Dean Benton & John Pryor
Defence tactics and techniques in contemporary rugby have become very effective in recent years. These approaches will no doubt continue and even get better towards in coming years. Speed, in particular, lateral speed has always been valued by rugby coaches as a means of aiding attacking rugby.
By taking principles and techniques from the vertical and horizontal jump events in athletics, it enables us to look at lateral speed in rugby with fresh eyes. It may be a case we have not afforded loose forwards, the most damaging ball runners in rugby, the most appropriate training to develop lateral speed. Research has shown that reactive strength, which is the fastest expression of leg power is the quality that most relates to effective change of direction (Young
2002). The quality of reactive strength is best attained by jumping, hopping and bounding exercises with contact times of ≤250milliseconds.
Rectilinear external resistance constitutes the predominant strength training direction with rugby forwards today. If we were to only take into account the contact aspects of the game this is comprehensible. However, if the only resistance training modality prescribed for running athletes is weightlifting – then all you will end up with is weightlifters.
In order to improve lateral speed and ultimately attacking rugby with loose forwards a paradigm shift in training methods is required. Generalising elite player testing data suggests that loose forwards attain the highest momentum rating at the gain line of all positions. As such, it can be inferred these players’ momentum rating could range from
680-780 kg.m.s-1 at 10m after a standing start. Therefore, if a larger component of resistance training is directed more towards more specific strength qualities then conceptually these players will be able to move laterally with greater magnitude in less time when ball carrying in attack situations.
The integration of science into sport has allowed us to refine the difference between strength and power, which has permitted more concise training direction for sports and individuals. Gambetta (2002) described power in simple terms as, “the amount strength you can use in the time constraint of your sport”. However, in order to best direct training to develop speed qualities, power as a general definition must also further refined:
- Elastic strength – more an expression of general leg powe Typically measured as a vertical jump
- Reactive strength – the ability to produce high levels of force in very short time constraints, such as foot strike when stepping an opponent
General leg strength and leg power training modalities typically return good improvements in elastic strength. It is possible and common for a player to have good elastic strength, but poor reactive strength. However, reactive strength as an athletic quality is typically what separates the average rugby athlete to the very good rugby athlete.
Linear speed is an important quality to develop. Mainly as linear speed should be seen as a prerequisite for lateral speed development, as both qualities require similar attributes. However, linear acceleration and top speed should not be an endless pursuit. Once linear speed qualities are deemed optimal, energy loss minimization, redirection and enhancement training should become more important. The three respective examples being:
- 1. Energy loss minimization – as in an 180deg shuttle type turn
- 2. Energy redirection – as in a 45deg step at speed
- 3. Energy enhancement – when striding and then reaccelerating around an arch
Contemporary programming and periodisation asserts that in order to remain competent at a skill, or maintain a quality you should programme it all year round. This is also pertinent to both lateral and linear speed training. However, it certainly makes sense to profile individual players and programme to their positional and individual needs.
Dutch athletics coach and biomechanist, Frans Bosch’s recent work with Wales’s George North has demonstrated some astonishing results in terms of lateral speed with a player weighing 105kg. There is no reason why Bosch’s innovative methods cannot be extended to larger ball running players. Currently ‘agility’ training methods involving step ladders and agility poles bear little resemblance to the skill, context and importantly ground forces that must be tolerated with rapid change of direction with loose forwards.
Individual players and teams may not have the ability or trainability to improve linear speed significantly, but lateral speed with larger ball-running forwards presents as a meaningful opportunity. If this is realized it would present as a considerable tactical opportunity to draw defenders and break defences open.
For tactical changes to be meaningful and lasting they should be preceded with a foundation of physical development. Experience has shown this can take 12 to 24 months depending on the athletic quality.
Forwards as a positional group in general may have been underestimated in terms of what they can tolerate and must tolerate insofar as elastic and reactive strength training in order to facilitate effective lateral speed. Nonetheless, taking training exercises, training loads and training volumes directly from jumping athletes in athletics is folly. However, many exercises and surfaces can be modified for players of mass ranges of 100-116kg to permit a significant training effect.
Experience and empirical evidence has demonstrated the primary contributing factors to effective lateral speed are in order of priority:
- Relative leg power (specifically reactive strength and somewhat elastic strength)
- Integrity and coordination of the pelvis in the frontal plane
- Leg adductor range of motion
Conversely, players with poor leg power, poor lumbo-pelvic control and adductor flexibility exhibit poor lateral speed.
|AREA of PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT||
*Jumping, hopping and bounding
|‘Option’ position & foot plant from above||
Uni/bilateral reactive strength (RSI)
Resisted lateral speed drills
|Coordination of pelvis in the frontal plane||
Elastic strength (VJ)
|Resisted drills to develop integrity &
reactivity of the hip/core
|‘Corkscrew’ turning of shoulders integrated with lateral shift||Flexibility measures of anterior, lateral hip & ankle|
Adductor flexibility & mobility
|‘Whip from the hip’ concept with ground contacts|
*Control resultant linear velocity, without comprising internal and directional force production
Bosch, F. & Klomp, R. (2005). Running: biomechanics and exercise physiology in practice, Elsevier, London. Gambetta, V. A. (2002). The Gambetta Method – A Common Sense Guide to Functional Training for Athletic
Performance. Sarasota, FL: Gambetta Sports Training.
Young, W. B., Benton, D., Duthie, G., & Pryor, J. (2001). Resistance training for short sprints and maximum-speed sprints. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23(2), 7 – 13.