Strength and Power Rugby Training for the Off-Season
Rugby players must possess tactical and spatial awareness, making rugby training an important basis of their skills. The ability to generate power and endurance is a must. In this article, we will discuss the best rugby training program, and look at how to organise strength and power training for the off-season.
Why should you follow a rugby workout plan? The off-season is an opportunity for getting rid of niggles and injuries. Rugby players, regardless of their position, need high levels of strength and endurance as a base of fitness.
If a player isn’t suffering from an injury or mental fatigue, then a short active rest of a few weeks is all that one needs 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 training. Given that rugby is a field game, the ability to accelerate is also an essential 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 Program for Rugby
A strength training program for rugby players must take into consideration the importance of recovery and monotony.
Monotonous programs don’t allow room for recovery. Less monotonous training programs would have days of high intensity, followed by days of low intensity.
A strength training program with high monotony would require a player to train at the same intensity on consecutive days. For example, a planned training week with high variation and flat monotony could consist of both high-intensity and low-intensity training, as follows…
- On Day 1: High-intensity
- Following on Day 2: Low-intensity
- On Day 3: High-intensity
- Following on Day 4: Low-intensity
- On Day 5: High-intensity
- Day 6 and 7: REST
In this example, low-intensity days could consist of circuits and aerobic work.
Alternatively, you can implement slight variations to stimulate your body’s muscle growth and endurance. Here’s an example of a similar training program which allows more room for recovery.
- On Day 1: High-intensity
- Following on Day 2: Low-intensity
- Day 3: REST
- On Day 4: High-intensity
- Following on Day 5: Low-intensity
- Day 6: ACTIVE REST
If you notice, after every rest period we transition into a high-intensity workout.
Phases of Strength Rugby Training
An efficient way to strength train for rugby is to organise periods or stages that have the main objective of developing a physiological quality that aids the expression of muscle and tendon strength.
Any rugby training program will require some base fitness skills. 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 steps.
Intensity should be set at 50-60% of maximum lifted for an exercise. Repetitions of 8-10 lifts in sets of 3-5 with 45 seconds to 1.30 min recovery are sufficient. The use of weight machines is conducive during this period.
Stretching and Flexibility
In the next phases, you should maintain the level of flexibility and use it as a means of recovery. During this phase, stretching and flexibility work is essential. Conditioning of the core/trunk back, lower back and neck is essential for preparing the body for the next phases.
Aerobic and Anaerobic Conditioning
You should also pursue the development of aerobic/anaerobic conditioning. A typical rugby workout plan can include sessions of 10x100m runs on the grass with 30-40 secs’ recovery at an intensity of 60-70% of the best 100m time.
Hypertrophy phase: The Rugby Training Exclusive
The hypertrophy phase aims to develop muscle cross-section. This phase aims to build 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 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. Powerful arm musculature and shoulders are essential and will have to undergo training.
Upper Boddy – Biceps, Triceps, Trapeziums and Deltoids
Rugby players must possess a sturdy and functional upper body, which can only be achieved by consistent rugby training. In particular the biceps of the arms, triceps, trapeziums, deltoids and intercostal muscle. A period of 4-6 weeks will result in noticeable muscle mass development.
The selection of appropriate exercises during this phase is essential. It must be noted that during this phase, increases in power are unlikely, but strength may be increased as a secondary outcome.
Muscles try to protect themselves against this stress by becoming more efficient at utilising oxygen as well as sugar and ATP. During this phase, muscles classified as fast-twitch fibre will undergo considerable stress during development.
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 increased ability of the muscle to use oxygen will lead to a slow down in twitch speed.
The positive adaptations from hypertrophy is an enlarged cross-section, and the ability of the muscle to use glucose. The expression of power during this phase will be blunted by hypertrophy work.
The development of muscle can be achieved by using 60-75% of maximum weight lifted in an exercise. Some form of power work should be maintained during the phase. Repetitions of 8-12 with recoveries of 1 to 1.30 min recovery between sets are 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 maximum strength phase should be one of your most important phases in a rugby workout plan.
The intensity should be 80-95% of maximum resistance lifted. The length of this period is 3-8 weeks. Exercises such as squats, the power clean and deadlift should be used.
Squats, Power Clean and Deadlift
Long recoveries of 5-8 minutes between sets are recommended. It is recommended that muscle shaking and stretching should be done between sets.
Large amounts of muscle tension will be developed during this phase. 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.
During on field rugby training, you can only develop your muscles so far, which is why squats are an excellent solution to endurance training. Every rugby workout plan should involve some form of squats.
If jump squats are used, then an intensity 30 or 40% of the maximum weight lifted in the squat is used. For the squat, this is 80-85% of the maximum. The optimum load for developing explosive power in the Olympic lift is 80-90% of the maximum lifted.
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.
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.
Exercises such as the clean and snatch allow for this. 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. Each repetition will be at or close to the maximum possible acceleration and speed for each lift. During the power phase, the development of explosive elastic strength should be developed using jumps onto boxes.
Intra-rest recoveries and limited repetitions ensure that power is developed rather than strength endurance. Jumps over boxes, jump over hurdles and alternate bounds.
Deadlifts and Power Cleans
The maintenance phase could consist of a mix of maximum strength and power. This can be achieved by using exercises such as the squat, power clean and deadlift to recruit the large motor units of the body. This rugby training program mostly focuses on deadlifts, power cleans and squats, but other exercises can be put to use.
This will help to maintain the strength gains. The aim is to maintain the strength gains over the season. 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.
The correct way to build a rugby workout plan is to add 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, as it should do in any rugby training program. This should only be extended for those players who play in positions that require the possession of a large muscle mass.