As the players report back for pre-season training at Llandarcy Academy of Sport this week, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Bennett is putting the squad through a series of tests to assess their fitness levels.
With members of the Wales pre Rugby World Cup training squad absent, and the U20 players involved in the Junior World Championships now on leave, Bennett is focusing on the core group of players who are taking part in a range of activities designed to test their speed, agility and endurance. The results will then be used to shape individual training plans for the players over the coming weeks and months.
Speaking about the testing, Bennett said today:
“The testing is about making sure we have a complete understanding of where the players are individually, so that we can then tailor their programme to suit them best. It’s initially about doing a lot of basic fitness work for the first few weeks, and an assessment of the players’ condition before we decide on the direction that they need to go individually. Obviously we’ve got a good idea already, based on where they were last season, but we need up to date results to get a clear picture of how they’ve come back for pre-season.
“We’ve got a few days of assessments, and their body composition is still to be done, and hopefully, if the players have met their targets then pre-season will be a lot more pleasant for them. They’ll be able to do quality work, the agility, strength and power work that will really benefit them.
“If anyone comes back having failed to hit their basic endurance and body composition targets then it will be a difficult time for them.”
The traditional vision of pre-season training has seen players returning out of condition after a summer of relaxation, with the resulting slog seeing them being run into the ground, but Bennett says that those days are long gone:
“I’ve got to be honest, if I was to make a judgement visually, going only on what I can see and what has happened in testing so far, without having had a chance to sit down and go through all the data properly, I’d say that the players have generally come back in good shape. We’ve got nobody who appears to have come back overweight or whatever.
“It tends to be quite the opposite these days really. The players spend a lot of time working hard on their fitness, they are big and powerful, so they spend a lot of time weightlifting, and what we tend to see now is that players come back for pre-season lighter than their playing weight. Close to half the squad probably come back lighter. They need to have a bit of a break, they will go away for a holiday for a couple of weeks, and they may have three or four weeks without lifting a weight and you can lose a surprising amount of weight in this time.
“What we look to do in pre-season is look to identify any areas of weakness in an individual and then focus on a plan that will help them improve. It’s not about working them into the ground. If players can see the logic in what we are doing and how it will improve them as a player, then there is real buy-in from them. Each one will have an individual training plan based on the results we get this week, which will allow them to work on their specific needs.
“During this period we are putting down the basic building blocks which will allow you to make personal improvements. The majority of players, if they want to get better at things likes power, agility and speed, they will need to have improvements in strength, in basic gym power, and this is the time that they can do that.
“It’s very difficult to do it during the season. When they are playing games every weekend, the first part of the week will be about recovery, and in the second half you can’t push them too hard as they are preparing for the coming game, so it becomes difficult to do. That's why this time of year is so important.”