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Tag Archive: strength

  1. How to Get Stronger: Learning from the Strongest.

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    How Strong is Strong Enough?

    This is a current “Hot topic” in the UK and Australia. “How much strength training should I do?” is a question I am often asked, or more likely “Why should I lift weights?” But these questions have been around for some time as the following Old School strength gurus will tell you.

    Our regular readers and athletes will know the approach we take working on all aspects of the Strength Spectrum, but in different degrees according to age, stage and sport.

    I recently met Tony Caldwell, and ex Powerlifter on a Level 1 S&C course I was running. He had some interesting thoughts and stories on his past and that of his peers. I thought it would be interesting to share some of his thoughts.

    We have some shared history as we both trained at the Crystal Palace Weightlifting Centre in our careers (him some time before I was born!).

    Tony Caldwell Training Background

    My own career is fairly unremarkable really but here goes! I played rugby both union and league at school and local club level as I grew up in Yorkshire.

    darth vaderAround 1966 after moving to Surrey with my parents I started training at the Crystal Palace National Recreation Centre under the tutelage of Dave Prowse who at that time was British Heavyweight Olympic Lifting Champion.

    He later went on to fame and fortune as Darth Vader. The objective was to gain some strength & size to aid me in rugby.

    The workouts revolved around about 6 basic compound exercises including some Olympic lifting such as clean & press, power cleans & jerks.

    At that time the overhead press was one the Olympic lifts but was dropped sometime around the late 60s as it became difficult to referee (a bit like the scrum now!)

    In 9 months I gained from 9stone 7lbs to 11 stone using this routine 3 times per week and basically eating anything that didn’t bite back.

    I would use this approach even now for someone who really needed to gain size and strength.

    Over the years some of my best gym poundages were 330lb bench press, 400lb dead lift and 415lb squat. In competition these were somewhat less 285, 380 and 365 respectively at a body weight of just under 13 stone. I only competed at local level and also dabbled in some bodybuilding competition, although I never liked the extreme dieting and was not willing to take the steroid route.

    Old School Strength Training Methods

    As a Powerlifter, I used some of the methods advocated by these legends over the years.

    Bill Pearl.Bill Pearl   A 4 time Mr. Universe winner who during the 1960s planned and delivered the fitness training for NASA astronauts and who also has a background in wrestling.

    Pearl is 80 yrs old now but is still in great shape training every day. His website contains much information including a complete free course entitled 20 months to a championship physique.

    His teaching is very much aimed at bodybuilders & people who just want to improve their appearance therefore is fairly high volume and time consuming. The routines are well explained however and are useful for the very good exercise illustrations.

    Bill StarrBill Starr.  He was a USA national Olympic lifting champion in the 1960s and was probably the first S&C coach in the NFL when he joined Baltimore Colts around 1970. I believe he was also fitness coach for Washington State University football around this time.

    He developed the 5×5 system whereby he utilised what he called the “Big 3” namely power clean, bench press and squat and had his athletes working with heavy weights on a 5 sets of 5 reps routine.

    He would also change things around occasionally and use exercises such as rows and incline & overhead press.  He also wrote a book called “The Strongest Shall Survive” Read Starr’s Starting Strength Article here

    Reg ParkReg Park. Park used a 5×5 system in the 1950s before Starr developed his own and I think you can still purchase his course. He was a 3 time Mr. Universe winner and one of the strongest bodybuilders ever with lifts such as 500lb bench press 600lb squat and incredibly 300lb press behind neck.

    This was pure strength as Park had no background in Olympic lifting. There is a website but sadly Reg passed away about 3 years ago at the age of 79 as a result of skin cancer. (Old bodybuilders spent their whole lives in the sun!)

    HIT Training.  At the other end of the spectrum is High Intensity Training or HIT.  Basically this is the complete polar opposite of what Pearl recommends and refers to the performance of 1 or at the most 2 sets taken to complete failure. This after warm ups.

