Later this week I am fortunate enough to be heading into Saracen’s Rugby to observe the start of their pre-season training. I’m keen to talk to players about the physical preparation of players has changed in recent years. Pre-season training starts in earnest this week for professionals and amateurs alike. From long runs and partner carries to monitoring heart rates and number of ground contacts there will be many different approaches. Whilst you may not have the resources of Saracens, you can still have an effective pre-season as long as your training transfers to your sport.
Is it all about specificity of training?
Many people will be aware of the law of specificity when it comes to training. Simply put, the body adapts to physical exercise in a very specific manner that relates to the type of fitness training stimulus it receives. For example, using cycling as a form of training will make someone better at cycling more than it improves their swimming ability. However, any improved functioning of the heart as result of cycling may transfer over to a slight improvement in swimming endurance (just not as much as cycle performance).
Coming back to team sports specificity dictates that playing the sport will improve fitness for the sport. Indeed, if time is limited then playing small sided games could be the way forward. The games approach is fun and engaging and involves the skills of the game. Games also use movement patterns similar to the sport. The adaptation to games is therefore very specific. With limited time, there is some value in playing the sport to get fit for the sport.
Non specific training for team sports
If time, numbers and resources allow then non sport forms of training are very effective. Choosing activities that give the best return in performance is the art of programming. If an activity gets you out of breath or reaching the point where you are unable to sustain intensity then it’s likely to improve your fitness. However, some will transfer to match day more than others.
Most team sports require repeated sprints. Therefore, using a variety of repeated sprint drills is likely to impact positively on performance. The caveat here is that athletes must be able to tolerate the volume and intensity of sprints. Used correctly, repeated sprints in pre-season can develop both the speed and endurance required for performance. Over the course of a match the volume of repeated sprints builds up. Therefore endurance is a key factor. Any activities that place a sustained stress on the cardiovascular system will likely improve performance. Hence the popularity of long, slow running and circuit training at many clubs.
Think Thresholds in Pre-Season
Pre-season fitness programming is an art. There is no single method. Many different approaches will work. However, for specific individuals, some approaches will be effective than others. In other words, some programmes will improve match performance to a greater extent. The key to a successful pre-season is figuring this out relative to the needs of the athletes involved. Once the mode of training is determined it’s important to know that more isn’t always better! The key is to do the bare minimum of work that produces the results that you want! Scanning the research along with trial and error is the way forward here. No point in doing extra pre-season training for no additional improvement in performance.
NK Fitness have been working with many team sports athletes as they prepare for the upcoming season. If you’d like know more about our strength and conditioning support then please contact us here.