Dragons have just completed their second week of pre-season as the countdown to the new Guinness PRO14 and European Challenge Cup gets underway.
With the season kicking off later this year due to the Rugby World Cup taking place in Japan, Dragons Head of Strength & Conditioning Ryan Harris, shared an insight for supporters into the team's preparations and how he plans to keep it fresh and innovative for the playing squad.
It’s a long pre-season this year so how difficult has it been it to plan?
It’s certainly elongated because of the Rugby World Cup and the league starting later, but while it brings challenges there are also some luxuries.
Normally time is an issue, trying to fit everything in, so what we can work on is player’s weaknesses and focus on that.
If a player needs to put some mass on we can spend a good four weeks working on that programme before they move onto a strength or power programme.
Normally we have to train concurrently with their running load or speed work, depending on where that sits within our plans.
For example, we could do eight gym sessions a week with some players and a lower running load to serve that purpose. You have to look at this long pre-season as a positive and use it to our benefit.
Are there certain objectives to the first block and opening month in camp?
The current theme is individualised, but predominately we are working on either guys increasing mass or increasing strength.
Around 95% of our squad will need to get stronger or get bigger in some capacity. So this first block is about attaining that.
In terms of planning, has it taken longer to organise because of the time challenges?
We sat down early on with the medical and the rugby departments and ensured we aligned everything so we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of every player.
We have to plan an individual programme for every player for eight to 12 weeks and then look at how one block interacts with the next and how one day interacts with the next. It’s important we get that right.
How important is keeping the players stimulated and avoiding repetition?
We’ve done a few things to make sure we avoid anything getting stale. Dean Ryan has come in and told us to align our week and make it different. So we now have Mondays and Tuesdays here before we go off-site on Wednesdays.
It’s about taking the players to a different environment, hearing a different voice maybe, and giving them certain challenges and experiences together.
We have to make sure we break-up any monotony of being in the same place at the same time every week.
Thursdays and Fridays are back at Ystrad Mynach so we’re doing five consecutive days, as opposed to a two days on and one day off routine.
With new guys coming into the group these challenges off-site make sure that everyone knows each other, gets chatting, is vocal and, most of all, enjoys their training.
What kind of Wednesday challenges do you have lined up?
All the off-site work has an underlying physical element to it, but it is also about getting them working together in different scenarios they may not have experienced before.
We’ve been to Cwmcarn Forest, a nice centre in the region in conjunction with the council, where we’ve done some orienteering, paddle boarding and mountain biking.
That was a nice ice breaker for the first session. We dropped the pin, only told them were to meet us the day before and when they arrived they were told what they were doing. It was outside the box and something the boys were not expecting.
We’ve also been to Newport MMA to work with Tim Newman and we have a few more surprises up our sleeves.
It will all be physical, but there might be some more team building challenges, working things out together because ultimately that is what they have to do on the field.
Everyone expects pre-season to be gruelling, but how much is keeping them on their toes and motivated?
The modern rugby player has so many facets with physical components and mental components – it is about working all of them.
We want to give them experiences that tests that - it doesn’t have to be on the pitch or inside a gym.
We have to think outside the box to give them mental and physical challenges that will push them, but that also give them memories they enjoy and ensure they are close as a group as the season goes on.
How much are you enjoying working with Dean Ryan and has he given you any specific instructions?
We’ve had really good in-depth meetings and he wants to put our key attributes on show. We’ve been told to go and do what our strengths are as an S&C coach, rugby coach or medical member of staff.
We want to make our players the most robust and rounded we can. This first block we are working on the individual, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and Dean is pulling it all together to make sure our philosophy is aligned.
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