drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Friday, December 01, 2006

ScrumTruk's first Olympian

Originally developed for increasing the pushing strength of rugby forwards, MyoQuip's ScrumTruk has proved its versatility across a variety of sports. At the University of Sydney it has been used by Australian national representatives in rugby, rowing and women’s basketball, but the first Olympic representative to use it was in the winter sport of bobsleigh racing.

Fifth-year veterinary science student Astrid Loch-Wilkinson was the pilot of Australia’s first-ever women's bobsleigh team which competed at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, in February. Astrid and brake woman Kylie Reed finished 14th with a time of 3 minutes 55.11 seconds for their four runs.
Athletes from power sports such as weight-lifting and athletics are often recruited for bobsleighing because they have appropriate attributes to gain an edge at the explosive push-start that characterizes the event. Astrid had the necessary athletic ability having been an Australian national 400m hurdling champion and a Sydney University Blue in soccer.
For her strength training she turned to Martin Harland, the University's Athlete Performance Manager, himself a former Winter Olympian in the bobsleigh. Harland was very impressed by Astrid's excellent training ethic and innate capacity for strength development.

In addition to conventional basic strength exercises such as the squat and dead lift the pair made extensive use of the ScrumTruk at the university gymnasium. The machine has strong specificity for the bobsleigh push-start because in both activities force has to be generated and delivered in the horizontal plane.
"I used the ScrumTruk regularly in my strength training leading up to the Olympics," says Astrid. “I found the machine was great to use in conjunction with my Olympic lifting training. It assisted me in becoming stronger in the 'pushing' action related to bobsleigh".
Careering down a twisting track of ice at 125 kph in a flimsy shell would seem to require extraordinary courage. “My first run down the ice in a sled was terrifying as I basically had no idea what I was doing,” she admits. But after three years of piloting bobsleds in World Cup races, she says she is used to the speed.
“It becomes slower and slower the more I race. Before each race I study the track very intensively with my coach so I know precisely how to steer every part of it. I enjoy racing but it’s pretty intense and it doesn’t feel fast because I have to concentrate on the technique”, she says.

Some of the bobsleigh teams competing in Torino had million dollar budgets. By contrast Astrid and Kylie were largely self-funded. Because of Australia's isolation from alpine sports, much of their initial training consisted of pushing a billy-cart - a form of wheeled trolley used by children - around a local football oval. They were also required to travel to Europe for extended periods each year racing on the World Cup circuit.
“Bobsled racing costs $30,000 to $40,000 a year”, Astrid says. “I would like to go to the next Winter Games at Vancouver in 2010 but we need some funding”.
In the meantime she has embarked on a fourth sport. She is still training at the University gym under Olympic lifting coach Simon Kent and participating in weightlifting competitions.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Body height in the rugby scrum: the value of equal hip and knee joint angles


Despite the undoubted importance of efficient force delivery in the scrum, there is very limited published material addressing the actual dynamics of force delivery.

Powerful scrummaging is dependent on appropriate body position and limb alignment, not just in the relatively static situation immediately after engagement but throughout the entire contest of the scrum. Much of what passes for best practice in scrum formation reflects a failure to critically examine the actual geometry and mechanics of body position and how these change during the scrum contest.

I believe that an optimal configuration of body position and limb alignment on engagement involves hip and knee angles each set at 90° with both trunk and shank being parallel to the ground. During the scrum, hip and knee joints should move synchronously so that their angles remain equal. The hips may sink slightly relative to the shoulders but trunk and shank should remain parallel.

Body height and joint angles – what the experts advocate

Modern thinking on scrummaging usually advocates consistency of body shape for all participants regardless of position, with the feet approximately shoulder width apart and toes level. There also seems to be general agreement on the need for the trunk to be horizontal or for the shoulders to be slightly higher than the hips. (Greenwood, 1978; Smith, 2000; NSWRU, 2004; Vickery; O'Shea, 2004: Argentinian Bajada method)

However, when joint angles are discussed there is substantial divergence of opinion on the appropriate angle at the knee joint:

Jim Greenwood, Total Rugby, 1978

More than three decades on Greenwood's book, though overtaken by a succession of Law changes, remains a rugby classic. Its underlying logic is compelling. The figure below summarises his views on body position:

Greenwood argued that the optimal pushing position required hips below shoulders, 90° joint angles at hip and knee, and "knees near the deck." It can be seen from his drawing 1c above that the trunk and shank are parallel.

The figure also considers the effect of different joint angles on force delivery, and this is further discussed elsewhere in the book:

"Thighs approximately vertical. It's obvious that the more acute the angle of the knee the greater the potential range of the drive, but the more strength is required to initiate it. … [Y]ou only have to go into the full-flexed position to realise that a drive from that position is very much slower and more difficult than a drive from a half-squat. Players tend to assume the position in which they feel most capable of a snap drive. On the other hand, the smaller their degree of flexion the smaller the range of drive. For a six-foot player, a flexion of 90° at the knee produces a potential forward movement of about a foot, which allows for a snap drive, and the necessary continuation shove. That is more than enough for all practical purposes, and may well be seen as a maximum."

Greenwood also emphasises pack height:

"Shoulder height in the front row determines how low the pack can get. From every point of view, the lower the pack gets the better - provided the hooker is capable of striking. … Against the head, it's better to get even lower than usual. What this comes to is that the props get closer and closer to the basic driving position, with their feet further back and wider, their hips correspondingly lower, and their upper bodies close to horizontal. This has two advantages: it restricts the opposing hooker's strike, and may even prevent it, and it ensures a more powerful and effective drive. It's worth pointing out that most scrum-machines are set too high to allow effective low scrumming practice."

