Rugby Union is a high contact, dynamic sport in which athletes require a combination of strength, power, speed, agility, endurance and sport-specific attributes (1). Rugby Union is one of the most popular team sports and is played all over the world. It became a professional sport in 1995. With more money at stake in the modern game, at elite level, a great deal of research has been carried out investigating improving the fitness of players in order to gain an advantage over the opposition.
A game of rugby consists of two halves of 40 minutes, with a maximum of 10 minutes break at half time. Two teams contest play, each with 15 players on the field at once, except when a player is dismissed for misconduct. Rugby Union players have a wide range of physical characteristics, which directs them to certain positions.
There are, generally, two positions; forwards and backs. Forwards are typically heavier, taller and have a greater proportion of body fat than backs (8). The forwards demonstrate superior absolute aerobic and anaerobic power and muscular strength (8). The total work over the duration of the game is less in the backs compared with the forwards and forwards spend greater time in physical contact, while the backs spend more time in free running, allowing them to cover greater distances. (17) showed that the average distances covered by elite level English players was 5408m and 5812m for the tight and loose forwards, whilst the inside backs covered 6055m and the outside backs 6190m respectively.
The players are numbered in terms of position, i.e. forward and backs and this depends on the physical characteristics. This assignment will look at an ‘outside back’ or in layman’s terms a winger. Wingers require considerable speed to out-manoeuver their opponents. They perform a large amount of support running, chasing down kicks and covering in defence (8).
Physical Requirements of Elite Level Rugby Union Players
As outlined, rugby is generally split into two positional areas; forwards and backs and they differ significantly in terms of physical characteristics. (15) shows that, in terms of anthropometric characteristics, forwards are generally taller, possess greater body mass, and are more endomorphic and less ectomorphic than backs. The backs tend to perform better on physical performance measures than forwards, being more aerobically fit, faster and more agile whilst possessing a higher degree of muscular endurance.
With regard to positional physiological demand, there are greater demands placed upon different positions when compared to others. According to (8), the front row has the greatest strength and power demands as it is their job to gain possession and they are continuously in contact with the opposition and have limited chance to run with the ball. Therefore, they are usually less mobile. The locks are generally tall, with a large body mass and power, they are known as the second row. The loose forwards require strength and power as their purpose is to gain and retain possession of the ball. It is a prerequisite of the loose forwards to be powerful and mobile in open play, have excellent speed, acceleration and endurance (8). The halfbacks usually need an excellent level of endurance as they receive the ball from the forwards and control possession. Speed is also an important factor for the halfbacks as they need to out manoeuvre the opposition and accelerate away from the approaching defenders. Furthermore, midfield backs require strength, speed and power as they have a high frequency of contact with the opposition. Outside backs require considerable speed to out manoeuvre their opponents. They perform a large amount of support running, chasing down kicks and covering in defence (8).
As stated, physiological demands vary with positional demands. However, it would be safe to assume that all players need a significant degree of strength, power, speed and endurance to compete at the highest level. High levels of strength and power appear to be important for successful participation in elite levels of rugby league (2). According to (19) strength can be defined as the ability to produce external force and has been previously shown to be crucial in rugby. As outlined earlier, all positions require an excellent amount of strength, particularly in the scrums. Studies have shown that the forwards need greater strength than the backs, while backs require a greater degree of speed (8). (16) showed that heavy body contact could result from one on one tackling, scrums (scrimmaging), rucks and mauls, as well as attacking runs. Therefore, power can be considered essential for all positions within the game of rugby union. Power is the product of force and velocity. Moreover, if strength is force, power can therefore be described as the ability to produce force at a high velocity. Power is considered a significant component as it is as it is required in rugby by the forwards to push the opposition back and by the backs to accelerate from the opposition. According to (19) power is the most important characteristic to develop for most sports. In its simplest form power is work. In most cases the athlete that gets the work done first wins (19). In addition, acceleration and speed are essential requirements, as players are often required to accelerate to make a position nearby or sprint over an extended distance (8). From the evidence shown, strength, power and speed are the main components required by rugby union players and therefore, it is most suitable to have a high strength/power training programme to develop this.
