Pre-season training is one of the most commonly talked about subjects within rugby in regards to strength and conditioning training. Because of this, there have been numerous studies researching what kind of periodisation (discussed later) is most effective to generate optimal performance at the start of the season. As a result; rugby players are now bigger, faster, stronger and more conditioned than ever before.
If you were to compare the physical composition of a modern day rugby player in comparison to a 1950’s player; the difference would be more than noticeable. However, what should we do when pre-season is over? Are we expected to magically hold onto the impressive fitness elves we managed to develop over the summer? Of course not; this is where performance maintenance comes into the picture.
The following context will depict how to maintain performance levels throughout the rugby season.
First and foremost; periodisation is something that everyone in health and fitness should be taking into consideration; not just rugby players. Periodisation is essentially the structured planning of physical training. Within periodisation; the goal is to reach the highest level of performance for the most important times of the year. For example, a cup final or end of season play-offs.
Periodisation consists of breaking down your training into specific cycles in order to control and manipulate the load (volume or intensity) that your body is handling, ultimately managing and controlling your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Usually, periodisation will be separated into 3 different sections; a macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle.
To put this into context for a rugby player; creating a periodised protocol will allow goals to be set and also allow the athlete to set physiological targets and standard for the pre/intra and postseason. For example, take a look below;
Macrocycle: This will relate to the overall training period and goal, typically this will last anywhere between one and two years.
Mesocycle: Usually; a mesocycle is a phase within the annual training plan and it will typically consist of 4-5 different microcycle. Normally, this will refer to the predominant areas of performance that need to be developed for the athlete during the time period. Examples include maximal strength, flexibility, top speed etc).
Microcycle: A microcycle is within the mesocycle and will generally last only 1-2 weeks in duration.
You guessed it; this one is all about reducing the injury likelihood during the season via specific exercises. If you reduce the chances of getting injured; you increase the likelihood of providing top quality performance throughout the season. The following exercises are rugby injury prevention exercises for typical injury site points, also included are some core stability exercises which will increase strength potential AND reduce injury likelihood;
ACL Injuries: Uni-Lateral Leg Rehabilitation Work, Wall Squats, Bridges, Resistance Band Monster Walks
Rotator Cuff Tears: Rope Face-Pulls, Internal Rotations, External Rotations.
Core Stability Exercises: Uni-Lateral Overhead Kettle-Bell Carries, Swiss ball Shoulder Press, Side Plank
Whilst you could sit here and discuss the type of diet a rugby player should consume and whether or not he/she should be in a constant caloric surplus; frankly, you will be here all day. But what can be agreed is the importance that carbohydrates will play during the season. Carbohydrates are essential to performance due to the role they play regarding glycogen (energy store) replenishment, hormonal interactions and much more.
In order for a rugby player to continuously perform at a high level; their glycogen stores must be replenished after depletion in order to perform efficiently again in a short space of time. For maximal benefits to insulin sensitivity and efficient bodily use; carbohydrates should be consumed around exercise (pre/during and post).
For example; a rugby player would consume the majority of his/hers carbohydrates 90 minutes before a match, a quick snack directly before, at half-time and directly after the game has finished. These carbohydrates can be broken down into two different categories and can BOTH be used positively (yes, don’t necessarily fear sugars!)
Fast Releasing Carbohydrates (High Glycemic Index; AKA Sugary Carbohydrates)
Slow Releasing Carbohydrates (Low Glycemic Index; AKA Complex Carbohydrates)
- Rice Cakes
- Sweet Potatoes
Unfortunately; stretching is massively overlooked in all realms of fitness. Partly due to negligence and partly due to misinformation; people underestimate the power of stretching. Stretching regularly will not only improve sporting performance but it will also lead to greater strength potential and reduced likelihood of injury.
With reference to rugby, stretching is majorly beneficial as it will develop your body’s range of motion to get into difficult positions for rucking, scrummaging and of course; making those crucial tackles. However; the main reasons why stretching is beneficial to maintaining performance throughout the season is, as stated earlier; it will prevent injuries and therefore increase longevity throughout the term. Stretching is split into two different categories;
Dynamic Stretching: Used Prior To Performance
- Designed to increase body and blood temperature
- Enhance the joint range of motion
- Create kinaesthetic feel providing that exercises are kept sports specific
Static Stretching: Used After Performance
- Reduce post-performance DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
- Reduce lactic acid accumulation
- Reduce body temperature and heart rate
Did you know that dehydration can damage physical performance of anywhere up to 60%? Therefore, this one is a no-brainer; stay hydrated throughout the season! Staying hydrated will not only maintain and improve performance levels but it will also enhance muscle cell functionality and cognitive functionality. Whilst you might be asking what cognitive function has to do with rugby; if you want to win a game tactically, then you will need to be thinking straight that’s for sure!
Furthermore and perhaps more specifically to the subject of this passage; staying hydrated will also improve season longevity due to the fact that it can reduce injury likelihood. The majority of injuries are caused by dehydration which is clearly caused by not consuming enough water! Whilst personal quantities can vary; most rugby players should be consuming a MINIMUM 2 litres of water per day.
Therefore; combining the foregone factors will lead to a far more sustainable performance level throughout the rugby season. Think about it; you work so hard during the pre-season; why throw it away as the season commences? Train Hard; Train Smart.