Smith emphasises body position. "Each player must take up a position by which the force generated by the large muscles of the lower body, the quadriceps and gluteals particularly, can be transmitted effectively and SAFELY through the spine, the shoulders and the neck."

"The power the legs can produce or resist is conditioned by the angle at the knee. With the thigh vertical, or near vertical, this angle should be maintained between 90° and 120°. The greater angle will be required by the props who need to be more upright in stance in order to provide a base on which, the locks can push. The other forwards can however, adjust their positions to achieve 90° at knee."

Smith examines the consequences of a prop being experienced enough and strong enough "to alter the height of the scrummage quite legally." and "produce a significant disruption of the opposition scrummage. A prop can thus legally force his opponent to scrummage lower, at a height he finds uncomfortable, and which is mechanically inefficient."

An opponent who is unequal to this pressure will normally react in one of two ways. Firstly, he can move his feet further and further back to relieve the discomfort, as in the figure below:

He may be forced to "take his feet so far back that he goes to ground flat on his face … Even if he doesn't go to ground the position he is forced to adopt allows less and less of the power generated behind him to be transmitted though on to the opposition."

Alternatively, the prop that is being forced to scrummage too low may "bend forward at the hip, his head gradually getting well below the line of the hip," as in the figure at right.

"Because of the pressure from behind by his own lock the prop can be put into a seriously uncomfortable position. He's caught in a vice, and his position becomes even more unpleasant should his superior opponent drive forward at him."

This document states that "almost 99% of all scrimmaging problems can be related directly to the body shape of the participant(s)." Amongst its prescriptions for "correct body shape" are:

"Knee bend (100 - 110° approx) directly beneath hips will assist in generating and transferring weight.

"High, steady hips will allow those players behind to apply force through a near vertical surface. The hips should NOT at anytime be higher than the shoulders."

Further on there is a series of images showing the sequence of scrum formation. The final image, reproduced at left shows the engagement. My rough scaling indicates that the loose head prop's hip and knee angles are around 90° and 120° respectively. However it appears that his shoulders are about 15°lower than his hips. This would not only be illegal but would place him and his fellow front rowers in an inherently unstable situation. He is not in a position either to support his own bodyweight or to generate a horizontal shove.

"The knee must be bent to generate the explosive power of the legs. If only slightly bent, there will only be a small, but quick, motion forwards. If a deep bend, the forward movement will be slow but be farther. Straight legs prohibit players going backwards but there is little forward momentum. The ideal is a vertical thigh with an angle of about 120 degrees between the thigh and the calf which should provide the required thrust."

In discussing body shape O'Shea specifies:

"A bend at the knees which provides an angle of approximately 110-115°, which permits power generation by the legs. This position is a 'trade-off' between the generation of dynamic power and the length of push that can be achieved. If the bend at the knees is not adequate the distance gained by the push is hardly worthwhile. If the bend at the knees is too great the loss of mechanical advantage makes it difficult to be dynamic."

He does not deal directly with the hip angle but calls for a "straight, flat back" and "high hips" that "should not be higher than the shoulders." Significantly, when illustrating individual common faults, he uses a diagram, reproduced above. where the player with correct technique appears to be in the 90-90 position.

Argentinian teams are renowned for the effectiveness of their scrummaging and the central importance of the scrum to their game. From an early age, Argentinian forwards are schooled in the 'Bajada' or 'Bajadita,' a radically different scrum method invented in the late 'Sixties by the legendary Francisco Ocampo.

A defining characteristic is the 'Empuje Coordinado' or 'Coordinated Push.' "The scrumhalf gives a three part call after the "engage". On "pressure" all members of the pack tighten their binds and fill their lungs with air. On the call "one" everyone sinks; the legs at this point should be at 90 degrees. On "two" the pack comes straight forward while violently expelling the air from their lungs. A key note is that nobody moves their feet until forward momentum is established. If the first drive is insufficient the scrumhalf begins the call again and the opposing pack is usually caught off guard and pushed back." Rugby Union from the Virtual Library of Sport

Sergio Espector, a Level 3 Argentinian coach, recently summarised the main features of the Bajada. After the engagement he stipulates that "all eight players must flex their knees to 90 degrees ... [and] players must never move their feet off the ground until they overcome their opponents and have positive inertia."

The Bajada is recognised as an extremely effective and powerful form of scrummaging.

Summarising the views of these authors:

Analysing joint angles in the scrum

We can visualise the body in scrummaging mode as a system of skeletal levers articulated primarily at the hip and knee joints. The levers are activated by muscular contraction of the relevant extensor and flexor muscle groups. The task is to determine optimal ways to operate those levers to achieve the desired goal of delivering force in the horizontal plane, given that the primary objective of any pack is to effectively resist and, if possible, overcome the horizontal weight force generated from the opposing pack.

The figure above depicts the limb configurations of a player packed into a scrum with his hip and knee angles both at 90°. (For the sake of illustration I have assumed that the player is 1850mm tall with trunk, thigh and shank lengths of 650mm, 460mm and 480mm respectively.) In order to compare the 90-90 configuration with that advocated by some of the experts listed above, the figure below shows how the body position of the player would change if he retained the 90° hip angle but increased his knee angle to 110°.

As can be seen in the figure a knee angle of 110° requires the shank to slope upward 20° above the horizontal. This results in the height of the trunk above ground level rising by 160mm, a quite substantial difference when packs are preparing to engage.

