Repeated Pre-Season Hypoxic Sprint Training May Improve Rugby Performance

By Daniel Pierce

Masking their aims: Canberra Raiders take high-altitude approach. National Rugby League Raiders players, including Josh McCrone, at left, try out the elevation training masks which are designed to increase breathing capacity. Photo: Melissa Adams

If you’ve competed in team sports, you understand how crucial it is to put in the necessary work during the pre-season to prepare for the competitive season. When you’re in-season, you are more or less trying to maintain some semblance of your off-season strength and conditioning level, but your primary focus and maximum effort goes into the actual match, game, or round, etc you’re competing in. Time with the team in-season shifts towards strategy execution and drilling, and away from rigorous physical demands. So it’s the off-season strength and conditioning program development which is crucial in creating the complete athlete.

Rugby is a sport that requires some impressive physical conditioning due to the need for repeated sprint ability and extreme power output. The ability to make repeated fast breaks is crucial in rugby. For this reason, researchers wanted to put some hypoxic training protocols to the test in high-level rugby competitors during their pre-season training.

Researchers from London Southbank University, and Exeter University, both of which are located in the United Kingdom, recruited 42 advanced rugby players for the 4-week test. 3X a week they supplemented hypoxic sprint training for their speed training regimens. They then underwent performance tests after four weeks to see if there were anything changes in 6 second sprint performance.

What they found was that the highly trained rugby players were able to cover more distance during the 6 second sprint test. They also showed that there was lower speed decrement meaning they could sustain max anaerobic power during sprint slight longer than the group of rugby players who were not subjected to the hypoxic protocol but rather a normoxic variant. All in all, this short pre-season protocol improved their sprint performance after hypoxic training.

Based on the research, this type of training would be well suited pre-season. The protocol can be employed 3X per week for up to 4 weeks within your strength and conditioning programming and may replace standard field based speed sessions. Exceeding this time frame may actually hinder potential performance gains.


  • 15-min of dynamic stretching and activation drills (2 sets 10 reps each of knee pulls, quad pulls, lunges, lateral lunges, skipping, and carioca drill)


  • 3 x 20m max effort sprints with 3 minutes rest between sets (Mask off)
  • 10 x 20m max effort sprints with 30 seconds rest between sets (Mask on)


  • Static stretch cool down if not performing other training (60s for hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, pririformis, calves, shoulders, chest, etc).

Faiss, R., Girard, O., & Millet, G. P. (2013). Advancing hypoxic training in team sports: from intermittent hypoxic training to repeated sprint training in hypoxia. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(Suppl_1), i45-i50.

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