Characteristics and development of strength and power in Rugby Union
Argus, Christos Kostas
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Rugby Union is a contact sport where successful performance relies on players possessing a combination of strength, power, speed, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, along with technical skills and tactical knowledge. Resistance training is commonly performed by these players to develop the physical components required for successful performance, in particular strength and power. There is currently limited literature detailing the effects of pre-season and in-season training (and competition) on strength and power in professional Rugby players. Assessing the effects of these different training phases will identify areas of conditioning that may require enhanced programming strategies to ensure performance is optimised. Study one characterised the difference in strength (bench press, box squat) and power (bench throw, jump squat) across four different levels of competition (professionals, semi-professionals, academy, high school level). Strength and power output were found to discriminate between different levels of competitions, suggesting that younger lower-level players need to improve their strength and power so to prepare for the next level of competition. Studies two and three characterised the effects of a pre-season and in-season training phases (consisting of different modes of training being performed concurrently) on strength and power in professional Rugby Union players. Strength was maintained or improved during a concurrent training phase, however small decreases in power occurred. Therefore, it was concluded that methods to improve power need to be developed and assessed. In an attempt to provide potential mechanisms for changes in performance measures, the influence of several covariates were assessed (body composition, salivary hormones testosterone and cortisol, tiredness and soreness). Some small to moderate relationships were observed, however it was concluded that the required change in many of the predictor measure (covariate) to improve a dependent measure (strength or power) was too large to obtain within a single training phase. Study four assessed the effectiveness of verbal feedback (peak velocity) on acute kinetic performance in a typical resistance training session in professional Rugby players. When players received feedback following each repetition of a bench throw, peak power and velocity were improved. Study 5 assessed the load that maximised peak power (Pmax) in the lower body using a spectrum of loads including negative loading. Pmax was obtained using bodyweight loads in 16 of 18 professional players; however statistical analysis revealed discontinuity in the power outputs between bodyweight and all loaded jumps. These findings have implications when attempting to prescribe Pmax intensities for training. Studies six and seven assessed the effects of different contrast training methods to improve power throughout an in-season training phase in professional Rugby Union players. Findings from these studies identified different contrast training programs that can improve power and also be easily implemented into a player’s existing resistance training program. In conclusion, this thesis established that power is affected to a greater extent than strength across different training phases involving concurrent training. Furthermore, several methods to improve power throughout an in-season training phase were identified. However, it was regularly noted throughout the thesis that 1) there is no upper limit to performance, and that players should strive for continual improvement in all areas; and 2) although players should continually strive to improve power, training should not focus exclusively on one mode.