A pack using the 90-110 configuration and therefore accustomed to training and playing with an obtuse knee angle will be disadvantaged if forced lower on engagement. The front row will have no choice but to reduce their knee angle if they are to avoid packing illegally, i.e., with hips above shoulders, and the rest of the pack will have to similarly adjust. Quite apart from the illegality, a failure to adjust the knee angle places the front row in an essentially unstable body position with the risk of the shoulders being driven even further below hip height.

As with the squat exercise, when players under severe load go into a deeper joint contraction than they are accustomed to, they have to operate in a 'zone of discomfort.' The cohesion of the pack is threatened; players may be forced to give ground and at the very least are not in a position to generate a powerful forward shove.

By contrast, a pack accustomed to function with a 90° knee angle can quite comfortably cope if the engagement takes them higher than they would prefer, as they are still operating in the range of joint angles they are familiar with.

Effective scrummaging requires coordinated and synchronised activity by all eight members of a pack. It is also essential that throughout the whole scrum engagement the pack remains in a position to initiate or effectively repel considerable force. Adoption of a 90-90 joint configuration facilitates both objectives.

Coordinated action can be readily achieved if players are trained to start from a common orientation of the joints whatever their playing position, and then to keep their shanks and trunk parallel at all times. This means that the joint angles at hip and knee remain equal as the pack drives forward. Each player is effectively contributing to the collective transmission of force along the line of their backs.

Muscles generate most force in the mid range between full extension and full flexion. From a starting point of 90-90 the leg extensors typically remain operating within that efficient range even when the pack achieves a significant shunt forward. Figure 8 illustrates how joint angles change following a push forward of 300mm. As Greenwood suggests, a "forward movement of about a foot ... may well be seen as a maximum" without repositioning of the feet. As can be seen both joint angles have extended to 138°, but this still leaves the players in a position to continue their forward momentum if necessary. Note that both the trunk and shanks have dropped 6° below the horizontal.

The 90-90 joint alignment provides the optimal platform for horizontal force delivery which can be sustained through a considerable range of movement forward, while simultaneously tending to force the opposing pack to function within a 'zone of discomfort.'


Jim Greenwood, Total Rugby: 15-Man Rugby for Coach and Player, London: Lepus Books, 1978


Monday, November 27, 2006

Scots overpowered by Wallaby size

Following the Wallabies' emphatic defeat of Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on Saturday, it was interesting to note comments by the Scots' coach Frank Hadden:

"It's difficult to front up week after week against heavier sides.

"We've hidden that for a while but the Australian pack were able to create the opportunities for their danger players.

"They have quality backs and when they are going forward they're very difficult to stop."

The rugby community is gradually waking up to the idea that increased size and strength confers a huge advantage in the sport, and not just in the forwards. Heavy backs are also able to gradually wear down their lighter opponents.

It is difficult for a national coach to do much about the physical attributes of his players - he basically has to work with the available material over a very short preparation period. The groundwork for physical dominance has to be laid much earlier - even at school level.

Those in charge of Scottish rugby would do well to investigate what is being achieved at Sydney University in terms of the systematic physical development of young players.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A biomechanical model for estimating moments of force at hip and knee joints in the barbell squat


The barbell squat is a complex, mass load bearing multi-articular exercise movement. It is the basic lower body exercise prescribed in training programs for many sports even though it is unpopular with most athletes and is often performed inexpertly. One of the major problems when performing a full squat with heavy weights is that there appears to be excessive loading in the bottom part of the movement. At the same time loading through the top range of the movement seems inadequate.

This study examines the extent to which these effects may be attributable to changing values of resistive torque in moving from deep flexion to full extension of the hip and knee joints, i.e., to changes in limb geometry. A basic biomechanical model of the squat has been developed to calculate moments of force or torque applied about the axes of the hip and knee joints at various angles of those joints. I am not aware of any previous comparable study of the free weight squat.

The Model

A mathematically scaled model of a person of 180cm height and 100kg body weight was created consisting of four linked segments. These were the upper body or HAT (head, arms and trunk) assumed to be a rigid member; the thighs; the shanks; and the feet. The lengths of the segments as a percentage of total height were 50, 24, 22, and 4 respectively. Centres of gravity for the thighs and shanks were assumed to be both at 43.3% of segment length measured proximally. The proportion of body weight for the upper body, thighs and shanks was estimated as 68.6%, 20.0% and 8.6% respectively.

In order for stability to be maintained in squatting, the centre of gravity of the system (exerciser's body plus weight bar) must remain directly over the feet. Unless the centre of mass is constantly positioned directly above the ground reaction force vector, a moment would exist and the system would rotate, i.e., tip forward or backward.

To provide a determinate model and to facilitate calculation, a number of simplifying assumptions were used, Firstly, throughout the exercise movement the hip and knee joints move synchronously, i.e., at any point their angles are equal. Secondly, the force vector of the weight bar (FWB) was assumed to be located directly above that of the upper body (cgUB). Thirdly, it was assumed that the centre of gravity of the system remains directly above the ankle joint rather than at the midpoint of the foot as is usually and more correctly assumed. Figure 1 shows a simplified free body diagram incorporating the assumptions.

At each observation point throughout the exercise the body is evaluated in a static or constant velocity state and therefore can be treated as rigid. Moments of force were calculated for the knee and hip joints using a link-segment model of the form described in Winter (1990).

Other than its contribution to total body mass the weight of the exerciser's feet was ignored. For the present calculations the mass of the loaded weight bar was assumed to be 100kg. Its force (FWB) contributes to moments about the joints. The vertical reaction force (FGR) from the floor to the exerciser's feet also provides a force of flexion about the hip and knee joints. The constant velocity assumption means that the ground reaction force is simply the sum of the body mass and the mass of the weight bar, i.e., 200kg in this application of the model.

