Challenges with periodisation for rugby

Originally periodisation models were designed for individual sports such as athletics where there are only one or two major competitions in a year. Team sports present a different scenario and subsequent challenges for the coach when trying to periodise a training programme. These challenges include: 

  • a much longer competition season
  • multiple training goals
  • planning for up to 30 players rather than an individual
  • time constraints imposed by technical and tactical training.

During pre-season, the coach will be able to dedicate the most time to physical training and conditioning. There are fewer games which allows the coach to plan and deliver a high level of training load. Pre-season is suited to linear or block periodisation models. Exercise selection features a progression from general strength exercises to sport-specific lifts as the player advances through pre-season training cycles. Periodisation in pre-season should also prioritise the needs of the player. If hypertrophy will be an advantage, then the hypertrophy training frequency could be higher than the strength and power. If power is the main need in the pre-season, then this could be prioritised with more training frequency dedicated to it. If possible, the pre-season phase should not be shorter than 8-12 weeks to allow for development of physical qualities.

The in-season (competitive season) is more challenging to periodise due to the impact of games. Players must be fresh to play and be allowed to recover from game related stresses which can be extremely high. Undulating periodisation models are typically suggested for in-season training. The use of high low training days is a popular strategy.

A coach must have knowledge of periodisation and its models, but it is important to remember that they are guidelines on planning out training.  The coach may get caught out trying to use complex periodisation methods when a much simpler, progressive approach will suffice for most players with a low-moderate training age. The main principles that periodisation methods are built on are progressive overload, recovery, adaptation, and variation. If the coach is progressively working the players harder, practicing good recovery strategies and introducing some form of variation in the programme to avoid boredom and stagnation then they are using periodisation.