If you are a serious rugby player or coach, you will be familiar with the idea of performing extra training for certain players post match- typically for unused or low minute subs. The rationale behind this idea is that if players are fresh or reasonably fresh, post match is a good time to perform additional training to ensure retention or development of fitness.
Other reasons are that on match days, all players are forced to eat like they are going to play for 80 minutes (worst case scenario) but often play little or no minutes. This results in a big calorie surplus for the day and the fat gain that follows. Extra training is a good way to eat into this and maintain body composition.
So what activities typically get performed for extras after a match? Hang around after most professional rugby matches and you’ll see… it is mostly anaerobic heavy conditioning. Lots of shuttles, down ups and small sided games. The game taxes anaerobic energy production and it hurts, so the post match training should too, right?! My opinion: wrong.
My preferred approach is to do almost the polar opposite, and concentrate on development of speed, power and strength, heavily favouring the alactic energy system. Let’s look at the reasons why this is a good idea:
Greater efficiency of training time
Maximal outputs are hugely beneficial for their own sake- run faster, hit harder, jump higher! The more frequently you can train these qualities, the faster progress you’ll make or more effectively you’ll retain them. They are also the foundation upon which conditioning is built- you have to increase the engine size before working on the fuel tank and injection.
But development of maximal speed, strength and power will indirectly benefit conditioning (through increased reserves relative to the demands of the game). Conditioning will not benefit maximal speed, strength and power. The case can be made it is a less efficient use of training time than developing maximal outputs.
We lose maximal outputs most quickly- fight to keep them
The training residual (how long an ability can be retained without direct training) is far shorter for maximal outputs (especially speed and power endurance) than for metabolic qualities. Those abilities which decay more quickly without training should probably be prioritised over more persistent abilities.
Train what games and training doesn’t stimulate
Because the volumes of specific work are so high during the season a strong case can and should be made that strength and conditioning activities should target precisely those qualities that the game or practice does not stimulate. Given the middling intensity nature of almost all rugby activities, we are talking about very low end endurance work, or very high end outputs like maximal speed, strength and power. Why train endurance when it is already so well stimulated by matches and practices? Better to dedicate precious time to the things that are just as important but receive almost no development in regular sport practice.
It is the best time of the week for stressful training
One of the biggest complaints about performing maximal speed, strength and power work in the season is the residual fatigue they create, which can affect subsequent performance in training and matches. The further away from the match a high CNS stress session is, the more this effect can be mitigated. Immediately post match is as far away from the next game as you can get, so what better time to concentrate on maximal speed, strength and power?!
It makes managing squad readiness easier
Another common concern in professional rugby is ensuring that the squad is well synchronised in terms of their readiness to train. We always want to give the athlete the right training stimulus, in the right amount, at the right time and that job is a lot easier when the squad in synch with one another. Unless excepted by unusually low readiness, a day high for one player is a high day for all players. This makes it far easier to plan for the whole week.
The primary consideration of readiness is the central nervous system as this is typically the slowest system to respond and also the central governor of the stress response. If we look at the demands of a match, there is a ton of explosive and high force efforts throughout the game, a good deal of anaerobic work, and a high psychological stress load. Without question it is a high day.
However when we look at the typical post match training teams perform, it is neither explosive or high speed (relative to each athlete’s maximal capacity), nor are the rest periods used are not conducive to producing high outputs. The anaerobic portion is high, no question, but this can be recovered from reasonably quickly, and the eventual neural stress is far less than that of a match or high CNS speed, strength or power session. Subs or unused players training in the typical post match fashion are exposing themselves to an unnecessarily low amount of training stress.
Not only does this lead to a group that is out of sync with one another, which creates programming headaches (particularly in poorly staffed or resourced teams), it is also an opportunity missed for the guys. If we are going to train, let’s TRAIN and not just punch the clock. Don’t leave potential training adaptation untapped.
So what should we do?
My personal approach is to train a mixture of all three post match. Prior to the end of the game, subs who know they will not play will warm up. That way they are ready to start immediately post match with the low minute subs who are already warm. The group will then launch into (note all rests are complete):
- Technical speed drills (content varies according to block focus)
- A couple of build up sprints
- Several 100% sprint efforts (distance and resistance vary according to block focus)
- Jumps and plyometrics (one long contact time, one short contact time, one horizontal focus, one vertical focus)
- Medicine ball throws (one push, one pull, one lower body, one rotation)
Match day training for travelling reserves. I always think this is the best day for speed training (same for non used or low minute bench players as it so far away from the next game you can afford to generate some more significant cns fatigue). No gym available so we had to make do with just speed, jumps and throws today. Still a good session though. Total equipment used: some cones, a band and a 6kg med ball. Long general warm up Technical speed warm up 3*30m sprint with full recovery Jumps (mix short and long contact) Throws (mix vertical and horizontal force emphasis)
We can do this anywhere. All that is needed is a resistance band and a heavy med ball. The whole session takes less than 45 minutes, and the guys are into the showers only a little later than the other players. What you choose to do for yourself or your players is up to you. You may choose to focus only on one component e.g. speed only, concentrate on certain exercises at a time e.g. short contact time, or arrange the content differently e.g. in contrast fashion by performing sprints and throws or plyometrics together.