Over the years I have been subjected to many different theories and programs designed to improve the conditioning of rugby league players. Many times we would get hammered with long endurance efforts in the offseason or sessions that involved repeat 400m sprints and other lactate threshold type sessions. While the lactate work has its place I would say that it is generally over used and still manages to break players down.
Below are some of my thoughts about conditioning for a seasoned player, someone who has done a few off seasons and has a good base to work from. I say this as too many young players are unable to push themselves hard enough to get the full benefits of this type of work and need to do a little bit of old school to learn what it feels like to take your body to the brink and know you won’t die. I will go more into this another time.
The best results I obtained were from an off season of conditioning based games that involved the ball. The test we used at the time was the Yo-Yo test. The season in which we done 800m and 400m sprints I achieved 18.6 on this test, the next year when we done a lot of conditioning games, I achieved a 19.8 or so. I put this down to the “fatigue masks fitness” saying, as after doing high amounts of lactate work you are so burnt out that you are unable to display your true fitness levels.
The other reason I prefer conditioning games is that it is more specific to our sport. A lot of the time we are walking or jogging at a low intensity during a game. When it comes time to explode that’s when it counts and I feel working on repeat sprints of 7 seconds or less is more optimal than the longer type lactate work. So in my programs you won’t see us run more than 7 seconds all out very often. The times we do it is for mental toughness, to build a base, and just to see who can hang in when it gets ugly, that’s not to say the repeat efforts of 7 seconds or less are easy.
I also like to use wrestling as a form of conditioning. Many times you get very fit during an off season but the minute you have to make double or triple tackles during a trial game all of that work seems to be a waste as you feel just as busted as the blokes who were way behind during running drills. Having the ability to repeat efforts involving your body weight and that of your opponents is something that must be trained to be conditioned for the season.
There is a big difference between endurance and conditioning. Conditioning is specific to your sport, whereas endurance is more general preparation. For example you could improve your rowing time of a 1500m effort which would increase endurance but as a rugby league player it won’t necessarily improve your on field conditioning or performance.
This is just a brief view of some of my ideas on conditioning for rugby league. If you want some more in depth views on conditioning v endurance please read this article by Wolfgang Unsold :