A major issue with traditional strength and conditioning programmes is the compartmentalisation of the athlete’s programme of training. The rugby coaches do their part. The strength and conditioning coaches do their work. The physios have their input too. Often these practitioners operate in complete isolation, unaware of what the others are doing.
But what links these disciplines (sport practice, physical training and rehabilitation/prehab work)? Movement. All movement- no matter what its purpose- exerts some kind of physical cost, that taps into the body’s finite capacity to tolerate stress. This has several important implications for the training process:
When we consider that the body’s ability to tolerate physical stress, and that all forms of training entail a price, we arrive at the logical conclusion that as one area of training rises, another must fall. If an athlete is currently maxed out in terms of their workload, simply adding more will carry only negative consequences. When physical work in the gym or field increases, rugby work must decrease and vice versa.
Performance is a function of tactical, technical, psychological and physical preparation. To achieve maximum performance we have to optimise each area. Our finite physical capacity means that there is a limited amount of training that can be performed in a week/month/year etc. Thus the coach who is best able to simultaneously achieve the aims of the different areas with the same training activity will derive the greatest return on investment of training per unit of time/fatigue. For example, what causes more fatigue:
- A well coached wrestling session that targets improved tackle technique, develops specific endurance qualities, rewards the development of aggression and shows athletes what tackling strategies are most effective in different game scenarios, or….
- One session of tackle technique, one session of non-specific conditioning work, one on-field tactical session and one session targeting psychological preparation?
The first example is that of a coaching staff who understands the global nature of the training process, and that capacity is limited. The second example is typical of a staff or club who adopts a compartmentalised approach.
When viewed in isolation, using exercise as a physical punishment might be viewed as productive or necessary to achieve good discipline or cohesion. But viewed globally movement based punishments will entail a physical cost. The likelihood is that this physical punishment will take the form of long, gruelling glycolytic system work- burpees, down ups, prowler suicides etc. A strong case can and should be made that this is not an optimal way to prepare physically for rugby (plenty of examples available on the blog here).
For every rep of non-productive physical punishment performed, you eat into the number of reps of productive work that may be performed. Like taking a random detour on a car journey, we end up arriving at the desired destination albeit later and with much more wear and tear than is necessary. If this logic is foolish when driving a car, it is foolish when training an athlete.
There is no such thing as strength and conditioning
In light of the global effects of all forms of physical activity, optimised athletic training needs to do away with the boxes that we put ourselves in as practitioners. There is no such thing as pure sport practice. There is no such thing as pure strength and conditioning. There is no such thing as pure rehab. There is only movement and its relationship to the ultimate goal of improved performance on the field. When we as coaches are aware of how our work affects the training process as a whole, the sooner we will be able to optimise the training of our athletes.