New Team, New Approach: Working the Curve with the Samoan Rugby Union

TAGS: Samoan Rugby Union, rugby strength and conditioning, Ashley Jones

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I have recently been appointed to head the physical preparation of the Samoan Rugby Union, currently ranked 16th in the world by the World Rugby Rankings system. This team is very different than all other rugby teams that I have worked with over the years, in that all the players ply their trade in professional competitions around the world and only assemble in readiness for test matches against rival nations. When the team arrives at the training destination we have to hit the ground running, as often there is only one week to prepare to lead into a game. Each game is of vital importance, as rankings will change depending on wins and losses, by whether that is home or away, and by the score margin. There is also the qualifying process for the game's showpiece, that being the Rugby World Cup played every four years, next in Japan in 2019.

What I wanted to develop was an easy-to-read system of weight training prescription to allow for two major physical attributes— strength and power—and to supplement any specific needs as extras post-training sessions. I have recently spent more time in discussion with colleagues and attending lectures such as Surfing the Curve (delivered by Paul Comfort at the NSCA Coaches in 2017), and speaking with other notable people in our industry such as Greg Haff (who has been a source of inspiration and support through his presidency of the NSCA and his ongoing friendship). The most notable interactions I have had have been when I shared my initial thoughts on training along the force-velocity curve with Simon Thomas and Gareth Duder of the Crusaders rugby franchise. They received my information and, as is the case in our industry, changed a few things and presented me back with an amazing document that I hope they share online at some stage or present at a conference.


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So, I took the second generation of development. What is below is the third generation of this style of programming, taken through the furnace of professional rugby and modified accordingly to fit specific needs of the playing group I now work with. I really like this presentation style of the attributes that are trained at different velocities. Since we do not happen to be able to run Gym Aware or Tendo at this stage, I decided to work those strength attributes from percentages of one-rep maximum. If you have the luxury of using these wonderful advances in training, please feel free to substitute velocity ranges for percentages.

Previously I have used ballistics and plyometrics as a separate category, but this time I have combined these activities with speed-strength to allow for three distinct areas to draw from in my programming. Also, since the team is in-season at nearly all times that I am training them, I will program just two sessions a week and add a third if players are not selected. I also use the first training day of the week as a recovery-based programming day or a circuit-based training day for players not having played the previous week, or for those not receiving much game time.

If I were to follow this system into an off-season or pre-season I would lean towards a three days per week programming, rather than the four that are historically used to ensure other areas of physical preparation and skill development are adequately programmed for.

velocity zones

Credit: Martina Marson posted on May 18, 2016, at https://blog.thisisbeast.com/velocity-vs-percentage-based-training/

Strength Focus Group

Workout 1:

  • Absolute Strength Option — Weights greater than 80% of 1RM, primary movement
  • Strength-Speed/Accelerative Strength Option — Weights between 60% and 80%
  • Absolute Strength Option — Weights greater than 80% of 1RM, secondary movement
  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Upper Body Push-Pull Superset — Variations in percentage loading

Workout 2:

  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Strength-Speed/Accelerative Strength Option — Weights between 60% and 80%
  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Upper Body Pull/Push Superset — Variations in percentage loading

Speed/Power Focus Group

Workout 1:

  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Strength-Speed/Accelerative Strength Option — Weights between 60% and 80%
  • Absolute Strength Option — Weights greater than 80% of 1RM, primary movement
  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Upper Body Pull/Push Superset — Variations in percentage loading

Workout 2:

  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Starting Strength/Speed-Strength Option — Weights up to 40%
  • Strength-Speed/Accelerative Strength Option — Weights between 60% and 80%
  • Upper Body Pull/Push Superset — Variations in percentage loading

To further explore this method of programming I present two actual workouts designed from the above template to show how it is developed and brought together from the available exercise selection chart below. In a standard seven-day turnaround between games, the workouts would be performed on a Tuesday and Thursday. As I mentioned, Monday would be a recovery-based day or I would program Beastly Circuits or other circuits on this day.

This is the current exercise selection chart, which will be added to as I build equipment stores and add specialty bars to the program. As you can see with the available types of equipment, you will have an endless number of movements to allow your athletes to select from, but I wanted to restrict the type of equipment to align with the type of strength quality that is being targeted for development.

Lower Body Focus

Screenshot 2018-05-29 17.07.28

Upper Body Focus

Screenshot 2018-05-29 17.03.44

From this list came the following workout examples, using Prilepin’s chart to assist in the volume to intensity numbers to ensure the correct amount of work is done. These sessions will be periodized over time ensuring that each player is game ready for the next week’s test match.

Strength Focus 1

Speed/Power Focus 1

  • 10-Meter Accelerations x 5
  • Power Cleans — 4 x 4 with 75%
  • Front Squat — Total of 15 reps with 80% of 1RM
  • Knee-to-Feet Jumps — 5 x 5
  • Half-Kneeling Landmine Press superset with Weighted Chin-Ups — 4 x 6 with 75%

Following the program, individual specifics can be added as a finisher — any core, rehabilitation or prehabilitation, metabolic, or hypertrophy combinations can be used to ensure needs are appropriately programmed for after the main workout.

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