Game Changer: Rugby Programming Adjustments from the 40th NSCA National Conference

TAGS: aerobic field tests, 40th NSCA National Conference, Metabolic Group, force-velocity curve, Rugby, speed-strength, Ashley Jones

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I attended the 40th NSCA National Conference in July, held this year at the Paris Hotel and Convention Center in Las Vegas. The location was quite surreal since I currently ply my trade with the Stade François rugby club based in Paris, France. One speaker at the conference had me changing the way I approached a programming situation with a particular subset of players that I currently work with, the Metabolic Group.

Paul Comfort delivered a lecture entitled, "Surfing the Force-Velocity Curve with Weightlifting Derivatives." For me, this was one of the best presentations at the conference, along with Mike McGuigan’s session, "Strength and Power Profiling of Athletes: How Can It Inform Programming?" Bryan Mann also gave a “from the floor” presentation that was, as he always is, thought provoking and directly to the point, titled “The Use of Velocity Drop-Off in Hypertrophy Sets." I would highly impress upon you to get ahold of the DVD’s or the speaker presentation slides to gain a wealth of usable, real-world information.


LISTEN: NSCA's Coaching Podcast — Episode 18 with Ashley Jones


The Metabolic Group I work with is a special group that had not yet made the grade for aerobic field tests that I use to start pre-season training for rugby players. I prioritized circuit style training sessions with the players with strength as a secondary priority. The weeks were designed as such:

  • Week 1: Four circuit sessions with accessory strength movements
  • Week 2: Three circuits and a full-body strength session
  • Week 3: Two circuits and two full-body strength sessions
  • Week 4: Break week, for which players have been allocated specific guidelines to follow while they are away from the training base

Block one is what the program looked like prior to the conference.

Metabolic Group (Four Sessions Per Week)

Block One

Session 1 — Monday

Beast Circuit, Six Times:

  • Deadlift
  • Power Clean from Hang
  • Front Squat
  • Push Press
  • Bent-Over Row
  • Romanian Deadlift
  • 750-Meter Row or 2-Kilometer Watt Bike

Strength:

  • Bench Press superset with Row: 6 x 6 step-load to 6RM

Session 2 — Tuesday

Power Circuit, Five Times:

  • Rotational Jammer Right Hammer
  • Ground-Based Left Push/Right Pull
  • Rotational Jammer Left Hammer Ground-Based Right Push/Left Pull
  • Block Clean and Push Press
  • Block Snatch
  • Band Bench Press
  • Hip Thrust
  • Band Box Squat
  • 500-Meter Concept II Row

Strength:

  • Deadlift and Military Press: 6 x 6 step-load to 6RM

Session 3 — Thursday

Strongman Circuit:

Session 4 — Friday

Otago Circuit, Eight Times:

  • 300-Meter Row (under 60 seconds)
  • 10 Full Burpees
  • 10 x 36-Kilogram Two-Arm Kettlebell Swings
  • 10 x Reverse Lunge
  • 10 x 10-Kilogram Medicine Ball Slams (to ground)

Strength:

  • Squat and Romanian Deadlift: 6 x 6 step-load to 6RM

Week 2 

For the second week, the focus is full body strength and the only change is to Session 3. This time use the six sets of six reps step-load protocol, working to a 6RM with:

  • 1 x Lower Body Push
  • 1 x Lower Body Pull
  • 1 x Upper Body Push
  • 1 x Upper Body Pull

Week 3 

In the third week perform the full body strength program on Monday and Thursday, taking out the circuits previously on those days. Use different exercises for each of the two sessions and perform five sets of five at 80% of estimated 1RM.

Following the conference it was time to step up and add a new dimension to this group and modify the first block, working through the week from the highest to the lowest neural demands and attempting to stay on the wave of the force-velocity curve. 

Block Two is how the program looks based on the conference.

Metabolic Group (Four Sessions Per Week)

Block Two

Monday – Speed Strength

Inspired by Paul Comfort and Bryan Mann. Speed requirements are noted in parenthesis as meters per second (m/s). Speed should be faster than each noted time.

  • Trap Bar Jump Shrug — 3 x 5 (1.5 m/s)
  • Block Power Clean — 3 x 6 (1.25, 1.15, and 1.05 m/s)
  • Band Box Squat — 3 x 3 (1.25, 1.15, and 1.05 m/s) superset with Repeat Long Jumps, Box Jump, Depth Jump — 3 x 3
  • Band Bench Press — 3 x 6 (1.25, 1.15, and 1.05 m/s) superset with Medicine Ball Drops, Clap Push-Ups, Rebound Push-Ups — 3 x 6
  • Row Option — 50 reps with 10RM

Tuesday – Strength Speed

Inspired by Paul Comfort and Bryan Mann. Speed requirements are noted in parenthesis as meters per second (m/s). Speed should be faster than each noted time.

  • Olympic Option — 3 x 3 (1.00, 0.9, 0.8 m/s)
  • Single-Leg Squat Option — 3 x 6 superset with Bench Blasts, Hop Over Mini Hurdles, Borzov Hops — 3 x 6
  • Nordics, Hip Thrusts, or Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift — 3 x 6
  • Push Press  — 3 x 3 (1.00, 0.9, 0.8 m/s)
  • Chin-Up Option — 30 reps with 6RM

Thursday – Maximal Strength

  • Squat Option
  • Deadlift Option
  • Upper Body Push Option
  • Upper Body Pull Option
  • Core Option

For progression of sets and reps:

  • Week 1: 5 x 5
  • Week 2: 2 x 5, 3 x 3
  • Week 3: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Friday – Strength Endurance

  • Week 1: Beast Circuit, 45-Second Watt Bike, Core
  • Week 2: Power Circuit, Core
  • Week 3: Otago Circuit, Core

I prefer loaded core for my players, so they can choose from rollouts, kettlebell windmills, suitcase deadlifts, full body twists, barbell sit-ups, and the half Turkish get-up, with sets and reps being three to five sets of five to ten reps (3-5 x 5-10).

Louie Simmons has written that he uses 75% band and 25% weight and a bar speed of 1.0 to 1.3 meters per second to develop speed-strength. He has also said that to develop strength-speed with powerlifters he uses 50% band and 50% weight. I will vary the speeds of the listed program depending on how I see the player perform, but this will guide me along the way.

In this way, I have attempted to introduce more of the explosive training elements of the training program while still touching on the metabolic elements and also attending to strength. This especially important now that the rugby aspects of the program will start to take priority over the strength and conditioning parts of the programming. I will keep you informed of the progress of the physical preparation throughout the year and I hope that this article has sparked an interest for you to surf different aspects of the force-velocity curve in your own training or programming.

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