With the rugby league pre-season starting to get in to full swing, it seemed wise to give coaches or individual players out there who are unsure how to prepare for the season some key tips. These tips can be used for coaches preparing for a full squad or players who are focusing their own time in the gym preparing for January. I think these tips will be crucial to ensure that when it comes to the end of pre-season you are firing on all cylinders, feeling fast, strong, explosive and most importantly injury free.
Pre-season for the rugby league season ahead is the chance to build up that athletic base within players in the team, improving weaknesses, developing strengths and implementing effective injury prevention strategies to try and reduce the injury risk within individuals as much as possible.
The first tip I would give is use pre-season to build that athletic base but build this base in a strategic and effective manner. Remember you have months to prepare from this point, progress gradually. This progress may lie in terms of progressions of exercise, loading and specific focuses within your training. This gradual progression is key to ensure rugby league players don’t burnout, pick up injuries and become disengaged. Gradual progression also gives you chance to really focus on the present phase of training and make substantial improvements in that specific phase. Keep the objectives/goals in the phases to a minimum and make them specific. Volume of work should start high in pre-season to help to build that base and drive this hypertrophy focus. Hypertrophy training allows for the players to gain more muscle mass, increases in muscle mass means the cross-sectional area of the muscles is larger, meaning the muscle has greater potential to exert more force. As the pre-season progresses volume slowly takes a step back and intensity slowly rises. A rise in intensity may be done by load increase, exercise selection and manipulation in recovery periods.
Injury prevention is another key focus not just within pre-season but throughout the calendar year. However, injury prevention in pre-season is a good chance to drill certain patterns and trends within training and get the athletes accustomed to usual routines. For example, extra hamstring work at the end of the session such as Nordic curls or hamstring walkouts. The hamstrings are often a common injury throughout rugby league. Injury prevention strategies can also be very useful to slip into a warmup, for example banded walk variations to target the glute musculature and give them little bit extra work. Technical elements within certain movements on the field will also be useful with an aim to prevent injury. Pre-season would be a great chance to drill in the technical elements of things such as acceleration, deceleration, change of direction and even jumping/ landing mechanics. Giving time in pre-season to coach these actions properly may make the difference with someone planting their foot in the right position or landing correctly which may not only prevent injury but potentially lead to stopping or scoring a try and earning them crucial extra points.
In pre-season athletes will be performing a lot of work and expending a lot of energy. The athletes will be becoming faster, stronger and be gaining more muscle mass or even reducing body mass dependant on individual goals. Using test batteries can show you where a player is at and you can then implement certain strategies to get them where they need to be. For example, at the start of pre-season you may run different tests assessing aerobic endurance, sprint speed, change of direction ability and percentages of 1/3/5RM for strength purposes. From these tests you can then see where the strengths and weaknesses lie whether that may be in certain individuals or potentially the team. Training strategies can then be implemented to develop the athletes and when you retest after that block of training you should hopefully see improvements in certain areas. However, be mindful as mentioned you can’t improve everything at once so chose your priorities wisely and be strategic with your programming and make sure tis effective.
Another point to make and something which I feel is not mentioned enough is ensuring the training is not just about what isn’t great and needs to improve its about playing on the strengths of individuals also. Never neglect your strengths. If an athlete is quick off the mark and can accelerate in impressive time, this doesn’t mean you disregard this quality completely. Obviously, the priority would be to develop weak points but still involve work on acceleration as you want them to keep progressing and keep this attribute as a strength. An individual also becomes more engaged and often enjoys the exercise or drill slightly because, guess what, they are good at it. Leading onto my last tip and one I feel is crucial.
Enjoyment. Enjoyment within training cannot be accomplished in every minute of every session, there is going to be exercises or drills that players will not like but unfortunately you can’t please everyone. In pre-season as discussed it is often high in volume, lots of work and very taxing so try and make the session as enjoyable as possible. One way to do that is to drive competition get people running against each other or trying to out jump one another. Athletes love competition and near on all them thrive in competitive environments so put them in one. Autonomy is another way to keep athletes engaged give them options within sessions occasionally, so it isn’t just commands and instructions give them a choice. So perhaps if there is a core circuit at the end give them some options for exercises or endurance tasks have some options for endurance-based drills they could perform.
The last piece of the jigsaw and the most important piece in my opinion is building that relationship with the athlete, build rapport. An athlete will build trust in you, see you as more approachable and want to become more involved in the sessions if they enjoy spending the hour with you and look forward to that session. If they see it as a chore, don’t look forward to it and are not interested in what you have to say… guess what they will be disengaged and probably not give much effort.
I hope these tips come in useful to you as a coach or player going into rugby league pre-season. Any questions or comments on the text or above, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read some more of my blogs here.
Good luck heading into the new season.
Remember, be smart, be strategic and enjoy the process.
Strength & Conditioning Coach | Personal Trainer