AUTUMN. This season is about focus. Keeping with the key exercises above, performing sets of 2-4 reps trains the nervous system to recruit muscle fibres more effectively, maximising your strength. Make sure you take long rests to fully restore neural function. If you have a winter lay-off in mid-December, use that time to rebuild muscle mass using more general exercises again and sets of 8-12 reps. Look at using yoga-type stretches as well at this point to engage core muscles and to open tight joints in functional stretching patterns.
WINTER. The gym program at this stage should be balanced between developing muscular endurance and maintaining mobility, so use some sessions to work on high repetitions with lower weights, with movement in all directions. Cable and medicine ball exercises tend to give you the freedom to stay mobile as you gain strength and power. By continuing to use yoga-type stretches you will make sure your stretching program integrates the body rather than isolating muscles, which will be rewarded with a lower injury rate in the team.
SPRING. Preventing injury to vulnerable areas of the body is vital at this stage of a long season, so knees and ankles, shoulders and neck need to be prioritised again. One-armed overhead presses are great for the shoulder and the unbalanced load strengthens the neck too. As well as periodising phases of endurance, hypertrophy, strength and power for glutes and legs, focused stability work on gym balls and other balance equipment, as well as lifting unbalanced loads in the gym, will ensure strong core muscle recruitment from pelvis to neck and program positive muscle recruitment patterns into players’ movement.
SUMMER. In May and June, maintain endurance with longer cardio sessions. In the gym, keep working on any rehabilitative exercises to ensure complete recovery from any injuries from last season. Now is the time to establish a regular injury prevention program, looking especially at stabilising knees and ankles, shoulders and neck, but make sure you maintain agility as well by using long stretches to restore the flexibility you lost last season. Depending on your position in the team you want to spend this period optimising muscle mass by using 3 sets of 8-12reps with each exercise. Perform the movements slowly for joint stability at the beginning (8 seconds per rep), getting faster through July in preparation for the heavier and more powerful sets to come.
LATE SUMMER. As the season approaches, work through a heavier phase (4-6 reps), with fewer, more rugby-specific exercises, like step-ups, front squats, jump-lunges, kettlebell swings and heavy cable exercises. Moving into early season in September, start plyometric drills and power bag exercises for full expression of power, taking longer rests to ensure optimum performance. In October, combining plyometric movements with receiving and moving power tools like medicine balls will challenge and develop balance in a competition environment. Weekly sessions of 8-12 rep sets to maintain body mass are of course mandatory throughout the season.