    Generally the exercises used are heavy multi joint exercises such as squats, leg presses for legs benches & inclines for chest overhead presses for shoulders etc etc.

    Rest periods are short and for this reason most advocates of this type of training do not include any aerobic training as they feel that this makes inroads into the recovery system when the workouts themselves are extremely taxing on the central nervous system. Workouts are brief (usually less than 30 minutes) and infrequent (2 per week average)

    Proponents of this are people such as Arthur Jones (Nautilus) Mike Mentzer, Ellington Darden and Dorian Yates. The system first surfaced in the 1970s, is quite controversial and does generate a lot of discussion.

    Tony Caldwell

    (Strength training tips from Strongman Glenn Ross here)

    See our Get Stronger programme here

  2. How to make Pre-Season Training Interesting, Relevant and More Fun

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    I Hate Pre-Season Training

    This is often the thought of players who are forced to undergo various fitness tests and long slow runs as part of a pre-season training and fitness programme.

    Doing repeated doggies, shuttle runs and various circuits, with barely a ball in sight is enough to put most players off.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    As a Coach, you can make pre-season training interesting, relevant and more fun. Your players will be fitter, faster and stronger. More importantly, if they are willing, engaged and able to play, they will put more effort in.

    Why Pre-Season Training Needs to be Turned on its Head

    pre season training programmeDo you start your pre season with an endurance fitness test? Your players turn up and do either the bleep test or the yo-yo test.

    You then train them for a few weeks doing lots of endurance running and re test them before the season starts.

    Is this interesting, relevant or fun?

    Or are you just gathering random numbers?

    I used to do exactly this. When I started working with London Welsh RFC 10 years ago. My plan was this:

    • Test the players
    • Develop an aerobic base.
    • Build up into intermittent endurance work with strength training.
    • Finish the last 2 weeks with speed training.
    • Re test the players

    exercise physiology testI checked this plan with some “expert physiologists at Brunel University” they thought it was a good plan.

    Of course they did: in a laboratory situation this would look good as I was training to the test.  

    Over the last 10 years, working with hundreds of athletes I now realise that the situation should be reversed.

    As an athlete I hated getting tested if I didn’t get the feedback, if I didn’t think it would help me fight better, or if there was no follow up training plan to help me improve.

    Get Fitter, Faster and Stronger in Pre-season

    As a coach you want your team to be Fitter, Faster and Stronger. But fit for what? You want them on the pitch ready to train and ready to thrive in competition when the season starts.

    So, I look at developing 3 qualities:

    1. Efficiency: Get them moving well and with control
    2. Robustness: Get them able to do that under load, faster, further or heavier.
    3. Resilience Get them able to sustain that quality of movement or load for longer.

    Who wants to practice bad running, bad lifting, slow agility and irrelevant skill patterns?

    It is demotivating as a player, and a waste of your precious Coaching time as a Coach.

    pre season training programme

    How to Start Pre-season Training

    pre-season trainingTesting and evaluation are an important part of pre-season. But just telling players to run further or run faster to improve their test scores may only reinforce their bad technique, and could lead to injury.

    My overriding consideration as a Coach is to give the players the tools to do the job.

    Choose your tests carefully. If you are in a team field or court sport like Football, Hockey, Rugby or Basketball then the bleep test or yo-yo tests are relevant to the demands of the game. More so than a 1500m or 5km running (or even worse rowing) test to assess your endurance (more test detail here).

    But, understand that these tests measure more than endurance. They measure your ability to: accelerate, brake and change direction. All of which are needed in your sports.

    So, in conjunction with one of those tests, your first week would be well spent assessing the players’ ability to control their own body.

    Here is a FREE handout on the 5 tests that I use with players. (This is the Foundation week 1 of our Sports Training System)

    My motto is “Little things, done well, consistently.” If the players are given the tools to do the job, they gain in confidence and progress accordingly. You have 6-12 weeks to get players fit, you have to ask yourself

    Robin Williams blind football

    Easy to get players tired

    Are you making them better, or just making them tired?

