Head of Strength and Conditioning at St Helens RFC, Matt Daniels has an outstanding level of knowledge when it comes to helping performers to compete at the highest level of one of the world’s most demanding sports.
What areas of S&C do you think need particular attention when it comes to rugby league?
Rugby league requires a wide range of physical attributes. All of these attributes need careful consideration in terms of application in a team sport. Although we are a team sport it is important to look at the players as individuals and where possible cater for the development of each within their playing role. The training methods employed attempt to maximise each individual’s adaptations and therefore enable them to perform efficiently and at optimal capacity.
How does the off-season regime vary from in-season S&C training?
Through pre season we have a set schedule which allows us to maximise both training and recovery time. This helps us make the most of the short pre season and helps the players become conditioned to perform effectively and efficiently once the season starts. During the season our schedule changes dramatically and the structure of the training week is dependent upon our game to game turnaround which can be 3 days, 5 days, 6 days, 7 days or 9 days. How do you manage the busy Easter period?
The main focus at this time is monitoring the player’s physical state. The short turnaround dictates that re hab and recovery become a priority having players fit and available over this period is a necessity. We try to manage the player’s workload to allow for extra recovery over this period.
Do you look to peak for the playoffs or do you build in pre-season and maintain throughout the season?
Although the majority of the hard work is done during the pre season there are points in the season where we try to increase the load and also points when we reduce the load. The fixtures and turnaround of games dictates the opportunities to do this. We work to a loose periodised plan; this has to be flexible due to the nature of a busy season and the monitoring of players. The adjustment of training loads allows us to aim at peaking for key games or at key stages of the season.
What’re the most important bench mark performance measures you look for (eg speed, one rep maxes etc)
The players undertake a large battery of tests that incorporate strength, speed, power, endurance. These take place at the start middle and end of pre season and when scheduling allows through the season. We also administer regular hydration and body fat tests. Players are ranked in positional groups and as a squad so that there is competition between players in specific positions.
Any tips for reducing the prevalence of non-contact injuries?
The main focus for preventing non contact injuries is the use of workload and physical markers. Players complete daily physical markers which allow us to see what shape each individual is in with their baseline markers. Alongside this, players also complete daily wellbeing sheets which inform us on how players are feeling in terms of leg soreness, fatigue, sleep quality etc. Armed with this information we are able to make informed decisions on individual players and alter training for them or the full squad accordingly.
Finally, if you could give one bit of advice to grass roots rugby league players who want to maximise performance, what would it be?
I think it would be to self analyse and evaluate. By going through this process honestly and openly you should be able to highlight weaknesses in your current processes/physical attributes.
You often find that players who train hard work specifically on things they are good at/enjoy most, in order to maximise performance working on weaknesses or less enjoyable training methods is vital.
Alongside this it is important to work hard but recover well. Recovery is massive part of optimising training gains.