HPU Strength And Conditioning Unit

Role of Strength and Conditioning in a holistic Rugby Programme Strength and Conditioning (S&C) is a vital component for rugby programs at all levels of the sport. The primary role
02 Dec 2014 13:38
HPU Strength And Conditioning Unit

Role of Strength and Conditioning in a holistic Rugby Programme

Strength and Conditioning (S&C) is a vital component for rugby programs at all levels of the sport. The primary role of the S&C programme is to minimise injury and meeting the demands of rugby with enhanced performances. It is vitally important for the Strength and Conditioning Coach and/or the Coach to have an understanding of the fundamental knowledge necessary to undertake the physical preparation with minimal risk of injury and improving rugby performance.

It is imperative that Strength and Conditioning Coaches and Rugby coaches have a basic understanding and applied knowledge of the following pillars for Rugby Preparation namely, Components of Fitness, Principles of Training and Long Term Player Development Process.

Components of Fitness

– Endurance

– Strength and Power

– Speed and Agility

– Flexibility and Mobility


Rugby is an intermittent sport that includes a wide variety of skills and movement such as multiple sprint efforts, jogging, running, falling, rolling, jumping, pushing, pulling, tackling, rotational movements, evasion, passing, catching, and a range of other skills. It is important that players have the ability to execute the above movements efficiently, with minimal energy expenditure and risk of injury, accurately executing the basic skills of the game at high intensities for the duration of the game.

Principles of Training – these principles complement each other and must be addressed holistically.

– Injury Prevention – this is the fundamental principle for any strength & conditioning program. Safety and wellbeing of players is of paramount importance for all S&C Coaches, Coaches, and Teachers. This principle is of even greater importance in a professional environment or international test environments where players are paid to play the game and the goal is to ensure that players are always to play for their clubs or countries. The specific training activities selected at specific periods of the season planner, level of progression and intensity, training environment, level of players at your disposal, time of the day or week relative to the preparation phase or competition phase, physical status of players are some variables that need to be considered in addressing this training principle.

– Progressive Overload – when the player has adapted to a level of difficulty demanded by the training stimuli after a period of time, training intensity should be increased.

– Example 1: Jone performs a 40minute continuous running each Monday morning and records the distance he runs each week. He aims to steadily increase the recorded distance over a 6 week period.

– Example 2: Luisa increases her Bench Press scores steadily over a 6 week period with small increments of 2.5kg.

– Must be noted that increments are made possible based on good technique, nutrition, coaching, mental focus, challenging training environment. Players will have difficulty progressing without the above credentials for training.

– Specificity – training should mimic the specific positional and general requirements of rugby. Training undertaken will also target specific muscle groups (example Squat will target core/back/leg muscle groups), specific energy systems and specific muscle fibre types (example Interval Running will improve Aerobic energy system and Slow/Intermediate Muscle Fibre Types, whilst Speed Training will target Anaerobic energy systems and Fast Twitch Muscle Fibre Types). Training will modify and improve these specific energy systems and muscle fibre profiles to improve Rugby performance.

– Individualisation – players are different based on playing positions, ethnic groups, age groups, gender, existing injury, and training background. Training will need to address these individual differences thus the S&C Coach will need to identify and address these issues at each training session. The S&C Coach needs to be aware of the players’ differences and address training appropriately for better results.

– Intensity – this is key. S&C Coaches & Coaches need to understand this principle. Different training sessions will be governed by specific session objectives relative to the competition model and time of season. Coaches need to understand the specific intensities that govern the improvement of specific energy systems, skill performance, and muscle groups and muscle fibre type. Example – To improve Maximal Strength (performing 6reps for 85% of your 1 Rep Max for key Strength Lifts such as Deadlifts, Squats, Bench Press with 3-4min of rest in between for 3 – 5 sets), to improve Specific Rugby Fitness (performing Rugby Conditioning Game at full match intensity for 3min then resting for 1min then repeating 4 more times.). You need to have sessions that are properly planned into your yearly preparation calendar or periodisation chart that will be much harder than the actual game itself, this will ensure that players have had the necessary training stimulus that prepares them mentally and physically as individuals and collectively as a team to effectively compete in games and competitions. You can’t play hard if your training intensities in terms of hard running, high heart rates, including specific demands such as ruck, tackle, scrums, mauling, lineouts etc.. are not practiced. A word of caution that this needs to be governed with safety relative to the players’ standards, base physical status, training age and ground conditions to minimise injury risks.

-Recovery – this allows the body to physically and mentally regenerate and restore energy levels and motivation. Lack of recovery will result in overtraining, injury, reduced performance and lack of interest/motivation. The player will actually improve his/her fitness levels (super-compensation) after recovery has taken place. Training induces mental and physical fatigue, which is what the body needs to undergo initially, then followed by good recovery to allow the player to perform optimally in competition.

– Variety – Training needs to have variety. There are many ways to improve a player’s Endurance capacities eg. Cross Country Running, Swimming, Cycling, Rowing, Boxing, Interval training, Games Conditioning, Hill Running. Keep the players interested in your session by having a good mix to your training. Note – don’t have too much of variety as this will impede adaptation process to the training activity.

– Enjoyment and Competition – training needs to be enjoyed by players. They must enjoy and want to be a part of your training, otherwise, they won’t be motivated, and you won’t have the training environment and winning culture, and will very quickly lose players. There needs to be competition within the training itself, players competing amongst themselves, and challenging each other. If there is no real competition within the training environment, then players will have lack the mental edge to become better. Great teams who win and keep winning always have enjoyment and competition as an integral part of their culture.

Understanding the Long Term Player Development Pathway

The S&C Coach and Coaches need to understand the different stages of development of the players and appropriately plan and administer training activities that correctly address the level of development a player is at. This will include their individual physical, technical and tactical preparation based on a sound understanding of the principles of training and components of fitness.

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