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Integrating Strength and Power Development in the Long-Term Athletic Development of Young Rugby Union Players

Methodological and Practical Applications

Durguerian, Alexandre PhD1,2; Piscione, Julien PhD1; Mathieu, Bertrand MSc1; Lacome, Mathieu PhD1,3

Strength & Conditioning Journal: August 2019 - Volume 41 - Issue 4 - p 18–33
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000452
Article
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ABSTRACT THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO DESCRIBE THE TRAINING STRATEGY BUILT BY THE FRENCH RUGBY UNION TO OPTIMIZE STRENGTH AND POWER DEVELOPMENT IN ELITE RUGBY UNION PLAYERS. THE TRAINING PROCESS IS BASED ON 4 STAGES COMPOSED OF EDUCATIONAL AND TECHNICAL EFFICIENCY, WORK CAPACITY, MAXIMAL STRENGTH, AND EXPLOSIVE POWER. THE EVOLUTION OF THE PLAYER DURING THESE DIFFERENT STEPS SHOULD BE ADJUSTED ACCORDING TO INDIVIDUAL PROGRESSION AND NOT ONLY THEIR CHRONOLOGICAL AND BIOLOGICAL AGE. SUPERVISED TRAINING SESSIONS WITH QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING COACHES ARE PARAMOUNT TO ENSURE INDIVIDUALIZED TRAINING AND PROVIDE SOUND PEDAGOGICAL APPROACHES.

1Performance Department, French Rugby Federation, Marcoussis, France;

2French Cycling Federation, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France; and

3Performance Department, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

Address correspondence to Dr. Alexandre Durguerian, a.durguerian@ffc.fr.

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding: The authors report no conflicts of interest and no source of funding.

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Figure

Alexandre Durguerianis currently Head Strength and Conditioning coach for the French national track cycling team.

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Figure

Julien Piscioneis Head of the Performance Department at the French Rugby Union.

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Bertrand Mathieuis a PhD student in Sports Sciences in the Performance Department of the French Rugby Union.

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Mathieu Lacomeis currently Sport Scientist at Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.

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INTRODUCTION

Scrummaging, tackling, lifting, and breaking a defensive line are physical activities specific to rugby union performance and require high levels of muscular strength and power (17). Players' strength-related performance levels, measured using traditional strength lifts such as squats or bench press, have been considerably increasing since the 1990s (15). Studies have also observed that muscular power output was a discriminating factor between players of different competitive levels. Professional players demonstrated higher power performance outcomes in comparison with lower-level peers (4,6). These results suggest enhanced muscular strength and power capacity among high-standard players but also a higher buy in to strength and power training. Beyond the benefits of maximal strength for athletic performance, maximal strength also plays an important role in injury prevention (30,62). Therefore, developing strength and power should be a priority in the physical preparation of rugby union players (4). An optimal approach to attaining this training objective can be achieved via the use of multijoint movements (e.g., weightlifting exercises, squats, and bench press), high-intensity loads, and high speed and acceleration movements (30). However, incorrect lifting technique or insufficient strength level can compromise optimal training adaptations and increase the likelihood of injury (56). In relation to player development, these statements highlight the importance of building a logical pathway from the youth athlete to the senior international rugby player, allowing for progressive acquisition of lifting skills and adaptation of the organism to increases in training load (4).

To our knowledge, only few data exist regarding the practical applications of integrating strength and power development training in the long-term athletic development (LTAD) of youth and junior rugby union players (18). The aim of this article is to describe the progressive model for the development of educational, technical, and physical resistance training competencies developed by the French Rugby Union. Practical applications of this model dedicated to strength and conditioning coaches (S&C coaches) are provided alongside theoretical information.

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STRENGTH AND POWER TRAINING: ESTABLISHING BENCHMARK DATA

Strength and power benchmarks are based on physical requirements defined for high-level rugby players. The physical evaluation process is described in Table 1. French Rugby Union standards for strength and power have been established using evidence-based data from the literature (4,36,62) and physical performance data collected over the past 15 years in its elite players. These physical assessments aim to aid S&C coaches define individual strengths and weaknesses and subsequently individualize training programs while providing opportunities to compare player performance with normative data (48).