In rugby union, players accelerate over short distances or accelerate and sprint to make position (9). This form of sprinting is not usually performed in a straight line and can include ball carriage, change of direction and the avoidance of a tackle. As stated, rugby union backs have superior sprinting ability compared to forwards (8). In an elite rugby union match, backs have a greater amount of space to run into and therefore achieve greater speeds when compared to forwards. (7) found that outside backs engaged in more sprints than front row forwards and spent significantly more time sprinting and that maximal sprint time was also significantly longer. Furthermore, backs also spend two to three times more time in high-intensity running than forwards and may be required to perform up to 20 sprints in one match (7). Therefore, the ability to perform repeated bouts of maximal sprints may be beneficial in performance enhancement of the backs and repeated sprint sessions should be implemented. In addition, it has been suggested by (9) that forwards perform 41% of sprints from a standing start, while backs performed more from a striding start. This is of paramount importance when incorporating speed into a training programme, as previous research has shown that sport specific speed is based upon the positional demands of the sport. Therefore, it may be more beneficial for forwards to emphasise speed work from a standing start, while backs should focus on ‘flying starts’. Sprinting should be a greater focus for backs as they spend more time sprinting than forwards.
Periodised strength training as defined by (10) is varying the training programme at regular time intervals in an attempt to bring about optimal gains in strength, power, motor performance, and/or muscle hypertrophy.
According to the NSCA Position stand, resistance programs for athletic performance should be periodised in order to optimise the adaptations over long-term training and also help reduce the potential of the athlete entering the overtraining phase. It is well accepted that in order to maximize the benefits of resistance training, periodisation is superior to other training methods for the development of strength and power sports (10). It is shown that in order to have the maximal benefits of resistance training, periodisation is better that non-periodisation for the development of strength and power sports. In addition other studies such as (18) and (20) showed that utilising periodised training methods have also demonstrated superior results when compared to lower volume protocols. Furthermore (13) showed that short and long term adaptations in strength, power and muscle endurance are greater with a periodised multiple set training program.
To develop power, it is suggested that the following cycle may be beneficial.
Strength Endurance-Strength-Power and Speed.
The Strength endurance phase is where the sport specific fitness is developed. The primary goal of this stage is to increase lean body mass and endurance base. This phase focuses on high volume exercise, at a relatively reduced intensity as not to induce overtraining.
Hypertrophy is the term we use to define muscle enlargement or muscle growth and is critical in collision sports where high contact occurs. This enlargement is valuable to athletes involved in sports that require strength and power, such as rugby union (3).
As discussed, strength can be defined as the ability to produce external force (19). Strength development should be a critical component for any athlete committed to improving performance and, therefore, it is important to develop an excellent strength base before speed and power training commences. (4) suggested that maximal strength is achieved by 3-5 sets, 1-5 repetitions at 90-100% of 1RM with rests between 2-5 minutes. In addition, (5) suggests that maximal strength can be converted to power in a relatively short time.
Therefore, upon conclusion of the strength phase, training shifts to a power phase in order to prepare the athlete for competition as the strength base is already established. As previously stated, power is essential in rugby as it is essential to drive opponents back. Power development comprises producing a large force at a high rate of speed, and can be divided into two areas of movement. Firstly, speed strength is where importance is on speed of movement against a relatively small resistance. A key example of this is in plyometric training i.e. bounding or counter movement jumps (CMJ). Secondly, Olympic lifts such as the power clean are also primary exercises used in power development. The power clean is a dynamic lift designed to increase power production (11). This is typically a fundamental exercise in high performance strength and conditioning environment such as elite rugby. (12) states that Olympic lifts are the most commonly recommended exercises in power and speed programs. Furthermore, athletes trained in Olympic style lifting techniques have an extremely high capacity to develop power, which is necessary for success in sport. The power phase is, thus, designed to optimise the gains in strength the athlete has made during the maximal strength phase.
