Rugby has always had a strong strength training culture (no pun intended!). Since the turn of professionalism in 1995, rugby has made huge advances in strength & conditioning. And I’m proud to say that in many respects rugby is leading the way in the s&c field.
Yet, there are still some common misconceptions when it comes to strength training for rugby. Below are 5 of the most common misconceptions I see when it comes to rugby strength training.
Focusing Too Heavily On Hypertrophy
Don’t get me wrong, size does matter! Rugby players have been getting bigger and bigger. And the bigger the player the more momentum they can generate going into contact. It is a definite advantage.
But that doesn’t mean you should start lifting like a bodybuilder. This will lead to you becoming muscle bound, slow and prone to injury. In my experience whenever a player has rapidly put on muscle it has only had negative effects on their game.
Instead focus on increasing your strength and using quality nutrition. Trust me you will be surprised by how big you will get over time. Not only will you get bigger but you will be more powerful, fitter and injury resistant.
Focusing Too Heavily On Strength
Now, I might sound like I’m contradicting myself here, having just raved about strength. My point here is that strength isn’t the only thing you need to improve to be a better player come Saturday.
Research has found that elite players have similar strength levels to sub-elite players. It was their higher power that differentiated them. Of course, strength training alone will increase your power to a certain degree. Once you reach a good level of strength though, you need other methods to increase your speed, explosiveness and power.
Remember that you are training to be a rugby player not a powerlifter and on the pitch speed and power are huge. A good strength and conditioning programme will take into account all the physical qualities necessary for successful performance.
Not Using Plyometrics
This one really annoys me! Plyometrics or simply jumping are on of the most effective training tools a coach has at his disposal. Yet many avoid them for fear of injury. Especially in rugby because the athletes are so big.
Plyometrics are mostly known for increasing speed and power. But they also have been shown to improve running economy (fitness) and decrease injuries. Why wouldn’t you want that?! A plyometric action occurs whenever your foot strikes the ground. So if you can run you should be able to perform plyos, whether you’re a prop or winger.
To avoid injuries use sparingly and start with basic drills and progress slowly. Drills in sand have been shown to reduce injury risk with similar performance improvements. Skipping is another simple way to develop the ankle stiffness needed and should be your first progression.
Not Using Eccentrics & Isometrics
First a little jargon: Eccentrics are where your muscle applies force as it lengthens. Isometrics are where your muscles apply force in a static position. There done.
Both are important for change of direction speed and control (think injury prevention). Many coaches don’t emphasise these important muscle actions though. Eccentrics can cause soreness so a lot of coaches are scared of using them. But if you perform them regularly soreness can be minimised.
An effective method to utilise eccentrics and isometrics is Cal Dietz Triphasic Training. Try emphasising the eccentric portion of your lifts (5sec lowering) for 2 weeks. Then 2 weeks of isometrics (pause at bottom of lift for 5 secs). Finally perform 2 weeks of regular lifting. Use this for you main compound lifts and you are sure to make good progress.
Trying To Be Too Sport Specific
Sport specific training refers to mimicking sporting actions in the gym or loading sport specific drills. The idea is to carry over your gym strength and power gains to the pitch. In theory this sounds great. In reality I find it ineffective for two main reasons.
Firstly, sport specific exercises often end up decreasing the amount of force produced. I don’t know about you but when I go in the gym I want to produce as much force as possible and develop the ability to produce more. In my experience sport specific training actually interrupts your conventional training. This results in reduced strength and power gains. Not good!
Secondly, such drills can often teach faulty movement patterns. This can end up impairing the skill you are trying to improve. Not good either!
Bottom line, use the gym to increase strength and explosiveness which will give you greater potential to improve sport skill.
So there you have it. 5 common misconceptions in rugby strength training. Keep these in mind and take your training and performance to the next level.
Author: Jamie Bain
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Visit Jamie’s Website