In professional sport I think most people have the opinion that athletes just get paid to sit around and train all day. However, in a team sport there are many other factors to consider - team organisation, strategy, coaching feedback, individual skills, unit skills, understanding plays, media interaction, marketing and supporter interaction.
Now you're probably thinking "what has this got to do with developing power and speed in a professional athlete?" As I will now explain it has everything to do with your solution.
Get to Know Your Body and What Your Training Needs Are
When dealing with a rugby team you tend to have four broad categories of player:
- Regular starters (play week in / week out for the team and get 60-80 minutes)
- Bench players (regular bench players/irregular starters normally get 20-40 minutes a game).
- Non 23/fringe players (don’t usually feature in the match day squad utilised as backups/understudies).
- Injured players.
How you deal with each category of player has to be completely different as they all have different training weeks and focuses. When it comes to contact time with the player you also need to juggle the following factors into your decision making process:
- What are the players time commitments for the week and what are their priorities?
- Training/Stress balance - trying to make sure you are getting the recovery aspect of the programme correct for the training volumes /intensities.
- The athletes and your own personal welfare - whilst it might be “ideal” to train power in the morning at 6am (and your energy systems 6+ hours later in the day) it’s not always practical for a player with a wife and a new born who lives 50 miles away from your training centre.
All of these factors come together to mean you get something similar contact time wise with the four broad category of player:
- Regular starters – 1-2 hours of strength and conditioning focused training a week. Preparation for the game and recovery from games are by far the biggest priorities. Typically these athletes will struggle to progress on anything and typically can progress on one physical quality but the progress will be slow and punctuated by bumps/bruises and injury.
- Bench Players – 1-3 hours of strength and conditioning focused training a week. They are involved in the exact same preparation to starters. However, if they fail to be involved in the game then there is an opportunity for some more training either the night of, or the morning after a game which will give you around 60 minutes of extra training time. They will also be able to train more intensely and more focused as they will experience less knocks.
- Non 23/Fringe players – when they are playing for the backup team or provincial sides/clubs then you will normally get 2-4 hours of contact time with these players. The less intense nature of amateur rugby also means they should be able to experience more consistent training and progress throughout the year.
- Injured player – the professional trainers of the squad can get 20-30 hours of training time with these guys as they normally are involved minimally with team time commitments. These guys/gals are blanks canvases but need to be handled with care and attention as you don’t want to injure a player during their rehab process!
Now you should have a basic understanding of the time constraints and practical problems facing these athletes let’s start to discuss what we are trying to train.
Training for Speed and Power
Speed/power are the sexy sisters of the strength and conditioning programme every rugby player who doesn't spend the game with their head stuck in rucks, mauls and scrums wants to be quick enough to beat players, agile enough to step round players or powerful enough to run through players. It is also the most important physical attribute for rugby players. A study of New Zealand rugby players showed that the single biggest determining factor separating professionals and semi-professionals was power.
To best develop speed and power qualities we need to train a multitude of different physical qualities using different training methods. Without getting bogged down in the theory behind training for speed and power I would like to introduce you to a graph that shows you pretty much everything you need to know about strength, power and speed training.
The force velocity curve basically shows us that if we want to move something heavy or produce a lot of force, then we must move slowly as a necessity to allow us time to generate the forces required. Think of pulling a heavy sled or deadlifting a 1 rep max. It also shows us that to move something quickly, or to move quickly, we can’t produce a lot of force because we don’t have enough time to generate it. Think of how little time you spend on the ground each time your foot hits the floor when sprinting.
Here comes the rub, to become faster or more powerful, we have to produce more force in that limited time window. To produce more force in a limited time frame we can look to develop the following attributes:
- Force capacity/output (get stronger).
- Rate of force development / transition (get more powerful).
- Force application (become better at producing force or applying force correctly in the desired context).
Now if we are to take away this thought and apply it to the same graph what do we come up with?
What we have is a conceptually solid session to develop speed and power in a sprinting athlete. A few observations:
- You will see that the sets x reps and intensity are the same for the first three exercises in the session. This is because there is no need to modulate intensity, sets or reps to train for “power” or “speed” because your training outcome is determined by exercise selection first and foremost. It doesn’t matter how light you make a squat or how hard you try and stand up with it you are not training power or speed because you are travelling far too slow unless you jump… then it becomes a jump squat. So exercise selection is determined by outcome/objective.
- To train for power you should be looking at ballistic activities (Olympic lifts, weighted jumps), throwing and weighted sprints or speed drives.
- To train for better stiffness/force application you should utalise some form of jump training/plyometrics.
- To train for speed you should run fast.
My Four Training Programmes for Speed-Power
To put it in to context I have put together four different speed-power programmes for our four groups so you can see how contact time will massively influence what you do. The less time you have the more simple your routine needs to be so it can be effective. This will mean you need to eject some things from your training. Although you might like to do single leg plyometrics, get lots of complexes in your session or maybe look at running mechanics, you have 15 athletes and 60 minutes to have an impact on physical performance.
Here are four three week training cycles for our four categories of player that might show how your contact time will reflect what you do with the players:
Programme 1 - Regular starter
Programme 2 - Bench Player
Programme 3 - Non 23 Player
Programme 4 - Injured player
What you should be able to tell from the programmes is that the greater amount of contact time allows you to include:
- Greater frequency
- Greater volume
- Greater variety
- More nuanced exercise selection
However, you should always keep in mind the player's primary goal which (in the season) will either be performing as best as they can for the team on the pitch on match day, or doing whatever they can to get themselves in the match day squad if they aren't already.
For more Strength and Conditioning based advice, visit Cast Iron Strength.