By: Sean Harrison
Rugby is a sport unbecoming of itself. No other athletes are required to compete with heart rates remaining above 80% of their maximum working potential, with repetitive impacts reaching 1980 joules of power (cars crashing at 20km/hr) and sprint distances of 1,600m or more (see 7’s rugby vs 15’s). It is without question, that rugby players must be strong, powerful, and able to endure all demanding aspects of the game. As leaders within the Strength and Conditioning Community, it is our job to prime these athletes for the rigors of the game. With the potential for lengthy seasons, as well as, athletes flip flopping between both variations of the game, a rugby player’s off-season training becomes a key focal point when ensuring their success and good health for the upcoming season and during league action.
The first step to be taken is an overall athlete analysis or assessment. Within this analysis, we review both positive and negative impacts of physical and mental importance, the duration of their off-season (often short), nutritional/habitual tendencies and various external factors including travel, game schedule etc.
Once this preliminary analysis has been complete we continue to process our analytical approach for this particular athlete’s training. It is crucial to remember that although similar in kind, no two athletes are the same and therefore must not be treated that way. More often than not we approach off-season training in this manner; current status, goals and timeline.
The first phase of our athletes’ training is the Anatomical Adaptation Phase or General Physical Preparedness Phase. Athletes perform various training sessions geared towards improving their current levels of fitness and biomechanics, while addressing rehab necessities, injury prevention tactics, and corrective exercise. The focus: prepare the athlete for increased work rates throughout the periodized program. Rugby players must be able to run a variety of distances at a variety of different speeds, all while performing explosive movements within different planes of motion. This means, the focus of proper mechanical movement patterns in relation to sprinting, tackling, fending, and agility components. As well as, joint mobilization, flexibility and stability, are paramount to success off-season training regimes.
Granted the success of each athlete through Phase 1, athletes and coaches may progress to phase 2 of offseason training. The focus here is on volume and entails traditional strength development tactics (squatting, deadlifting, push/pull, strongman exercises, etc.) to set the athlete up for the final phase in which power, agility and more sport related demands can be met. Because rugby players can be described as fully functional machines required to produce power within shorts intervals of time, Phase 2 could be focused on improving these types of movements to enhance body awareness and functional output.
Given the effective results of offseason Phase 2 – athletes and coaches may progress to a final phase readying the athlete for the upcoming season. Although important throughout the entire periodization of the program, phase 3 must ensure that each athlete is ready to take the field in a healthy state with conditioning levels matching those needed for preseason play and testing. Phase 3 would be geared around the increase of functional performance and utilization of newly gained strength (Phase 2) in relation to on field productivity.
In summary it is important to recognize that the sport of rugby within all levels of competition is extremely demanding. Through education and practical application, athletes increase longevity and success of their sporting careers while developing lifelong social skills and relations.
Sean Harrison ETS Strength & Conditioning Coach ETS Director – Athlete Identification Program