periodized approach to rugby fitness training.
union traditionally was a sport that was played by amateurs who
trained like amateurs. Since the advent of professionalism which
has trickled down throughout the league structures it is now common
place to see the majority of rugby players training in their own
time. As is seen with many people in the gym the new found enthusiasm
for fitness may not paralleled by the same level of knowledge about
how to train.
produces some unique training requirements not seen in other sports.
It is a sport that caters for all types of physiques and places
demands on almost all the bodies’ physical characteristics.
not go into an in-depth discussion of the various requirements of
rugby and variations for each position. However, I will briefly
review the main requirements for success. The demands of rugby are
varied and I could almost list every physical ability and say it
impacts upon performance, however the main factors are:
Aerobic power – more specifically a high aerobic power over
a pure steady state aerobic base e.g. a good 6 minute run test score
more important than good 10 km time. (Obviously these two are highly
integrated but still are different).
• Lactate tolerance – The key limiting factor during
play, affects both aerobic power and speed endurance.
• Speed – More specifically acceleration and repeated
sprint speed endurance.
• Agility – The ability to decelerate and change direction
or move in a non linear direction.
• Strength – Both maximum strength and speed strength
and as any sport requires a strong core as a foundation.
To add to this you could easily point out maximum speed is important
in many situations and you can never be called too fast, but in
general it is not too decisive. Muscles size is also not hugely
important to success as it is your strength, absolute, relative
and fast speed that is more important. Though one factor affecting
maximum strength is of course muscle cross section area. I have
not mentioned above about flexibility but just like core strength
it is a fundamental that needs to be used to restore ideal posture
and muscle lengths. How much flexibility is optimal past these ideal
lengths is an issue of much debate and beyond the scope of this
effectively cover all the main attributes a rugby player needs to
optimize performance he must cover six main types of training methods:
Aerobic training – To develop lactate tolerance and aerobic
• Sprint training – To enhance acceleration and repeated
sprint speed endurance.
• Resistance training – To build maximum and fast speed
• Agility training – to learn effective mutli-directional
movements and changes of pace.
• Plyometric training – To support speed strength in
linear and multi directional movements.
• Core and flexibility training – To create the underlying
foundations of all the above training.
methods will develop all the attributes that are stressed on the
rugby field. These can be combined into three sessions, a track
session – Sprint training, agility and plyometrics, a gym
session – Strength and core training and an aerobic session.
This does not need to take up your whole life but just a few hours
per week if following an optimal training routine.
go through each training method is of course beyond the length of
this article and is comprehensively covered in my book1. Ignoring
the specific details of each training method we can instead focus
upon the underlying design of the training programmes within each
of the six methods above.
of us are aware of periodization, yet so few people integrate this
fully into their training programmes. I believe this is due to the
complexity of the theory. The reason periodization was created was
Maximise the response from the training stimulus.
2) Allow continuous gains to be made from week to week and year
3) Avoid injury and overtraining.
seems to suffer from an all or nothing approach, either a scientifically
designed programme is used or nothing is implemented. However most
trainers are using the theory without knowing it. Forget macro cycles,
training variables and such, if viewed on a sliding scale then the
most basic form of periodization is setting a new programme every
month. Which most people do, the next level up would be applying
a certain type of training for a few weeks then changing the focus,
e.g. an endurance phase then strength phase. This again is easy
to implement. How far to advance the system up to the traditional
theories of step load progression of intensity and macro, meso cycles,
weekly load variation etc is dependent on many a factor including
the athlete you are working with.
here a method of using periodization that can be implemented by
trainers or players alike. The key to using periodization is to
determine the training phase and setting appropriate training parameters.
Then using these you can cycle the parameters over the duration
of that training phase.
me explain, as an example, say you are looking to increase the muscle
size of the prime movers used in rugby, this is known as specific
hypertrophy phase using traditional periodization terminology2.
