MICHAEL POSTHUMUS and JUSTIN DURANDT on how players should train during the off-season and pre-season.
The off-season, which is distinguished by not having the constraints of structured team practice sessions, is the most appropriate time for players to emphasise and derive benefit from their resistance (gym) training.
The goal of this phase is usually to develop muscle size (hypertrophy), although less conditioned players should first complete a general preparation period, which increases the body’s tolerance to training so that more intense loading may be subsequently endured.
Larger muscles have a greater potential to become strong and powerful muscles, which are also factors which determine rugby playing performance.
Players may be classified, into either beginner, intermediate or advanced depending on how long they have performed structured and supervised resistance training. Gym training programmes should be specifically designed for players of different training experience.
Once beginners have completed eight weeks of gym training they are sufficiently experienced and in a position to progress to an intermediate programme.
Gym training for muscle hypertrophy should include a high volume of training, with generally between six and 12 repetitions (reps) and a multiple number of sets. The number of reps determine how heavy the weight lifted should be. For example, if 12 reps are prescribed, the player should be able to just complete 12 reps with good form and technique.
If it is possible to complete more reps, a heavier weight should be used. This is referred to as a 12 repetition maximum, or 12RM. During the muscle hypertrophy phase of training players with advanced gym training experience may perform up to six training sessions per week.
The amount of fitness conditioning which should be included into this training period is dependent on various factors such as body fat levels and current fitness. Specific fitness conditioning prescription should be made for each player depending on their needs and goals.
The state of fitness of the player in the off-season is influenced by the length of time since the previous season, as well as duration and activity during the transition or active rest phase after the previous season. When aerobic fitness is low or when body fat levels are high a greater emphasis should be placed on the aerobic fitness conditioning.
A trade-off between endurance training and muscle hypertrophy exists. Considering that smaller players are at a disadvantage against larger more robust players, it makes sense that these players should place a greater emphasis on gym training in an attempt to develop muscle size and less on fitness training.
The beginning of the pre-season, which typically coincides with the start of structured team training sessions, should see the introduction of more specific preparation. In the gym there should initially be an emphasis on strength development with a shift towards power development during the second half on the pre-season.
Strength, which refers to the maximal force a muscle is able to produce, is a pre-requisite at top level rugby. To develop strength, one has to lift heavy weights, but unfortunately one cannot sustain the demand of lifting heavy weights every workout, and one should thus vary the training stimulus. Low repetitions (ie. one to six repetitions), have been shown to be the most appropriate for gains in strength.
However, the repetitions which are prescribed are influenced by training experience. Until athletes have become sufficiently trained they should keep their repetitions above six. Players with weight
training experience may use heavier loads, closer to their 1RM (the maximum weight they can lift with correct form and technique for 1 repetition), but should use a varying range of loads in a periodised fashion to avoid overtraining.
Power is the maximal amount of force a muscle can produce over a specific time period. By definition it is a product of force (muscle strength) and velocity (speed). For optimal power development players need to focus on both strength and velocity training. Lighter weights should be used during power training as the emphasis should be on the velocity of the movement and not the size of the weight moved. Olympic-type exercises such as the power clean, hang clean, hang-pull etc. are perfectly suited for velocity specific training. Generally weights of 30-60% of the 1RM should be used for a maximum of six reps for power exercises.
Power exercises should also always be performed first in a non-fatigued state. Heavy strength training, which increases the force component of the power equation should still be continued in the power phase.
As the season approaches, there should also be a sh ift toward more specific fitness conditioning.
The pre-season phase should include aerobic and anaerobic interval type training, and as the start of the season approaches a greater emphasis should be placed on anaerobic high intensity fitness conditioning with match specific conditioning drills which mimic the demands of a rugby match.
Match specific conditioning drills should attempt to mimic the activities, as well as duration, of periods of work in a rugby match. In other words, fitness drills which, for example, include static exertions (eg. wrestling), leg power (eg. driving contact shield), maximal intensity sprinting, and agility should be included to get players ‘match fit’. Agility is also an essential part of rugby specific conditioning. Speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) drills should also be included in the pre-season period to enhance performance.
During the pre-season period coaches should also adequately prepare players for full contact. Coaches should gradually progress contact sessions from contact shields and semi-contact drills to full contact drills to avoid unnecessary injury during the pre-season and condition players for match contact.
– This article was written for Saru’s BokSmart programme