Table 1

Table 1

At the French Rugby Union, maximal strength assessments are conducted using 3 main exercises used in training programs. These include the back squat, the barbell bench press, and the barbell bent-over row using a 3RM protocol. Maximal strength evaluation is integrated, as much as possible, in the strength training sessions. Table 2 provides an example of how the assessment of maximal strength is implemented in strength or hypertrophy-oriented sessions in a time-efficient way. The bench press and back squat movements are recognized exercises in strength and conditioning programs to measure upper- and lower-body maximal strength (3,23). The evaluation of upper-body maximal pulling strength is also an important factor to consider (7). The bent-over row exercise, with the trunk parallel to the ground, has previously been proposed in the physical development pathway of high-performance tennis players (53). The bent-over row has been shown to produce greater level of muscle activation for the upper, middle and lower portions of the trapezius muscles in comparison to other pulling exercises (31) and requires a high stiffness level of the thoracic and lumbar spine (22). Both components are key physical factors involved in lower back injury prevention (49) and specific pulling actions (i.e., rucks) (21). Nevertheless, the S&C coach should carefully monitor and inform athletes about the importance of proper technical execution and trunk stability during the lift, especially when using heavy loads.

Table 2

Table 2

Weightlifting exercises, including snatch and clean, but also power and hang variations, play a main part in technical, postural, and power development (30,34). Regarding the high level of strength produced in a short period, these exercises represent an excellent benchmark for evaluating power and explosive strength capacity (28,34). However, one has to keep in mind that when using weightlifting movements, perfect technical execution should remain a prerequisite before training volume and intensity are increased (34,43). Finally, the countermovement jump (CMJ) test, which is validated for measuring lower-body power (47), is also used because it requires less technical skills than weightlifting exercises. Moreover, the CMJ test does not require the use of additional weights and allows for regular and rapid evaluation during the training process.

The need for high level of strength and power standards implies the use of intensified and specialized strength and power training methods, such as high-intensity power clean and power snatch exercises (80–100% 1 repetition maximum [1RM]), contrast and complex training, plyometrics, and ballistic movements with senior players (4,6,68). This statement highlights the importance for young athletes to develop “Resistance Training Skills Competency” (RTSC) (19), which reflects the capacity to perform near-maximal lifts with appropriate technique and preparation. This foundation will serve as a primary step on which the development of a solid base for strength and power capacity will be built on during the later stages (51). Achieving a high level of strength is also crucial before the utilization of more complex and specialized strength and power training methods to optimize physical development (4,20,57). The rate of force development (RFD) and the capacity to generate strength with speed are factors more specifically related to athletic performance (30,62). Accordingly, maximal strength has been shown to play a crucial role in achieving high levels of muscular power and RFD (6,12,30). Therefore, power and RFD-oriented training should be considered the final step of the training process (Figure 1) (6,13,30,37,62). The evaluation process is also adjusted according to this training philosophy, the emphasis being more focused on technical mastery during the first and second training stages and less on the amount of weight actually lifted (Table 3). The evaluation criterion will then put more emphasis on strength and power capacity because these are the main physical developmental objectives of the third and fourth training stages.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Table 3

Table 3

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INTEGRATING STRENGTH AND POWER TRAINING IN THE LONG-TERM ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT OF RUGBY UNION PLAYERS

Questions remain about when and how strength and power training methods should be implemented during athletic development to ensure optimal and safe progression. Balyi and Hamilton (9) have previously described a progressive and coherent pathway, named the LTAD, starting from the initial steps of basic movement patterns during childhood until senior level. The authors proposed the concept of “windows of opportunity,” which represents specific phases of psychobiological maturation process (i.e., before, during, or after puberty), when the opportunity for development of physical competencies is supposed to be maximized. This model suggests that stimulation of a physical quality outside of this temporal period may hinder optimal development (9). However, there is no existing data to confirm this argument (24,44). Recently, some authors have questioned the LTAD model suggesting that physical training, especially strength and power capacity, should be viewed as a continuum process and as such be performed during the athlete's entire sporting career (42). Moreover, muscular strength has a positive influence on the development of other physical components and specific performance capacity (20,45). It is now deemed that strength training can be implemented even among children and adolescent athletes, provided that appropriate programs and qualified supervision are ensured (24,42,43). In our opinion, strength and power development can be optimized if proper strength and power training education and technical-related skills are prioritized during the primary phases of the physical development pathway. As such, a training philosophy that focuses on technical mastery and work capacity before strength is more likely to allow optimal adaptation from strength training when prioritized accordingly. This then serves as a solid foundation on which to build power and sport-specific biomotors later in an athlete's career (Figure 1). The strength and power developmental model described in the present article is composed of 4 stages, each focused on educational, technical, and physical objectives, which should be achieved before progressing to the next level. This strategy allows the adjustment of the training process according to individual progress and maturation (Figure 1) (20,42,43).

