How To Get Stronger For Rugby
Strength training has become a vital component to a rugby players training programme, especially since its professionalism in 1995. Players are becoming bigger, stronger and faster all the time, which increases the demands of the game due to its physical nature. It is a never-ending circle, as players get bigger stronger and faster, it takes more strength, speed and power to either beat or defend opponents. Therefore, if you don’t keep up you will be surpassed, simple as that.
(Relevant: How To Become A Better Rugby Player)
Before delving deeper into developing strength in the modern-day player, let’s take a look at the demands of the game. Rugby is a high-intensity contact based team sport that requires players to possess numerous physical qualities to be successful, and has been shown in multiple studies that physical capacities are directly related to performance level (Smart, 2011). These physical qualities include speed, agility, power, strength and stamina (aerobic capacity). Players need to be able to tackle, scrum, ruck, maul, sprint, change direction, recover and do it all again at the same intensity, for 80 minutes. Seems easy, right? Not a chance, in my opinion it is one of the toughest sports on the planet.
(Relevant: How To Get Faster For Rugby)
Strength development plays a large role in rugby, and underpins all the physical capacities involved, in some way or another. All human movement is supported by force production in some shape of form. The amount of force and the speed at which it is exerted is dictated by the movement at hand. For example, jogging requires less force exertion than sprinting and there is less time to produce the force during maximal sprinting (high velocity movement). Whereas, Scrummaging or mauling requires high amounts of force to push, however the time to produce and sustain this force is much longer than that of sprinting or jogging.
So now we understand the need for strength within the sport, let’s start looking at the how’s. When trying to get strong for rugby, often people try to replicate bodybuilding programmes with large amounts of volumes with the aims to increase muscle mass. While there may be a time and a place for building muscle mass, having large amounts of muscle mass does not necessarily make you strong. Strength is derived from a neurological stimulus which is increased by predominantly 2 mechanisms, Rate Coding and Motor Unit Recruitment. I don’t want to bore you with the science of how the neurological stimuli work, but in short, rate coding refers to the speed at which a muscle contracts, and motor unit recruitment refers to the amount of motor units (made up of a neuron and all the muscle fibres connected to it) being recruited to perform a movement. If you can alter the speed and the number of motor units recruited to perform a movement, you are going to become stronger. This is the reason people with large amounts of muscle mass are sometimes relatively weak for the size that they are.
Now onto the what! By what, I mean the types of exercises that you should be performing to get stronger for rugby. The most important thing to remember is to try and replicate the types of movements in the sport, as well as training the body as a system, rather than individual muscles that make up the system. Isolation exercises have their place in training, but getting stronger for a sport is most definitely not one of them. Using compound movements with both bilateral and unilateral focuses like squatting, deadlifting, hip thrusts, Olympic lifting etc, will elicit the greatest benefits to rugby performance, as they are compound exercises that replicate the types of movements associated with the sport. When speaking about the types of movements, it’s important to remember they don’t have to look exactly like the sporting movement to be beneficial. For example, a hang snatch does not look like a side step, however they both involve extension of the hip, knee and ankle with high forces and velocities to elicit movement of a load (the bar for snatch and the body for sprinting). This weeks youtube video looks a little more closely at the understanding of replicating sporting movements, specifically for rugby, and how to use them to get stronger.
Finally, lets look at sets and reps or volume and intensity. For team sports athletes the management of volume is so important, as the goal is to be fresh and perform on the weekend. It is important to remember not to get too focussed on gym work and lose focus of the reason you are training in the first place, for success and improved performance on the pitch. Too much volume leads to fatigue and if carried over to game day will decrease performance, another reason why bodybuilding programmes are no good for in season training (volumes are very high). Strength training is associated with high intensity loads with lower volume. Attached to the article is the intensities at which you should be aiming for depending on the reps you are doing to get stronger. Don’t training maximally or to failure, for 95% of the time, you can still get stronger by training at submaximal loads! Training to failure means carrying excess fatigue and risking detrimental performance on a Saturday when it counts.