Notes From Stuart Yule: Physical Preparation of a Professional Rugby Team

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Stuart Yule (follow him on Twitter @stuartmyule) is currently the Head Strength and Conditioning coach at Glasgow Warriors. Prior to working in professional rugby, Stuart was a lead S&C coach in both the Scottish and English Institutes of sport. Within these roles he worked with a range of sports including being lead S&C coach for the GB judo. He is a graduate in physiotherapy which has enabled him to take a holistic approach to the athletic development of athletes and an understanding of the whole performance process. In addition Stuart has competed at 2 commonwealth games for Olympic weightlifting 1998 and 2002. Currently Stuart enjoys training for and competing in U90kg strongman which enables him to continually challenge and improve his own strength and conditioning practice and his philosophy on training and physical adaptation.

Stuart spoke at the 2013 UKSCA Conference about his work with the Glasgow Warriors and introduced some of the key concepts that they utilise. Stuart provided a fascinating insight into the real life workings of an elite team with the incumbent challenges and solutions. Below are my notes from the session:

Whatever it takes

  • Stuart has a wide range of influences as can be seen from his bio above
  • He competed in his first weightlifting competition aged 13 (His twin brother who also competed posted a page from his training diary aged 13 click here!)
  • In the Institutes (SIS/EIS) you sometimes don’t appreciate the support & expertise around you
  • Strongman & competing is a key part of his practice & thinking
  • Always learning – little things all the time prompt thought & reflection
  • Look to other sports/areas for influences – different cultures, practices etc. that can be adopted/adapted
  • Sport Coaches have a big influence especially Gregor Townsend (Head Coach at GW) as he embraces all his support staff
  • Now in his 5th season. First season they had split sites: 1 for Physical Preparation work & 1 for Rugby
  • This resulted in a split in thinking & practice but they finished 3rd in the league
  • The following season they moved to an integrated facility but finished 11th (second bottom)
  • They had taken the disjointed approach with them BUT this stimulated change
  • Players drove the process
  • Gregor Townsend created the idea of a “Triple Impact Player”:
    1. Improve yourself
    2. Improve your team mates
    3. Improve the club
  • When they first started there were no clear roles & responsibilities for staff
  • Now there is a published structure which is integrated into the performance process
  • All monitoring is directed, managed & reviewed by the whole coaching team in collaboration with local Universities who provide equipment & analysis tools & expertise
  • All elements of the program fit together in a cog approach

Yule

  • Environment & culture is key but if you have too many rules they are more likely to be broken
  • There is no need to write down many of the professional behaviours as the players know & enforce these themselves
  • Teamwork such as spotting & coaching each other was slightly lacking which surprised Stuart coming from an individual sport where these behaviours were commonplace so he expected it in a team environment
  • They now get involved with a focus on coaching each other as peer influence is often higher
  • Standards are set by day to day behaviour – “We squat to depth” etc.
  • Took the concept of the Agoge from the movie 300 so that Standards, Discipline & Learning became the culture
  • “Whatever it takes” – if a player was put in Fat Club due to returning from off season in poor shape & asked “What do you want me to do today?” the answer is “Whatever it takes for you to not be fat!”
  • Puts onus on players – “What do you think you need to do?” Players take ownership of the process & are educated
  • Players are required to give presentations to team mates on topics such as “The Role of Insulin” or “The Importance of Range of Motion in Exercises”
  • Competition is a key element of team culture – records board, rankings & a PB bell rung prior to taking an attempt
  • The S&C Training Philosophy:
    • Principle based approach – prescriptions change, principles don’t
    • Raising physical capacity & adaptive level – a sloth can hang from a tree all day – Higher 1RM creates a higher day to day base BUT no point in trying to improve the capacity of a quality you haven’t developed!
    • Intent to improve
    • Mastery of technique
    • Transfer of training effect
    • Keep it Simple! In order to know what works & what doesn’t – a commonality of successful people
  • Principles are:
    • Very rarely go to maximum due to stresses of playing rugby
    • 70% to 90% Upper Body, 60% to 85% Lower Body
    • Vary volume
  • Exercise categorisation:
    • Critical – squat, clean, bench press, chin up, consistent throughout program
    • Assistance – cycled as necessary to provide volume
    • Position Specific – integrated according to volume of skills & playing load
    • Conditioning – volumes manipulated & prioritised as necessary
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  • Block Training Method – Preparatory, Intensification, Realisation – each block 4 weeks followed by deload week
  • Preparatory Block – 70-80% for 3 to 10 sets of 3 to 6 reps
  • Intensification Block – 80-85% for 3 to 6 sets of 3 to 5 reps
  • Realisation Block – 85-95% for 2 to 5 sets of 1 to 3 reps
  • Deload Week – 55-65% for 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Program has seen consistent improvements in measures of strength, speed & conditioning across all five seasons
  • Future:
    • Continue Learning
    • Occlusion
    • Heart Rate Variability
    • Reduce daily monitoring variables
    • Improve & Win

 My Thoughts

A great presentation which was very well received by all the delegates I spoke to due to the ego free approach Stuart has to laying bare his program. As a former member of the SIS & EIS the common themes of evidence based practice rooted in the realities of working day to day in elite sport were clear & very interesting to see.

While Stuart laid out in detail the specifics of his programs I found his principles and culture/environment most interesting. I particularly liked his comment that while prescriptions change, principles don’t. I have heard many coaches such as Louie Simmons say that while anyone can copy their program no-one will obtain the same results as they cannot recreate the atmosphere & culture. From another perspective there are many successful teams that have diametrically opposed programs (for example those that use predominantly Olympic Weightlifting vs those that won’t use it at all) but the one thing they always have in common is a strong overall program & culture.

When I first started out in physical preparation I was obsessed with the details of the various elite programs (e.g. what lifts, sets, reps they were using and why) but as I progress further into my journey I am coming to the opinion that these matter far less than the overall program management and culture. Why argue over whether 3 or 5 reps is better when the real question may be whether the athletes should be lifting that day at all? Also many inexperienced coaches are only interested in these details to see if they can copy & paste it into their situation – as I pointed out in Cargo Cult Coaching this is a dangerous approach.

Stuart’s strong desire to continually learn & improve as a coach & team are another key point and commonality among successful coaches.

Finally a quick point that a colleague and I had a very brief chat in the bar with Stuart after the conference & it was extremely pleasing to find another elite coach who is so giving of their time & information. I doubt he remembers speaking to me as there were so many people angling for a chat but thanks Stuart!

The “Triple Impact Player” and “Whatever it Takes” are great concepts are clearly working well at Glasgow.

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