Dominate Your Rugby Off Season in 2015
Strength and conditioning is moving forward at a million miles per hour today and the athletes who are in front of the curve are naturally seeing huge improvements in performance.
Whilst we all need to freshen up at the end of the season you might want to consider what “freshen up” actually means. If to you that means returning overweight, weak and with the energy system development of a seasoned office worker on 20-a-day look away now….
#1 Make Sure You Run
If you have to run in your sport you should run in your off season. Returning to pre season to start running 5 days per week when you have only been running for 1-2 days per week or less is a recipe for disaster.
The first few weeks of pre season are a challenge.
Your body has to adapt to what is usually a high volume- high intensity period of training (In my view this is not the right approach but still one that many coaches opt for) and as a result you go into alarm and you can experience muscle soreness, inflammation and sometimes tissue breakdown.
You can limit what you have to “re-learn” by keeping yourself accommodated to running and used to some level of volume.
# 2 Split Your Training Week
Each day needs to fit into one of the following categories.
Development days- what we would commonly refer to as “training” where the goal is to apply enough stress in pre targeted areas to cause adaptation. You should aim for 2-3 days like this per week where the training will be focussed on goals like power, speed, lactate power/ capacity and anything that takes heart rate into the 90 and above percentile.
Stimulation days- These are ideal following a day or two at low intensity to prepare the central nervous system for development days. Reduce the weight on the bar, reduce the volume and focus on speed.
Recovery and regeneration days- use a range of different types of training and recovery strategies here as like with training you will see the biggest adaptation (in this case how quickly and effectively you recover) when you use something that is new to you. You could consider running, swimming, bike, saunas, contrast baths, ice baths, massage.
Depending how much time you have to train you may consider using these days to develop cardiac output (how much blood your heart can pump per beat- more on this later)
# 3 Train the full spectrum
Most players and coaches would look at the pattern and timing of play and seek to mimic it in targeting energy system development.
In my view this will take you some way toward better conditioning but it’s not the optimal approach.
If you were to look at your energy systems as a straight line continuum with speed, maximum strength and power at one end of the spectrum and the endurance necessary for marathon running at the other end of the spectrum, Rugby would sit somewhere between the middle and the strength and power end.
If you were to simply focus all your efforts on this exact point in the spectrum you would miss the mark in terms of getting the specific physiological adaptations needed to perform to your best.
This would be a little like saying the best way to improve athletic performance for rugby is to play rugby. This is what most players during the 70’s did and the difference between players then and now is huge!
#4 train to become efficient
In a recent study by Weyland and Bundle athletes energy system interaction was measured over short distance in both run and cycle sprints. They observed athletes power outputs were very varried (nothing new here) but within the total power output they measured how much energy was provided through the aerobic system ( the rate of power production of this system is slower but it produces less waste products and causes less fatigue) and they observed how much of the total energy of the sprint was provided by the anaerobic energy pathway (the rate of energy production here is faster but substrates associated with fatigue like lactic acid are accumulated in the muscle)
The study found that although two athletes might be able to produce the same level of power, one may be using a greater percentage of energy from the anaerobic system and another greater energy from the aerobic system. The study called this phenomena the “anaerobic reserve” or how much of your anaerobic energy you can preserve.
Athletes who use less of their anaerobic system create less waste products, experience less fatigue and perform better on repeat sprints.
Does rugby involve repeat sprints?
The way to improve your anaerobic reserve is to improve your aerobic system. I could write a whole article on this subject but just to give you an idea of some of the types of training you could consider here are some examples;
Cardiac output circuits; Buy a heart rate monitor. It doesn’t have to be all singing all dancing, the Polar FT2 would do fine and it’s about £37. keep heart rate around 120 Bpm if seated and 130 Bpm if standing go for either body weight or very light resistance on full body movements. Shoot for 30-60 minute circuits at around 5-6/10 intensity. This will increase the amount of blood your heart can pump per beat.
Explosive repeats- here you could use a rower, prowler push/drag, hill sprints or sprints on a bike. Go for 6-10 seconds of work with 40-60 seconds recovery. Do 6-20 sets with 1-5 clusters of sets. This improves the rate that energy can be produced through the aerobic system and improves recovery between sprints/ sets.
