If I’ve done my job in explaining the concepts behind position specific training, you should be well up speed by now. If you haven’t read them already or you need refreshing on the concepts, you can check out part 1 and part 2 of the series here (part 1) and here (part 2), but here is the idea in a nutshell:
- Strength and power in the big lifts in the gym form a great foundation for rugby performance.
- To fully realise your physical potential as a rugby player you eventually need to transfer this foundation to power output on the field
- In each position there are specialist skills which largely determine your effectiveness in your position. These drills should receive special emphasis in the training programme to raise power output.
Second row and back row demands
In the first two weeks of the series we looked at the front row. This was a good, easy start, because the arguments about what front row players must specialise in are fairly simple. If you are a prop who can’t scrummage or a hooker who can’t nail a line out throw, you’re not very good- no debate!
In this weeks instalment we will discussing the positional needs and training of both the second and back rows. I have lumped these positions because there is often a great deal of similarity between these positions in terms of their roles on the field and the build of the players. This is evidenced by the ability of many players- specialists excluded- to switch back and forth between the second and back row as needed by the their teams.
As you can imagine there is also a lot more scope for debate about how a back row or second row player should specialise. As I’ve stated in previous instalments I always think that special strength drills should be about securing the set piece and the breakdown. For this reason I’ve selected the lineout jump and rucking as key on-field movements for both the second and back row positions; the lineout because it is the set piece, and the ruck because of it’s much higher incidence in the match compared to the ruck. Personally I think the order of importance for second row is lineout jumping followed by rucking, with the reverse being true for back row players.
No doubt there are people out there who may disagree with me based on tactical or philosophical differences. Some may believe the tackle is of greater importance to their back row players. Some may think that ball carrying takes higher precedence than rucking for second row players. Others may choose to specialise training according to the individual strengths and weaknesses of the players they have in front of them.
Whatever you want to emphasise in your programme, the take home message is this:
- Identify the movement characteristics of the skill using the criteria discussed in part 1
- Identify the strength abilities that underpin performance in your skill
- Select exercises that allow you to overload those strength abilities whilst sharing a large number of movement characteristics with the skill in question
Let’s begin by taking a look at the lineout jump:
The lineout jump is pretty much made for plyometric training. All of the elements that plyometrics train- coordination, utilising the elastic energy of the body’s tissues, exploiting the stretch reflex at high speed- are all present in the lineout jump. For this reason I’ve selected a plyometric exercise, namely the shock medicine ball vertical toss, as my favourite lineout jumping specific exercise.
To perform this drill select a box of moderate height (around 30-50cm), and stand on the box holding a 5-7kg medicine ball. Step (don’t jump) off the box into a medium width athletic stance. As quickly as possible and minimising contact time on the floor, reach back and down between your legs with the medicine ball, then toss it into the air as high as possible. Step back up on to the box and repeat.
The advantage of this drill over regular medicine ball tosses or jump variations is that stepping off the box provides a high degree of muscular stretch just like a real jump. The use of a medicine ball also forces you to coordinate your upper and lower body to create maximal force, again like a real jump. I recommend you perform two to four sets of 6-10 repetitions with full rest periods of 3-4 minutes between sets. To progress this exercise look first to step off a higher box before increasing the load of the ball.
I will add a caveat here: implementing plyometrics properly in a programme are actually a bit longer and more complicated a process than many people think. The exercise below is just one piece of the puzzle, and obviously you’ll need other exercises in your programme to cover all your bases. In the interests of brevity I’ll limit myself to one exercise only today. If you’d like more information you can check out the Rugby Strength Coach blog.
In my opinion the ruck is a slightly more contentious skill to programme than others due to it’s highly variable nature. Sometimes you may ruck straight through the middle, another to the side. Sometimes you may have to resist opposition players trying to pull you to the floor, another you may have to get lower to get underneath a player attempting to jackal. The exercise I’ve selected here is with what I consider to be the most common form of ruck in mind: head on, attempting to drive an opposing player backward.
My favoured exercise for developing ruck specific power is the prowler push with a heavy weighted vest. It allows you to train the lower body in a highly similar fashion to the ruck whilst using a load similar to that of an opposing player. In this drill the upper body is forced to contract isometrically and transmit the force of the lower body. The heavy weighted vest serves to provide a resistance that the body has to generate vertical force against, similar to that of an opposing player.
To perform the prowler push, first make sure you are performing the drill on a suitable surface. Concrete or tarmac works best. Rubber provides way too much friction, and grass is far too uneven. Next, load up the prowler with 100-150kg of load, then stick on a weighted vest- the heavier the better.
Your goal is to push the prowler as far as you can in 6 seconds. This is the duration that coincides with peak power output of the alactic energy system, which is the system you’ll typically rely on in explosive efforts like rucking. Shoot for 6-10 sets of 6s with 3-4 minute recoveries between sets.
If you want to progress this exercise, utilise a heavier prowler load whilst aiming to cover the same distance in 6s. If the movement becomes excessively slow or your distance drops off a cliff, the load is too heavy. If you don’t have a prowler or a weighted vest, you can replicate this exercise by pushing a car and using a backpack filled with weights worn back to front in place of the vest.
If you’d like to give some feedback or ask a question, leave a comment below. Check back next week when I’ll be discussing position specific strength training for fly halves and scrum halves.