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Rugby Strength And Conditioning Training

Rugby League strength and conditioning coach Adam Daniels talk to Be The Fittest about Rugby training and fitness drills, rugby players diet and much more.

From a Strength & Conditioning professional’s perspective, Rugby is one of the most challenging sports to coach in. The periodisation process can be complex and the training methods & dietary requirements vary depending upon the position of the player in each team.

BeTheFittest recently had the pleasure of sitting down and having a fascinatingly in depth conversation with one of Rugby Leagues finest Strength & Conditioning coaches Adam Daniels. Adam has worked with a number of different top clubs including St Helens RFC and North Wales Crusaders and has recently been appointed Head of Strength & Conditioning for Wales Rugby League.

He shares with us his advice on the methods young players can employ to begin training for a professional career in rugby and also shares his wealth of knowledge on creating the perfect periodisation plan for a top performing rugby league team.

BeTheFittest: Hi Adam, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. Please tell the BeTheFittest readers a little about your background and current experience.

Adam Daniels: I am someone who loves to continually learn and put theoretical research into practice. I studied my degree at Edge Hill University & completed an MSc at University of Chester My professional experience has seen me work as sport science support at current Super League champions St Helens RFC, after 3 years of working under the guidance of their Head of Strength & Conditioning I was then given the opportunity to become Head of S&C at North Wales Crusaders RL where I have been for the last 3 years and in August 2014 I was appointed Head of S&C for Wales Rugby League.

BTF: What would your advice be to teenagers who love the sport of rugby and would like to make it as a professional? How should they prepare physically and what balance would you advise them between building muscles/strength vs agility, speed and endurance training?

AD: The advice I would give for aspiring rugby players would be obviously to work hard on the skills aspect of things with the coaches, but in terms of preparing themselves physically I would definitely advise them to be patient in terms of combating the skill of lifting and create good foundations to increase size & strength later on.

BTF: The sport of rugby and particularly the players have evolved towards more having more strength, more power and a more physical presence. Do you think it leaves a space for different skills and physical characteristics? What would you tell boys/girls willing to play but lacking a bit of confidence because of their physical attributes?

AD: Certainly, strength and power do play massive parts within the sport, but there is definitely space for other skills/characteristics all you have to do is take a look at Rob Burrow (Leeds Rhinos) who is small but explosive and Paul Wellens who is coming to the latter stages of his career but is still one step ahead of everyone. I would express that physical attributes aren’t everything at a younger age, it is important to develop your skills on the field and develop your technique in the gym with the correct supervision.

BTF: As an S&C coach you are trying to coach a whole squad of players, which has many different positions which require different playing skills and abilities. How does your programming work when setting up training for the squad? Is it split between similar training for the same positions? Is it more generalised or individualised?

AD: The programming when setting it up for a squad can be difficult and time consuming, but it is necessary for all the programmes to be suited to individuals. Every player has different requirements in order to develop. Training can often be split into forwards and backs specifically for weights sessions & speed/ conditioning sessions as certain positions will cover greater distances than others.

BTF: How do the player’s dietary requirements differ from each other depending upon the players positions within the squad? Do backs and forwards have different diets?

AD: Diets can differ depending on positions and again depending on the individual, looking at backs and forwards it’s obvious the forwards need to be able to consume more. I would advise them to consume protein at every meal opportunity and to only have complex carbs around meals (sweet potato, root veg, quinoa), avoid white pastas, bread etc. Have fruit and veg at every eating opportunity. Healthy fats from quality sources must be consumer; this includes both saturated and non-saturated fats such as avocado, virgin oil, coconut and fatty fish.

BTF: Often young teenagers are attracted by working out as much as possible and even trying supplements. What would be your advice with regards to work-out sessions and absorption of supplement at a certain age? What guidelines would you advise them to follow?

AD: Firstly, I would advise them the importance of rest. If someone attends the gym 7 days a week they will not reap the benefits they could do, as they aren’t allow the body to repair and this could also lead to overreaching so 2-3 gym session would be sufficient with rest days in between. Secondly, supplements are used to ‘supplement’ an already balanced diet and to help with any deficiencies. It is important to get your proteins, carbs, fats etc. from natural food sources, however at the age of16/17 I think it would be suitable for them to have a high protein/ carb drink immediately after they workout.

