Jan v Rooyen – Strength & Conditioning And December Holidays


Ruggas has presented coaches with the opportunity to share info and ideas regarding Rugby Coaching. As a Strength and Fitness coach for Hoërskool Monument Rugby and the Golden Lions Schoolboy teams, I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to contributing monthly on S&C topics at schoolboy rugby levels. The first contribution to this topic follows:

Strength and Conditioning: December 2018

by Jan van Rooyen.

December in South Africa has to be my favourite month of the year! Sunshine in abundance and bucket loads of free time. But, for an aspiring rugby player, it could also be the most consequential time of the season. Sunny late afternoons in the pool, on the beach or around the braai with friends and family hold the very dangerous possibility of rugby players being lulled into some laziness.

Muhammad Ali once famously said: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights”

The past few months of the off-season has hopefully included a lot of hours of extremely hard work in the gym, and the upcoming pre-season will also be in the back of your mind. For this reason, I share a few ideas on training during the holiday break, how not to lose your hard earned gains, how to translate these muscle gains in strength and how to prepare your body and mind for the pre-season ahead.

1. Work with a plan!

The best way to keep the commitment up during the holiday is to plan every session beforehand. Arriving at the gym or lacing up your trainers is much easier when you know exactly what you will be doing. Make sure your sessions are planned ahead for at least a week, type or write it out and put it up somewhere visible.

2. Buddy-system.

When we went to primary school field trips, we were always assigned a buddy to make sure you do not get lost along the way. One of the most effective ways of keeping motivation during a holiday break is finding a buddy to join you in your sessions. The accountability towards each other will help you on days where motivation is low.

3. Train in the morning.

December has the genuine risk of missed sessions when we train in the afternoon. It takes a massive amount of motivation to put on your trainers after lazing around the pool the entire day. Cut out this emotional struggle by setting an alarm for the morning and getting your training done before the day gets started. Starting your day with 30 minutes of cardio before the rest of the family starts waking will always make you feel fresh and energized for the day. Besides, during December there is always time for a thirty minute, mid-afternoon nap to catch up on the lost minutes of sleep. Just remember to not train on an empty stomach! Have 2 fruit or a bowl of oats before training.

4. Plan an off week!

The training plans the players I train receive for the offseason a complete off week is always programmed. This week usually starts on 24 December and ends on 31 December. During this week they have to get told to do no training, eat what and as much as they want and fully immerse themselves in the festive season (except for alcohol-use!). The emotional and physical recovery players get from this week away from training and in a social environment is extremely important. The little detraining and possible weight gain is counter-acted by the recovery and increased wellness from players. This is possibly their final completely off-week until the end of the season in August, so let them enjoy it! The feeling of freshness and motivation on 1 January usually give them enough motivation to get off the couch and start training again.

Now we get to the big question:  What do I do during December to prepare myself for the season?

1. Start running.

Hopefully, the past few months, since the 2018 season ended, was spent in the gym and working on position-specific and fundamental skills. Usually, we do not get a lot of fitness work from players during this time. December is a chance to start working on this again. Most prominent schools start with their pre-season in January and are also known to struggle with a lot of over-use, soft tissue (especially Groin-, Hamstrings-, Lower back-tightness and shin splints) injuries during the first few weeks. This can be counteracted by building up the intensity from the start of December. My plan usually starts with three sessions of 25 minutes jogging per week at the start of December, and then increasing duration and intensity up to the off week. After the off-week we start with individual on-field sessions, doing short distance, higher intensity sessions for e.g. 6 x 200m, 6 x 100m, 6 x 200m (with short rest periods).

2. Translate muscle gains into strength.

Most gym programs for senior players up to the start of December would focus on muscle gain. It is now time to start carrying these gains over into strength gains. A larger muscle has more muscle fibres, and can then produce more force. But this, like all aspects, needs to be trained. Most programs would, at this stage be programmed for between 3 and 5 sets, and about 12 Reps of each exercise, but to improve strength, we need to start increasing the load a muscle can manage. In training, senior rugby players, I would recommend decreasing reps gradually to between 5 and 8 reps and increasing sets to at least 5 sets per exercise, but increasing load.

3. Be creative!

I know a lot of rugby players do not have access to a well-stocked gym during the break. Some creative programming is needed, but with the use of various elastic bands (even inner tubes cut into loops) and a pull-up bar, I believe all muscle groups could be trained effectively whilst on holiday.

4. Avoid Alcohol use

We would be naïve to believe that 17-year-old boys to not drink any alcohol during the break. Make sure you and your players realize the negative effect this has on their body.

I look forward to all the comments on my thoughts and engaging with every coach! At the start of January, we will be discussing different ways of improving fitness during the Pre-season and why I hate running-based fitness sessions with the players I coach.

To ask questions or comment you need to send an email to news@ruggas.co.za. Please state your name and the school you are coaching at, as this forum is exclusively for coaches and coaching staff.