by Marcus Leach
To compete at the top in any sport requires athletes to be in the best possible physical condition, and rugby league is no exception. In fact, given the nature of the game, some would argue the fitness levels of players needs to be even higher than other sports.
One man who knows all about ensuring players are in peak physical condition to play rugby league at the highest level is Josh Taylor, Strength & Conditioning Coach at Salford Red Devils. The Essential Cyclist caught up with him to find out just what it takes to get a Super League team into shape.
What is your personal sporting background?
Pretty diverse to be honest, I started playing rugby union as an 8 year old at a local junior club, but after a year or so decided I wanted to try other sports and got involved with swimming. I always swam from an early age and competed at squad level from the age of 8, competing in Yorkshire championships until age 11. From there I had a spell in football before heading back to rugby, league this time which In stuck with right up to a couple of years back. Taking it back up at 13 I had a few junior seasons left where I represented Kirklees service area before moving onto college where I played for Yorkshire colleges and as a result was selected for England colleges in the European Championships held in Prague, Czech Republic. I gained a rugby league scholarship to Northumbria University, Newcastle, where I represented England Students in a Home Nations tournament and signed for Gateshead Thunder.
What role specific qualifications do you have?
I have a BSc Applied Sports Science with coaching where my main emphasis and research area was exercise physiology based particularly around strength and power in rugby league. I also have a Post Graduate certificate in strength and conditioning.
What was your career path into strength and conditioning?
I began as a placement student during my second year at university where I spent 6 weeks with Huddersfield Giants, this gave me a massive insight into the physical demands of strength and conditioning and in particular how it was implemented within professional sport. Once my placement had finished I stayed on as a volunteer throughout the summer until I began my third academic year at Northumbria. Luckily a couple of months before graduating I was offered the job as head of youth strength and conditioning with the Giants, which gave me the responsibly of two scholarship teams along with an under 19’s academy team which began as soon as I completed my degree. I stayed there for the next sixteen months before moving on to Salford Red Devils as first team assistant strength and conditioning coach.
What does your role at Salford Red Devils entail?
My initial role is to assist the head of strength and conditioning and sports science Rich Hunwicks with the planning and delivery of field and gym based sessions. Delving in a little deeper on a daily basis I plan and deliver strength/power based programmes primarily for the forwards in the team, on and off field conditioning sessions, warm-ups, speed and agility. Further to this I handle the GPS data after each session where we monitor the loading of the players through total distances covered, maximum speeds, accelerations, collisions, and finally offer nutritional support through food and supplementation.
How do you plan the players' training? Is it periodised?
It is very much periodised, months in advance in most cases. There are many determinants of what phase you may be in at any one particular time, such as what part of the season you are in, if the player is injured, what day a fixture is to be played and so on. In general pre-season is very much a foundational phase where initial strength development will take place along with generalised conditioning trying to build an aerobic base to be developed by proceeding cycles/phases. In season is very much about maintaining the gains you have made during the pre-season. Although it is possible to develop strength and power during season it is much harder. This is due to injuries as mentioned, fixture timings and the stress placed upon the body during an 80 minute game on average every seven days, but can be as short as five or even three over the easter period.
What would a typical week entail?
If we have played Sunday a typical week would start Monday morning with a recovery based session in the pool where players will be taken through a variety of movements under light resistance to mobilise and get the body moving again following the game. Tuesday would typically be off, 48 hours post game is where we tend to find the players are most effected by game soreness so by having this down time allows them to recover and regenerate.
Wednesday will be our first training day of the week generally which will always being with a prehab session followed by weights where strength maintenance/power will be addressed. After the weights sessions the players are provided with lunch around midday followed by a video session and out onto the field for skills. Once skills has finished, the players will go into a three group rotation of stretch, ice baths and flush out on the stationary bikes. Thursday will be almost identical to Wednesday.
Friday is a day off and Saturday will tend to be team run. No gym based session on this day for the nineteen man playing squad, but a field session consisting of skills and final preparations for the following days game will be carried out. This is followed by the same protocol as Wednesday on the three group recovery rotation. Sunday will be game day. This is a general guide for a Sunday to Sunday fixture, as mentioned this may be subject to change depending on what day the game will be played.
Is most of the strength work done in the off-season?
Strength is emphasised all year round and is a big part of what we do, whether it be maintenance, development or maximal there is a time and a place for them all throughout the year. However, that being said the off season is a great time in the year to get higher volume into the players, this may be manipulated by amount of days they lift, number of exercises selected, sets and repetitions done within the session. The volume tends to be higher during the off season phase as players don’t have the demand of playing a game every week. In season to accommodate the volume of a game, strength volume will be dropped and enter a more maintenance phase.
Does the work you do differ from player-to-player? If so, how and why?
The most generic split is forwards and backs. Backs will often tend to cover more distance particularly in a game due to forwards taking up the majority of the interchanges. Taking that into account a lot of the forwards high intensity efforts will be short in nature (10-15 meters) and the backs longer sometimes up to 40 meters in a single effort. When developing weights programmes in season forwards will carry out Olympic based movements in the form of cleans and snatch variations at loads dependent on the individuals needs and also around the body weights of players they will be playing against. Being able to handle this weight in the gym has a transfer on to the field. Backs tend to be the quicker players within the team so again Olympic lifts are utilised for power development along with plyometric based activity minimising ground contact time which carries over in to sprinting ability.
How do you as coaches prepare the team for games?
This again goes down how many days we have before the next game but depending what the nature of the game is may influence the volume and intensities of the sessions. For example if you are preparing for a cup game, or team at the top end of the table, lowering the volume so the players are fresher is always an option. The opposite of this is if you are playing a so called 'lesser' team, this may be a time where your volume is increased as the game may not be quite as demanding.
How important is the club's partnership with USN?
Vital, although we as coaches encourage getting most nutrients from whole foods there is absolutely a time and a place for supplements. For example whether it be general well being we are looking for, products such as multiplex sport and triple omega are ideal. Lean weight maintenance in the form of premium whey protein and casein and lean weight gain/recovery in the form of muscle fuel anabolic/R3 Excel along with creatine monohydrate. The guys at USN cater for every need possible and the vast range of products mean no stone is left unturned and each and every player is given the best supplementation support needed to achieve their goal. Further to this what I like most about USN is they listen, they are constantly asking how their products can be improved to meet our demands and delivery every single time, awesome products.
To find out more about what supplements USN offer click here.