Before engagement in tangible technical and physical developmental programs, it is important to remember that acquisition of fundamental movement skills (e.g., running, jumping, throwing, and kicking) and sufficient mobility are not only essential in building efficient sport-specific skills but also RTSC (42,43,55). Appropriate technical and physical evaluation should be provided to verify these competencies before initiating acquisition of resistance training skills. At the French Rugby Union, we expect the young athlete to master basic core movements such as the cat and cow (41), Spiderman crawls, and Superman exercises (43). When considering resistance training skills, we put the emphasis on the young athlete's ability to correctly perform a full range of motion (ROM) squat and an overhead squat with a wooden stick (43). The ability to perform these movements informs the S&C coach about the capacity of an adolescent athlete to engage in the first training stage and address potential functional deficits through corrective exercises (51).

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STAGE 1

GLOBAL TRAINING OBJECTIVES

The first stage of this developmental pathway represents the foundation on which global physical fitness will be built on. This period is a crucial phase to address the educational and technical basis of resistance training (RTSC concept) for proficient long-term development of strength and power. As stated previously by Faigenbaum et al. (20), “the concept of RTSC does not imply that all children will achieve a high level of technical competence in all exercises, but rather suggests young athletes should have the opportunity to learn and practice the desired skills in a controlled environment.” Acquisition of proper lifting technique should be a prerequisite before attempts are made to enhance physical quality. Therefore, education on strength training and technical proficiency for the main lifts should represent the first step and objective of this general pathway (Table 3). From this perspective, proper coaching and sound pedagogical approaches are essential (46). Therefore, experienced coaches, especially those working with children and adolescent athletes, should design and supervise training sessions while monitoring individual progression (55). We encourage composing small training groups (1 S&C coach for 6–8 athletes) to facilitate individual coaching and personalized cues for optimal adaptations (55).

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TRAINING PRINCIPLES

Table 5 presents an example of a full-body strength training session during stage 1, composed of the main strength and power training exercises (Table 4). If the time devoted to resistance training is limited, the sessions can be conducted before in-field training sessions. Volume and intensity are low to allow for correct teaching of lifting. At this stage, athletes and coaches should not look at how much they can lift, but rather on how well they can lift. Training duration and volume is kept low to avoid excessive stimulation of the neuromuscular system and ensure quality of training. Focusing on technical and postural skills does not mean that the other aspects of strength and power training will not be addressed. Basic resistance training exercises, such as military press and dumbbell pressing and pulling movements, and power exercises, such as bilateral low impact plyometrics or box jumps, should be integrated. This strategy will allow athletes to achieve technical mastery to optimize the development of hypertrophy and explosiveness during later stages. Postural and technical proficiency should remain a cornerstone of the strength training program, even following the first stage, and should always be the first aspect to consider when designing and adjusting training parameters. As mentioned earlier, the progress from one step to another is also related to the achievement of minimal strength levels and training experience (Table 3). These principles enable progressive overload of the neuromuscular system and avoid early specialization.

Table 4

Table 4

Table 5

Table 5

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STAGE 2

GLOBAL TRAINING OBJECTIVES

This stage involves an increase in resistance training volume to enhance the athlete's working capacity. Duthie (18) stated that work capacity is a prerequisite to any physical capacity development and should be driven by increasing training frequency, volume, and then intensity. Therefore, adding resistance training sessions in the training program is a primary step toward higher training loads (Table 6). During this phase, the S&C coach should monitor training load carefully to avoid excessive increase in training load by simultaneously increasing the training frequency of all parameters (i.e., rugby sessions and metabolic conditioning), potentially leading to a fatigued state or increased injury risk (67).

