Rugby Strength Training
Rugby players must possess tactical and spatial awareness. The ability to generate power and endurance is a must. Rugby players regardless of their position need high levels of strength and endurance as a base of fitness. In this article, we will look at how to organise strength and power training for the off-season. The off-season is an opportunity for getting rid of niggles and injuries. If a player isn’t suffering from injury or mental fatigue, then a short active rest of a few weeks is all that is needed before the commencement of work to develop strength and power in the off season.
The strength qualities of Rugby Players
Rugby players need maximal and explosive strength and endurance. The ability to accelerate is also an important factor. High muscle mass is a prerequisite at the pinnacle of the sport. A well planned and organised strength training programme will lead to the development of the necessary muscle mass as a secondary outcome.
Organising a strength training programme for Rugby.
A strength training programme for Rugby players must take into consideration the importance of recovery and monotony. A monotonous programme doesn’t allow for recovery. A strength training programme with high monotony would require a player to train at the same intensity on consecutive days. A less monotonous programme would have days of high intensity followed by days of low intensity. Low intensity days could consist of circuits and aerobic work. A planned training week with high variation and low monotony could consist of the following. Day 1: High intensity Day 2: Low intensity Day 3: High intensity Day 4: Low intensity Day 5: High intensity Day 6: REST Day 6: REST OR Day 1: High intensity Day 2: Low intensity Day 3: REST Day 4: High intensity Day 5: Low intensity Day 6: Rest: Active rest
Phases of strength training
An efficient way to strength train for rugby is to organise periods or phases that have a main objective of developing a physiological quality that aids the expression of muscle and tendon strength. An initial period of general fitness lasting 2-3 weeks depending on the level of conditioning should be followed. The objective of this phase is to prepare muscles and tendons for more taxing work in subsequent phases. Intensity should be set at 50-60% of maximum lifted for an exercise. The use of weight machines is conducive during this period. Repetitions of 8-10 lifts in sets of 3-5 with 45 sec’ to 1.30 min recovery is sufficient. During this phase, stretching and flexibility work should be done. In the next phases the level of flexibility should be maintained and used as a means of recovery. Conditioning of the core/trunk back, lower back and neck is essential for preparing the body for the next phases. The development of aerobic/anaerobic conditioning should be pursued. A typical session could be 10x100m runs on grass with 30-40 secs’ recovery at an intensity of 60-70% of the best 100m time.
Hypertophy phase The hypertophy phase aims to develop the muscle cross-section. This phase aims to develop muscle mass specifically in the motor units responsible for the generation of sprinting speed, power, tackling and passing the ball. The majority of sprints in Rugby are completed over relatively short distances. The prime movers responsible acceleration are the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, erector spinae and calf muscles. The latissimus dorsi, neck and trunk muscles also need attention. Rugby players must possess a powerful and functional upper body. Powerful arm musculature and shoulders are important and need to be conditioned . In particular the biceps of the arms, triceps, trapeziums, deltoids and intercostal muscle. The selection of appropriate exercises during this phase is essential. A period of 4-6 weeks will result in noticeable muscle mass development. It must be noted that during this phase increases in power are unlikely, but strength maybe increased as a secondary outcome. During this phase, muscles classified as fast twitch fiber will undergo considerable stress during development. Muscles try to protect themselves against this stress by becoming more efficient at utilising oxygen as well as sugar and ATP. The increased ability of the muscle to use oxygen will lead to a slow down in twitch speed. This results in negative adaptations that will not aid the development of speed and power. The longer the hypertrophy phase the more likely these negative adaptations will persist. The positive adaptations from hypertrophy is an increased cross-section, and the ability of the muscle to use glucose. The expression of power during this phase will be blunted by hypertrophy work. Some form of power work should be maintained during the phase. The development of muscle can be achieved by using 60-75% of maximum weight lifted in an exercise. Repetitions of 8-12 with recoveries of 1 to 1.30 min recovery between sets is recommended. The sets should be taxing enough to require the assistance of a spotter to complete the last two to three reps of each set.
Maximum strength phase
The next period aims to develop strength. The objective is to recruit the newly built muscle by teaching the central nervous system to recruit muscle. This period for rugby players is known as the maximum strength development. The length of this period is 3-8 weeks. The intensity should be 80-95% of maximum resistance lifted. Exercises such as squats, the power clean and dead lift should be used. Long recoveries of 5-8 minutes between sets is recommended. Large amounts of muscle tension will be developed during this phase. It is recommended that muscle shaking and stretching should be done between sets. Striding runs or drills to keep muscles relaxed could be done. During the maximal strength phase, the commencement of power work is conducive, but once again the expression of power may not be evident until a phase dedicated purely to that phase is completed. Long alternate bounds and short jumps, jumps over and onto boxes and jumps over hurdles can be done.
During the power phase, resistance work should be done at an intensity range of 30-90%. Such a large range of intensities is determined by the exercise selected. If jump squats are used, then an intensity 30 or 40% of the maximum weight lifted in the squat is used. The optimum load for developing explosive power in the Olympic lift is 80-90% of the maximum lifted. For the squat, this is 80-85% of the maximum. During the power phase intra-rest recovery should be coupled with inter rest recovery. Intra-rest recovery is most effective for exercises that allow the placing of the bar on a platform after completion. Exercises such as the clean and snatch allow for this. After a clean or a snatch is completed the bar can be placed or dropped on the platform allowing the lifter to pause and recover for a few seconds, 5-15 secs is an ideal range of recovery. By doing this, there is sufficient replenishment of the phosphate pool, and less stress on the CNS allowing each repetition to be completed at near maximum speed and rate of force development. Inter rest recoveries of 3-5 minutes between sets allow creatine phosphate to be fully replenished and brings respite to the CNS. Exercises where the bar can’t be placed down easily between lifts can be completed with limited repetitions. Squats and squat jumps can be completed using double and triple repetitions. Intra-rest recoveries and limited repetitions ensure that power is developed rather than strength endurance. Each repetition will be at or close to the maximum possible acceleration and speed for each lift. During the power phase, development of explosive elastic strength should be developed using jumps onto boxes. Jumps over boxes, jumps over hurdles and alternate bounds.
The maintenance phase could consist of a mix of maximum strength and power. The aim is to maintain the strength gains over the season. This can be achieved by using exercises such as the squat, power clean and dead lift to recruit the large motor units of the body. This will help to maintain the strength gains. An intensity of 70-80% of maximum could be used to maintain strength. As little as 2-3 sets could be all that is needed with 3-5 minutes recovery. The overall plan. Plan the week to have high intensity sessions followed by low intensity days consisting of aerobic and anaerobic circuits of relatively low intensity. The following phases should be adhered to: Hypertrophy 3-6 weeks* Maximal 4-7 weeks Power 4-8 weeks Maintenance 4 weeks to several months. *A longer hypertrophy phase will lead to greater muscle mass development. This should only be extended for those players who play in positions that require the possession of a large muscle mass.