    Over the next few weeks we will be looking in detail at a different quality that is needed in pre-season training:

    If your players can accelerate and change direction faster, are strong enough to handle the braking forces when stopping and have a higher top speed, they will improve their test scores.

    You can then work on doing more quality movements with a shorter rest time: this will then lead to an improved work capacity.

    Most importantly: they will be able to transfer those fitness qualities to the Game where it counts.

    Please share with your team mates and fellow coaches. Have you got a favourite pre season fitness test? Please leave a comment below. 

  3. How to get big for rugby

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    How Can I get Bigger for Rugby?

    how to get big for rugbyI was working with a group of young players this week- pretty new to physical training.

    I outlined the plan over the next 10-12 weeks. We are going to work on efficiency of movement, becoming more robust and develop your athleticism.
    I then asked what did they think that involved… getting bigger was the immediate response.

    Getting bigger without having a solid foundation of movement (or the 4 pillars) will result in an immediate short term (about 12 weeks) improvement.

    In other words the hypertrophy will take about 12 weeks to take effect and then another 12 weeks can be improved upon as well. So, at the end of nearly 6 months training you will be bigger.

    3 key tips to getting bigger

    1. Lift heavy for longer. Do big lifts, under loads, for some time. Strongman training, deadlifts, squats are all good ways of gaining mass. If it is just pure mass, with little function, then you are best off learning from some of the Strength Training Legends.
    2. Eat well. There is no point eating junk food, you will become obese. Instead eat a well balanced diet that contains lots of natural foods. There are many sources of protein and testosterone that can be found in your normal diet. It is a lot cheaper than buying fat shakes too.
    3. Sleep. It is when you sleep that your body recovers and repairs itself. Most teenage rugby players are not getting enough sleep.

    The Downside

    how to get bigger for rugbyIf your focus is purely on getting bigger, then there are 2 potential downsides:

    Injuries: if you are a rugby player you can look forward to shoulder and hamstring injuries because they are the 2 most common ones, and a season of rehab. Is it any wonder that the RFU injury audit shows an increase in rugby injuries?

    Slow: If you don’t work on the application of strength through a full range of motion, and at speed, then you might end up getting slower as they found in Australia.

    Conclusion

    Hypertrophy work– getting bigger- is a goal in itself, but should not be the first thing that young rugby players work on.

    If it is, it will hamper your Athletic Development and your rugby skills.

    Younger players should look to grow up before growing out. You will be getting bigger as you get older.

    Coaches who tell 14 year olds they need to get bigger, shouldn’t be allowed to coach. 

  4. Getting my gymnasts stronger

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    Understanding Strength for Gymnastics

    gymnasts strength

    These girls are strong

    Over the past few sessions I have been going through the strength section of James’s Athletic Development Manual with him. We went through strength and velocity and how a high velocity exercise means the strength aspect could be low, and vice versa.

    For example, tuck jumps are a high velocity exercise with a lower strength needed. Where as a deadlift variation (1-3RM) would be high strength and low velocity as you couldn’t repeat many.
    Exercises were also broken down into 4 categories of strength:

    • absolute
    • relative
    • dynamic
    • elastic. 

    Also, there are many ways to overload that don’t include just increasing the weight. You can change direction or the plane of movement and you can change the speed or rest period too. Each way overloads the body and you have to make it adapt again.

    The importance of reflection

    During the last practical session I had with James and some of the athletes, he asked me what I have learnt. This really got me thinking. I have learnt a lot! I don’t tend to self reflect so I know I need to work on that. How can you improve as a coach if you don’t reflect on what you have done or learnt?

    It’s made me look at my plans for the gymnasts and my personal training clients differently and I have re-thought a lot of their training. I think I had just got into a routine and needed that nudge to think about things a little more and reflect on my previous training and what James has taught me as well.

    Self reflection, as I now understand, is an important part of coaching. It gives you the chance to think about how a session went, what you can do to improve it, what worked well or what did you learn. All these questions will help you develop and improve as a coach.