BTF: A Rugby League team is made up of 13 players with different purposes and who are able to adapt to playing different roles in any given game. Sometimes they may need to be strong, sometimes fast and nimble. How do you balance strength vs agility and conditioning? Any specific exercises Forwards or Backs should practice or focus on?

AD: I always stress the importance to the head coach that we require at least one strength session per week during the season as it is so important to maintain the gains made throughout pre-season. As for agility and conditioning during the season, I largely look to improve this through small sided games as it ticks the boxes for what the head coach wishes to work on and I’m able to get my input across too, as small sided games have been shown to increase 10, 20 and 40m speed, muscular power and maximal aerobic power. When looking at specific requirements for a specific position, it is important to look at the attributes/ characteristic an individual has and what areas need to be improved.Specifically for forwards I enjoy working with them in the gym and enabling them to become as strong/fast and as powerful as possible. Exercises that enjoy using are a combination of strength and power exercises for e.g. Bench Press & Bosu Press up or Squats & Sled Pulls and snatch. For backs I enjoy working on Plyometrics and Power exercises to improve speed and power, as I believe it’s pivotal for those players in those position to have a quick reaction time in a number of directions. Exercises I like to do with them for plyometrics are: multi-directional hops single leg, speed bounds and box jumps, for power I like to use exercises that develop that triple extension to simulate a sprint such as hang cleans, high pulls (for anyone with shoulder injuries)

BTF: How do you balance weekly training sessions during the season when you want to train your players but not so much that they fatigue before a match?

AD: The majority of our games are played on a Sunday, so the schedule hardly changes. The weekly training is often assessed depending on different variables such as: opposition, difficulty of previous game, head coaches input but predominantly the squad will have a block of conditioning in the middle of the week, which allows them enough recovery time from the previous game and enough time to recover for the next. Training load for the week will be set/ estimated RPE x minutes (for all sessions) and this will be monitored through the weekly. Some weeks we may aim to have a high training loads and limit the amount of recovery in order to target a specific period of games with the hope we get a super-compensation effect

BTF: Recovery and cooling off are key parameters after a work-out or a game. What do you recommend for your players?

AD: Recovery plays a massive part in our programme, players are weighted before they participate in training or game. Once they have completed the session/game players are supplied with a high carb protein shake to help replenish anything that is lost, they are also weighted again so it gives an indication of the amount of fluid that have been lost and need to be restored. I heavily recommend ice baths in-season when you aren’t seeking any adaptations as it will reduce inflammation/ muscle stiffness and post exercise damage, as well as an active recovery swim to remove blood lactate.

BTF: How does programming training differ between on season and off season for your players?

AD: Programming differ hugely between on and off season, as in the off season we are developing the players physically/ mentally for the season and with the in-season it’s all about player maintenance and making sure the players are physically well for each game.

BTF: What exercises do you like to use to improve players for strength and power?

AD: The exercises I like to use for strength are: Bench Press, Squats and deadlift. These three exercises in particular I believe create the foundation for strength as various muscles are used in order to perform the exercises. Jammer Press, Plyometrics, Prowler and Cleans would be my preferred choice for power, as they are the closest exercises to simulating the movements made in rugby.

BTF: What are some of the most incorrect preconceived ideas on Rugby training or the sport in general that your hear of frequently?

AD: Preconceived ideas of the sport are that people playing the sport need to have the physical characteristics/ presence, but as I said earlier that is not always the case. The sport of Rugby League has vastly changed to a fast and explosive, so if a player has large physical presence but isn’t mobile then he’ll be ‘spotted’.

BTF: Rugby has recently come under much scrutiny because of the amount of players suffering from concussions during competitive matches and in practise. Are there any specific exercises which you undertake with the players which can help reduce the risk of a player being concussed during a game?

AD: It’s difficult to stop a concussion as a game is just so random, I think the best thing a coach can do is prepare the player to as best they can for each game, so firstly making sure their tackle technique is spot and also making them aware of what they are coming up against with a preview of the team they are coming up against.