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  • Writer's pictureJason St Clair Newman

Rugby Off-Season Training - Part 2

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Foundation Phase for the Rugby Off-Season

In part one, I touched on ideas for coming off the end of your season and some general tips for these areas to think about, coming into your Rugby Off-season.

To recap these were: Having some time out, Keeping your base fitness, Using the time to rebalance, Getting back to the gym, Getting faster, Stepping better and Developing your skills were all broadly touched on.

In Part two of the rugby off-season, we will look at what I call the foundation phase. developing that robust base to build upon as the off-season progresses and moves towards your pre-season.

What is it?

Essentially the foundation phase is a time for laying the groundwork for the coming months, it's fairly general physical training and can be pretty broad in what you do.

For 15 and under age groups I want to see a lot of non-rugby specific training, playing games that involve key areas such as decision making under pressure, fast multidirectional movements, attacking space, shutting down space, sprinting and jumping to name a few - basketball is great for this and good pick up game in summer - but there are many other games that younger athletes can take part in that also fit this bill... the biggest factor, however, is it's gotta be FUN!

I'm also a big fan of multievent athletics - think decathlon versus just the sprints, while they don't involve the game-like aspects as described above they do have essential athletic development movements that will help any athlete get physically better.

More and more I have younger players asking about doing gym work.

I have no issues with 13,14 and 15-year-old players doing gym exercises but they need to be under an experienced coach's supervision who understands the physiological changes that are going on, especially at the younger end with Peak Height Velocity (PHV).

Bulletproof technique should be the main focus. Using submaximal loads and following a well thought out total body programme is essential for these age groups.

In my mind, I am thinking of lots of different planes of movement and asking myself if they can even handle their body weight well as a starting point before lifting.

For 16+ years the seriousness of your rugby might be increasing and this may be the sport that you want to stick with and focus more on developing, most by this age will already be lifting or should be thinking seriously about it. It's not the be-all-end-all, I still place a high focus on skill development, but the reality is in today's game it will help at the very least to protect you from injury and develop some armour for you.

Along with competitive adult players, the foundation phase is the time to get into regular gym training after your break off and start getting down to the park and moving your body fast again.

How long is the foundation phase?

3-6 weeks

I will generally use a three-week foundation phase and possibly build a second three-week phase after this depending on time factors such as the start of the pre-season,

age and experience.

I have found three weeks is around the minimum time frame to build some sort of capacity for harder phases of training, if time permits adding a second block after this is even better and while still very general, it builds on that first foundation phase.

How many times per week?

  • Minimum 2 ideally 3 sessions in the gym 30-45min

  • A sprint session once a week is good over short distances - if you aren't playing a high-speed game like touch 7's or basketball for example - no sorry cricket doesn't count)

  • Recovery aerobic session once to twice a week is good - anything you want to do at a low intensity, but the key is low intensity (not a CrossFit class) you should be able to hold a conversation easily without losing your breath - I like to see people going for hikes, mountain bike rides, swimming etc.

During the foundation phase, I want to buildup consistency in training and get the body ready to be able to handle the next phase of training.

The actual volume of training in the sessions is fairly low and builds through the programme so it isn't too draining physically although I will use short rest periods so there is some physical capacity work going on.

What to do? : A couple of go to's

This is where I will use Dumbbell circuits, Barbell circuits and lots of different directions of movement. Often we get caught up doing our favourite exercises but forget to target some of those other really important ones such as lateral and rotational movements.

After a tough season, I want my players to do this stuff to encourage better ranges of motion and also open their bodies up.

Here is an example of a basic Dumbbell circuit - normally I will start with a percentage of body weight and build up from there beginners maybe around 10% body weight divided between two dumbbells to more experienced people starting with 20-25% body weight. throughout the foundation phase depending on individual strength and experience, I will look to increase the weight up and keep reps the same.

Dumbbell Overhead Press x6

Dumbbell Squat x6

Dumbbell Bent-over Row x6

Dumbbell Lateral Lunge x6 Each leg

Dumbbell Skier Swings x 6

Bodyweight Squat Jump x 6

3-5 x the circuit

Rest anywhere from no rest up to 30-60seconds between each circuit

I also find it just good for joints and muscles to have a new stimulus like this and people feel better for it after being smashed by other players for 6 months.

Note: I like to cover all planes of movement in programmes even in-season while there might be an emphasis on certain key exercises I will still make sure these other areas are addressed especially rotation and side-to-side work (frontal plane)

As coach Steve Myrland says "Athletes live and Die in the transverse plane" (transverse = rotational movement).