Table 6

Table 6

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TRAINING PRINCIPLES

Resistance training volume is enhanced concomitantly through increased training frequency and the number of exercises and sets performed during each session (Table 6). This training strategy is achieved by athletes performing 6–7 exercises in the session with 3–4 sets (warm-up sets not included) for each exercise. Nevertheless, increasing training volume should be progressive and individually adapted to optimize training adaptations (42). Training intensity is kept low to moderate and is adjusted according to technical and postural quality to promote high-quality movement. This principle is particularly important as new strengthening exercises (secondary and auxiliary movements) will be added to the training programs. The training session parameters will be adjusted to embrace these principles. Between 6 and 10 repetitions for each set should be the target zone because these not only allow the athlete to tolerate a higher training volume (high repetitions with increased training load compared with stage 1) but also to achieve high quality of movement with progressively higher training loads (60–70% 1RM). However, prioritizing increased training volume is recommended, especially through a higher number of sets performed, before increasing training intensity (18) (Table 6). This phase should also address basic nutrition guidelines and implement postworkout snacks to educate athletes about the importance of adequate nutrient intake, improve individual recovery, and optimize training adaptations (Table 6). Nutritional education and practical advice should be provided by a sports nutritionist.

At the end of this stage, athletes should have developed autonomy in the general warm-up phase. Assisting their teammates as a spotter during the main lifts (i.e., back squat and bench press) should also be an educational objective to ensure a safe lifting environment. Concomitantly, athletes should be aware of the name of the resistance training exercises and the main muscle groups involved. The notion of tempo and the relation between the number of repetitions and training objectives should also be introduced (Table 3). In our opinion, promoting strength training education is important to help develop autonomous and purposeful athletes.

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STAGE 3

GLOBAL TRAINING OBJECTIVES

Once RTSC and working capacity have been developed, the training goal should then focus on increasing maximal strength capacity. Strength development relies on structural (i.e., muscular hypertrophy) and neural factors (e.g., motor unit activation and motor unit firing rate) (27). When building long-term maximal strength, it has been proposed to put the initial emphasis on the development of structural strength-related adaptations and thereafter focus on neural adaptations (8,33,61). The pubertal and postpubertal periods (age 13–18 years) have been described as an optimal phase to integrate muscular hypertrophy–oriented training because of the increase in circulating androgen hormones (42). Once optimal muscle mass has been developed, higher training intensities should be prescribed to potentiate neurological adaptations (8,33,61). In our training philosophy, hypertrophy and high-intensity training (i.e., above 85% 1RM) are part of the maximal strength development continuum and, as such, both contribute to make the athlete stronger.

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TRAINING PRINCIPLES

Stimulating muscle hypertrophy necessitates mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and adapted nutrient intakes (14,16,57). The load and the time under tension, therefore, are of paramount importance (57). Resistance training programs that aim to optimize structural adaptations should activate the glycolytic metabolism (lactate and H+ ions production) and induce muscular damage (40,56). This phenomenon is achieved through sets to failure to maximally activate muscle groups (11). Even if high- (60–80% 1RM) and low-intensity (30–50% 1RM) methods have been prescribed to promote muscular hypertrophy (11,16,58), high-training intensity would be more effective if achieving simultaneously both muscular growth and preparation for maximal strength training (33). A recent study has also shown that the global training volume was more important than the training method prescribed to stimulate increases in muscular size (2). Therefore, resistance training programs should be composed of high training volume (6–7 exercises, 3–5 sets, and 6–10 repetitions) with training intensity programmed between 60 and 80% 1RM. The interset recovery duration also influences the metabolic stress induced by the training session (66). Short interset periods (<60 seconds) increase metabolic stress, whereas longer interset periods (90–180 seconds) enable use of higher training intensities and, thus, achieving stronger mechanical tension (32,33). Therefore, unless the athlete is in rehabilitation, moderate to high training intensity (60–80% 1RM), associated with long interset recovery (90–180 seconds), should be prioritized to address hypertrophy development and ensure adequate technical and physical preparation for maximal strength training. From this perspective, athletes should have their own adequate strength training equipment (e.g., weightlifting shoes, straps, and belt, if necessary) and be able to assist their training partners as spotters when using heavy loads. They should also know their personal records and be able to read and understand the training programs by themselves. This process enables the S&C coach to focus on technical cues, training load adjustment, and motivational support. Tables 7 and 8 provide an example of lower- and upper-body muscular hypertrophy sessions, respectively, prescribed during stage 3. A split routine strategy has been chosen because this allows a higher volume of work to be performed by the targeted muscles and longer recovery time between training sessions (33,59).

