BARROW Raiders' players went through a training session with a difference on Tuesday evening when Ulverston-based tai chi instructor Chris Shaw took charge to help them prepare for this Saturday's clash with Sheffield Eagles.

With the squad ravaged by injury from the rigours of the Betfred Championship, Raiders head coach Paul Crarey had been looking for something different to do in training which would keep his players active while at the same time helping their recovery.

He came into contact with Shaw, who has worked with individual athletes before, during his day-job and after enquiring more about whether the principles of tai chi were something which could be applied to rugby league, asked him down to work with the Barrow team.

“He was doing some work on my house and, as he does, he gets chatting to people and found out I did tai chi, and wondered if it was something his guys could benefit from,” said Shaw.

“They were looking for a few ideas and perhaps at the very least just a bit of rehab breathing and stretching would have done, and perhaps some ideas about how the philosophy and ways of moving in tai chi would be effective.

“I've done things with triathletes and people trying to improve performance, such as swimmers and runners. With running and swimming, actual building relaxing and inter-movement can increase performance because just going all-out and contracting the muscles isn't the most effective way to use muscles.

“The muscles need to go through a period of stretching and unstretching, and contracting. If we're just tightening up all of the time, we actually limit our performance – and also in terms of healing and recovery, we need to stretch and relax the tension out of the system to enable us to heal properly.”

Tai chi was originally developed as a martial art in China during the 13th Century, but is mostly practised around the world as an exercise for its physical and mental health benefits.

Crarey has embraced a variety of training and preparation techniques during his time in charge at Barrow, from boxing to cryotherapy, and Shaw believes professional sport is becoming more aware of the benefits of embracing ideas from other fields.

“About 10 to 15 years ago, it wouldn't have happened, but it's getting more into people's consciousness about how the mind and body work together, and how period of stretching and rehab are very essential,” said Shaw.

“It started with top clubs looking at recovery times and people like Ryan Giggs telling them he was only able to carry on for so long because of his yoga regime and then Arsenal looking into food and nutrion.

“Slowly people are opening their eyes a bit to what they actually need to do to support their athletes better and sometimes it comes from left-field approaches, but approaches that have been going on for thousands of years – tai chi being one of these.”

Shaw began by leading the Raiders players through a warm-up to loosen the hips and shoulders, followed by looking at ways of adding flexibility and fluidity to movements, including walking on all fours and in the squat position before building into normal movement.

That was followed by partner exercises which saw the players launching at each other, using their body to absorb the other person's energy and weight, and slingshot them away, before concluding with some Chinese yoga and breathing exercises.

“These guys spend a lot of time working on their performance and quite a few of them took on that they were going to get something out this, which is an absolute joy,” said Shaw, who would be keen to do another session with the Raiders squad.

“It's still quite out there because it's not an everyday approach, so there is always a little bit in the back of people's heads about 'show me the benefits of this'.

“But most of the squad were of the mindset they would get something out of it, which is very satisfying for me. It was an absolute joy for me and they're a great team to work with.”