Here is an example of some multidirectional work using a medicine ball

Infamous Gambetta Leg Circuit

Now the Infamous Gambetta Leg Circuit was taught to me by Vern Gambetta one of the leading coaches in the world to have had a major influence on how I train and prepare athletes. I first learned it at GAIN which takes place each year at Rice University in Texas.

First - Why is this good?

Well, you don't need any weights for a start, you use your body weight and you only need a step which can be a step/box or wall to stand on (as long as it's got a wide enough

surface for your foot).

the squats need to be 1 rep per second - no excuses.

It builds up a level of conditioning and initial robustness that will have you ready to go in your next phases and as much as athletes love to hate it when they finish a cycle of this, their legs are in great shape, and they feel faster and stronger... It just works, I'm not the only coach to have used this successfully.

So what is it?

The circuit is made up of 4 different leg movements which you can change for your needs but the standard circuit is ...

  • Bodyweight squats to parallel x 20

  • Forward Lunges x 10 each leg

  • Step-Ups x 10 each leg

  • Squat Jumps x 10

This is then repeated 3-5 x either with rest (either the time it took to complete the circuit or around a minute) or no rest at the end of each circuit.

Here's the catch - the squats need to be 1 rep per second and to parallel

- no excuses.

If you can't maintain that then you stop at that level until you can beat it next time or you half the reps and start with a half leg circuit (10 reps instead of 20) and build-up to the 20 rep version. I have used many variations of this, and as I said very few athletes love it when they are doing it but they love the results afterwards.

Stretching / Mobility Work

Between sessions or as a cool down after sessions is a good option for stretching.

Often this is a personal thing, and if it works for a person then I let them go with that.

There is a lot of to and fro on the subject yes it does work, no it doesn't, do this do that.

My take is if it makes you feel better and you are seeing results then that's good.

Yes, there might be an alternative method that works quicker, but not everyone has access to those methods or that training. Functional Neurology work is in this vein - I have seen gains in shoulder flexion from juggling and improvements in my thoracic extension from other exercises as well.

If you follow any of my workout routines for the day that I post or you work with me personally you will see I start all sessions with functional neurology exercises normally or even between sets of exercises. It's an area of training that is still very young, especially within the athletic development world although Ironside's rugby youth will know all about it 2-3!

We know the brain is very powerful and waking up areas of the brain can have the potential to improve our movement quality, for now, it is one of my go to's and I'll keep experimenting with it and getting real-world feedback and keep you posted

Does foam rolling work?

my answer...

Does it work for you? - if it does then use it if it doesn't don't worry try something else.

I find it very personal and if it makes you feel better then that's good.

Does it improve long-lasting flexibility? - not so convinced but I do notice initial better ranges of motion immediately after doing it so maybe there is something in that.

Sprint Sessions

If you aren't playing a fast summer sport I may include some sprint work in there, normally revolving around short distances and technique work to try and clean up any poor running mechanics, its good to keep this system ticking along and not forgotten, but the emphasis in this phase for me isn't on breaking speed barriers.

Typical distances are maybe around 20m so more acceleration focused

and very low volumes maybe 4-6 reps and combine this with technique drills and some low-level plyo work like pogo's and squat jumps

This time of the season is not the time in my view to smash yourself with high-intensity interval work

Aerobic Work

You can argue all you want for your HIIT work but rugby does require a strong aerobic base, it also helps with recovery. This time of the season is not the time in my view to smashing yourself with high-intensity interval work. It's a great time for doing some fun aerobic activities like mountain biking, surfing, playing pick up games with friends, and hiking in the hills and forests. long easy aerobic work and if you can add an element of fun in there is brilliant for the start of the summer months in fact if it isn't fun, probably best you go find something that is, life is too short.

Wrapping it up

and moving it on ...

Hopefully, you have a better idea of the Foundation phase why I use it, how and some simple examples that I have used and continue to use with my rugby players.

Everyone is at different levels and everyone has different goals they want to achieve within their game. Is this the right way .. maybe and maybe not, so far however I have had great success with this and to date no injuries when people start the next phase if they have completed a good foundation phase, so for me as a coach it's always a

part of the overall picture.

So what is the next phase? - well one step closer to Pre-season and this will be the phase where I will focus on getting stronger, more powerful and faster!

You can read about that in Part three coming soon.

If you missed Part One - here is a Link

Good luck and any questions please feel free to comment.

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