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Transitional and General Physical Preparation Periods for Rugby League

Periodization is a term we use in strength and conditioning which is basically the planning of training using different phases at specific times throughout the year. In rugby league you will just hear terms such as off-season, pre-season, and competitive season. People are generally referring to the same thing.

As a lot of teams have now finished up with their competitive seasons or some teams are starting to, as they are being knocked out of semi-finals, I thought it would be a good time to talk about what to do in the weeks and first few months training wise after your season has ended. I don’t feel like this is discussed enough.

Now, I want to make it clear that this is very individual as many factors are taken into account such as age, the amount of time you played throughout the season, whether or not you have any nagging or major injuries, your physical limitations etc. This will be some general guidelines you can consider.

Transitional Period

This is the period of time immediately following the end of your competitive season. During this time the main focus is active rest. It is time to have a break from rugby league. You can play other sports such as basketball, do some jiu-jitsu, go surfing, mountain bike riding, whatever you like to do. You want to remain active and not just sit around. That is the main point, and to do things that aren’t rugby league orientated but still maintain/develop physical qualities.

This is also the time to work on any nagging injuries that may have been picked up during the long hard season. It is very important to fix these up whilst your training load is lower and so you can go into your next training phase healthier with a lower risk of injury.

A change of environment is also good during this time period. Getting to the beach or going out to the bush if you are from the city is a good way to help reset both physically and mentally, and help you have more motivation once the next training cycle begins.

The period of training is very short. Typically, I would use and recommend about 1-2 weeks but for some it could be 1-4 weeks depending on how they are at the end of the season. If you need surgery, then that changes things again. But in general, 1-4 weeks is plenty of time. The transitional period is more important for high level athletes and older players, but everyone should have some form of transitional period regardless.

Because you haven’t fully let yourself go during this transitional period you will be able to begin your next phase of training at pretty much the same level as you left off. The strength, speed, and conditioning you gained for example, should be still there by the time you move into the general physical preparation period, allowing you to progress these physical qualities rather than just getting back to that level again. I see this way too often when player come back into to regular team training in November. Instead of being at the same level or slightly higher so we can build upon the previous season, they often come back way behind and it takes the first month or two to just get back to where they should have been. You are wasting time by doing this and it will stall your progression long term.

If you sat on the bench most of the year, or didn’t play very minutes, then you may not need a transitional period. You could continue on with regular training much more easily as you won’t be as burnt out as other players who have played the whole season.

General Physical Preparation

This period might have to be started in your own time if your team didn’t make finals or it would be the early off-season or pre-Christmas period with most teams in rugby league.

If you are a younger athlete then this would be done by yourself as most teams don’t go back to training until about a month before their competition starts. This is not a long enough time to prepare for the demands of the sport and a reason why I believe there are a lot of injuries to kids until 15 years old and also why you don’t see the rate of development in game play that we should by these ages.

General physical preparation (GPP) is about building a general fitness base. It is where we build a foundation for the harder training to come later on. This is the time to correct muscular imbalances in the gym, work on your mobility/flexibility, basically work on your weaknesses. This helps prevent injury but also set you up to lift heavier loads later on and also perform specific skills much more effectively too. About 80% of the training time is devoted to increasing physical qualities and only about 20% to rugby league specific drills/skills, unless there is a real deficiency in a certain skill that someone needs to develop. For a halfback, this could mean they might spend a bit more time working on their kicking technique if they had struggled with it.

Strength training is heavily emphasised during this period. Strength helps prevent injuries more than any other single factor. Volume is the key, so often, the reps will be higher with shorter rest periods being taken. Exercises like split squats, step ups, leg curls, back extensions, rows, external rotator cuff work, etc are performed to help fix any muscle weaknesses/imbalances and prepare the athletes to squat, deadlift, bench, and chin up, more safely and effectively later on in the training plan. The speed of contraction of the exercises in this time period also tend to be slower than in the specific preparation period (SPP) and you want to work ranges of motion that may be neglected during the competitive season.

It is also the time to put on any muscle mass that an athlete may require. It gives them time to get used to carry around the new body weight and modify their technique. Once the season starts, it is about maintenance gained in strength a muscle mass, so the GPP and (SPP) are very important. If you miss out here then its bad luck and you have to do the best with what you have got basically.

This period can last anywhere between 1-4 months but I would say 2-3 months is typically what a rugby league player will get to do this phase of training.

Hopefully these guidelines have given you some ideas on how you can set up your training for the best gains to be made heading into your following season. Again, this has to be individualised for greatest results. A lot of coaches just throw a bunch of exercises at the wall and hope they stick. You should know what you are training and why. We all have limited time and energy, so use your resources wisely.

Related articles:

Conditioning for rugby league - part 1

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