The range of motion investigated was from deep flexion of 40° for both hip and knee joints to lock-out or full extension at 180°.

Figure 1
Free body diagram of the biomechanical model of the squat


Figure 2 shows the moments of force about the hip and knee joints calculated using the model. It can be seen that very high moment values occur in deep squat positions. In fact at 60° flexion of both joints, torque values are 470N.m and 333N.m for the hip and knee joints respectively. In this model the parallel position for the thigh occurs at joint angles of 62.5°. This is the position where the hip and knee joints are furthest from the force vectors of the weight bar and upper body, with the result that torque values for hip and knee joints reach their maxima here at 471N.m and 334N.m respectively.

Below this point it can be seen that torque values are declining, but this effect is counteracted by the fact that the leg extensor muscles are lengthening and therefore increasingly less able to deliver force.

It can also be seen that as the exerciser rises above joint angles of around 90° the torque values decline markedly and approach zero with full extension or lock-out.

I am unaware of any published studies of strength curves for complex exercises like the barbell squat but it can be expected that the leg extensor muscles function most efficiently in the mid range of the exercise movement. The conjunction of such a muscle strength profile with the torque curves shown above means that a heavy load would place the exerciser in a biomechanically disadvantageous position in the deep range of the movement. At the same time there would be inadequate effective activation of the leg extensor muscles through the top range.

Figure 2

It should be noted that the torque values were calculated with the exerciser stationary at each joint position, so they are isometrically determined. Different results would be obtained if measurements were made of actual dynamic movement. Results would also vary if the assumption of synchronised joint angles did not apply. However in both situations similar extreme variations in torque between bottom end and top end positions could be anticipated.

Correcting for variations in joint torque

A number of methods have been developed to improve the efficacy of the squat exercise. The most well known involve the addition of metal chains or rubber bands to the squat apparatus. With the former sections of chain are hung from each end of the weight bar. As the lifter descends links begin to pile on the floor, lessening the effective load and consequently the joint torque.

The usual method of using bands when squatting is to attach one or more heavy rubber bands to each end of the weight bar and anchor them to hooks on the floor. As the lifter rises tension in the bands increases adding to the effective load and the joint torque. However this system has no effect on the torque at the bottom end of the movement. To correct this a reverse band technique is employed. Here the bands from the weight bar are attached to the top of the squat rack or the ceiling. As the lifter descends tension in the bands increases, thereby compensating for the increasing torque in the bottom range.

The MyoQuip ScrumTruk has been developed to overcome the deficiencies in the conventional squat. It solves the problem of excessive variation in torque in two ways. Firstly it is operated in a horizontal body position thus greatly reducing the contribution of the user's own body weight to torque generation. Secondly its use of QuadTorq variable resistance technology compensates for torque variation at both ends of the movement. The ability to make adjustments to the rate of change of load means that the user can experience appropriate load and effective muscle activation through the whole range of movement.

Why tall people can't squat

It is generally recognised that people with long limbs are poor squatters. They often look awkward performing the exercise and the poundages they lift are usually unimpressive. The present study sheds light on why this is so.
Figure 3

Figures 3 and 4 compare the joint moment forces generated in the squat by three lifters of different height. In each case we assume that the lifter weighs 100kg and is squatting a weight bar loaded to 100kg. The assumed body heights are 160cm, 180cm and 200cm. Inspection of the two charts indicates that torque values vary directly with body height. In fact it can be seen that the moments of force at any joint angle are 25% higher for an athlete of 200cm than for one of 160cm. Therefore in the bottom range of the movement they are much more subjected to excessive loading.

Figure 4

There is an additional effect. Given that work can be measured as force times distance, it is obvious that a tall person will rise further and therefore perform more work than a shorter person. Again our 200cm subject is performing 25% more work than their 160cm counterpart.

Thus there are logical reasons for the perceived poor performance of tall people in the barbell squat.


This study has demonstrated that throughout a deep squat movement with heavy loading the moments of force experienced at the hip and knee joints typically vary from excessive to inconsequential. Because of this the leg extensor muscles are likely to be effectively activated for only a minor part of the exercise movement.

It therefore seems appropriate to question the efficacy of the squat as a general exercise for developing leg strength. In particular the wisdom of its use in preparing athletes for participation in sports that themselves have high incidence of back and knee injury must be doubted.


Abelbeck, K.G. Biomechanical model and evaluation of a linear motion squat type exercise. J. Strength Conditioning Res. 16: 516-524. 2002.

Robertson, D.G.E., G.E. Caldwell, J. Hamill, G Kamen and S.N. Whittlesey. Research Methods in Biomechanics. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2004.

Winter, D.A. Biomechanics and Motor Control of Human Movement. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2nd Edn. 1990.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Harland force behind the Students

by Aaron Scott*
Sydney University Athlete Performance Manager Martin Harland

For much of the winter David Lyons looked a spent force as an International rugby player. Throughout the Super 14 season his form was slated by critics: he was too predictable, too one-dimensional, not dynamic enough. He found himself relegated to the Waratah's bench. In May he was a shock omission from the Wallabies training squad. He didn't play a Test all winter. Only gradually did it emerge that he had been suffering from a prolapsed disc in his back. Either way, it seemed that the 40-Test veteran and 2004 John Eales medal winner was washed-up at 26.

Enter University's Strength and Conditioning coach, Martin Harland. Lyons' problems were pin-pointed. Two years of injury (groin and back) had eroded his superb physical attributes. Barely able to drag himself through an 80-minute match, Lyons had shunned the gym and the training paddock. His legs had all but atrophied.

