But for the Harlequins, the pre-season training method this year is different.
UAE fitness guru Eva Clarke has been leading the sessions twice a week since pre-season began on July 21.
Being a crossfit competitor, ultra marathon runner and former bodybuilder, the UAE resident knows what’s required to achieve good results.
Around 40 turned up for Clarke’s fifth session of pre-season at Zayed Sports City on Monday.
Before Clarke led the class, the players under went a 10-minute warm-up session, where the players did some stretches, before jogging the full distance of the rugby pitch.
“With the warm-ups, we get their heart rate up and go through a general and specific phase in a certain form of workout. For example, if we are going to do some drills on helping people to dive with the ball, we will do a movement pattern in which your elbows and shoulders are tested," said Clarke. “So basically it’s about mimicking the movements that we do in the session for the warm-up.”
Shortly after, the players were asked to pair up with someone of their height and the pair would later undergo an exercise drill during the session.
What followed was an intense 45-minute session which really tested the players’ fitness.
“I had them do constant work, speed recovery work, and a lot of cutting and dropping exercises,” explained Clarke. “There’s not a lot of equipment that we use but we use what we use on the field – each other. I made them do the press-ups and squats as well as running the length of the field and physically lifting their partner off the ground. It’s very repetitive and basically it gets easier in the sense of greater volume towards the end of the session.”
With their body aching and after a short rest, Clarke assembled the group for the warm-down.
Players lay on their backs, twisting their hips and stretching their legs and arms on 15-second holds to release the blood flow, before sitting in an upright position and stretching their arms forward.
“In the cool down, to maintain the elasticity and prevent the dorms of blood pooling, I made them do some stretches," said Clarke. "So, I take them through the basic stretches from head to toe and do at least 15-second holds on each stretch. It’s just very important that they do it at the end of the session because it’s enough to keep their muscles from getting sore.”
The session was different from the last and with every session planned accordingly and tried and tested by Clarke, it leaves the players guessing what to expect next.
“All the pre-season sessions are different. Last week, we did a bleep test. Every time you would run past your partner you would throw the ball to them. If you dropped the ball, you would be punished with drills,” said Clarke.
“If I want them to do a high intense cardio session, I will let them do a bleep that could range from five to 10 minutes. If I want them to do something longer than 15 minutes, then we will do a marathon-like cardio, rather than short, intense sessions.
“On agility-based exercises, I will make them do zig-zagging and a lot of cutting and turning over a certain period of time.”
With more sessions to come in the next two weeks, the players will be braced for more gruelling tests.
“The players will undergo body weight exercises using the full length of a rugby field. So we will use military-based commander crawl, hard gruelling walks and more ball skills with the emphasis on running in order to throw the ball accurately whilst the player is out of breath," Clarke added.
“For the sessions that we’ve been doing, it’s all about eating high protein and carbohydrate foods.”
Knowing too well that hard work achieves positive results, she is happy to see the smile on the players’ faces at the end of a session.
“Everyone is really happy because of what they’ve achieved and it feels as if they’ve won a rugby match. It feels like an accomplishment to have finished one of my sessions,” she continued.