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Leesa News and Press

Exclusive Leesa Sleep Interview With Sale Sharks Rugby Club

At Leesa, we are big believers that sleep is a crucial factor for anyone looking to fulfil their potential. As we have previously explored, sleep is especially important in the world of elite sport, helping athletes in their rest and recovery, as well as their mental preparations for competing at the highest level.

We are therefore proud to be named the official mattress of Sale Sharks Rugby, helping their players get a better night’s sleep, so that they can fulfil their potential on the pitch and help the club progress.

Looking ahead to the new Premiership season, we caught up with Sale wings Denny Solomona and Josh Charnley, as well as Strength and Conditioning Coach Rick Swaby, to find out how the club’s pre season preparations have gone, and how the squad is shaping up for the new season.

The Players’ Perspective:

Denny Solomona and Josh Charnley  joined the club during the 2016-2017 season, making the switch from Rugby League to Rugby Union, and are looking to help bring success back to Sale in the upcoming season with their own brand of exciting, fast-paced rugby.

Q: How do pre-season training sessions differ from training sessions throughout the season?

Denny: Pre-season sessions are more intense, generally longer than during the season and more about running and getting our fitness up.

Josh: Training in season is more skills focused, more around balls skills and specific game plans. 

Q: As a player, how do you approach pre-season training? Is it something you look forward to, or dread?

Denny: It comes around quick! If you train in the off season you look forward to it as you’re ready to test yourself and set goals. If you’ve been lazy in the off season you may dread it a little!

Josh: This was the first break in off season I have had for two years due to the change I made in clubs and codes so it was great! However by the end, I was looking forward to coming back and getting into the new season and training again.

Q: How important is it to integrate new players and build team morale before the season begins? Are there specific team building exercises away from the gym or training field?

Denny: It’s really important and I think Sharks do it really well. We have a senior players group of 4 forwards and 4 backs that really lead activities on and off the pitch. In training, we often split into four groups, which are made up of two members of the senior playing group in each, with the rest of the squad allocated between the teams. In these groups we do a lot of warm up games, challenges and competitions which helps to create some friendly competition and helps us get to know each other.  

Josh: We’ve also had a couple of great trips this season, one to France and one to Scotland. On the way up to Edinburgh we stopped in Carlisle for clay pigeon shooting which was good fun. The club has made some amazing new signings this season, with top internationals such as Faf de Klerk and Josh Strauss. They have masses of experience between them so it is great to learn from them and hear them speaking up in team meetings etc.

Q: What is the welcome like for new players and staff members?

Denny: Good I think – positive. We set goals at the start of the season so we’re all aligned and we work towards these as a team. We all have a job to do and a role to play so we want all new players and staff to feel part of the club as quickly as possible and I think we do a good job of making this happen.

Q: How do you optimise your rest and recovery so you’re ready to go again the next day?

Josh: Well sleep is key although with a young baby, I seem to be struggling with this at the moment!

Denny: Sleep, hydration, stretching. I also love a bath to unwind!

The Coach’s Perspective:

Rick Swaby is Head of Sports Science at Sale Sharks, and takes an active role in ensuring that the players are in their peak condition throughout the season.

Q: It’s now coming to the end of pre-season, and soon it will be time to get back into the routine of weekly competitive games. Can you give us an insight into the key focuses and goals of pre-season training at Sale?

Rick: The overall aim of any pre-season for us is to prepare the players to play to a level where they can be competitive throughout the season with any team we may face. This requires all facets of performance and rugby to join together to create an approach that will not only aid the development of the team, but also each individual, through key performance indicators (IDPs), created by staff for each individual player.

As a more general rule, we also want to create a resilient player to cope with the demands of week-to-week games. This means building the player both physically and mentally during the pre-season to help them cope with the weekly training and match demands. We do this by gradually building their tolerance levels in distances and high-speed metres covered as we go through the pre-season. This is similar with exposure to contact levels and the increased complexity and specificity of drills, whether this is rugby related, or progressions in speed and agility sessions.

Q: How do you accommodate for the needs of each individual player during pre-season training?

Rick:  As a performance department we review players who are staying with us from the previous season and have already created a good understanding of where their focus should lie. The IDP’s for each player focus not only on what we know about the player, but also what is required of them to be successful in their position. We use these IDP’s to help set players goals and provide them with a focus and an outcome for the end of the pre-season.

We treat each position and individual differently so there is no one size fits all approach. Some players’ focus may be more technical, so they spend time working with the coaches on defensive organisation and understanding, whereas another’s focus may be more physical, where we need to apply key practices towards increasing a players leg power, helping improve their dominance during a tackle.

Q: Can you go into more detail about the specifics of the kind of physical training involved in pre-season?

Rick: To accommodate each player’s individual needs, once all the data is collected, each player will have specifically focussed weights sessions, which may be directed towards maximal strength, muscle hypertrophy or power, depending on the specific player in question. We also perform specific conditioning drills depending on what the player may need to work on. This could include contact conditioning drills for some of our back row players, or repeat speed drills for our back three players. However, it is still important early on in the pre-season to work on the key principles of aerobic training even if there is a great demand for players to do repeat speed drills. This kind of pre-season testing also helps coaches know which players they may need to see after training to work on specific IDP’s, whether they are technical or tactical.

Q: How important is it to integrate new players and build team morale before the season begins? Are there specific team building exercises away from the gym or training field?

Rick: Building team togetherness has been a massive focus for us this season and it is not only driven by ourselves but also our senior player group who have developed some excellent practices that will run throughout the whole season, incorporating all the players in the squad.

We want to create an environment where the players really care about one another and will go that extra mile on and off the pitch, which we hope will bring a winning environment at the club and can be built upon each year. The new players have been chosen to join the club not only because of their ability, but because they buy in to where the club is going. Some of them are already a part of our senior group, helping drive values on and off the pitch.

This pre-season we have taken the boys away from Carrington to a training camp in France as well as up to Scotland. The idea for this was so that the players could spend more time with each other, and help all the new players meet each individual in the team. It was great to top both of these trips off with wins to help continue the positive atmosphere going into the season.

Q: What precautions do you take to reduce the likelihood of injuries or over exertion?

Rick: It’s important to build a player’s threshold week on week to a level higher than what is normally required during the season. All the flexibility and strength training we do in pre-season is also put in place to make players stronger and move more efficiently which we hope not only crosses over to performance on the field, but also helps the players recover quicker and pick up less injuries during the season.

During the season we track the intensity and volumes of each session for each player, which includes on and off field training, helping create a unique workload for each individual. We also look at the turnaround between games or if we have played home or away. This allows us to schedule the week appropriately and plan sessions so that a player is feeling recovered for the next game, but also tactically and technically prepared to perform.

Q: Because of the increased intensity of training, how important is it for players to rest well and get a good night’s sleep between sessions?

Rick: Professional rugby creates an environment where players continually have to adapt and recover from stressors associated with training and games. This makes areas of rest and recovery a major part of a player’s daily routine. Various strategies can be put in place to aid this including cold water immersion, contrast baths, compression garments, whole-body cryotherapy and active recovery.

Aside from these more technical approaches, the two methods to aid rest and recovery that should be part of every player’s daily life, are nutrition/hydration and sleep. Sleep is important for its physiological and psychological restorative effects and is one of the most effective recovery activities. It is vital the athlete creates an environment to give them the best night’s sleep possible. They should consider the quality of mattress they sleep on as this can have an effect on the quality of their sleep but also could cause underlying back issues after prolonged use, which can then effect performance and have an indirect relationship to possible injuries that may occur.