Some people believe that HIIT ( high intensity interval training) is all we need to maximise energy system development following tabbata training becoming more and more popular – four things to consider here is that in the Tabbata study;
1) Athletes were elite level and able to achieve intervals at a much higher percentage of VO2 max than most people can achieve even when fresh.
2) In the study participants had 20-30 minute warm ups and cool downs at low intensity -improving the aerobic system as well as 1 day per week athletes would complete 30 minutes of low intensity work. So the athletes spend WAY more training time at low intensity developing the aerobic system than at high intensity.
3) the study lasted 6 weeks– If you were to apply a high amount of stress coming from a new stimulus to an athlete over 6 weeks you would see adaptation ( see Seyle’s General adaptation model) the trouble is where do you go next? Apply yet more stress in the form of intervals?
4) Can you psychologically manage doing tabatas everyday? I don’t want to sound like I’m being hard on you all here but I bet if you had a measure of your performance in tabatas you would see a plateau after 6 weeks for sure!
#5 diet- Make effective change that improves performance
This time of year players can often get their orders from coaches;
“I want you 8 kg heavier next year”
“You need to drop some body fat by the time you get back into the season”
The thing the coach doesn’t say that is implied is ;
“I want you 8kg heavier but able to perform the same or better”
Can you get bigger and more powerful?
Should you be drinking protein shakes and creatine?
What’s the biggest mistakes athletes in team sports make with their diet?
Here’s a quick guide.
The first thing you need to do is to discover your true starting point.
1) Usually I will take a full diet history but I have to say the results from this tend to be less variable in athletes as extreme diet practises are less common.
2) Next is to measure up. Take a selfie (check out the app Healfie on the App Store) take body weight and height (particularly if you are between 13-19 years) and if possible get an accurate measure of your body fat. As a word of advice don’t get too hung up on your body fat percentage as the formula that calculates body fat percentage is highly variable between different formulas ( there are a handful of different formulas to calculate body fat percentages that are recognised internationally, each give more weight to different sites on the body) some would dictate a person at 11.5% BF and others would have the same person at 17% BF.
Even DEXA scans which are the very most accurate measure of body composition can be thrown off if you have drank as little as 500ml of water.
So in summary body fat percentage is not that reliable in my most humble view but your total mm of body fat is! To be reliable you should make sure these are taken from the same spot. The way to do this is to measure where you’ll take the measurement from using a tape measure and bony land marks. ISAK practitioners do this. We have two ISAK practitioners at Storm and prices start from £25.
3) Track Your food for 7 days
There are online calorie counting apps that will make this easy like myfitnesspal.com.
As you are doing this weigh yourself first thing every morning and make a note of your bodyweight.
At the end of the week you will be able to work out your average calorie intake and you’ll be able to see whether you are going up or down in weight as a result.
If you have been taking selfies or having your body fat measured you’ll have at least a subjective measure so you can see if you are gaining or losing body fat.
4) Set your Daily Calorie Goal
If you want to drop some body fat I would suggest you lower your total calories by 10% ONLY. Cutting calories quicker than this causes a loss in strength and power and can cause losses in muscle in my experience. If your progress then slows you can again lower calories by 10%. For long term progress without stalling aim for a loss of about 0.5 of a kilo per week and expect to see a drop in weight followed by around 3-4 days staying the same weight before your bodyweight drops again.
The reduction in calories should be from carbohydrates and fats I should say. Your protein intake should remain the same throughout and I would suggest you set your protein at around 1.8g per kilogram of bodyweight e.g. if you are 70kg you should eat around 126g of protein per day.
This may be 3 eggs at breakfast, 170g turkey breast for lunch, 180 g chicken for dinner and a shake post training providing around 35g protein.
If you are looking to put on some muscle you need to increase calories but I find an increase of 10% is rarely enough to cause much adaptation. I would shoot for between 15-18% combined with a relatively high volume training system.
If you would like some help to get sorted for the season hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck and go hard!