    Keeping things fresh

    strength training for gymnastsIt’s good to make regular changes to stop a program/session getting stale too. Plus, if you are training the younger athletes, it keeps them a lot more interested and more likely to work.

    If you do the same thing day in day out, they will get bored and won’t progress. Repeating movements are important to get the technique right, but adding in a few changes will challenge them physically and mentally.

    This has made me think of where exercises fit and I have been thinking about this a lot more when I train my clients at work or the gymnasts I work with too.

    I have also learnt a little about myself too. I learnt that I need to be more confident and give myself more credit. For years my teachers and tutors have said this to me over and over again and I’m starting to see why now.

    Gemma Robertson 

    Getting gymnasts fitter faster and stronger  

    Interested in starting gymnastics? Then join our gymnastics club in Willand, between Uffculme and Cullompton.

  5. Strength Ratios for Squats and Deadlifts

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    Following on from our blog on Front Squat vs Back squat, here is some information about what you might be aiming for with deadlift squat ratios.

    Strength ratios

    The table below shows an estimate of the weights you should be able to lift based on other exercises. I.e. if you can back squat 80kg you should be able to Deadlift 100kg’s.

    Please note these are only approximate values which can be greatly affected by technique and vary among individuals. So avoid using them as written rule!

    Deadlift

    Back Squat

    Front Squat

    ~100%

    ~80%

    ~68% (85% of BS)

    60kg

    48kg

    40kg

    70kg

    56kg

    48kg

    80kg

    64kg

    54kg

    90kg

    72kg

    61kg

    100kg

    80kg

    68kg

    110kg

    88kg

    75kg

    120kg

    96kg

    82kg

    130kg

    105kg

    90kg

    140kg

    112kg

    95kg

    150kg

    120kg

    102kg

    160kg

    128kg

    109kg

    For example, if you are practiced at the Deadlift but not the back squat, it is unlikely you will be able to back squat up to 80% of your Deadlift 1RM.

    deadlift squat ratiosIf beginning a new exercise it is better to underestimate your rep max as you can always add more weight!

    If you lift too heavy the chances are YOU WILL BREAK!

    In summary you should be able to back squat more than you can front squat,  and Deadlift the same or more than you can back squat.

    These are some of the lifts used in our Get Stronger programme here

  6. Squat versus deadlift

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    deadlifts vs squats

    When should I deadlift?

    I have never been a deadlift fan, instead working on squats and using the snatch and clean to develop power.

    However, I have recently been using it to create some variety in environments with no squat rack.

    It is also useful with some athletes who find squatting tricky. One young hockey player with very long femurs, never looks good squatting. Her deadlift is immaculate. There is some similarity between the start of the deadlift and the positions that hockey players need to get into.

    The deadlift works hamstrings more than the squat, which is obviously quadriceps dominant. Both exercises require a strong back and trunk. A football goalie I coach has a very sensitive back. For him, the deadlift is a definite No.

    Ideally my deadlift should be nearly as heavy as my squat, but I am about 30kg short (Full analysis here: What is a good squat to deadlift ratio? ) Strength is exercise specific, and my squats are much more efficient.

    A strength session using deadlift  last week was unimpressive on my part, mainly due to inefficient deadlift technique. It was a reminder to myself to sometimes use variety in the gym, and to work on my weaknesses.

    This video gives a guide to how to start the deadlift.

    If you want to know how to fit the deadlift into your resistance training  then see this guide on creating your own training programme.

  7. Front Squat vs Back Squat

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    Squatting is essential for female athletes

    Barbell squatAssistant coach Fran Low was an experienced hockey player when she started working with Excelsior.

    However, she had never done squats. Part of her role was to research the difference between front and back squats. Here are the results:

    Unlike most males who spend many hours swanning around the weights in the gym, the squat was a relatively new and daunting exercise to me.

