Rugby - Planning the Training
Even before the last over has been bowled in the last cricket match, the rugby season is already underway. This may mean you are preparing for the All Black tour and the Home Internationals. More likely, you are getting out on a Saturday and playing club matches, or representing your school or college.
Demands of the sport
Most people imagine the typical rugby player as a tall, burly individual with an unlimited thirst for lager and a prodigious appetite for tandoori. In reality, the successful rugby player these days has to be conditioned to perform well in his position. Backs, for instance, will be a different size and shape from forwards. The fit player must have sufficient endurance to last the 80 minute match. He must have speed to reach the correct position first or to out-run opposing backs. Power and strength are important during the scrummage, rucks and mauls. Forwards will need jumping ability for the lineout, while agility is important to out manoeuvre and outwit opponents. All this, of course, needs to be added to a base of skills essential in any ball game, as well as tactical awareness and planned team strategy. At all levels, the demands on the rugby player are great, requiring a combination of thorough physical conditioning and well-drilled skills.
Phases of training
As with field sports, the rugby player needs to be able to maintain a solid level of fitness for a number of months ranging from September to April. At the top level, the summer tours can add to the increasing demands made upon players throughout the year. Those at this level will aim to peak physically when it is most important for them to play well. Every four years this will mean the World Cup, but in the meantime Home Internationals are the next major targets.
The extra games added to first-class league rugby will not help the plight of the top players. It is not realistic to play hard, intense rugby every week for the club and then be expected to perform to a high standard internationally. Players inevitably end up missing some club matches to prepare for the big ones.
For club players, much conditioning work needs to be carried out in the summer months, leaving room for some midweek training to add to this fitness base. This means that the summer will require conditioning running to boost endurance, as well as weight training to improve strength and circuit work to increase muscular endurance.
As the season approaches, the emphasis should shift more towards power and speed. The work in training should become more specific to the match situation, where sessions can be combined to include attention to both skills/technique and fitness.
The training week
The structure of the week will depend very much on the standard of rugby played. Keen players in a club side may have structured training 2-3 times a week, with matches on Saturday, aside from training on their own. Others may simply turn out on Saturday, throwing in the odd run and weights session during the week. It is important to remember, however, that this can be a dangerous game to play without adequate conditioning.
It makes better sense for club sessions to be more skills-based, or at least to incorporate drills that work on technique. They can also deal with specific areas of fitness such as anaerobic endurance. One technique is to use tackle bags where four are placed 10 metres apart from each other in a square formation. Players can then run and tackle, get up, run and tackle a number of times in a variety of directions. The drill can be timed and short recoveries given before going on to the next intensive burst.
Another drill can involve sprinting a set distance, say 30 metres, in pairs, and then performing wrestling activity before sprinting again. After a short recovery, this drill can be repeated a number of times to make a hard session that develops speed, anaerobic endurance and specific strength.
Another way to improve running speed and specific strength is tethered running. This means sprinting while towing a tractor tyre, or with a harness held by a partner.
Work in the weights room is important, but should include pulling as well as pushing exercises. Resistance training should attend to the upper and lower body. Do not give in to the temptation to concentrate on muscle bulk alone. It is specific strength and speed that is required.
It is also useful for forwards to do a small amount of isometric work as well as the popular dynamic work.
Approach aerobic conditioning with caution. Aerobic endurance is important to help players recover from frequent high intensity bursts. The best way to improve this normally is with a combination of steady-state running and interval running. The problem is that players with big frames can easily be injured if the running is not built up gradually and careful attention paid to the running surface and the shoes used.
A good way to start is to combine running and walking around the pitch. Begin by jogging the width and walking the lengths. Build up the number of laps achieved, then change to jogging the lengths and progress through to continuous jogging. Once you have established a solid base, you can alternate between jogging and faster running.
The information on this page is adapted from Dunbar (1993) with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.
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