The importance of strength and power in high intensity collision sports such as rugby union is paramount for athletes performing at the elite level. Therefore, resistance training plays a fundamental role in athletic development and is necessary for the demands of the game. From the literature presented, elite rugby players encompass various exceptional fitness requirements. However it is evident that strength, speed and power are the main components in the game of rugby and a periodised training programme designed to enhance these components, significantly, will enable the athletes to have a greater chance of success in the major competitions. It is also essential that the training stimulus is positional specific and should be varied throughout the periodised programme to consistently improve adaptation and to induce significant gains in the physiological components that are required by elite rugby union players.
- Argus, C.K, Gill, N.D., Keogh, J.WL. Hopkins, W.G & Beaven, M.C. (2009). Changes in Strength, Power, and Steroid Hormones During a Professional Rugby Union Competition. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23(5): 1583-1592
- Baker, D. (2002). Differences in strength and power among junior-high, senior-high, college-ages, and elite professional rugby league players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 16(4) 581-585.
- Brown, L. (2002), Hypertrophy Training = Volume. National Strength and Conditioning Association Performance Training Journal (6): 6-7.
- Bompa, T.O. (1983), Theory and methodology of training: The key to athletic performance. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. Dubuque, I.A
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- Chu, D (1996) Explosive Power and Strength: Complex Training for Maximal Results. Champaign, IL. Human Kinetics, pp2
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- Duthie, G., Pyne, D and Hooper, S. (2003) Applied Physiology and Analysis of Rugby Union. Sports Medicine 33(13): 973-991
- Duthie, G.M., Pyne, D.B., Marsh, D.J & Hooper, S.L (2006). Sprint Patterns in Rugby Union Players During Competition. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 20(1): 208-214
- Fleck, S.J. (1999), Periodised Strength Training; A Critical Review. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 13:82-89
- Fleschler, P, (2002) Overview of power training. National Strength and Conditioning Association Performance Training Journal 1(6): 8-11.
- Garhammer, J.G. (1985). Biomechanical profiles of Olympic weight lifters. International Journal of Sport Biomechanics. 1:122-130
- Kraemer, W.J. (1997), A series of studies-The physiological basis for strength training in American football: Fact over philosophy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 11(3): 131-142
- 14. Kreider, R B., Fry, A C., O’Toole, M L., (1998) Overtraining in Sport. Human Kinetics
- Quarrie, K L., Hancock, P., Toomey, M J and Waller, A E. (1996). The New Zealand Rugby Injury and Performance Project. Anthropometric and Physical Performance Comparisons Between Positional Categories of Senior A Players. British Journal of Sports Medicine 30:53-56
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- Roberts, S.P., Trewartha, G., Higgitt, R.J., El-Abd, J & Stokes, K.A. (2008). The physical demands of elite English Rugby Union. Journal of Sport Sciences. 26(8): 825-833.
- Stone, M.H., Johnson, R.C., and Carter, D.R. (1979), A short term comparison of two different methods of resistance training on leg strength and power. Athletic Training 14:158-160.
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David Meechan MRes PSG ASCC is currently a Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and was previously a Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Scottish Institute of Sport. He holds a Masters of Research in Exercise Science & is an accredited Strength & Conditioning Coach with the UKSCA and ASCA Pro structure. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The college basketball season has begun and we wrapped our pre-season training last week. It was one of the best pre-season’s we’ve had – it had a lot to do with how hard our guys and girls worked and the way the training program was laid out. I wanted to share how it was organized to give you an idea of my thought process and how it was structured into an actual program.
The NCAA allows Strength and Conditioning sessions to cover 6 hours a week in the pre-season/off-season periods. We have used all of this time in the past, but this year decided that we really didn’t need that much time for training because we were in much better shape coming into pre-season this year…this was evident through our pre-season conditioning which is the beep test. The numbers were much higher than they were last year, and came to the conclusion that we didn’t need extra wear and tear on their bodies in terms of volume. Our coaches are also allowed to work with the team an additional 2 hours a week for skill development. These sessions aren’t a walk in the park and are very intensive.
We split our training into 4 days/week – 2 lower body strength development days and 2 upper body strength development days – we also did some sort of conditioning every day.