Table 7

Table 7

Table 8

Table 8

When focusing on neurological development, training repetitions should be kept between 1 and 5 repetitions per set, and the interset recovery period should be longer than for hypertrophy methods (180–300 seconds) to enable implementation of a higher training intensity (>85% 1RM) (39,63). Accordingly, a recent study has proposed the use of the rating of perceived exertion, based on the repetitions in reserve system, as a method to calibrate the training load of the prescribed exercises (32). This seems a pertinent tool for adjusting the parameters to the daily fitness level while maintaining the training goal (32). However, this training method requires training experience and should be introduced progressively to ensure that players have integrated this principle. When considering optimal strength development and fatigue management, the global training volume is an essential parameter and should be monitored weekly (25,29). Although maximal strength development is the main objective of this training phase, Olympic-style weightlifting movements are still present in the training program. This strategy allows the athlete to master technical proficiency with progressively increasing loads and develop explosive strength. Similarly, low- to moderate-intensity level plyometrics, such as single- and double-leg hops, hurdle jumps, and jump squats should be incorporated in the training program to improve muscular power (42) and prepare the athlete for the upcoming training stage. Tables 9 and 10 provide an example of lower- and upper-body strength sessions, respectively, prescribed during stage 3. As for the hypertrophy sessions, the French Rugby Union typically uses a split routine strategy. The lower-body strength session is generally performed at the beginning of the week, 36–48 hours following the preceding game, to allow for sufficient recovery (65) and limit potential negative interactions with high-intensity in-field sessions (e.g., speed work and fitness games) performed later in the week.

Table 9

Table 9

Table 10

Table 10

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STAGE 4

GLOBAL TRAINING OBJECTIVES

Muscular power output is defined as the force applied multiplied by the velocity of the movement and is one of the main determinants of athletic performance (52), especially in rugby union (6). Improvement in muscular power represents the final step of the physical development pathway (6,8,13,30,37,61,62). Maximal power output depends on each movement pattern and individual strength levels but is generally achieved with a load equivalent to 30–50% of maximal strength capacity (6). This phenomenon is highlighted by the force-velocity-power relationship (52). Because rugby union performance requires the ability to exert power against a large spectrum of external resistances (e.g., mauls, scrums, running, jumping, and kicking) (6,17), both the strength and velocity parts of the force-velocity curve should be implemented in the resistance training program to enable optimal development of muscular power capacity (52). The strength and power developmental pathway has been designed to build a solid foundation of educational and technical skills and strength level to optimize specific explosive strength and power development targeted during the fourth stage (8,18,30,61). However, as muscular power and RFD with high loads are essential physical determinants for high-level rugby players, maximal strength development should remain an important focus (5). At this stage, periodizing and individualizing training loads allow consideration of interindividual variations in training responses and optimize the subsequent adaptations (10).

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TRAINING PRINCIPLES

According to the principle of progressive overload, increasing training loads is necessary to improve strength and power capacity among high-level athletes (23). In other words, players need to train more to improve strength and power. However, the growing importance of local and international competitions during this phase could limit the ability of players to sustain increased training loads and, therefore, raise questions about their capacity to improve strength and power levels (3). Strength training frequency should comprise between 3 and 5 weekly sessions and be adjusted according to the competitive schedule. Different periodization strategies (e.g., linear periodization, block pattern, and undulating) should be considered to optimize training adaptations (10). Training volume will be adjusted according to maintenance or developmental period. Through information gleaned from scientific recommendations (1,59) combined with our practical experience, we advocate that a weekly training volume of 10–15 sets of maximal strength is needed to allow for upper- and lower-body strength maintenance. On the other hand, developing maximal strength and power capacities would require 15–30 sets per week and 20–30 sets per week, respectively. Besides traditional resistance training exercises, reducing the ROM, adding external resistance through the use of chains and elastic bands, also called variable resistance training, or alternating a maximal strength oriented load with a lighter load (contrast method) have been shown to be very effective in stimulating neuromuscular adaptations and maximizing transfer in sport-specific performance (5,54,60). Some authors also propose the use of movement velocity to provide visual feedback to the athlete and to adjust the load lifted according to movement velocity (35,64). This training method, called velocity-based training, has been shown to optimize maximal power output development (35). When considering strength and power transfer, exercise specificity is an essential parameter (69). In rugby training, this implies integration of horizontal-based movements such as sled pushing or pulling as these are more consistent with sprinting activities and specific rugby skills (e.g., tackling) (50).

