By Graeme Morris
In a previous post I outlined my philosophy on energy system development and how it fit into my training structure with the Newtown Jets. The article can be found right here.
It’s all great discussing big words and sounding intelligent but the most important thing is………what are your results? Unfortunately there aren’t too many coaches out there releasing their results due to privacy or facing criticism from other coaches. It’s all great telling people what your end results are but as my friend Jeff Moyer says where did you start at?
In this case study I wanted to provide the framework of our training structure in the general preparation block and the results that it produced. I believe case studies like this allow us to further our knowledge and look at real world training situations. I know that my program is far from perfect but I think that coaches should share their results if possible.
The athletes I train are semi-professional rugby league athletes chasing their dreams towards a NRL contract. This means they all work full time and hence train rugby league in a part time environment. Due to these constraints I must micro-dose (thanks Derek Hansen for this term) elements of power/strength/speed/agility/conditioning so that players are exposed to all elements that are important in rugby league. At the beginning of pre-season we have a general preparation period that lasts 6 weeks up until Christmas. It is extremely important to build a base of fitness during this period so that more intensive training can occur later down the road. When I say building a base I do not mean just work capacity. I’m talking a base of speed, agility, strength and power. Our training structure looked like this:
|Monday||Acceleration (up to 10m)
Lower Body Weights
Off Feet Conditioning
|Tuesday||Upper Body Weights||Linear Speed Mechanics
Conditioning (predominantly linear tempo)
|Thursday||Full Body Weights||Agility
Conditioning (predominantly multi-directional tempo)
|Saturday||No Gym||Linear Speed
Please note: In an ideal world gym would follow field. Unfortunately we can’t have players arriving late to team training, which can occur with athletes with a full time job.
In terms of conditioning I prefer an alactic/aerobic model especially in the general preparation phase which fits in nicely with a Low/High scheme popularised by Charlie Francis. Our coach like the majority of coaches enjoys glycolytic conditioning so this was covered in many of our technical/tactical drills. I discussed a number of reasons why I prefer an emphasis an aerobic development when compared to glycolytic in my original article. In summary:
- The aerobic system is more trainable
- Aerobic conditioning is easier on the body
- The aerobic system replenishes high intensity outputs
- A well-developed aerobic system returns you faster to parasympathetic dominance following intense exercise and hence improves recovery.
- Adaptations of aerobic training include increased stroke volume, aerobic enzymes, mitochondria number, muscle capillaries, haemoglobin capacity and a higher rate of fat metabolism.
- Athletes that rely heavily on anaerobic processes to supply energy, record larger power decrements across repeated sprint ability.¹
This does not mean we don’t train our glycolytic system. This is obviously still extremely important, and I will discuss this later.
For the majority of the 5-6 week block conditioning consisted of a linear extensive tempo day 60-70% of max velocity), multi-directional extensive tempo day (60-70% of max velocity), and longer aerobic intervals (under anaerobic threshold, <85% maximal aerobic speed). If you are unsure what extensive tempo training is please refer to my previous article or this rugby strength coach webinar.
Conditioning sessions lasted anywhere from 10-20 minutes at the end of our training. We did some steady state conditioning the first week to get some miles in the legs with the lowest stress possible. Very different to many conditioning blocks I hear from other team sports where conditioning is high-intensity from the beginning. My question is “If you start high, where do you go from there?”.
|1||No training||60 mins team training||60 mins team training||No training|
|Steady state running (2300m volume)||Steady state running (2300m volume)|
|2||Off-feet conditioning||1.4km time trial||60 mins team training||1km steady state run|
|120s:30s * 9||60 mins team training||8*100m multi directional tempo (60s rolling clock)||1 hour team training|
|8*100m linear tempo (60s rolling clock)||180s:120s @80%MAS * 2|
|3||Off-feet conditioning||1.2km shuttle time trial (0-20m, 0-40m, 0-60m * 5)||1 hour team training||1.5 km steady state run|
|120s:30s * 9||1 hour team training||8*100m multi directional tempo (60s rolling clock)||1 hour team training|
|240s:120s @80%MAS * 2|
|4||Off-feet conditioning||1 hour team training||1 hour team training||Hills 5 x 80m|
|120s:30s * 9||10*100m linear tempo (60s rolling clock)||10*100m multi directional tempo (60s rolling clock)||Team Training 1hour including small sided games|
|300s:120s @80%MAS * 2|
|5||Off-feet conditioning||1 hour team training||1 hour team training||Steady state 2km|
|120s:30s * 9||10*100m linear tempo (60s rolling clock)||10*100m multi directional tempo (60s rolling clock)||300s:120s @80%MAS * 2|
|6||Off-feet conditioning||1.4km time trial|
|120s:30s * 9||1 hour team training including small sided games|
(0-10m, 0-20m, 0-30m * 3) * 2 sets
Many physical preparation coaches base the success of their conditioning block from Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) tests. This tests measures the lowest speed at which VO2 max occurs. There are different tests that can be used to test this but I chose a 1.4km straight time trial as experience has shown me that the majority of rugby league players complete this in 5-6 minutes (Dan Baker’s suggestion). MAS has been correlated with a higher playing level as well as the ability to perform high training loads that are needed at the elite level.²
We also conducted a 1.2km shuttle test (5 x (0-20m, 0-40m, 0-60m) so that I could assess player’s change of direction ability when compared to a straight time trial.
Even though I want my players to hit certain levels of MAS there many of elements that must also be checked off, including:
- Improve the oxidation capacity of the competition exercise muscles. This includes upper body for tackling and wrestling.