The general guidelines for this would be 6 – 12 reps with
around 3 minutes rest using the necessary exercises. A simple way
to introduce periodization would be, over a 6 week phase to vary
the reps as below:
1 & 2 12 Reps
Week 3 & 4 9 reps
Week 5 & 6 6 reps
is using the foundation principles of program design, it is increasing
the intensity while decreasing the volume – Classic periodization!3.
This method can and should be extended across all the training phases
within your resistance training routines.
take a look at a typical off-season. To maximise the gains from
resistance training you would build a base early in the off-season
followed by focusing on increasing muscle size then developing maximum
strength and converting this to power so your are physically at
your biggest, strongest and most explosive by the start of the next
do this you could have four training phases, preparation, hypertrophy,
strength and power phase.
Preparation Hypertrophy Strength Power
With each phase you can associate the traditional training parameters
to achieve the goal of that phase’s training. For example,
preparation4 uses sub maximal lifts for between 5 to 15 reps, hypertrophy
uses 6 – 12 reps to failure, strength 1 - 5 rep max and power
for sake of argument 2 – 6 reps with sub-maximal loads (please
note there are many methods for power development beside this).
these phases is already putting the science of program design into
practise. This can be further enhanced by varying the reps within
each phase. This will maximise the training response over the phase:
Phase Preparation Hypertrophy
Reps 15 10 5 12
9 6 5
3 1 6
such simple variations of one training variable you have introduced
intensity and volume manipulation throughout the course of the off-season
and within the phases themselves. This will produce more optimal
results. For each training phase a different exercise routine would
be followed to introduce specificity and you could also vary the
rest periods to further extrapolate the volume, specificity and
you now start introducing recovery weeks you begin to incorporating
the other needs of periodization – avoiding overtraining and
maximising adaptation. This can be furthered enhanced by using specified
variations in training intensity within the weekly micro cycles,
e.g. heavy and light days and before you know it you are applying
the main bulk of periodization and reaping its benefits on athletic
above serves to exemplify how to easily introduce periodization
into resistance training, of course these principles need to be
taken and applied to the other training methods also, e.g. aerobic,
agility, plyometrics etc. Again the exercises within each phase
and variation in training parameters, e.g. volume, intensity need
to be designed and altered to mediate the required changes across
the off-season or during the in-season.
this sounds too simple then just remember that periodization is
a relative rather than an absolute. It is about maximising the response
from training while ensuring the athletes does not suffer injury
or over training. The benefits of using an undulating model versus
a linear model5 or the fitness fatigue theory over classical6 are
all well and good, but the crux of the matter is putting in place
a periodized routine of some sorts. This can be done by:
• Applying training phases during the year to achieve a certain
• Varying the reps, rest, intensity over the training phase.
• Using recovery weeks, days and techniques to ensure the
body is fresh.
is all covered in my book Rugby fitness training: A twelve month
conditioning programme. Though it is a book designed for rugby players
the principles outlined above are central to its theme. It will
teach you how to take the general principles and apply them to you
or your clients training routine.
the programme section I have added three rugby programmes, these
serve just to as an example of a possible routine, the success of
the programme will rely more on how you as the coach manipulate
the training variables within each training phase and change the
training between the individual phases.
Wilson BSc (Hons) CSCS NSCA – CPT CMTA Dip
Rugby fitness training: A twelve month conditioning programme, Crowood
2) Periodization: Theory and methodology of training, Tudor O Bompa
(Human kinetics, chapter 7 Page 165
3) Stone, M.H and H.S. O Bryant. Weight training: A scientific approach.
Minneapolis MN, Burgess 1987
4) Sometimes called anatomical adaptation under traditional periodization
5) Haff, G.G Phd. Roundtable discussion: Periodization of training
Part 1 & 2, Journal of strength & Conditioning Volume 26,
Number 1 , Pages 50 -59, number 2 Pages 56 -70
6) Chiu L, Barnes J L, The fitness fatigue model revisited: Implications
for planning short and long term training. Journal of Strength &
Conditioning Volume 25, number 6, Pages 42-51.