Pre-Season: Our Time to Shine

TAGS: pre season program, strength and conditioning coach, Rugby, Ashley Jones, pre-season

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Show me a strength and conditioning coach who does not love and look forward to pre-season, and I will show you someone who should think of another job.

It is the one time of the year that strength and conditioning coaches get almost complete access to the players for a period of time. It is the one chance each year that sports practices do not take priority or leave players fatigued that they cannot give 100 percent to the physical development program.


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As a former head coach of mine once said to me, “First few weeks of pre-season, you get the whole loaf of bread. After that, you can have a slice or two, but when the season starts, you get whatever crumbs fall off the table.”

A quite accurate assessment of the situation. I would even go as far as to quantify the break down as:

  • 100% strength and conditioning: Off-season
  • 80% strength and conditioning/20% sport: First weeks of pre-season
  • 40% strength and conditioning/60% sport: Rest of pre-season
  • 20% strength and conditioning/80% sport: In-season

Every strength and conditioning coach is going to have a varying approach to what is done during the preseason, that is the art of coaching, but the bottom line is what do we do to make the players we have fitter, faster, and stronger, but also bigger and more powerful in certain positions and sports.

This, then, is how I approach the pre-season program. Included will be some specifics of actual training days as well. Personally, I think that most players start looking for work again about two weeks after a complete rest from the last game of the season, but I believe they need at least six weeks away from the sport itself to rejuvenate the mental aspects of performance.

So with this philosophy in place, I set out an initial four-week plan for my teams, where the first two weeks are primarily vacation time and partaking in recreational fitness activities, and the following two weeks are a progressive return to full training. This looks like the diagram below and can be completed on either a Monday/Thursday or a Tuesday/Friday plan:

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This is an unsupervised program that a player can do at the times they wish. There will be access to the training facility if they want to have a coach with them, but officially, they are still on a break, so nothing is mandatory.

The weight training program is in the higher rep ranges but still covers the basic movements for a full-body workout:

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The conditioning plan is a selection of options taken from my usual pre-season activities to get the players used to the drills again and to prepare them for what is coming:

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Week 2 of this break in the period adds an additional day of training for the players. I always try and avoid training on the weekends wherever possible so that players can have social and family time at the end of each week.

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Week 3 of this period is when attendance is mandatory and the pre-season officially gets underway. Again, this is a three-day week, but the volume on each day is much higher than the previous two-week period.

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I have always been a fan of including other teams and individual games and activities into the pre-season plan since they develop other skills that have excellent transfer to the main sport game and also add varying elements of conditioning whilst in an environment that the players themselves often do not realize they are working as hard as they are. The next two or three weeks, depending on the trial match schedule, will continue in a similar format but will move to four full days a week with a Wednesday recovery day as well as the weekends free.

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This is the reality of programming for pre-season in my sport of rugby. It is not too far removed from my ideal schedule, which I have yet to be 100 percent able to implement, but I still have time to tinker with and perfect what for me is the best time of the year. You have yet to lose a game as yet, there are minimal injuries, and every player is working hard to try and impress the position coaches for that vital selection choice.

This is the actual weight training plan that I used in my latest pre-season:

Metabolic (4 sessions per week)

Session 1 (Beast Circuit):

Deadlift/Power Clean from Hang/Front Squat/Push Press/Bent Over Row/Romanian Deadlift /750m Row or 2km Watt Bike x 6

Session 2 (Full Body Strength): 6 x 6 Step Load working up to a 6RM

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

Session 3 (Strongman Circuit):

  • Trap Bar Overhead Walk/Tire Flip/KB Windmill
  • Prowler Push/Hang Clean & Push Press with Powerbag/Suitcase Deadlift
  • Drag/Walking Lunge with Power Bag Overhead/Half Turkish Get Up
  • Farmer’s Walk/Power Ropes/Plate Sit Up

Session 4 (Otago Circuit):

Row 300m in <1 minute/10 Full Burpees/10 x 36kg 2-arm swing with kettlebell/10 x Reverse Lunge each leg/10kg medicine ball slam to ground 10 each side x 8

Power Group (2 sessions per week)

Power, 1 x Full Body Strength

Choose 1 exercise from each category:

(1a) Power Snatch or Power Clean or Trap Bar Jump Shrug or Rack Pulls

(1b) Week 1: Long Jump

Week 2: Repeat Hurdle Jumps

Week 3: Box Jump ups

(2a) ¼ Explosive Squat or Band Box Squat or Step-Up

(2b) Week 1: Bench Blasts

Week 2: Repeat Hurdle Hops

Week 3: Borzov Hops

(3a) Push Press or Band Bench or Split Jerk

(3b) Week 1: Medicine Ball Drops

Week 2: Clap Push-ups

Week 3: Plyo Rebounds

+ 1 x Upper Body Push super set Pull after each session

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Full-Body Strength

  • 1 x Squat or Single Leg exercise
  • 1 x Hamstring/Lower Back
  • 1 x Upper Body Push superset with 1 x Upper Body Pull

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Strength (4 sessions per week)

Full-Body Strength

  • 1 x Squat or Single Leg exercise
  • 1 x Hamstring/Lower Back
  • 1 x Upper Body Push super set with 1 x Upper Body Pull

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1 x Power

Choose 1 exercise from each category:

(1a) Power Snatch or Power Clean or Trap Bar Jump Shrug or Rack Pulls

(1b) Week 1: Long Jump

Week 2: Repeat Hurdle Jumps

Week 3: Box Jump-ups

(2a) ¼ Explosive Squat or Band Box Squat or Step-Up

(2b) Week 1: Bench Blasts

Week 2: Repeat Hurdle Hops

Week 3: Borzov Hops

(3a) Push Press or Band Bench or Split Jerk

(3b) Week 1: Medicine Ball Drops

Week 2: Clap Push-ups

Week 3: Plyo Rebounds

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1 x Upper-Body Strength

  • 1 x Primary Upper Body Push
  • 1 x Primary Upper Body Pull
  • 1 x Secondary Upper Push super set 1 x Secondary Upper Body Pull

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1 x Lower-Body Strength

  • 1 x Squat
  • 1 x Single Leg exercise
  • 1 x Hamstring/Lower Back
  • 1 x Hamstring

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Size Options:

  • Triple Angle Drop DB Bench Press (45/30/15 degrees incline bench) 6 x 5/5/5 s/s Mechanical Advantage Pulling Complex (bent over row/yates row/shrug) 6 x 5/5/5
  • Bradford Military Combo 5 x 10 s/s Mechanical Advantage Chin-up Complex (Pronated wide grip/neutral grip/supinated grip shoulder width) 5 sets x 5/5/5

Multi-Press Complex (same weight throughout; 5 sets x 5 reps on each) (Thibadeau):

  • Seated Muscle Snatch
  • Snatch Grip Press Behind Neck (seated)
  • Clean Grip Press Behind Neck (seated)
  • Savickas Military Press (seated on floor with legs straight out)
  • Bradford Press (standing)
  • Push Press (standing)

1 and ½ Trap Bar Shoulder Press 5 x 10 s/s TRX Horizontal Rows 5 x max

Cuban Press s/s Overhead Shrug 3 x 12

3-Way Shoulder Raise (Dumbbell Lateral Raise/Plate Front Raise/Dumbbell T-Raise 3 x 12 s/s Renegade Row 3 x 10 each side

Also, for those of you who may be interested in what my ultimate pre-season plan would be, I have included it below:

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I still have the option of either full bodyweight training sessions or a split program and would implement similar weight training content as included in this article. If I were a player, I think I would like this type of program.

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