In the third episode of the Wattbike x Leicester Tigers mini-series, we talk to Aled Walters, Head of Physical Performance at Leicester Tigers, about how the Wattbike is utilised throughout the season; from rehabilitation and the off-season to pre-season preparations and match-day routines.
In Rugby, a big challenge is ensuring the players maintain physical qualities, every weekend, over and over again. Rugby is a repetitively battering physical game. And it takes its toll. The Wattbike helps us take some of the training and conditioning off the feet, aiding recovery and reducing the risk of injury. It has helped us to find other alternative avenues to retain the physical quality that every matchday requires. It’s made a massive difference.
When I worked with the Springboks, we used the Wattbike in a similar way during pre-season. It was all about repeat speed work, and a lot of training camps at altitude really helped with this. In Pretoria in 2019, I remember we had 12 Wattbikes all lined up at the training camp, they formed a big part of our programme. Players were on the bikes 3-4 times a week. Again, we had a similar routine in Japan for the World Cup. What’s nice is that the players see (and feel!) the perks of using the Wattbike, there’s no hard sell I have to do to convince them.
“The players see and feel the perks of using the Wattbike, there’s no hard sell.”
When I joined Leicester, there were three Wattbikes. I quickly made sure there were eight. When players turn up and they see eight Wattbikes, they know it’s important. They are going to start valuing and respecting the bikes. Then I had even more brought in. I’m pretty sceptical of a training environment when there’s not a Wattbike. How could anyone not value it?!
I talk about rugby sport-specific training a lot, and by this I’m talking about the repeat power that’s required, time and time again in the game. In defence, players need to get off the line and meet the attack for as many phases as is necessary.
“Training on the Wattbike can teach the mentality of what is required to go time and time again with everything you’ve got to give.”
The fact that using the bikes, we can measure how close each effort is to max power is essential. Training on the Wattbike can teach the mentality of what is required to go time and time again with everything you’ve got to give. Then to reset quickly, and go again. The Wattbike comes with a great level of honesty. There is no hiding from the data. I love that it’s instant, real-time data and the player and coach both see it at the same time.
The players often don’t need to be told, they know the numbers they want for themselves and they know how close they are to smashing their own glass ceiling.
Also, we mustn’t forget that if we need to cater for certain players who are being load managed, perhaps they can’t do the full programme on their feet, we’re able to replace some of the on-feet training with the Wattbike, taking them off-feet but still conditioning them in a way that’s of the same demanding, physical quality.
“The players often don’t need to be told, they know the numbers they want for themselves and they know how close they are to smashing their own glass ceiling.”
If I was to look at a normal week, we would play on the Saturday and then be back at training Monday morning. On that Monday, every forward is on the Wattbike. The other players will always make their way to the Wattbike that day in their own time, I don’t have to direct them. I know that every player will be sitting on a Wattbike at some point to start that training week as a brilliant form of active recovery.
Throughout the week, players who are in rehabilitation from injuries or being load managed and need to top up their conditioning levels will use the bikes most days. Then on Thursdays, the Wattbike is used as part of the activation session before pitch training. We keep the bikes in the changing room as an activation primer before any subs go on the pitch.
When it comes to match day, some players like to sit on the bikes in the changing rooms. And they always gravitate to the bikes we keep pitch side to warm up or stay active, it prepares them well without excessive running.
In pre-season, every week is slightly different. We try to keep it varied on purpose but we’ll be consistently using the Wattbikes three times a week to complement any on-feet training. They are the perfect training tool to just gradually increase the total volume of work up until the start of the season in a safe manner.
“Players need to get used to getting into some dark places when they train. The Wattbike is the safest way for us to access that physical and mental space.”
As gradual as the process sounds though, players need to get used to getting into some dark, horrible places when they train. The Wattbike is the safest way for us to get players to access that physical and mental space. You have to know it’s going to hurt, but know the massive benefit in the end. When you can check the screen after every repetition, there comes a mental toughness that’s hard to beat.
The Wattbike brings a hardiness to players, and when their scores go up on the board, it galvanises them a bit. We all have a mutual respect for how hard each other works. They are all struggling or thriving on the Wattbike, but the point is, they are all doing the same work. There’s a connection in that.
“They are all struggling or thriving on the Wattbike, but the point is, they are all doing the same work. There’s a connection in that.”
In part two with Tigers' Coach, Aled Walters, looks at how the Wattbike helps to benchmark performance, how results affect individual athletes and the competitive nature the training can bring out within the team.