    Having not spent much time strength training (reasons highlighted in this piece about females in the gym) I was unaware of the importance of the squatting movement and how it underpins most strength training exercises.

    how to squat properly

    Body weight squat

    I realised the true importance of squatting during the first few seconds of my first session with James. If you cannot squat correctly then don’t even think about lifting any weights!

    I wanted to learn how to squat properly.This article aims to highlight details and techniques of the front and back squats as well as looking at the power ratios between the different exercises.

    Back Squats:

    It is one of the only exercises that directly trains hip drive (the initial movement out of the bottom of a full squat is hip drive).

    Hip drive is important for any sport that involves running, jumping or lunging (so most sports really!).

    The squat uses the whole of the so called posterior chain, that is the calves, hamstrings and glutes working together.  Due to the large range of movement, the squat is very effective at synchronising and enhancing this movement.

    It works the whole body requiring stabilising muscles to be trained as well as the gross muscle groups.

    It also replicates a movement used in everyday life and most sports.

    Variations:

    1. Back squat: Barbell rests on back of the shoulder, more info below
    2. Front Squat: Barbell rests on front of the shoulders, more info below.
    3. Overhead squat: a squat performed with a weight/item (barbell, medicine ball, dumbbell, broomstick) above the head.
    4. Hindu Squat: body weight exercise, squatting down onto toes, bringing heels to bum, and swinging arms down, straightening legs standing up and pushing from the toes.
    Back squat

    bar too high

    Back Squat Technique:

    1. Approach bar in either power or squat rack.
    2. Grasp bar using pronated grip (width dependant on placement on back).
    3. Stand upright with bar resting across upper back (supported by 1 or 2 spotters, if required).
    4. Feet width self selected, but no wider than shoulder width.
    5. Elbows high and as far forward as possible, to support bar.
    6. Prior to descent, take a breath and hold it.
    7. Bend slowly at the knees and hips.
    8. Maintain a flat back throughout descent.
    9. Keep heels on the floor and do not allow the body to fall forward.
    10. Try to keep the knee in line with the toe (don’t allow knees to buckle, this leads to injury!).
    11. Stop descent at appropriate depth for athlete, ideally when legs are/past parallel to the floor.
    12.  Without bouncing raise bar by extending hips and knees.
    13. Keep back flat and head up.
    14. Keep hips under bar.
    15. Hold breath through sticking point*.
    16. At completion of set walk forward and replace bar in stands.

    Back Squat – The good vs. bad

    ProsCons
    Total body workoutCannot perform with back problems
    Improve posture and balance

    Trains the posterior chain

    Can be dangerous if incorrect technique

    Squats can be uncomfortable

    Trains stabilizing muscles leading to reduced risk of injury
    Build Muscle/gain strength
    Improve/maintain flexibility
    Used to exercise everything from endurance to power

    Front squat techniqueFront Squats:

    This movement is more upright and so places a more direct workload on your quads. You won’t be able to lift as much weight as in the back version, though.

    This key difference is highlighted in an image below and due to the greater hip angle, reduces the useof the hamstrings in the movement.

    This means it does not activate the posterior chain and although good for working the quadriceps, can neglect the hamstrings. For this reason it is not advised to solely use the front squat in training.

    Front Squat Technique:

    Same as back squat although instead of having bar placed on back of shoulders it is placed on the front of the shoulders:

    • Keep elbows high (upper-arm, almost parallel to the floor) and chest up.
    • Your shoulders support the weight, not your hands. Open your hands, relax them. Two/Three fingers under the bar is suggested.
    • Perform same squatting action as the back squat; however you will find that your back will stay straight as you need to keep your chest out to balance.

     Front Squat – The Good vs. the Bad

    ProsCons
    Requires/helps flexibilityMax front squat will be lighter than max Back squat.
    Harder to ‘cheat’Does not target the hamstrings and glutes unlike the back squat.
    Build Muscle/gain strengthOften Limited by stabiliser muscle flexibility rather than quadriceps fatigue (wrists, shoulders, ankles).
    More emphasis on quadricepsDoes not train the posterior chain
    Can improve other lifts
    Considered safer than the back squat

     How I Learnt how to squat properly

    The best way to gain a true understanding of these two squats is to try them yourself!  So that’s what I did….