Here is our week, laid out:
Monday – Lower Body Strength Development Day + Alactic Capacity (Sprint Work on the court)
Tuesday – Upper Body Strength Development Day + Cardiac Output- this progressed to Alactic Capacity as we got closer to practice
Wednesday – OFF
Thursday – Lower Body Strength Development Day + Cardiac Output – this progressed to Cardiac Power as we got closer to practice
Friday – Upper Body Strength Development Day + Cardiac Power
Each session was roughly 60-70 minutes.
Our warm-up, core and prep work took about 10-15 minutes and planned for 30 minutes for our strength work. The volume was fairly low for the strength work as our primary objective in the pre-season is to increase our conditioning levels to handle the demands of practice. We did 2 quad sets – everything in the first quad set was done for 3 sets and the second quad set was done for 2 sets.
This is what we did on Mondays/Thursdays:
A1. Deadlift variation
A2. 2 Leg Jump
A3. Pullup variation
A4. Hip Flexor or Ankle Mobe
B1. 1 Leg Squat variation
B2. 1 Leg Hop variation
B3. 1 Leg Bend/Hip Dominant variation
A1. Push Variation
A2. Upper Body Plyo – MB Throw
A3. Pull Variation
A4. Thoracic Mobe
B1. Push Variation
B2. Pull Variation
B3. Push Variation
B4. Pull Variation
We also ended our lower body days with a hip/glute circuit and our upper body days with a scap circuit.
As for conditioning, we typically start with 1-2 impact days/week and progress to doing 3-4 impact days/week as we get closer to the season so that we progressively increase the joint loading as practice comes around.
We also don’t do a ton of lactic work as basketball isn’t a lactate based sport – it’s an alactic-aerobic sport meaning that there is huge demand on the aerobic system to produce energy, but there are many explosive movements that demand energy derived from the phosphate system. There are instances where lactate will be produced but I don’t want my athletes over reliant on this energy system to produce energy – they will often get lactic work during individual sessions when there are only 4 athletes to 1 coach.
Mondays would be our big on the court sprint day (what most basketball coaches think conditioning should be). We would do “11′s” and “22′s”…an 11 is a down/back in under 11 seconds and a 22 is down/back 2x under 22 seconds. We make it timed to hold our athletes accountable and if somebody doesn’t make a time, we add another rep…so we can get 100% effort on each rep.
Tuesdays would be our circuit day. For the first 3 weeks, we would break the team into 3 groups and perform non-impact work for 5 min @ each station. One station would be Bikes (hill ride against heavy resistance), another would be battle ropes (:15 sec work, :15 sec rest) and the last would be slideboards (:15 sec work, :15 sec rest). For the last 3 weeks, we did stations where we would alternate b/w an impact station and a non-impact station…we would work for :10 sec, rest for :10 sec and repeat 4x before rotating; these are the stations we performed:
1. Sideline Sprint to Backpeddle
2. Tire Block out/post up
3. Lane Agility
4. MB Throws
5. Def Slides
6. Battle Ropes
For the first 3 weeks on Thursdays we would do a KB circuit at the end of our strength training sessions. The circuit would include swings, goblet squats, 1 leg SLDL’s, 1 Arm Presses, 1 Arm Rows and Burpees. The next 3 weeks we went to 4 min stations: Bike (heavy resistance), Jump Rope, Short Shuttle (5 yds – Sprint/Backpeddle/Def Slide/Def Slide). Every station was done continuous except the short shuttle, which was done with a partner – I go, you go.
And Fridays were our hill Run day. We have a big hill that leads up to our arena; It’s 1.4 miles up and down and more of a mental challenge than anything. Our athletes really took upon the challenge to get after the hill and work at it.
That’s our pre-season training program laid out for you – I hope it stimulated some thought and gave you some insight into how we do things. The effort put into the program is the big determining factor in the success that it will lead to…and we are hoping for successful seasons this year!
Here is the second part to Will Turner’s last blog post that got some good feedback from facebook followers…enjoy!
