What is the quick and dirty road to fitness?
June 7, 2010 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Fitness filter: I need to get as fit as possible in the next 12 days, how can I do it?

I have a two day rugby tournament coming up in two weeks. I've been unable to train for the past three weeks and will do what it takes (within the bounds of reason and with, at most, an hour a day available to train) to get as fit as possible as quickly as possible. What's the best exercise regimen for me?

I'm thinking that swimming might be ideal but I'm just guessing here. Would running be better? Sprints? The gym? Jumping jacks?

In case it's relevant, I'm male, mid-30's and not horribly out of shape, but definitely not game-fit right now.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
What about p90x? If you did the doubles workout, that's two full weeks. It's a killer workout and very oldfashioned. Six days a week, you work a variety of muscles, but do a lot of very basic things: pushups, situps, abs/core, push til you hurt. I've just finished my sixth week of it and it's been great. Not sure how appropriate it is for a rugby tournament, as it's relatively low on cardio workout.
posted by scunning at 7:05 AM on June 7, 2010

Is the tournament XV's or sevens? What position will you be playing?

Also, was your inability to train injury related, or just circumstances?

Broadly, without knowing the answer to the above:
If it's sevens, you'll want maximum cardio, relatively little weights. You'll be doing a lot of running. You may want to work on bursts of pace as well - sprints, I guess.

If it's XV's and you're a back, similar, but slightly more all-body.

If it's XV's and you're a back-row forward, more all-body.

If it's XV's and you're tight five, more strength.

You'll need a lot of cardio whatever, but adjust for position-specific. Work on quick feet as well, and also your handling.

If you're a lineout lifter, remember to do related exercises.
posted by djgh at 7:12 AM on June 7, 2010

You need to beat the ever-living piss out of your body for the next twelve days if you're going to have any hope of walking around normally the day after the game. I would concentrate on core routines for your abs and back (sit ups, leg lifts, rowing machine, tons of squats if you have the equipment). Additionally I'd recommend ass-loads of stretching. Cardio is well and good, but were I you I'd worry less about stamina and more about injury prevention.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:13 AM on June 7, 2010

Swimming is good cardiovascular exercise.

But here's the thing. An exercise program consisting of just cardio won't enhance your strength, which, arguably, is important for rugby.

So, how's your physical conditioning? If it's subpar, I'd try a program of swimming every other day, and then on your days off do something like p90x or lifting weights, or calisthenics when you don't swim.
posted by dfriedman at 7:14 AM on June 7, 2010

It takes longer to make your heart/lungs work better than to make your muscles stronger. I could lift more weight next week than this week if I really tried. I doubt I could run farther.

Personally, I wouldn't focus too much on running/swimming except to maybe just get your body loosened up a bit.
posted by pjaust at 7:22 AM on June 7, 2010

You can't really build cardiovascular fitness in that short of a time period. It's one of the reasons endurance athletes taper before big events (the other being so that their body is "fresh" for the event). I think if you beat your body up for the next 12 days, you'll go into the tournament nothing more than beat up. You should focus on just getting in some regular exercise, loosening up your body, and working on a few skills that you will need during the games.
posted by smalls at 7:55 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Unfortunately, there is no "crash dieting" for fitness.

I would not focus on strength. You don't lose all your strength in three weeks, and you can't gain any significant amount of strength in two.

The exception is if you started a strength program right now and had not previously been seriously committed to one. You could see some pretty nice gains in your lifts. However, these would not be "real" gains, in that they represent significant increases in strength and muscle-mass. These are "beginner" gains fueled by the adaptation of your central nervous system (CNS) to the movements. So that's out, as a squat that's increased because you've gotten used to the movement is probably not going to help you.

Cardiovascular capacity you could likely bring back to where you'd been before the break, or possibly increase a bit. I would not do an intensive program like P90x, as it's likely to just burn you out for your tournament and leave you with DOMS. I'm not familiar with ruby, but I imagine a mix of steady-state (i.e. holding one pace for 30 minutes or more) and sprints/conditioning would be what you're looking for, right? Running would be ideal, given your sport, but if you don't run regularly going all-out and running an hour every day is likely to lead to injury (especially if you're a bigger size). I'd do running sprints maybe 2-3x the first week, maybe 2x the second, and 3x each week pick a different form of cardio, maybe rowing, maybe swimming, something that will really get your heart rate up and at a pace you can hold for 30-45 minutes.

Honestly, the most you can do in 2 weeks is something that addresses CNS adaptation. Which works really well for you, because you're going to be competing in a sport that requires skills. So why not do some cardio and but make your main focus your skill drills? Like maybe something like this:

M: 20 minutes skills, 30 minutes steady cardio
T: 20 minutes skills, sprints (maybe 4x100m, I dunno what would be most applicable to rugby)
W: 15 minutes skills, 45 minutes cardio
Th: 20 minutes skills: sprints (like 6x100m, just increase the number of sets you did on Tuesday) or calisthenics
F: 10 minutes skills, 50 minutes cardio
Sa: Rest

Su: 20 minutes skills, 45 minutes cardio
M: 20 minutes skills, sprints (8x100m)
T: 20 minutes skills, 40 minutes cardio
W: 20 minutes skills, 30 minutes cardio
Th: 30 minutes skills, 20-30 EASY cardio
F: Rest


The amount of time spent on skill work and cardio is kind of arbitrary, as I'm not sure how much rugby depends on anaerobic versus aerobic activity, or how much time you can realistically spend on skills. The length of the sprints is similarly better determined by somebody who knows more about the sport. Skill work can include anything from throwing, catching (???), plyometrics, footwork drills, etc.

