Sports psychology: Post-game recovery for rugby players

Is exercise better than rest for psychological recovery after a game of rugby?

Article at a glance:

A sports psychology study found that the addition of low intensity exercise to the rest period after a game of rugby did not adversely affect physiological recovery and had a significantly beneficial effect on psychological recovery by enhancing relaxation

The addition of low intensity exercise to the rest period after a rugby match does not hinder physiological recovery and may significantly enhance psychological recovery, according to a small-scale study from Japan.

The subjects of the study were 15 members of one of the top Japanese collegiate rugby football teams. All played rugby for 80 minutes, with an interval of 10 minutes, after which their team won the match 52:12. They were then randomly assigned to two different post-match rest regimens:
Seven subjects (four forwards and three backs) were assigned to ‘complete rest’, ie no exercise at all;
Eight subjects (four forwards and four backs) performed low intensity exercise in water for one hour during the rest period.

Players were examined just before the match and one and two days later. Blood biochemistry and neutrophil function were measured as markers of their physiological condition. (Neutrophils are white blood cells that play an important role in immune defence.) Scores on the Profile of Mood States (POMS) scale were examined to evaluate psychological condition.

Immediately after the match, muscle damage, decreases in neurophil functions and mental fatigue were observed in both groups. Muscle damage and neutrophil functions recovered with time almost equally in the two groups, but the POMS scores were significantly decreased in subjects in the low intensity exercise group.

The researchers acknowledge that their study had limitations: it used a small sample, in which backwards and forwards could not be compared with each other; it studied only one game and was therefore not able to measure the physiological and psychological consequences of being on the losing side; and the post-match observation period was quite short.

Nevertheless, they conclude: ‘Rugby matches impose both physiological and psychological stress on players. The addition of low intensity exercise to the rest period did not adversely affect physiological recovery and had a significantly beneficial effect on psychological recovery by enhancing relaxation.’

Br J Sports Med 2004, 38:436-440

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