    Firstly I would say I felt more comfortable and stable during the front squat. I was able to squat lower. However my wrists did begin to ache suggesting I should work on wrist flexibility!

    I could lift heavier with the back squat but I also felt more wobbly! The key coaching point I took from James was “Sit down”. Everything else is very technical, but to get started that simple cue was the best.

    Overview

    There are many differences between the two squatting techniques which this article has aimed to highlight. To sum it all up it is evident that the back squat should be an exercise in every athlete’s repertoire.

    To help with the back squat technique you can use the front squat, however don’t rely solely on the front squat as you will be neglecting the hamstrings and it isn’t as possible to lift as much weight.

    Good coaching is essential for both types of squat.

    Happy Squatting!

    Fran Low

    *Sticking point – The most difficult part of a lift, i.e. when the bar will not go any higher.

  8. Strongman Training with Glenn Ross

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    “Last year I pulled a 47 ton plane”

    Glenn Ross strongmanThat can be added to the list of sentences I will never say! At the recent RFU Strength and Power Conference I spent the morning in the company of 4 time UK Strongman champion Glenn Ross.

    He and his two assistants, Eddie Hall and Johnny Kelay, went through a series of strongman training exercises aimed at getting stronger for rugby.

    The aim was to show the training routines that Strongmen use, and then how to apply them for rugby. They concentrated on grip strength and getting low- staying strong.

    Strongman Grip Training

    Farmers walk Eddie HallGrip is a tough thing to train. “A shin bone takes 4 hours to cook” according to Glenn Ross, and the forearm is just as tough.  Grip can be trained specifically 3 times a week, at the end of your normal workout.

    Grip is important in grappling, grabbing and sheer rawness. Every ruck, maul and tackle should require grip strength. If you use straps when training to help you deadlift or power clean, then you are not working on your grip.

    Instead try the Farmers Walk. Eddie and Johnny demonstrated the Farmers Walk with a 300kg frame (pictured).

    Different size bars can be used to work on grip too. Glenn was big on getting into contact with local welders and builders merchants to get things built more cheaply.

    Scaffold bars can be used instead of power bars as they are wider and more awkward. The total lift won’t be as great, but your grip will have to work harder.

    Getting Low and Staying Strong

    strongman exerciseThick ropes can be used for pulling and towing, sleds, cars (planes!) or even holding in isometric positions leaning back at a 45 degree angle.

    Getting into a low position and being strong in that position is very important for scrummaging, tackling, driving with the ball, rucking and mauling. Glenn showed this with towing, pushing and log wrestling.

    When towing, get a really heavy object behind you. This forces you to lean really far forward and have your nose nearly on the floor. It won’t make you move fast, but it will get your body angle in a new position that you will find to hard to replicate in the gym.

    log wrestleThe log wrestle was interesting, it was like a sumo wrestler fight in a ring, with the 2 men holding each end of an 8 stone log and trying to force the other man out.

    Eddie Hall is 4 stone heavier than Johnny Kelay, but got shoved out 3 times in a row because Johnny was lower and had better leverage.

    Eddie was blowing hard at the end of this, even though it lasted for about 20 seconds (it was his first time doing this).

    Carrying Heavy Objects to get Stronger

    If you have seen Strongman competitions, you will have seen the competitors lift up Atlas Stones and carry them forward. “These are only 100kg stones” said Ross as Eddie and Johnny performed a short relay of pick up, carry and drop.

    They also carried a home made yoke which puts a tremendous load through the back and shoulders with 325 kg moving around on your back. Carrying awkward objects forces the body to adapt and adjust which has some transfer to tackling and rucking.

