Research supporting Volt's training methods for developing the rugby athlete.
Rugby is a contact sport that requires high anaerobic and aerobic power, muscular strength, speed, agility, and refined technical ability (Bompa, 2005). Because these sport demands require rugby athletes to be physically well-prepared, athletes should follow a preparatory strength and conditioning program designed to develop their strength and fitness capacities to an appropriate level for safe competition. Training for success in rugby necessitates the development of the following training adaptations: power, power endurance, maximum strength, and muscular endurance of medium duration (Bompa, 2005). From these listed objectives, Volt has prioritized three primary performance factors as the main sources of athletic development via implementation of a strength and conditioning program. Direct development of strength, lean muscle tissue (hypertrophy), and anaerobic and aerobic capacities set the foundation for peak rugby performance.
The incredibly physical nature of the sport demands that athletes be strong, aggressive, and powerful in order to be successful on the rugby pitch. Muscular strength is the primary factor in overpowering opponents both offensively and defensively, and is an advantageous adaptation in competition. The rugby-specific training provided by Volt offers a structural and progressive approach to developing the overall strength capabilites of every rugby athlete. Strength is defined as the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort (Zatsiorsky, 2006). The primary mode of increasing muscular force production in Volt programming is the inclusion of multi-joint, barbell-based, open- and closed-kinetic-chain resistance movements. These movements include squats, deadlifts, presses, and other various movements where athletes are tasked with producing force into the ground while maintaining structural alignment. These movements are the most effective means of developing strength for athletes because they allow an athlete to move the largest amount of weight while focusing on their body as the base of support (Kraemer, 2004). Closed-kinetic-chain movements, specifically, have a higher transfer of training effect to specific sporting movements (Hoffman, 2012). Maximal strength is an important factor influencing maximal power output in highly trained rugby players (Baker, 1999). A fundamental relationship exists between strength and power that dictates an athlete cannot possess a high level of power without first being relatively strong (Hoffman, 2012). Along with increasing force production, dynamic performance in the form of sprint acceleration and countermovement jumping is significantly related to maximum strength among rugby players (West, 2011). The more force an athlete can apply into the ground, the faster he or she can run, jump, and change direction (Kenn, 2003). Volt utilizes these science-based principles to provide a training program specifically designed to maximize the rugby athlete’s strength, which also sets the foundation in power- and speed-based movements.
Development of Lean Muscle Mass
In high-velocity contact sports, the size of an athlete is an important performance factor that can be addressed using proper training methods. An increased amount of lean muscle mass has been shown to be a strong indicator of tackling ability in elite rugby players (Gabbett, 2011). Volt rugby programs utilize strategically placed hypertrophy phases to prioritize increasing the amount of lean muscle tissue along with muscle strength. Athletes will train at prescribed loads closer to an intensity relative of an 8 – 12 repetition maximum, where it is characteristic of athletes to improve the interaction between both mechanical and metabolic growth factors. (Hoffman, 2012; Kraemer, 2004; Ratamess, 2009). This intensity range promotes a larger muscle cross-sectional area, an increase in the number of active actin-myosin crossbridges, and a higher level of fatigue placed on the athlete, which challenges the metabolic recovery of the muscles. The increase in muscle tissue size and overall muscle fiber content increases the sarcoplasmic volume and the amount of muscle glycogen available for use in high-intensity exercise (Schoenfeld, 2010). Increased muscle size is also correlated with an increase in collagenous tissue that supports the musculotendinous junction (MacDougall, 1984). Athletes will invariably increase overall muscle size, connective tissue strength, and increase work capacity.