- Become efficient at all movements seen on the field not just linear running. This includes acceleration, deceleration, shuffling, and crossover step, getting on and off the ground, tackling and wrestling. This is one of the main reasons I include multi-directional tempo.
- Give the least amount of stress to get improvements and thus minimising soft tissue injuries and athletes breaking down with workload early in the pre-season. This allows you to use more high intense conditioning at a later date and “squeeze out that extra juice” when the athlete is better prepared. Not to mention many of my athletes have intensive labour occupations. We need to simulate the athletes not annihilate them.
- Dose the right amount of conditioning so that we don’t dull our speed, power and strength.
Please note: Improving MAS scores is great but it’s essentially testing your middle distance running ability. The majority of team sports are dictated by who wins the high intensity moments in the game. Therefore your training should be directed towards improving the outputs in these high intensity moments and the ability to be able to repeat them.
Test 1 Average = 4.21m/s
Test 2 Average= 4.5m/s
Average improvement over 4 weeks of 9.35%
As you can see we measured significant improvements in MAS scores. The first 5-6 weeks of pre-season can be quite unstable with players changing clubs and seeking new opportunities. This made it difficult to measure every athlete’s pre and post MAS scores and hence the above results are only from the athletes that completed both tests. A couple of athletes were also cut from the squad as weren’t physically ready to compete in our training.
I test my athletes during our second week of training rather than the initial week. Experience has shown me that athletes improve their fitness dramatically over the initial few sessions of running. Since I was prescribing our aerobic intervals (Saturday sessions) from the test results I didn’t want my prescriptions to be way off. I’m certain if we tested the athletes in the initial session the average improvement would be much higher.
As we are semi-professional I have to juggle training needs and micro-dose different physical qualities to prepare our athletes. I place high value on powerful and efficient runners which means quite a bit of time is allocated to improving these abilities. This means we are working on linear and multi-directional speed right from the beginning. I want fast, powerful athletes that are robust to injury and able to repeat high intensity movements often.
With the addition of all of the tempo work, the athletes were able to accumulate multiple repetitions of linear and multi-directional running concentrating on their mechanics and posture. This was highlighted with the fact we only had one soft tissue injury during this 6 week block. One day a week we would perform longer aerobic intervals so that we developed the appropriate adaptations that would allow us to recover from high intensity moments that occurred in games.
I think an average MAS of 4.5m/s is great considering the time frame (5 weeks) and actual time spent on conditioning within the training session itself. This can be compared to some other team sports in the table below:
|Australian Rules Football||5.03||2km time trial||3|
|Italian Series A Football||4.91||Rampinini||4|
|Australian National Hockey Team||4.79||MSFT -corrected||5|
|Gaelic Football||4.68||MSFT -corrected||6|
|Rugby League NRL||4.36||MSFT -corrected||7|
|Rugby League NRL||4.36||1200 MSFT -corrected||8|
|Rugby League NYC Under 20s||4.16||MSFT -corrected||7|
|Rugby League NYC Under 20s||4.15||1200 MSFT -corrected||8|
|Australian Rugby Union Squad||4.32||MSFT -corrected||8|
As you can see our team scores compared well against other rugby codes. The team I inherited this year were quite young and not as physically developed, however they were naturally fit. However I think the results prove that you can improve player’s aerobic development without excessively intense or voluminous conditioning. I think tempo training is a fantastic low intensity stimulus which allows players to also improve running mechanics and efficiency of movement. Utilising lower intensity conditioning methods allows you to spend time building explosiveness in speed, agility and wrestling.
During the general preparation period majority of our lactic work occurred in actual tactical drills carried out by the head coach. This was completed at game like speeds and involved many accelerations, decelerations, contact and wrestle. The following specific preparation block we included a higher percentage of glycolytic work so that we were physically prepared for our upcoming trial games. This included small sided games and bouts of conditioning that included worst case game scenarios.
There are obviously many benefits to glycolytic training including improving lactate clearance/tolerance, improved capillarisation and oxygen utilisation. However remember that the glycolytic system is highly genetic and has nowhere near the trainability of the aerobic system. You will also have to sacrifice speed, strength and power training to include this type of work. So be careful and strike the right balance between the different energy systems.
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1.Mendez-Villanueva, A., Hamer, P. and Bishop, D. (2008). Fatigue in repeated-sprint exercise is related to muscle power factors and reduced neuromuscular activity. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 103(4), pp.411-419.
2.Baker, D. and Heaney, N. (2015). Normative Data For Maximal Aerobic Speed For Field Sport Athletes: A Brief Review. J. Aust. Strength Cond., 103(4), pp.411-419.
3.Gallo, T., Cormack, S., Gabbett, T., Williams, M. and Lorenzen, C. (2014). Characteristics impacting on session rating of perceived exertion training load in Australian footballers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 33(5), pp.467-475.
4.Rampinini, E., Bishop, D., Marcora, S., Ferrari Bravo, D., Sassi, R. and Impellizzeri, F. (2007). Validity of Simple Field Tests as Indicators of Match-Related Physical Performance in Top-Level Professional Soccer Players. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(3), pp.228-235
5.Jennings, D., Cormack, S., Coutts, A. and Aughey, R. (2012). International Field Hockey Players Perform More High-Speed Running Than National-Level Counterparts. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4), pp.947-952
6.Stephens, P. Fitness evaluation of Gaelic football players. Masters’ Thesis, submitted, Dublin City University. 2004. Accessed on-line 23-8-2017
7.Gabbett, T. (2013). Influence of playing standard on the physical demands of professional rugby league. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(10), pp.1125-1138
8.Baker, D. Previously unpublished data. 2015