Harland decided to settle the prolapsed disc in Lyons' back, redevelop his core strength, then rebuild the dynamism in his legs. Within 13 weeks Lyons was playing a starring role in the Students dramatic victory over Randwick in the Tooheys New Cup Final. He was back in the starting line-up for the Waratahs in the recent APC tournament. He has been named in the 37-man squad for the Wallabies Spring Tour.

"My body is feeling really good," he recently told the Sun-Herald. "My priority was to build my core and back strength, and that feels fine now."

This is a story that says a lot about Lyons. But it is also a story that speaks volumes for Martin Harland. Not that he would admit this.

"David makes it easy for me because he is such a good trainer," says Harland. "He looks after himself, he listens and he's forward thinking in his own programs. I give him a program and he embellishes it - and it's only ever with good things."

The truth is, however, that Harland's skill as a strength and conditioning coach and his exquisite understanding of the physiological make-up of an athlete's body were pivotal in Lyons' rebirth as a footballer and, consequently, in the Students' stunning 2006 success. And this is just one example among many.
Martin Harland supervising Daniel Halangahu on the dumbbell press
"I think there's no coincidence that Sydney University Rugby was struggling after the premierships in '99 and 2000," says Students' outside centre and Waratah, Tom Carter. "Then Marty comes on board, manages an Elite Development Squad and we've won back-to-back premierships over the last two years. We've won, I think, nine premierships out of a possible 14, and won two Club Championships. Marty's Elite Development Squad has basically changed the whole club.

The EDS Carter talks of was established by then-Rugby-Director Todd Louden and Harland back in 2003 as a pre-season fitness, conditioning and skills program. This year 25 elite players will participate in the program that begins in October.

"For me I was playing Australian 7's, weighing 90 kilos and I was physically inept," says Carter. "I was never going to go to the next level. Marty's EDS has certainly changed me physically to a point where I can now compete at that level. It's a feature of 90% of the players that come out of Sydney Uni Football Club - they're physically superior. We go into Super 14 programs so much better off because we're exposed to this high quality training."

These comments give some indication of Harland's contribution to the Football club. His work with the rugby boys, however, is simply one facet of his incredibly varied program.

"Most trainers only work in one sport," says President of Sydney University Sport, Bruce Ross. "Marty is quite amazing because he works across such a broad field. He's working, of course, with our rugby squads, he's had a lot to do with the extraordinary development our rowers have experienced, he's recently worked with the Flames, with the cricketers and, of course, earlier on with Astrid Loch-Wilkinson representing Australia in the bobsleigh."

It's this variety of sports, this vast spread of fitness and strength levels that Harland thrives on.

For years he worked exclusively with elite-level football teams: the Illawarra Steelers, St George-Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Swans. The positions were an exciting divergence for a young sprinter turned Olympic bobsleigher (he competed at the 1988 Calgary Olympics before a severe back injury forced him from the sport in 1989) who completed an Exercise Science degree with first class honours in 1994.

It was the huge amount of research he did in sprinting and power development that saw him snaffled up by the Steelers as a sprint coach in 1995. When the club amalgamated with St George in 1999 his position blossomed into a full-time strength and conditioning role.

In 2000 he shifted codes to AFL where he worked as strength coach for the Sydney Swans.

"It was a lot of fun," says Harland. "It was very different; I'd never had anything to do with the sport before so I really enjoyed it. But AFL is very full-on in terms of what they ask of you."

With the birth of his first child Harland rejected a two-year contract with the Swans and decided to head back to the Andrew Farrar-coached Dragons. It was short-lived. With Nathan Brown's appointment as coach in 2003, Harland's contract was not renewed.

"It put my nose out at first," he says, "but in the end I think it has been for the best."

Harland shifted to the Sydney Academy of Sport where he was contracted to work with the Sydney University Football Club. As the SAS was gradually consumed by the NSW Institute of Sport, Harland's involvement with Sydney University deepened.

None of the higher profile NRL or AFL positions, however, offered the disparate challenges that Harland now faces at Sydney University. And it is this variety, this sheer diversity that Harland revels in.

"With high-level sport everyone is much the same in terms of training age which makes it easier if you know your stuff," says Harland. "You can bash the group and you know what will happen. Here you have a massive training age difference, from guys and girls who have never trained but are still fantastic at their sport, to those who are so highly trained you're really splitting hairs trying to get those physical results.
Martin Harland supervising Jerry Yanuyanutawa on the HipneeThrust
"And I love the different sports. Some sports I've perhaps watched once - like European Handball - but a scholarship holder will give me a video of a game, tell me what they need and away we go. So I'm always learning as well. You know, high-level coaches - I pick their brains, high-level athletes - I pick their brains, medical staff - I pick their brains. I learn so much here and it keeps me sane. You never fall into a comfort zone, never fall into a rut."

And - with Harland's impeccable understanding of training methods and how they work on a cellular level - it's unlikely that Sydney University's fine stable of athletes will slip into a rut.

*A Media and Communications graduate from Sydney University, Aaron Scott is currently working as a sports journalist for Sydney University Sport. He also writes freelance articles for the Sun-Herald and Inside Sport.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Basic strength training the key to success for Sydney University rugby

Sydney University Football Club has just completed another very successful season. In 2006 it won the First and Second Grade Sydney premierships plus both the Club Championship and Colts Championship. In all the Club won premierships in four out of seven grades contested. These results are almost identical to those of the previous year. In 2005 it also won First and Second Grades, Club and Colts Championships, and five premierships out of eight grades contested.

Another remarkable statistic is that all but one of the Grand Final winning First Grade team were products of the Club's own Colts program. In recent years Sydney University has become one of the great nurseries of rugby talent, arguably producing more professional players than any other club in the world.

