It is 2012, which means the southern hemisphere will soon start to emerge from a summer slumber and start preparing for a new rugby year. But how do the players go about preparing for yet another blockbusting season?
Michael de Vries spoke to former Springbok strength coach Steve McIntyre about pre-season preparation as the top players 'down south' contemplate a 2012 season that will run right through from mid-February to late November.
Although hardcore fans in the southern hemisphere might be anxiously sitting through the brief 'off-season' and hooked on 2011 replays, the players themselves have been busy putting in the hard work to ensure they come through what will be a relentless feast of top-class rugby in 2012.
So how exactly is a pre-season structured, and what type of work are the players actually putting in before the season proper?
McIntyre, who worked with the Springbok team in 2006 and in 2007 (when they won the World Cup under Jake White), gave this website a bit of an insight into the aims of a pre-season and how professional teams would go about planning to get their players in top - and, hopefully, trophy-winning - shape.
First of all, McIntyre clarified exactly what the strength and conditioning training that the players were doing with their different franchises - before the Christmas/New Year break - was trying to achieve.
He explained: "When you break rugby down from a conditioning perspective the modern game is all about size, speed, power and endurance. These components all need to be addressed in the conditioning plan of the player based on what their individual specific needs are.
"The goal of the pre-season is to get your self into the best possible physical condition and optimally develop the skills needed specific to rugby," said McIntyre.
Bearing this in mind, the first step is usually to lay a foundation of fitness which will typically follow the period the players have been given to recover from the season before and will be done before the Christmas break.
"Pre-season usually begins with higher-volume and lower-intensity physical conditioning and skill work. As the season approaches, the intensity of physical conditioning increases and the volume decreases.
"The training done in the pre-season becomes increasingly more specific to the actual activities needed in rugby," said McIntyre.
This means that the players will build up their endurance by doing a lot of "rugby specific" running and work in the gym "using the correct progressions specific to the individual".
McIntyre explained: "Muscle and strength built in the off-season is maximised and converted to power. Endurance work done lays the foundation for high intensity anaerobic work and quality speed and speed endurance training.
"Agility is also worked on aggressively during the pre-season while core strength and stability should remain a component of your training all year round," he said.
The players work through programmes that see them develop their anaerobic endurance or alactic and lactic energy systems. This means working through different drills which will target these systems specifically.
The alactic system is trained through explosive techniques like sprint repeats, maximum strength and power training and last 100-200 seconds per burst with eight to ten repetitions.
The lactic acid training will increase the players' endurance levels with exercises such as shuttle runs, circuit work and game-specific drills. Each training session will last six to eight minutes and will be repeated 12 to 15 times.
On top of the skills work and running out on the field, pre-season also obviously includes spending some quality time in the gym as players aim to increase their size, muscle-strength and power.
"During pre-season players will usually be doing three to four gym sessions per week of about an hours duration each, this can vary based on individual needs," said McIntyre.
Some players will be arriving back at squad training from their year-end breaks as early as this week. Some of these teams will be taking body fat percentages of their players to ensure that things did not get too festive at the end of 2011, as with all of the non-stop rugby lined up this year the big names will have to be in the shape of their lives if they are going to last the pace.
* Look out for part two of our interview with Steve McIntyre in which he looks ahead at the 2012 schedule and gives his views on player burn-out and the ongoing management of their physical condition.
By Michael de Vries
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