We recommend implementation of power and explosive training sessions when athletes are physically and mentally fresh to ensure optimal stimulation of the neuromuscular system. During the competitive season, a minimal period of 48 hours after game seems necessary for adequate neuromuscular recovery (65). Power training exercises will typically include 3–5 sets with 1–5 repetitions for weightlifting movements and 3–8 repetitions for plyometric and ballistic movements (5,34). Training intensity should be adjusted according to the part of the force-velocity curve toward which the exercise is focused (52). When considering playing position, it is clear that forwards are more engaged in static and contact phases and backs in high-speed running activities (17). Therefore, forwards should place more emphasis on the development of maximal strength and power output against high loads. Backs should mainly focus on maximal power and RFD development (17). In forwards, this is translated into performing more lower-body strength and heavy weightlifting movements and backs performing contrast training to potentiate power performance and plyometric drills to major reactive strength and RFD. Tables 11–15 present an example of resistance training sessions prescribed during a competitive microcycle for players engaged in stage 4. Positional differences and needs between backs and forwards are displayed in the first training session (Table 11), where the training objective is mainly focusing on maximal strength and explosive power with high loads for forwards, while the emphasis is placed on explosive power and RFD for the backs.

Table 11

Table 11

Table 12

Table 12

Table 13

Table 13

Table 14

Table 14

Table 15

Table 15

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HOW TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE COMPLEXITY OF INDIVIDUAL PROGRESSION ACROSS THE DEVELOPMENTAL PATHWAY?

A question remains about the management of nonlinear acquisition of educational, technical, and physical goals. What should be the strategy of the practitioner facing a player who has only partially achieved the desired requirement in a particular stage? For example, they could have completed the educational and technical objectives without reaching the desired physical requirements. Should they keep working in that particular stage until the desired level has been fully achieved or could adjusting the training program be possible to provide adequate stimuli for each developmental objective? This type of consideration implies that S&C coaches should appropriately assess athletes' individual levels to ensure safe and optimal strength and power development. Accordingly, we consider that postural and technical proficiency should be considered the key factors of training progression. Because proper technical execution is not achieved, the S&C coach should not permit higher training loads, at least for complex and skilled exercises, although the athlete demonstrates sufficient physical competency. Similar consideration could also be afforded for players integrating the developmental pathway at older ages. It is not uncommon that players integrate academies later than ages generally prescribed (14–15 years). In this case, we recommend application of the same training principles through assessing the player to position their educational, technical, and physical competencies along the strength and power developmental pathway and consequently adjust their training objectives and methods to ensure progressive and safe overload (43).

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PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

This article aims to help optimize the intervention of S&C rugby coaches in young players by providing general resistance training guidelines. Subsequently, S&C coaches can devote much of their time to adjusting training parameters and pedagogical approaches to tailor for individual differences and needs. As stated previously, the training model and associated practical prescriptions should not be viewed as a “gold standard” or as “best practice” blueprints, but rather as a logical pathway allowing for progressive and coherent evolution of training content (44). However, education in and acquisition of proficient lifting skills before solid training overload and physical development is the cornerstone of our strength and power training philosophy and should be the main indicator of progression, especially during the first training stages. This strength and power developmental pathway should be driven by a large and experienced technical staff to provide an efficient coaching environment and build the foundation for future elite performance. Several international-level team sport clubs have already engaged in this direction designating their best coaches to work in the youngest category (55). Improving the coaching environment for youth and junior athletes (e.g., 1 S&C for 6–8 athletes) and allowing sufficient time for evaluation, individualized training, and monitoring would promote foundations for better strength and power training, thereby translating into greater performance levels during adulthood.

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CONCLUSION

As strength and power capacities take a growing importance in rugby union performance, building a specific developmental pathway represents a major concern in the quest for elite performance. To our knowledge, this is the first article to address this issue and to propose concrete and practical applications for young rugby union players, based on the training process and strategies developed internally by a rugby union major nation. This general pathway is divided into 4 main stages allowing for educational and technical efficiency in the first stage, enhancing work capacity in the second stage, building a high level of maximal strength in the third stage, and finally improving specific explosive strength and power capacity. Besides these global objectives, the evolution of this training process (i.e., accessing from one stage to another) should be based on individual progression and not only on chronological and biological age. From this perspective, supervised training sessions with qualified and experienced S&C coaches are essential to allow for individualization and sound pedagogical approaches (46,55). Finally, developing strength and power capacity represents a major challenge because of concomitant technical and energetic developmental needs (18). This type of training, recognized as concurrent training, has been shown to induce interferences in cellular signaling pathways, thereby limiting optimal adaptations in each quality (26,38). Beyond the sole development of maximal strength and power, the S&C coach will have to integrate these components into a more complex environment to maximize sport performance.

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Keywords:

long-term athletic development; rugby union; strength; power

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