In my article conditioning for rugby league – part 1, I spoke about how I like to condition my players to be ready for competition. I also said that there are times that old school flog sessions are needed, and that is what I will speak about in part 2.
The reason why I say there are times that old school sessions without the ball are needed is that if an athlete is unable or unwilling to push himself to his absolute maximum physical effort then none of the conditioning games with the ball or short sprint intervals will work because they will pace themselves and not work at maximal intensity which is required to achieve the gains from that type of training.
Many young players and older blokes that have never been fit have never experienced what it feels like to take their body to a place where you just feel like you cannot continue to take another step. Your legs are on fire, you can’t breathe, you feel crook in the gut, you’re dizzy as hell, but somehow you manage to finish the session. That type of work builds a mental toughness in you that no matter what happens “I will get the job done and it will all be ok, I will not die”. The more times you go to that place the more comfortable you get with it and you actually start to thrive on the challenge. When it comes to game day you have already been through ugly situations so you are not rattled and you know you will be able to keep going no matter how bad it gets.
I believe this is why trainers like Ronnie Palmer, Billy Johnstone, and Steve Folkes have success in their first year at a club. They breed a culture of mental toughness and an attitude of hard work. The problem is after a year or two the results tend to diminish and the injury rate is also high.
To counter the overtraining and the resultant injury issues, when using old school methods in an off season plan I would not do them every session and I would even consider only doing them fortnightly depending on the athlete. A combination of conditioning games and endurance type work would be better suited. Using undulating type periodisation is also a good way as one form of intensity isn’t being used for too long with the stimulus changing regularly so that overuse injuries, poor motivation, and burn out don’t become a major issue.
There is never just one way to achieve your desired outcome in training. This is why individualising a training plan is the fastest and most time efficient way to get results. The unfortunate thing in a team environment and with part time athletes is that you often don’t get enough time with them to fully individualise the plan. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though. It just takes some creativity and some planning. From team testing you can at least get a picture of two different types of energy systems work your players need and put them in their respective groups. Some may need more anaerobic a-lactic power and others may need more lactic capacity work as an example. You can them modify your drills, games, and forms of conditioning work to suit the individual better. This will also reduce your rate of injury.
If a player comes to off season already fit, he doesn’t need to do excessive amounts of conditioning work, he is ready to do skill, defensive drills, and conditioning games. If you give him endurance based old school work, by Christmas he will most likely be injured and would have plateaued. I know this from experience. I have seen it with many teammates and have experienced it personally. I came back with a 13.1 on the beep test one year, crushed all the fitness for 6 weeks, and got a 12.1 when we retested. I went down a whole level. Why is this? I was overtrained, carrying a groin injury (that progressed into osteitis pubis that needed surgery), and just burnt out. As they say “fatigue masks fitness”.
On the other hand if an athlete turns up and they are way behind then I would incorporate some old school work and some lactate work. I wouldn’t just crush them every night though as I mentioned above. It would be planned out so that they still got ample recovery between the really tough sessions to avoid injury and burn out.
So from all of this I can say everything has its place. They way to know which place that is, well you have to have effective testing methods, know what you are testing, and most of all know the athlete you are training.