    Glenn’s tip for the yoke carry was to get underneath, then push the arms away at a 45 degree angle to create a natural table on the shoulders.

    Getting Stronger for Rugby

    I am a bit of a cynic on this, because it seems that every rugby club in the country goes through a tyre flipping phase, following the run through ladders phase, and now the small sided games phase.

    The important thing is context. In order to get stronger and more powerful for rugby, a multi dimensional approach is needed. Some strongman training is beneficial, but it is the application of strength that is most useful.

    With developing players, lighter loads and different objects could be used. Like all training, strongman training should follow principles of overload, progression and recovery. The training has a massive fatiguing effect (details here).

    Glenn recommended doing a 2 hour training session every week, with 10 minutes rest between exercises. I don’t think many rugby coaches would appreciate that work: rest ratio.

    Instead, why not do 1 or 2 of these exercises in each training session? The little and often approach will work in and around your technical/ tactical sessions. It might be useful to do in winter when morale is sapped due to rain and mud.

    strongman trainingGlenn emphasised the fact that Strongman training is fun and that players enjoy it. It has to be put into context, or it will be an object in itself. I would do a Strongman competition type day at the end of each year, once the exercises have bee practiced and developed.

    Flipping tyres will not help you run around people! But, I wouldn’t want to try and maul against Glenn Ross.

    To learn how to apply the right techniques and exercises at the right time, why not come to one of our workshops here?

  9. 30 years of strength training

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    45 today!

    strength coach ex15 2tyI first started strength training when I was 15 years old. My Dad had given me his old power bar and I started using that in my bedroom doing curls, presses and squats. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing something. I worked at my part time jobs for six months to save up for a set of plastic spinlock dumbbells and a flimsy bench with bar rack.

    The Joe Weider dumbbells came with a training programme that was a split routine of bodybuilder type exercises. There was a heavy emphasis on curls and calf raises from what I can remember, all with pictures of a man in briefs looking like he had been dipped in creosote. I followed that three day a week programme for the next year or so.

    My first official training programme had an effect, I was eating well and I got stronger.  I was playing a lot of different sports at school before I left at 17 years old. That almost looks like an Athletic Development plan!

    weightlifting club devonIn the intervening 30 years I have been exposed to many different training environments including the Army, Martial Arts, health clubs and Weightlifting. Currently I am working with gymnasts and seeing a whole different side of strength development.

    I have had good training, bad training, and downright ridiculous training. I have worked with many different strength and weightlifting coaches, as well as sports coaches who have helped shape my ideas. I have made a gazillion mistakes on the way, all of which have helped me improve.

    I wonder what I shall learn in the next 30 years?

    Further reading:

  10. Strength and Power in Rugby: Part 3

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    rugby power trainingThe Rugby World Cup is in it’s knockout stages. National Fitness adviser Simon Worsnop looks at current strength and power measurements.

    Strength and Power Levels

    Since the onset of full time professionalism in both sports strength levels have increased so that today’s players possess higher strength levels than similar aged recreational players

    e.g.” the trained junior high school RL, senior high school RL College RL and NRL players are capable of lifting approximately 102, 115, 124 and 148% of their body mass, respectively, in the 1RM bench press” (1)

    Players also exhibit far higher levels of strength than in previous years e.g. 1RM bench press scores for Professional RL players in January 1993 were 113.1 for backs and 119 for forwards (2) and in 1996 O’Connor (3) reported scores of 106kg for backs, 100.1 for halves, 112.4 for back row, 123.4 for props and 99.7 for hookers; whereas Baker reported an average of 134.8 in 2001 (4) and 142.7 across all players in 2004 (5).

    Professional players also exhibit higher power levels e.g. NRL players were significantly more powerful in every variable measured (than student RL players) (6).

    The load at which the Pmax (maximum power) occurred was also significantly higher in the NRL players. This has particular relevance to the tackle area where the more experienced player is likely to be more powerful against the bodyweight of an opponent than is the novice player. Baker (7) also suggested that “results indicate that the difference in power output between teams of different playing levels may depend largely on differences in maximal
    strength.”

