Training while recovering from an injury can be tough, both physically and mentally. You find yourself wanting to maintain your fitness and push through the pain, but sometimes this can cause more damage and prolong the recovery process. Knowing the right thing to do can be tricky!
We caught up with Head of Strength and Conditioning at the Cardiff Blues, former Welsh international rugby player, and owner of ION Strength and Conditioning training facility, Robin Sowden-Taylor, to find out his top tips for training with an injury.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am currently the Head of Strength and Conditioning at the Cardiff Blues and owner of ION Strength and Conditioning training facility in Cardiff. I have been involved in professional sport for 20 years, experiencing both sides of the game. Initially as a player and now as a coach.
During my 10-year rugby career, I played for my home region, the Cardiff Blues, that included playing 8 times for Wales along with winning two Grand Slams in 2005 and 2008. In the early part of my professional career I represented Wales on the World 7s Series and in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
When I retired from professional rugby in 2010, I was eager to pursue a career in Strength and Conditioning, as it had always been a huge passion and interest of mine.
Why did you decide to open ION?
When I retired from playing, I always had the aim of returning to professional rugby in a coaching capacity. As a strength and conditioning coach, it takes time to develop, build the knowledge base and gain practical experience required in elite level sport.
Rugby has always been a big part of my life from a young age and after 10 years of playing professional rugby I was keen to have a break and step away to allow myself time to develop both personally and professionally.
Transitioning out of professional sport is tough and the latter stage of my playing career was blighted with injuries that made things extremely hard. I’m very thankful now I followed my passion and took the time to develop my craft as a coach away from rugby.
As well as becoming a strength and conditioning coach, I wanted to build my own business and opening a training facility had always been a goal, even during my playing days. Building my experience as a coach and developing my business, ION Strength and Conditioning, has taken close to 10 years but it has been an extremely fulfilling journey and allowed me the time needed to develop the skills I needed to return back to professional rugby from a coaching perspective.
I also know how cut-throat professional sport can be and not putting my eggs all in one basket from a career perspective has given me the security in life that I needed and wanted after finishing playing rugby. I feel extremely fortunate to have a business and a role in rugby that I love doing.
What are your top training tips for maintaining strength and conditioning for those who are not able to play rugby at the moment?
As frustrating as this year has been, trying to look at the positives as much as possible is important. The lack of games allows for an opportunity to really develop a player’s physical qualities (strength, speed, power) that will help improve on field. Taking a structured approach to this period will bring about some great results.
Be consistent with your training and focus on the ‘repetition of simplicity’ when developing strength, speed and power. So often people are looking for the impressive social media exercises that claim to be ‘the best’. Taking time to develop strong and stable movement patterns will build the foundations that so many other physical qualities are built on.
Did you have any nasty injuries during your playing career?
Being out with long term injuries during my playing career was incredibly frustrating and something I had to overcome a number of times. The worst injury I had was when I broke and dislocated my ankle playing against the Ospreys at the Liberty stadium. I jumped up to catch a ball from a restart and I landed awkwardly on my right leg. At the same time, I had one of their players come down on top of me and my ankle gave way. It was a pretty horrendous injury that left me lying on my front with my foot facing up to the skies! Luckily in professional sport you have access to some of the world’s best surgeons and physiotherapists that makes all the difference when returning from injury.
What are your top training tips for people returning to rugby after injury?
Patience is key, something I have always struggled with but have learnt to develop over time. Returning from an injury is a process that takes time and respecting your bodies needs to recover during the healing period is essential.
When you are able to finally start back training, increasing your training volume, gradually, week to week is absolutely key. Whether that is in the gym or outside running and sprinting – taking a phased approach is so important. If you go from doing very little, to a lot of training in a short space of time you expose yourself massively to the risk of soft tissue injuries.
What advice would you give to someone who is unable to train due to injury?
Prioritise your overall health. Eat well, get plenty of sleep and set yourself some goals – short and long term.
Making sure your nutrition is on point by eating a nutrient dense diet that provides your body with all the required macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to repair and heal is so important yet can be overlooked.
Sleep is when your body is in its most parasympathetic state (rest and digest), the body is working hard to reduce inflammation, repair any damaged cells and when human growth hormone levels are raised. The more quality sleep you are able to have whilst injured the quicker the body will be able to go about healing itself naturally.
Goal setting is important to provide yourself with targets to work towards during times when you are frustrated with your lack of ability to train and play. Rugby is a contact sport and unfortunately injuries are to be expected. Keeping a positive mindset during testing times just allows you to have focus on the journey ahead that will help to keep you on track and get back on to the pitch as quickly as possible.
Why would you recommend compression products such as Bearhug’s supports and sleeves to aid with recovery?
The fundamentals, that we drive hard at the Blues, when it comes to recovery is good nutrition and good quality sleep, these are the big rocks. Once these areas are addressed adding in the use of cold-water immersion and compression garments for the players further enhances recovery.