Conor Murray is as good as they come in the world of professional rugby. One of the best scrum-halfs in the game, both technically and tactically, Conor currently plays for Munster and Ireland. A consistent high-performer, he has represented the British and Irish Lions on three separate Tours (2013, 2017 & 2021) and was named in World Rugby’s Team of the Decade for 2010-2019. At 32 years, old Conor is showing no signs of stopping.
Anthony Watson is a physically gifted athlete with an amazing blend of speed, strength and skill who currently plays as a winger or full-back for Bath and England. He’s been selected to represent the British and Irish Lions on two separate Tours (2017 & 2021), and is one of England’s brightest stars of the past decade.
For both Conor and Anthony, monitoring strain and optimizing sleep and recovery are key aspects of their training as they look to stay at the top of the sport and add longevity to their already outstanding careers.
Rugby is a high-impact, high-intensity sport that is incredibly physically demanding on players’ bodies. Comparable to American football (with no padding) in terms of the level of physical contact, it differs when it comes to the style of play. Whereas plays in American football tend to be sprint-like and in short bursts with downtime in between, rugby is nonstop.
In rugby the game generally only pauses when the ball goes out of play, or when there is a score or penalty. With little opportunity to rest, players need to be extremely aerobically fit in order to maintain high-intensity efforts. Over the course of an 80-minute game, depending on position players can cover 4-5 miles (7-8 kilometers), hitting max speeds of up to 22 miles per hour (36 kph). Additionally, with the sport being so contact heavy (players generally don’t travel more than 5-10 steps without getting nailed by a tackle) having enough size and strength to deal with immense physicality is a must.
Elite-level rugby players are among the fittest and strongest athletes in the world when it comes to field sports. A mix of power, speed and technical ability are all required to perform at the highest level.
Training to become an elite-level rugby player is no mean feat. It’s generally a blend of strength and power-based gym sessions, as well as speed, endurance, and game-specific training on the pitch. Two-a-day sessions are quite common, and sometimes three.
“With rugby and the contact element, we do go through quite a lot of strain on the big training days, so knowing what I’ve done that day and how it might impact my sleep or recovery is huge,” Conor said. “Since using WHOOP, I’ve got a better understanding of how I need to recover in order to get my body in prime shape to train twice through contact during the week and play a game on the weekend.”
With such varying demands placed on the players’ bodies each day, they need to be incredibly resilient and able to adapt to constantly changing stimuli. Having a tool like WHOOP that allows them to track their heart rate variability and understand what factors both positively and negatively impact it is hugely important.
“I’ve been using WHOOP for just over a year now,” noted Anthony. “I’ve found it incredibly useful in managing how much recovery and sleep I need and also when I can ramp up my training further. Being able to use it in conjunction with the coaches at my club is invaluable in my attempts to foolproof my body and make further gains.”
“The biggest benefit for me is tracking my sleep,” said Conor, who’s been a WHOOP member for about two years. “It’s something I struggled with before in not knowing about fatigue, sleep cycles, I wasn’t getting enough deep sleep or REM sleep. WHOOP has been incredibly helpful for me in terms of getting into a good, healthy sleep routine and winding down before bed. It’s really improved my energy levels the next morning.”
Given the physical stress these players are putting their bodies through on a daily basis, sufficient deep sleep (the physically restorative stage of sleep) is crucial in helping them to bounce back. Furthermore, ample REM sleep (the mentally restorative stage) is also critical given how technically challenging the game is.
“In rugby, a lot of emphasis is on recovery and recovering well,” Conor added. “When we have big training days my WHOOP strain tends to be quite high, so that kick starts my recovery program, whether its recovery pumps, ice baths, or just getting my sleep hygiene right. You see the value of this through the recovery data on WHOOP.”
By tracking various choices and behaviors in the WHOOP Journal, Conor and Anthony can better understand which recovery modalities and behavioral changes are beneficial for them specifically–knowledge they can use to ensure they bring their highest capacity to train and perform at their best every single day.