Periodization of training for amateur rugby coaches

I am writing this article for the benefit of the amateur rugby coach who may be well versed in the tactics and skill training of their rugby team but may not be as up to speed on the conditioning element of training. This gives a simple insight into how a team coach should put together a preparation program and how to maintain achievements made throughout the playing season.

Rugby is a complicated sport in terms of fitness. It is neither an endurance sport nor a pure strength sport. If you drew a straight line and put sprinting on one end of the line and a marathon on the other end of the line and called it a continuum, then rugby would fit somewhere in the middle, maybe toward the power end.

Before you can start a training program, it is important to carry out a so-called needs analysis. That means looking at the physical demands that the sport places on the player and the team. A short list would look something like this.

  1. Be able
  2. speed
  3. perfomance
  4. Strength
  5. persistence
  6. suppleness and mobility

Each of the subheadings above shows what the requirements of the sport are, however some positions require more of one aspect than another. That said, a full-back would need to focus more on speed work than a prop forward since the prop forward requires great strength and good stamina, unlike the full-back who needs a lot of speed and power and not as much stamina given his continuous involvement in the play is less than that of the prop forward.

At the professional level, where the team has conditioning coaches, each playing position can be conditioned individually, however this is not usually possible for the amateur coach due to the lack of knowledgeable coaches who can deliver not only that, but position-based programs at the time in which the team’s amateur coach is exposed to is far shorter than in the professional game. So, the amateur coach must develop a plan that will get the most out of his team with the time, tools, and coaches available. To do this, periodization of training is the most effective way.

Periodization of training is a fancy name for time management. It was first used in the 1960s in the Eastern bloc. This means that each training phase is assigned a specific time frame.

Preseason training typically lasts about 12 weeks, with the game season lasting about 30 to 36 weeks, allowing for weather and game postponements. This means that the coach has to prepare the team in 12 weeks and then keep them at a good level of fitness for another 30-36 weeks, not an easy task.

The important things first.

Before the coach jumps in and creates a plan, he needs to do basic tests to find out the current level of fitness of the team. Based on the results of these tests, he/she can decide where to focus the main effort of conditioning.

I’ll assume that these days; Most amateur clubs have access to a gym with free weights and a field to work out on.

Common tests that can be used and are easy to perform are as follows

  1. Speed. 10 and 30 meter speed tests
  2. Agility. The Agility T Test or the 5-10-5 Pro Agility Test
  3. Perfomance. The vertical jump test and the 5-standing long jump test
  4. Strength. The 1 rep max bench press. The 1-Rep Maximum Squat Test. The 1-rep max pull-up test
  5. Persistence. The 5 Minute Run Test

After the testing phase, and after the coach has decided what needs most training, they can sit down and create their basic periodization plan.

I’ve outlined a hypothetical pre-season training program below. I decided the team needed to focus equally on all aspects of their training after seeing the test results. During preseason and your competitive phase, some weeks should have lower volume than others; I would suggest every fourth week is good for this.

We have found that 12 weeks are available for pre-season training. Now we need to split those 12 weeks into smaller training phases. Each training phase lasts 4 weeks (these we call mesocycles) and each week in each training phase is called a microcycle. The whole season is called the macro cycle. So, periodization has macrocycles (the entire training period), mesocycles (phases of the training period), and microcycles (weeks within the training phases).

Now to break up the preseason you can have macro cycle 1 = 4 weeks. Macrocycle 2 = 4 weeks. Macrocycle 3 = 4 weeks. The competition period (if you have your games) is similarly divided.

You now need to assign each of the macrocycles the type of workout that you want the main task to be. At the beginning of the pre-season, fitness training is very important and so is strength training. These two elements are called general preparation. This is how macrocycle 1 is called; The General Preparation Period (GPP)

During this time, it is recommended that you work on baseline strength training, primarily muscle growth (hypertrophy), which means your strength training should rotate around 8-12 reps at 65-80% of your 1-rep max.

Running should be based on interval training over longer distances. For example, 2 x 5 x 400 meter runs at 80% effort, with 120 seconds of rest between runs and 5 minutes of rest between sets.

You would build up the training volume via the GPP.

Next is macrocycle 2. This is called the sport-specific preparation period. At this stage you would begin to focus your main effort on skill and team development, physically you would now shift towards basic strength training, meaning your lifts would be 3-6 reps at 75-90% of 1 rep max. Your conditioning work would still be on base, but now is the time to narrow the distances. Now you should move on to more intense interval training. Distances should be 100-200 meter sprints. Up to 5×200 and 6-8100. Rest should be about 2-3 minutes between reps. And they should be run at 85-90% of maximum speed. You should also start incorporating some form of agility training at the start of your conditioning sessions. These can be skill based and last 10-20 minutes. This phase is abbreviated to SSPP

The last phase of the training program before the season is called the pre-competition phase (PCP). As a coach you should now focus a lot more on team practice and sorting through all your set pieces. Physically, it’s now about the team being able to perform at its best for the first game; The majority of fitness work should be performance-based, high-intensity sprinting exercise with longer rest periods and much more skill work. Just hold onto your fitness gains. In the last week before the first game of the season, training should be intense, but probably only a third of the volume you did preseason.

Now that you are in the competitive phase of the season, consider breaking the season into more meso cycles where you can focus on topping up your fitness, strength, speed and agility, etc. throughout the season. These meso cycles can be from 4-6 weeks long.

Please keep in mind that the explanations and examples above are just that, examples! The model was only written so that you, the coach, have a basic understanding of a basic periodization model. I hope you found the article informative. For more information on periodization please visit my website listed in the resource box below.

Thanks to Steve P Carter | #Periodization #training #amateur #rugby #coaches

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