In my last blog post, Misconceptions of Conditioning, I went over some of physiological benefits of aerobic training. The idea of this post is to take the information from the last post and give out specific protocols that can be used to maximally develop an athlete’s aerobic system. The examples that I am going to give are protocols that I’ve learned from B at Quinnipiac, Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jamaison, and my other internships as well at my own personal strength and conditioning experiences.
Cardiac Output Method: To utilize this method, you need to do any type of low intensity movement for 30-90 minutes.
- This can include anything such as sport specific movements like bag work for a fighter or shooting drills for a basketball player, or even just shuffling, skipping, crawling; basically, any type of movement.
- Bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills can all be used for cardiac output, all which is necessary is that the athlete’s heart rate is in the 130-150 range and maintained for at least 30 minutes.
- Jogging on a track or anywhere really is very effective, try to minimize the amount of hills
- Lastly, any type of body weight movements such as squats, jumping rope, jumping jacks, etc for at least 20 minutes.
- Remember, this method is used to increase cardiac output by eccentric hypertrophy, allowing a greater stroke volume.
- Time can be increased by about five minutes from week to week in order to keep progressing
Cardiac Power Intervals: This method is used to increase the oxygen delivery rate and cardiac strength
- 60-120 seconds per rep, high velocity per rep with max heart rate
- Again, sport specific movements can be used, this may just be sprints for most sports, but for something like fighting, you can use max effort sparring for 60-120 seconds
- Sprints from 400-700 meters around a track is very effective, with rest consisting of 2-5 minutes with heart rate recovering to 120 bpm. 4-12 reps per session.
- Moderate resistance bike sprints or airdyne sprints for time (about 60 seconds) or distance (0.5-1 miles). Bike sprint reps can go from 4-12 reps and airdynes can go from 2-6 reps. Again, the lower end of the reps will be towards the beginning phases and increase in latter phases.
- Hill or stadium sprints for 60-120 seconds can be very effective and will also help increase muscular power-endurance. 60-120 seconds per rep with 2 minutes between each rep. 4-12 reps per session.
Tempo Method: used for slow twitch muscle fiber hypertrophy. This is important because slow twitch muscle fibers have greater oxidative capacities compared to fast twitch fibers.
- Tempo training is unlike the first two because it uses weight training. Compound (core), multijoint exercises such as squat, bench press, deadlift, pull-ups, etc. Each rep should take about 4-5 seconds utilizing the tempo on one or more of the three phases of movement (eccentric, isometric, concentric). Each set should be 8-10 reps with 30-40 seconds between each set. If doing multiple exercises, take 6-8 minutes active rest between exercises.
- Circuit training can also be utilized in this method. 30 seconds of work paired with 30-60 seconds of rest between each exercise. Compound and assistance exercises can be utilized; it is recommended to alternate upper and lower body exercises to avoid local muscular fatigue.
High Intensity Continuous Training: HICT increases the oxidative abilities of fast twitch muscle fibers. This method utilizes high intensity with low speed.
- Bike or elliptical hill climbs for 10-20 minutes. This can be done by starting at moderate intensity and increasing intensity every 1-2 minutes for 3-5 minutes and starting over again. Intensity or time can be increased from week to week for progression.
- Heavy (and I mean heavy) sled dragging for 10-20 minutes continuous. Keep the sled moving the entire time. Athlete can move, forward, backward, left, right, crossover, etc.
- This is very hard to measure because you will need some equipment or at least a heart rate monitor that most people do that have. First, you need to do type of VO2 max test to figure out what the athletes anaerobic threshold is.
- Once an anaerobic threshold is found, you can use any type of running, bike, elliptical, sport specific drill. It is just important that you keep your heart rate with 10 beats +/- of ANT the entire rep. Reps should go for 3-10 minutes per rep with 1-5 minutes rest between each rep.
I hope this blog helps to clear up information from the last post, and that it will help you to create an aerobic conditioning program for yourself, your clients, or your teams. Remember that it is very important to have a great cardiac output and stroke volume as a base to build on. Then you can start increasing aerobic cardiac power and ananerobic capacity/power. Now go run!