Changes in Strength Over a Two Year Period in Professional Rugby Union Players
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
ECU Health and Wellness Institute
The purpose of this study was to assess the magnitude of upper and lower body strength changes in highly trained professional rugby union players after 2 years of training. An additional purpose was to examine if the changes in strength were influenced by the starting strength level, lean mass index (LMI), or chronological age. This longitudinal investigation tracked maximal strength and body composition over 3 consecutive years in 20 professional rugby union athletes. Maximal strength in the bench press and back squat and body composition was assessed during preseason resistance training sessions each year. The athletes completed a very rigorous training program throughout the duration of this study consisting of numerous resistance, conditioning and skills training sessions every week. The primary findings of this study were as follows: (a) Maximal upper and lower body strength was increased by 6.5–11.5% after 2 years of training (p = 0.000–0.002 for bench press; p = 0.277–0.165 for squat); (b) magnitude of the improvement was negatively associated with initial strength level (r = −0.569 to −0.712, p ≤ 0.05); (c) magnitude of improvement in lower body maximal strength was positively related to the change in LMI (an indicator of hypertrophy; r = 0.692–0.880, p ≤ 0.05); and (d) magnitude of improvement was not associated with the age of professional rugby union athletes (r = −0.068 to −0.345). It appears particularly important for training programs to be designed for continued muscle hypertrophy in highly trained athletes. Even in professional rugby union athletes, this must be achieved in the face of high volumes of aerobic and skills training if strength is to be increased.