Strength and conditioning for Rugby Union should not only be specific to the demands of the overall game but to that of the demands of the respective positions. Further to this exercise selection specific to each training phase needs to be considered when designing a year round strength and conditioning programme for rugby union.
by Wayne Lombard and Rob Arkell
Rugby Union is a sport that incorporates intermittent, short duration, high intensity exercise, maximal efforts of power and strength, muscular endurance, agility and speed. Professional rugby players have been shown to cover up to 6km in a game, spending half their playing time at 78-90% of HRmax. These players also produce maximal sprint velocities lasting 4 – 6 seconds, covering up to 60m at a time. Above all this, players are also exposed to high impact loads, ranging from 6000N – 9000N during a scrum or tackle situation. What makes Rugby even more interesting is that each position requires a very different physiological make up. For example, forwards need to be able to take hits and compete physically for ball possession whereas backs need to be explosive and agile to avoid tackles and take the gaps.
Strength & Conditioning for Rugby
A fundamental principle of training popularized by Verkhoshansky and Siff is the law of “Dynamic correspondence”, which states that “the means and methods of strength training for a specific sport should be chosen to enhance the required motor qualities in terms of,
- amplitude and direction of movement pattern
- Region of force production
- Dynamics of the effort
- Rate and time of force
- Regime of muscular work
Hence, to ensure that the players are optimally conditioned for rugby, it is important that the strength and conditioning programs are specifically designed, not only for rugby as a whole, but also to match the demands of each position. The phases of a strength and conditioning programme should be periodized into four phases (Figure), each with distinctly different training goals and adaptations. The primary goals for strength and conditioning for rugby can be divided up into the following characteristics;
- Muscle Mass
- Muscular Strength & Endurance
- Aerobic capacity
- Speed & Agility
It is important that training is specific to the demands of rugby to induce the desired physiological adaptations, which are associated with improved performance. Furthermore, it is important that players of all age groups adopt a well structured and designed rugby specific strength and conditioning programme to sufficiently prepare them physically for the demands associated with the game as well as reduce the chance of acquiring musculoskeletal injuries.
Cunniffe, B., Proctor, W., Baker, J. S., & Davies, B. An evaluation of the physiological demands of elite rugby union using global positioning system tracking software. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(4), 1195–1203. 2009
Duthie, G., Pyne, D., & Hooper, S. (2003). Applied physiology and game analysis of rugby union. Sports Medicine, 33(13), 973–991. 2003
Lambert, M. I. Aspects of physical conditioning for rugby. (SARU, Ed.) (pp. 1–17). Cape Town : Boksmart. Retrieved from http://www.sarugby.com 2009
Verjhoshansky, Y., Siff, M. Supertraining. 6th Ed. Rome. Ultimate Athlete Concepts, USA. 2009
About the Authors
Wayne Lombard completed his undergraduate and honors degrees at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban). He then joined the Sports Science Institute of South Africa as a Biokineticist and Performance enhancement specialist at the High Performance Centre. He then went on to complete is Masters degree and is currently registered for a PhD in exercises science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Wayne has worked with various of South Africa’s top athletes in all sporting codes, including some of South Africa’s Paralympic and Olympic athletes.
Robin Arkell completed both his undergraduate and Honours degrees at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. He completed his internship at The Sports Science Institute of South Africa, in The High Performance Centre, where he was exposed to a wide range of sporting codes. Robin is currently registered for a Masters degree in Biokinetics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa, specializing in youth rugby union development. He is also currently the Strength and Conditioning coach for the UCT 1st XV rugby union team.