After the huge physical demands of a rugby match, it is vital for your recovery that you make it a habit to perform cool-down exercises to be fit and primed for your next workout.
Post – game, your muscle fibres will have microscopic cuts in them, your tendons and ligaments will be strained, and waste products such as lactic acid will be accumulated in your body. A rugby cool-down is your personal responsibility to yourself to kick-start your rehabilitation.
A little relaxed exercise
Try to cajole your weary limbs before leaving the field of play into doing a gentle aerobic exercise for 5-10 minutes, such as jogging on the spot, or pacing while you swing your arms or rotate your shoulders in circles, clockwise and anti-clockwise for 10 reps each – this will help your heart rate return back to normal and circulate your blood so that you don’t feel quite as tired.
If you concentrate on taking deep breaths as you jog or stride, you will oxygenate your blood and banish any residues of lactic acid. There is a risk of feeling dizzy if your blood pressure drops, so try some walking lunges, maybe 3 sets of 10 metres, all the while focusing on your breathing.
Jumping jacks are great for your rugby cool-down, since your jumps work your entire lower body, stopping it from tightening up, while the act of putting your arms down and then raising them to clap keeps your upper body fairly supple.
When you leave the pitch to hit the massage room, part of the recovery work will have already been done.
Stretch yourself back to suppleness
While still on the pitch, attempt 5-10 minutes of cool-down stretches so your joints and muscles are returned to their usual length and function. This will also increase your flexibility and reduce the risk of suffering any injury in the following day’s exercise workout.
Try the calf stretch, stepping your right leg forward, keeping it slightly bent, and then lean forwards a little. Keep your left leg straight and aim to lower your left heel to the ground. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
For thigh stretches, lie on your right side, then grab the toes of your left foot and gently pull the heel towards your left buttock to stretch the front of your thigh. Keep your knees together. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on your left side.
To stretch out your hamstrings to avoid cramping up, lie on your back and raise your right leg straight up. Keep your left leg slightly bent with your left foot planted on the ground and pull your right leg towards you with your hands around the backs of your thighs. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Then repeat with the opposite leg.
Your flexibility will return to normal and your heart rate will settle down. Stretch your chest muscles by lacing your fingers behind your back as tightly as it comfortable. Straighten out your arms and then look up at the sky.
Y is for yoga
The core of your body is the true powerhouse, and that too should be stretched out immediately after the game comes to an end. We all are aware of the benefits of yoga, which is essentially a series of complex stretches that help your flexibility, core strength and balance.
You will get into positions you never would through normal stretching. Get down onto your hands and feet and then make your back into an arch, like a yawning cat. You should then bow it out in the shape of the letter C. Attempt 5 set of 5 reps, always returning to your original position.
It is a vitally important part of your cool-down stretches, since you will feel really tight after a few hours without a bit of yoga.