Now, more than ever before, sport science is playing an integral role in professional sport.
Across the board – from the world of rugby and football, to cycling and golf – coaches, players and even supporters are transfixed with the role science plays in preparing professional athletes for their chosen sport.
With the London Irish squad currently in week four of pre-season training ahead of the 2021/22 season, Ben Cousins – the Exiles’ very own Sport Scientist – sat down to give us a brief overview of the importance of science in rugby, especially at this point of the season.
Cousins joined London Irish in December 2018 and has since gone on to play an integral role in Declan Kidney’s backroom team at Hazelwood. His role is multifaceted to say the least.
“My job, working alongside the rugby staff, Strength and Conditioning team and the medical department, is to oversee the data and everything that is entailed within that” said Cousins.
“From a Strength and Conditioning perspective, that relates to the physical aspect of pre-season training - loading information from each players’ GPS tracking unit, all of the jump testing in the gym, strength testing etc. That all falls under the physical side of things.
“And then medically, it’s all about how we can aid ‘injury prevention’ from a load management standpoint, creating a flagging system for the rugby department to identify prevention strategies to ensure our players are in good physical health.”
Pre-season campaigns are renowned for being brutally tough in rugby, but – as Cousins revealed – players can help themselves by ‘doing things right’ in the off-season.
“We’ve got an eight-week pre-season, but the players also did a three-week running programme prior to returning” he said. “If they do things right, then the first few weeks of pre-season look after themselves.
“Then, as things evolve, we gradually increase the load week on week, to a level where we believe the boys will be ready for a match week.”
With no matches during the first six weeks of pre-season, the backroom staff at London Irish are able to get some vital ‘pitch time’ with the squad, as Cousins explained.
“Pre-season allows us to get through a greater volume of work than we’d be able to during the season” he said.
“Week one is a bridging phase, and then as the weeks evolve – we’re now in week four – we pick up the volume and intensity.”
He added: “The lads all came back in great shape and they’re reaping the benefits of that now. They’re working really hard – we feel we’re building nicely towards where we need to be at this stage.
“The output of the boys is over double match intensity at the moment, and that’s a good place to be at this stage.”