Rugby at the University has evolved into a comprehensive and cohesive system involving the employment of three full-time coaches - Head Coach, Billy Millard; Director of Rugby, Damien Hill; and Colts Coordinator, Nick Ryan.

Over the past three years the Club has been developing an Elite Development Squad (EDS) program for its top grade and colts players. Utilising one of the best equipped gymnasiums in Australian rugby, players train for eleven months of the year and undertake four weights sessions per week off-season and a lesser number while playing. The squad also has on-campus access to physiotherapists, doctors and nutritionists plus regular dietary supplementation. Thus, even though the squad members are not paid, they train in a very professional environment.

Emphasis on basic strength development

Strength and conditioning in the EDS program has been devised and is administered by the University's Athlete Development Manager, Martin Harland. His programs for rugby players place a high degree of emphasis on basic strength development and rugby-specific fitness. A distinguishing feature of his approach is a concentration on heavy lower body work through exercises such as squats, deadlifts and cleans.

Harland's rugby training regimen also requires backs to undertake the same rigorous basic strength routines as forwards. Many strength and conditioning coaches reserve the heavy "grunt" work for forwards, or even restrict it to the tight five. Exposing backs to very serious weight training has produced a quite extraordinary outcome, as outlined in the article, "Building bigger and stronger rugby players - the Sydney University experiment" The average body weight of the 2006 Sydney University First Grade backline was between 2.2 and 4.2kg heavier than that of the backs in the Wallabies and the four Australian Super 14 squads.

Tom Carter and David Lyons training for explosive leg drive

Having achieved a strong foundation of basic strength and greater body mass, Martin Harland is then able to focus on speed and explosiveness in his players. The photo at right shows two of those players - Tom Carter and David Lyons whose combined body weight is 225kg - working on developing explosive leg drive on the training paddock.

Use of the ScrumTruk

Tom Carter attempting 400kg on the ScrumTruk

From the inception of the EDS program the MyoQuip ScrumTruk has been a core component of the strength training of the Sydney University players. It is a rugby-specific apparatus that targets the large mass leg extensor muscles, specifically the gluteal and quadriceps groups.

The ScrumTruk has proven to be of particular value in sports like rugby and rowing where back problems are common. Its operation in the horizontal plane makes it a very effective substitute for the barbell squat.

How well does heavy gym work translate to the playing field?

Size and strength are not necessarily the determining factors in playing success in rugby. Obviously the innate ability of players and the quality of their coaches are the most important ingredients. However, the unprecedented success of the Sydney University Club in the past two seasons suggests that the application of modern strength training techniques has great potential for enhancing individual and team performance. Players can become very significantly bigger and stronger without sacrificing their effectiveness as players.

University's final two First Grade games for the season - both against an equally famous club in Randwick - are confirmation that increased strength and body mass do not have to compromise fitness and mobility.

In the Major Semi-Final University were behind 18-6 with only 10 minutes remaining but managed to draw level at 18-all on the stroke of full-time, sending the match into 10 minutes each way of extra time. University stormed home to a final scoreline of 31-25. Sydney University's own scribe, Graham Croker, noted:

"The innovative and highly successful Harland program bore fruit when the Students lifted the tempo of the game in the closing stages to finish on top as the extra minutes took their toll on the hosts."

Two weeks later the two teams met again in the Grand Final. As the industrious Croker reported:

"The Students led 13-nil after a hard-fought first half, but found themselves with their backs to the wall for much of the second half as Randwick dominated possession and position.

"With the final whistle sounded, the Wicks kept the ball in play metres from the University line for 18 phases – interspersed by a penalty in front of the posts – as the Students tackled themselves to a standstill. ...

"While 16-10 will go in the records as the official score, the more telling statistic was: Sydney University 307 tackles, Randwick 103 tackles.

"Having defeated Randwick in 20 minutes of extra time in the final two weeks earlier, and then held their line for most of the second half in the grand final, fitness and the ability to maintain a defensive structure won the day for the University."

Sydney University's systematic application of the disciplines and structures of professional rugby to a squad of players still in the development phase must surely be a template that other clubs will be driven to emulate.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

ScrumTruk used for strength training by world champion rowers

Rowers from the University of Sydney who have used the MyoQuip ScrumTruk as an integral part of their strength training recorded outstanding performances in world competition in 2006.

Foremost among these was Liz Kell who with fellow Sydney University rower Brooke Pratley won Gold in the Women's Double Scull at the World Senior Championships in Eton, England. Kell regularly used the ScrumTruk throughout the domestic rowing season before moving to Adelaide to prepare with Pratley for the World Championships. After the race Kell commented: "We've never raced together before this regatta so this is not a bad result." A rather understated reaction to winning a world championship.

Aside from their inexperience the win was also remarkable for the fact that Kell had missed the two previous rowing seasons due to back problems.

In July in Hazewinkel, Belgium, Sydney University's Renee Kirby and Verena Stocker won Gold medals in the Women's Four at the Under 23 World Championships. Their crew was coached by the University's Phil Bourguignon. At the same championships two other Sydney University students, Chris Clyne and Fergus Pragnell, won Silver in the Men's Coxed Four.

World University Rowing Championships Gold Medallist Elsa O'Hanlon from the University of Sydney
Finally, in August in Trakai, Lithuania, Elsa O'Hanlon won the Gold in the Women's Lightweight Single Scull at the World University Games.

Sydney University's coaches Marty Rabjohns, Phil Bourguignon and Alan Bennett have pioneered the use of MyoQuip equipment in strength training for rowers. They collaborated with the University's Athlete Development Manager, Martin Harland, to develop programs incorporating not just the ScrumTruk but also the HipneeFlex and the HipneeThrust.