Development of Stamina
While strength and size are vitally important to competition, rugby has a unique set of energy demands that emphasize an athlete’s conditioning level. 80 minutes of play makes for a sport that is largely aerobic, but its highly intense nature means that rugby athletes must also be highly trained anaerobically. The aerobic energy system accounts for 50% of rugby’s energy demands, while the ATP-CP (25%) and Lactic Acid systems (25%) account for the remaining demands (Hoffman, 2012). While athletes can condition themselves to a certain degree though standard game practices, supplementing their training with specific metabolic workloads can be advantageous prior to beginning a competitive season. Therefore, strength and conditioning programs must emphasize the development of anaerobic-glycolytic energy pathways and aerobic capacities in rugby players (Granatelli, 2014). The gameplay within rugby is dependent on an athlete’s repeat sprint ability and their capacity to recover from intense efforts (Gabbett, 2011). In conjunction with the periodized strength program, Volt has designed a unique 12-week conditioning plan focused on increasing the aerobic pathways as well as an athlete's ability to withstand repeated alactic and lactic efforts. An aerobic base phase sets a foundation for the development and maintenance of the aerobic energy system. The anaerobic phase is the longest and most prolific phase, focusing on glycolytic energy pathway development and improving the repeat sprint ability of rugby athletes under fatiguing conditions. The program concludes with an alactic phase designed to maximize the ATP-CP energy pathway and improve maximal acceleration and sprint speed.
Injury Prevention Methods
During match play, most injuries (72%) are sustained during contact with another player, although non-contact injuries accounted for 57% of all training related injuries (Brooks, 2005 (5,6)). The high incidence of player-to-player injury is likely due to the high intensity and violent nature of rugby. Because high-speed collisions, rucking, scrumming, and mauling are all inherent to the sport, injuries through contact are inevitable. Therefore, it is important to place emphasis on the non-contact injuries associated with rugby. The lower limbs receive the most injuries both in games (42.5%) and practices (58.4%) (Bird, 1998). During match play, hamstring muscle injuries have the highest rate of occurrence among all non-contact injuries, and are second only to hematomas, in rate of incidence among all injuries (Brooks, 2005 (5)). The most common training-related injury mechanism is running, which accounts for the high proportion of lower-limb injuries and the number of hamstring muscle injuries (0.30/1000 player-hours) in particular (Brooks, 2005 (6)). Resistance training has been shown to be an effective intervention for preventing hamstring injury (Brughelli, 2008). Volt focuses on direct development of the posterior chain within its strength progressions throughout the program. Volt also provides specific injury prevention training by focusing directly on the contractile strength of the hamstring in relation to the quadriceps, thereby improving the overall strength ratio between the two muscle groups. Improvement of the hamstring to quadriceps strength ratio increases stability of the knee and reduces the overall risk of non-contact ACL injury (Holcomb, 2007).
A secondary method programmed into Volt’s primary injury prevention protocol is progressive plyometric training. With a focus on eccentric loading and concentric unloading, plyometrics provide an exercise geared towards improving hip, knee, and ankle joint biomechanics (Akuthota, 2004). Volt utilizes plyometric training to increase neuromuscular control, increase joint stability, and decrease non-contact injuries. Non-contact injury to the knee, in particular, may occur during deceleration, acceleration, plant-and-cut movements, sudden change of direction, landing from a jump, or other movements that can excessively load the knee. Such loading combined with high-injury-risk motions, such as knee valgus motion, where the knee moves medially similar to a “knock-knee” stance, can potentially strain the ACL, making it susceptible to possible damage (Howell, 2013). To train safe and efficient motor patterns, unilateral strength training progressions are implemented to develop better body awareness, trunk stability, and dynamic positions. The increased stress associated with instability has been postulated to promote greater neuromuscular adaptations, such as decreased cocontractions, improved coordination, and confidence in performing skills (Behm, 2006). The promotion of reciprocal inhibition allows for improved force production by the agonist muscle while simultaneously decreasing the risk of injury by impairing the stimulation of the antagonist muscle group. Neurological adaptations made by athletes to improve motor control, landing mechanics, force absorption/production, and change of direction ability promote safer skill development and can help keep athletes injury free.
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