Why we need an “off-season” in Rugby?
The “Off-Season” in many sports generally happens at the end of the sporting calendar when the athletes are not competing. This gives players a chance to rest and recover from any niggling injury in preparation for the new season ahead. In Rugby Union in the Northern Hemisphere, the off-season is usually between May and September. However, even with the inherent physical demands of the sport, the importance of the off-season is often overlooked.
Rest or training?
While many players of the amateur game use the period to rest and relax after a long season, others use the majority of the time to improve their conditioning going into the next season. They do this by training or rehabilitating niggling injuries they have sustained throughout the previous season. It is often the subject of great debate in the sport, whether the off-season is better used as a time to rest, or as a time for training and conditioning.
Effect on sprint times?
A 2020 study performed by Dobbin et al investigated the effects of an 8 week off season on sprint ability in rugby players. They measured 30m sprint times in the last week of the season, and the second week of preseason, after an 8-week period of relative rest. Over the 8 weeks the players performed 4 sessions per week, of either cardiovascular fitness, or resistance training in the gym. They found that after the 8-week period of reduced training, 75% of players returned with reduced sprint times over 5m, 10m, 15m, 20m, and 30m. They also found that athletes force, power, and velocity were all weaker than they were in previous measurements.
Body mass & jump height
A separate study performed in 2022 performed Twist et al, investigated the effect of a 10-week unsupervised off-season on players body mass, jump height, sprint performance, and intermittent running. At the end of the season the players were simply encouraged to remain active and were offered minimal guidance. 3-weeks before the resumption of the season, players were given a Strength and Conditioning plan by their club and asked to carry out the program 3 times a week but they were completely unmonitored in doing so. Upon testing after the off-season finished, player performance had decreased in all of the measured metrics, and individual player body mass had increased.
Risk of injury?
However, due to the nature of Rugby Union, it is unrealistic to expect players to be capable of performing each season without an increased risk of injury. In 2017, Williams et al, displayed the injury trends over the course of seven consecutive rugby seasons. They found that players participating in more than 28 games of rugby in a 12-month period, place themselves at higher risk of injury than those who don’t. They also found that players who are exposed to less than 15 matches per year, or 1 match per month, have a similarly high risk of injury to those playing 28-35 games per 12 months. So, while it is crucial that there is time off in a season to recuperate, it may be equally important to ensure that players are remaining stimulated in a physical and sport-specific manner.
Off season training load
Furthermore, a study performed by Viljoen et al, that was published in 2009, investigated the injury incidence of players of a professional rugby team in the Super Rugby Franchise. This research found that players who were encouraged to maintain a high training load while in the off-season had a higher risk of sustaining significant injury both in the off-season and during the pre-season. They also found that a lower training load during both the off season and the pre-season led to less in-game injuries throughout the team’s competitive season. They went on to say that a lighter training load during the off-season can benefit player wellbeing throughout the season. However, it is the very high training loads in pre-season that accounted for around 38% of the injuries that occurred throughout the season, which may increase the importance of using the off-season as a time to properly rest and recuperate.
Speed and agility
As previously mentioned, it has been shown that players speed and agility decrease throughout a season, while their body mass increases, a systematic review performed by Gabbet et al (2005) further displayed and discussed this. However, they also showed throughout the competitive season, player VO2 max scores steadily increase, and reach their highest at the end of the season. These effects however are short lived as they also decrease over the course of the off-season. This matches the previously mentioned data wherein players had the tendency to lose condition over the course of the off-season.
In a sport with such a heavy emphasis on physical contact, and with such high physical demands, the off-season is essential to reduce the risk of injury. However, the current body of evidence demonstrates that a light, supervised Strength and Conditioning plan implemented over the course of the off-Season may prevent or lessen the loss condition in players and allow for a less demanding pre-season. As previously stated by Viljoen et al (2019), a less demanding pre-season may lead to fewer in-game injuries over the course of the competitive season.
PMC Physiotherapy Recommendation
If you are interested in learning more about a sport specific strength and conditioning program tailored to your needs, contact one of our physios at PMC Physiotherapy Dunboyne and book an appointment.
1. Dobbin, N., Clarke, J., & Cushman, S. (2020). The effects of an 8-week off-season period on the mechanical properties of sprinting in professional rugby league players: implications for training recommendations. Journal of Trainology, 9(1), 15-19.
2. Gabbett, T. J. (2005). Changes in physiological and anthropometric characteristics of rugby league players during a competitive season. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 19(2), 400-408.
3. Twist, C., Williams, J., & Dobbin, N. (2022). Deteriorations in physical qualities during a 10-week unsupervised off-season period in academy rugby union players. Science and Medicine in Football, 6(3), 347-354.
4. Viljoen, W., Saunders, C. J., Hechter, G. D., Aginsky, K. D., & Millson, H. B. (2009). Training volume and injury incidence in a professional rugby union team. South African Journal of Sports Medicine, 21(3).
5. Williams, S., Trewartha, G., Kemp, S., Brooks, J. H., Fuller, C. W., Taylor, A. E., … & Stokes, K. A. (2017). How much rugby is too much? A seven-season prospective cohort study of match exposure and injury risk in professional rugby union players. Sports medicine, 47(11), 2395-2402.
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