    As players become more experienced their strength training focus
    changes, as the players become stronger they have probably adopted the strategy of increasing power initially by increasing the absolute load while maintaining movement speed. However, once a base level of maximal strength has been attained and further large gains in strength are less likely to occur, it may be difficult to increase power by increasing the Pmax load; rather, power is increased by increasing the speed at which each load is lifted. (8)

    Benchmarks for younger players

    Players in the England U20 team can squat over 220kg, bench press approaching 200kg and power clean 160kg. Individual players at U18 level can bench press 135kg for 5 repetitions and one player can squat 200kg for this number. Now, this does not mean they are necessarily good rugby players, nor does it mean that they can transfer this force to the field- they may “train like Tarzan and play like Jane.”

    What this does show is how the strength levels of modern rugby players are escalating. This does not say that an eighteen year old player with poor strength levels cannot “make it” at top level; in fact if he is succeeding at age group rugby despite poor strength levels it could be argued that he has a greater chance. However in order to protect his body and compete in the collision in the modern game he would have to undergo a long term rigorous, planned strength development programme. 

    How can I get strong for Rugby?

    Strength levels are improved in the gym by the use of the major multi joint lifts used in Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting as well as other more rugby specific rotational and “Strongman” type lifts.

    For a player, and hence a team to be successful specific partner bodyweight exercises around the tackle, ruck, maul and play the ball must also be practised as well as the supporting exercises derived from wrestling and grapple sports; these type of exercises were thought to be significant by Baker in contributing to the increase in power for NRL players throughout a one year period (9).

    To be successful, all of these forms of strength training must form part of the practice week even for the recreational player. And young players should be following an age- specific long-term athletic development programme.

    Some of the rugby and grapple exercises will be practised “bone on bone”, others will involve players with tackle suits. Exercises using tackle shields, tackle bags and wrestling dummies can also be used.

    Conclusion

    Because the collision is such an important part of the game we now longer see the “cup upset”. In soccer, though a team is clearly better it does not necessarily win a game and a club from the “lower reaches” will occasionally pull off a “cup upset”.

    This used to happen in both codes of rugby on a yearly basis, but now this is almost unheard of. This is almost certainly due the greater intensity of the collision and the variation in strength levels between the two teams. Though TV commentators on such games between teams from different divisions often say, “the higher fitness levels prevailed in the end” they are missing the point as cardiovascular fitness levels will be similar.

    Skill and decision making levels will be different, but the major discriminators will be size and strength- the team that is weaker and 5-10kg a man lighter or significantly physically weaker will in the end succumb because of the importance of the collision

    See our Get Stronger programme here

    References

    1: Differences in Strength and Power among Junior-High,
    Senior-High, College, and Elite Professional Rugby League Players Daniel Baker JSCR 2002, 16 (4), 581-585.

    2:(Evaluating players fitness in Professional Rugby League Rudi Meir Strength & Conditioning Coach 1 (4) 1993

    3: (Strength & Conditioning Coach 4 (1) 1996)

    4: (Comparison of Upper Body Strength and Power between Professional and College-Aged Rugby League Players Baker JSCR 2001 15(1) 30 -35)

    5: (An analysis of the ratio and relationship between upper body pressing and pulling strength JSCR 2004 18(3), 594 – 598).

    6: Comparison of Upper Body Strength and Power between Professional and College-Aged Rugby League Players Baker JSCR 2001 15(1) 30
    -35.

    7: (A Series of Studies on the Training of High Intensity Muscle Power in Rugby League Football Players JSCR 2001 15(2) 198 – 209

    8: (Comparison of Upper Body Strength and Power between Professional and College-Aged Rugby League Players Baker JSCR 2001 15(1) 30 -35).

    9:(Comparison of Upper Body Strength and Power between Professional and College-Aged Rugby League Players Baker JSCR 2001 15(1) 30 -35)