The idea though is that you really ramp up everything through the first week, take some rest, keep the intensity a little high through the second, and then wind it down and take at least a day of rest between the last workout and the tournament. You should also adjust workouts depending on soreness or increase intensity depending on whether you can. The first week is the time to go balls-out if you can, the second week you don't want to be burned out at the end for the tournament (sprints are really where you have to watch it, as it's easy to do too many but they can really mess you up the next day).
posted by Anonymous at 8:03 AM on June 7, 2010

Oh yeah: Another thing is to remember during the steady-state cardio you are not supposed to be going as fast as humanly possible the entire time. Just hard enough that it's a bit difficult to talk.
posted by Anonymous at 8:04 AM on June 7, 2010

Best answer: Ultimately it's going to be difficult for you to get a whole lot done in a two-week timeframe in a way that's going to pay off in the game. If you train all-out for the next two weeks, your ability to perform in the game will be compromised.

You'd also need to be a lot more specific about your current abilities and prior experience to get worthwhile recommendations. If e.g. you don't have much experience with strength training generally or with squatting, deadlifting, and power cleaning, you could gain a decent amount of strength in those movements in a two week period, but that's assuming that you get the technique down right away and that you eat and sleep extremely well for the next two weeks. I would argue that you could absolutely make gains in muscle mass in two weeks of training, provided you're a novice and you eat properly (read: lots). In fact, I'd tell anyone who begins strength training and doesn't gain muscle in the first two weeks that they're doing something wrong.

In that scenario I'd recommend 3 sessions a week, squatting each time and alternating the deadlift and the power clean. After warmups, perform 3 sets of 5 on the squat, 1 set of 5 on the deadlift, and 5 sets of 3 on the power clean. Increase the weight 10 pounds each session, but go light on the last session before the tournament and give yourself a rest day or two between your last training session and the tournament. Again, this will only work if you learn the movements correctly right off the bat (totally possible but maybe unlikely) and if you're not already strong. The bench press and overhead press could be useful, too, but if you're an average dude in 2010 who has spent any time in gyms, you probably need less work on your bench press than on the other movements I mentioned, plus you've already got a lot on your plate. Again, it all depends on a lot of things and you haven't given us much to go on.

In terms of running, what is it that you'll be required to do in the context of the game? Run a long distance at a slow pace, or go fast and hard? Probably the latter, so doing sprints/intervals is your best bet. You could do these running, or on a rowing machine. Sprinting up hills is a good idea. Or you could do a conditioning workout with burpees or a jumprope. However, doing any of this stuff will make it difficult or impossible to make maximum progress with strength, and vice versa.

So ultimately it depends on what your experience and weaknesses are, but this is kind of a losing proposition. I don't think training like crazy is a good idea if your goal is to compete at maximum capacity two weeks from now. You don't want to injure yourself and you don't want to be sore and beat-up before the tournament even begins. I think the most important thing will be to make sure you eat and sleep as well as possible leading up to the tournament. If you do begin a new training regimen, make sure to increase your protein/caloric intake level accordingly.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:30 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As usual I see I haven't given enough information. My apologies.

It's Sevens rugby and basically I need to be able to run around as fast as possible for 14 minutes at a time. Increasing strength isn't really a goal for me, I mostly need cardio ability and that's what seems to suffer the most (for me) after a few weeks of not training. (FWIW the absence wasn't injury-related.)

Thanks for the tips so far, I believe I'll be doing different forms of cardio as suggested by schroedinger. It's hard to work on skills by myself unfortunately but I'll do what I can. And I'll up my stretching routine too.

Thanks again.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 8:49 AM on June 7, 2010

Don't neglect your diet, and in fact this is a pretty good area to focus on. I think being hydrated and eating well is probably going to be one of the most productive things for you, because you don't have all that much time to exercise productivley. I like a lot of protein and fresh vegetables before prolonged activity, but YMMV.

For running: doing a half mile at about 6:30 minute mile pace on a treadmill or track is one of the best ways that I know of building capacity for prolonged, fast running (5 x half mile sprint with a quarter mile walk or slow jog in between). You may need to adjust the actual speed and number of repetitions, but it helps your to mentally acclimate yourself to prolonged and intense physical exertion. I wouldn't do this the week of the game, however, it always leaves me tired and sore.
posted by _cave at 9:33 AM on June 7, 2010

I wouldn't put too much science into two weeks. Why not run stairs for an hour a day? It'll work your legs and cardio/lungs just fine. Actual stairs, like at a stadium, not a stairmaster.
posted by rhizome at 11:32 AM on June 7, 2010

ludwig_van, my only quibble with your post is your assertion about gaining muscle in two weeks . . . Beginners aren't gaining muscle, their CNS is adapting to the movement, hence the rapid rate of improvement. Even experienced weightlifters will see this if they start doing a movement they haven't done before. For instance, I'm past beginner's gains period. However, I've started incorporating some new exercises in my routine and have added 20kg to them in two weeks. This isn't massive muscular gains, this is just me learning to do them properly.
posted by Anonymous at 7:25 PM on June 7, 2010

schroedinger is spot on with his advice (as usual).

You're in-season. Skill acquisition is paramount at this point, everything else should be relegated to maintenance. I don't know any sane athletes, or coaches, who would think it's a grand idea to take up a new strength or weight gain program in-season.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:02 PM on June 7, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - take tangential comments elsewhere please, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:31 PM on June 7, 2010

spot on with his her advice
posted by P.o.B. at 1:32 PM on June 8, 2010

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