One very noticeable reaction was the enthusiasm with which the rowers substituted the ScrumTruk for the barbell squat in their programs. The limb geometry of most rowers is not particularly suited to squatting.

"I have no hesitation in recommending the ScrumTruk." says Marty Rabjohns who recently stepped down as the University's Director of Rowing after gaining selection as cox of the Australian Senior Eight.

"Gluteal strength and forceful hip movement are essential factors in developing boat speed for rowing. The ScrumTruk facilitates power gains, in these areas, in a controlled environment. I would recommend the ScrumTruk to anyone wishing to develop superior power."

Sydney University rowing coach Phil Bourguignon supervising Damon Hietbrink on the ScrumTruk

Phil Bourguignon who came to the University of Sydney from the Australian Institute of Sport emphasises that "use of the ScrumTruk also gained positive strength results with athletes during rehab and suffering back pain experienced during free squats."

He concludes that the ScrumTruk is "a safer and more effective mechanism than the free squat."


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Rugby World Cup winning Wallaby endorses the ScrumTruk

Bob Egerton, a member of the 1991 World Cup winning Wallaby team and long-serving player and coach with the Sydney University Football Club, admits to having been "a big fan of ScrumTruk since its inception." He recommends its use for players at all levels in the game.

Bob Egerton was the first Club Coach to use the ScrumTruk when in 2004 he and Todd Louden were setting up the Elite Development Squad (EDS) program at Sydney University's rugby club. The EDS program laid the foundation for the Club's subsequent success in winning premierships and developing professional players, and the ScrumTruk has been an integral part of the strength and conditioning section of the program.

When Bob returned to his first love of school teaching in 2005 he recommended to the Friends of Grammar Rugby that they also install the ScrumTruk. The Friends group had been set up to assist in overcoming Sydney Grammar School's lack of competitiveness in rugby. Renowned for its academic selectiveness and outstanding scholastic performances, the School was struggling to compete against schools whose focus was more on sporting ability and performance.

The Friends funded the purchase of a ScrumTruk to "improve scrummaging strength and technique and allow productive work to be accomplished by boys in lunchtime workouts where appropriate." In the past two seasons Grammar has made steady progress on the rugby field. In 2005 the First XV had two victories and a draw from their seven games in Sydney's Greater Public Schools (GPS) competition, and performed even better in 2006 winning three of their last four games and losing the other by a single point.

"I have been a big fan of ScrumTruk since its inception." says Bob Egerton. "Having played at all levels in the game and coached players of all abilities, I am well aware that preparation is everything. ScrumTruk provides a specificity of training off the field that enhances performance on it. This benefits players, whether they be School 1st XV or internationals. Having utilised ScrumTruk in my training programmes for the last 3 years, I thoroughly recommend its value."


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

MyoQuip releases the HipneeThrust leg extensor strength builder

Unique features and performance characteristics:

  • Fully recumbent exercise position.

  • Comfortable and natural body position throughout the full range of movement ensuring no adverse loading on spine, hips or knees.

  • Exercise movement range from extreme flexion of hip and knee joints to full extension.

  • Utilises QuadTorq technology providing effective activation of hip and knee extensors over the full range of movement

  • Synchronised joint angles distribute load evenly between hip and knee extensors.

  • 8-position adjustment of the rate of change of load providing multi-functionality of the apparatus.

  • Intuitive operation - no requirement for instruction in correct technique.

  • No danger of exerciser being trapped under excessive load.

  • No stress on ankle joint - no imposed dorsiflexion of the ankle.

  • Ideal for rehabilitation of hip or knee joints.

  • High functionality for developing and strengthening leg extensors

    The leg extensors - primarily the gluteus maximus and quadriceps - constitute the body's largest and most powerful muscle group. They are also vitally important for a wide range of athletic and sporting activities.

    Traditional methods of developing and strengthening leg extensors include the barbell squat and the leg press and leg extension machines. However each of these has significant limitations. They do not adequately exercise the muscles from full flexion to full extension, and there are also issues associated with adverse loading and excessive shear forces on the lumbar region and knee joints.

    The HipneeThrust has been designed to overcome these problems. As can be seen in the figure above the athlete operates from a supine position so that the action of the extensors can be effectively isolated. The recumbent position also means that the spine can comfortably cope with the compressive forces generated.

    The arc through which the foot plate of the machine moves is designed to closely parallel the path that the feet would normally traverse if moved from flexion to extension without resistance. It also creates a natural tendency for the two joint angles to vary synchronously so that they are effectively sharing the load throughout the exercise movement.

    Exercises the total range of limb movement

    Tom Carter in the deeply flexed position on the HipneeThrust leg extensor strength machine

    It can be seen that at the start position both hip and knee joints can be tightly flexed. As the feet move forward the trunk and shanks remain virtually parallel until the legs are fully extended. Thus the potential range of movement is from included angles of around 30° to 180°. (In fact, by starting with the feet placed low on the footplate it is possible to hyper-extend the hips beyond 180°.) Throughout this extreme range of movement high range muscle fibre recruitment is achieved by means of our QuadTorq technology.

    Tom Carter in the fully extended position on the HipneeThrust leg extensor strength machine

    With an exercise like the squat or a machine such as the conventional leg press, exercisers attempting heavy loads tend to restrict themselves to modest degrees of hip and knee flexion. This is because as joint flexion increases, the exerciser's capacity to cope with resistance decreases. By contrast, with the HipneeThrust the effective load is automatically reduced when the joints are flexed and increased as they extend.


    The rate at which the effective resistance changes is varied by selecting different notch positions on the machine's quadrant.

