There are many ways to improve the fitness of a rugby player. Depending on the position you play and the energy system you want to develop, you have endless options to get your players ready for the season. Some of the most popular methods used vary, from Tempo running, MAS running, High-intensity training, Off-feet conditioning, Tabata intervals, Small sided/ Conditioning games and even Crossfit.
The important thing to remember about choosing any conditioning method is that it addresses the correct training stimulus that will lead to the right adaptation and that it follows a logical progression. This is where I found Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) system to be very useful and effective for rugby players.
Rugby is characterized by its stop-start nature and various running speed, distances, and direction. The anaerobic nature of the game is well known, but it’s often the aerobic output that is overlooked and that we don’t get out of our normal rugby sessions. MAS training has been showed to be an effective tool to develop aerobic output and systematically getting players to run at a higher intensity.
What is MAS & how do you calculate it?
Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) is quite simply the minimal running velocity at which V02 max occurs, also known as the velocity at V02 max (vV02 max). Basically, it is simply the ‘slowest’ speed an athlete will achieve their V02 max.
Originally MAS was tested in a laboratory with gas analysis on a treadmill. From there, various running based tests have been designed for field sports that correlated with the treadmill/ gas test. Some field tests are continuous, some are intermittent, some are linear running, some are shuttle-based running, some are incremental and some are steady-paced.
Below is a table with some of the common tests used.
If you want to use a time trial, the simple 5-minute time trial has been shown to correlate very highly (r = 0.94) with MAS. If using set distances, the time taken to complete the distance should be between 5 to 7-minutes. I have found the 1200m or 1500m time trial to be useful for this, depending on how fit you players are and how you conduct the running sessions (shuttle or linear running). The last two seasons I did not have access to a track, so we had to do our test as a long shuttle. I modified the 1500m test to a 15 x 100m shuttle on the rugby field and it took my players between 6-7min to complete.Personally, I prefer using linear, incremental, continuous tests. This is simply because the moment you start using a shuttle base test, it has an anaerobic component to it and you would have to bring some adjustments to your test score to calculate a true MAS. Also, S&C coaches have to consider how they are planning to do their conditioning session and try and keep the test as close as possible to the way they are going to train the players.
MAS is expressed as the speed (km/h or meter /sec) a player run. So if it took a player 6min20 to complete the 1500m, that is converted into sec (380 sec). To determine players running speed simply dived the running distance by the time in sec (1500m/380 = 3.95 m/sec)
This player 100% MAS would be 3.95 meters per sec.
So why is this MAS speed important? It has been determined that performing a number of short intervals at > 100% MAS was a more effective method of building aerobic power than the more traditional continues long running. It was also determined that intensity of 120% MAS, followed by short rest intervals, allowed the greatest supra-maximal training stimulus (intensity x volume). The ideal protocol was MAS @ 120% for 15-30sec, followed by passive rest for 15-30 sec, continuing for 5-10min.
There are a few different protocols that can be used based on your conditioning status, space and time available and what your specific adaptation goals are. I had a look at them and the once I have used here (Conditioning programs using various MAS protocols)
Below is an 8-week protocol I have used in the pre-season with my player the last couple of year with some good results.
Test: 1500m shuttle (15 x 100m)
Split players into 6 groups according to times (distance /sec):
Week 1-2: Running will be at 100% MAS. The run would be continues for 3min to start building some running capacity in the players. This will be followed by a 3min rest period in which players will do some static skills with the coaches. We typically split the group in 2 (forwards & backs) and the one group will run while the other group does skills. We will progress from six sets of 3min in week one to eight sets of 3min in week two.
Week 3-4: Running intensity will be lifted to 120% of MAS. Players will run for 15sec followed by 15sec passive rest. This is done for 4min (8 x 15sec run) before a 2min break and repeated three times. During week three we did 3 x 4 min and week four progress to 3 x 5min.
Week 5 we re-tested the MAS to see if there was an improvement and to adapt to player new MAS scores. Players would be divided into new groups (hopefully moving up) and then go straight into the session. Doing the test can easily serve as a warm up for the session and we used it some time as a warm up for the fitness session. Do the test; put them into their groups and go.
Week 5-6: Running intensity stay at 120%, but we did 4 x 5min in week five and 4 x 6min in week 6.
Week 7-8: During the last 2 weeks we upped the intensity to 140% MAS. The running was done as a shuttle (out and back) and there was an active rest between runs. This was done to target the anaerobic system a bit more as we progressed towards the season.
The session looked as follow; 20s run; 40sec rest (10 push up) for 5-6min. There was a 1.5 min break between sets and repeated 3-4 times.
Below is the template used during the pre-season: