BOULDER, Colo. – This week marks the end of final exams at colleges across the country, as well as a time students look forward to a well-deserved break from classrooms and homework assignments. For the most competitive college rugby teams in the country, the winter break isn’t just about guzzling eggnog and gift giving, but an important time to get better equipped for a spring semester of rugby.
The rigors of a weekly schedule filled with team training sessions and a match on Saturday often doesn’t leave enough time or energy to improve on strength and conditioning. That is why periods during the academic school year without class or team-focused training sessions are vital for physical gains.
“They train in the gym throughout the semester on a two-times-a-week program,” explained Michigan Strength and Conditioning Coach Stu Roche. “But after a little bit of time off following the completion of the fall season, we’ve ramped up to a three-week program over the winter.”
These periods of the rugby season – when players spend additional time in the weight room in an attempt to add bulk to their frame – is commonly referred to as ‘bulking season.’ Like Michigan’s rugby team, Lindenwood finds itself in bulking season.
“The team has transitioned into a strength and power block to put on size using heavier weights and lower repetitions,” said Lindenwood Head Coach JD Stephenson. “This is an important time for us, because once we get into the Mid-South schedule we will purely be on one speed session a week. We may do some power lifting at the beginning of the week, but then it’s strictly maintenance sessions the rest of the week.”
Not only do match schedules and schoolwork affect training regimens, but different codes of rugby call for alternate training efforts as well. For a Big Ten Universities team like Michigan, who plays its conference 15s schedule during the fall semester, the New Year marks the team’s transition into its spring sevens season.
“In preparation for 15s season we spend a fair amount of time working on absolute strength, and we also focus on nutrition to make sure we are putting on a lean muscle mass,” Roche said. “In terms of transitioning to the sevens season, there is a little bit more of a body weight aspect that we like to use more than our typical weight room sessions. So, we run high intensity interval circuits that involve body weight.”
For Lindenwood, a team whose conference 15s schedule awaits them in the spring, the time is now to prepare their bodies for a grueling schedule that will consist of two matches against top-10 teams Davenport and Life, as well as a trip to Colorado to face senior club powerhouse Glendale Raptors. Fortunately for the Lions, the team uses the University’s winter term to bring the squad together after the New Year to begin its march towards the D1A Rugby Playoffs. The winter term entails free room and board and a free three-credit class that is optional to the student body at large, but mandatory for the Lindenwood rugby team.
“The first three-week block [of their six week training regimen] is a lot of core skill work, but it’s really going to be three weeks of [anguish] for these boys,” said Stephenson. “We’re going to be hitting the wrestling rooms a lot, as well as the gym. We believe that wrestling is one of, if not the toughest sport there is. So, continuously training in those habits, we believe, can really toughen players up.”
Because of the differences in conditioning between 15s and sevens, players within the same program can be training in separate regimens. For instance, players who play in the forward pack may not be contributors to their team’s sevens side.
“The program is different, absolutely,” Roche said. “We tend to run a four-days-a-week program for full-time 15s guys, whereas the sevens guys are in the gym just twice a week because their focus is on interval circuit training and sprint mechanics.”
There is no doubt that the winter holiday is an invaluable time for student-athletes to take a mental vacation from books and exams. However, for teams who play to win National Championships and players dedicated to getting the most out of their natural abilities, there is no rest for the weary.