    With mid-range notch settings the effective load from the start of the movement to full lockout is intended to match the body's capacity to handle resistance, so that the exerciser has to expend basically the same degree of effort throughout the movement.

    With low-range notch settings the increase in effective load from start to finish of the exercise movement is greatly increased. These notch settings are ideal for practising explosive or ballistic movements. When utilising heavy loads there is a "ballistic braking" effect toward the end of the movement, eliminating the need to decelerate.

    High-range notch settings are ideal when the focus is on overcoming inertia, i.e., moving a heavy load from a position of rest. An example would be improving performance in the barbell squat because the additional initial loading conditions the leg extensors to operate more effectively in the deep squat position.

    Sydney University strength coach Martin Harland supervising Jerry Yanuyanutawa on the HipneeThrust leg extensor strength developer

    Laying a foundation of basic strength

    Until now there has been no means of developing optimal muscle strength through the full range of a complex bi-articular movement. With the introduction of the HipneeThrust and its complement the HipneeFlex, athletes now have the means to adequately strengthen all of the major muscles of the lower limbs before focussing on sport- and activity-specific tasks. It can be confidently anticipated that this will yield significant performance and injury-reducing benefits.


    Friday, August 18, 2006

    The effect of varying quadrant notch settings on MyoQuip's range of variable resistance machines

    MyoQuip's QuadTorq technology is designed as a compensation mechanism for biomechanical disadvantage. When a limb is fully flexed, i.e., the foot or hand is close to the trunk, the muscles of that limb are operating in a position of considerable biomechanical disadvantage, but as the limb extends away from the trunk it moves into a progressively more biomechanically efficient orientation.

    An example of this changing biomechanical efficiency can be seen with the barbell squat. When the hip and knee joints are flexed as in the deep position of the squat, the lifter's capacity to cope with resistance is considerably reduced; but as they rise and the joints fully extend, the amount of resistance that can be coped with increases dramatically. This is why there is a very strong tendency for unsupervised and inexperienced lifters to perform only partial squats and why the squat does not effectively work the leg extensor muscles through their full range.

    Each of the ScrumTruk, HipneeThrust and JumpTruk use the QuadTorq technology to provide increasing resistance. This enables the exercise to operate comfortably and effectively in the region of biomechanical disadvantage. In addition the technology exposes them to substantial effective loading and high-range muscle fibre recruitment throughout the whole range of movement.

    The rate at which the effective resistance changes is varied by selecting different notch positions on the machine's quadrant.

    Mid-range notch settings are designed to broadly compensate for the improvement in biomechanical advantage throughout the exercise movement. The increase in effective load from the start of the movement to full lockout is intended to match the body's capacity to handle resistance, so that the exerciser has to expend basically the same degree of effort throughout the movement. This can be contrasted with the squat where considerable effort is required at the bottom of the movement and very little at the top end.

    Thus with a mid-range notch setting the leg extensor muscles experience substantial activation throughout the whole range of movement.

    With low-range notch settings the increase in effective load from start to finish of the exercise movement is greatly increased. These notch settings are ideal for practising explosive or ballistic movements. The exerciser chooses a weight load they can comfortably handle at the start of the movement and then attempts to perform the concentric part of the exercise as rapidly as possible. However, as they move toward full leg extension the effective load is rapidly increasing thus slowing their momentum. As a result there is a "ballistic braking" effect toward the end of the movement, eliminating the need to decelerate. Because of this the exerciser can utilise explosive strength over the full range of the movement.

    This range of settings is particularly useful with the HipneeThrust where concentration on plyometric-type movements can be expected to produce significant improvements in vertical leap.

    With high-range notch settings the increase in effective load from start to finish of the exercise movement is greatly reduced. High pin settings are ideal when the focus is on overcoming inertia, i.e., moving a heavy load from a position of rest. A typical real world application is in rugby when there is the need to "shunt" the opposing pack. A similar situation applies in the rugby lineout when a lifter with poor vertical jumping ability has to be hoisted.

    High-range notch settings are also useful when the ScrumTruk or HipneeThrust is being used to improve performance in the barbell squat, because the additional loading at the start of the movement conditions the leg extensors to operate more effectively in the region of greatest biomechanical disadvantage, e.g., in the deep squat position.


    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    The role of synchronised hip and knee joint angles in efficient squatting

    In recent days there has been discussion among some who use their blogs as weight training diaries about difficulties with squatting. The author of A prop's journey talks about "the quarter and half squats I'm stuck with at the moment because my leg/back/ankle (it's all connected) flexibility is terrible."

    And then we have Scott Bird posting in 99 shades of grey >> straight to the bar that "there was going to be some work to do" in order to reach parallel in the squat which he conceded he was "nowhere near." This was confirmed by a photo showing his inability to descend to the parallel position even with an unloaded bar. I hope that Scott doesn't mind me reproducing that photo in order to illustrate some of my own ideas on squatting.

    I have endeavoured to estimate his joint angles from that image and I trust that the first stick-figure diagram is a reasonable approximation. Not to put too fine a point on it, Scott's squat technique looks ugly and uncomfortable.

    The first problem seems to be very limited ankle flexion as indicated by the fact that he is having difficulty getting the angle between his shanks and the horizontal below 70°. You have to wonder whether he does much calf work and if so whether he trains full range. Most people who exercise their calves only do plantar flexion - raising their heels from the floor - and never attempt dorsiflexion - lifting their toes.

    But the main problem appears to be with his knee flexion; by my estimate he seems unable to flex the joint below 85°. The apparent 30° difference between his flexion at the knee and the hip is indicative of very poor squatting technique. A number of things flow from this. Firstly he is only activating the quadriceps group through the top half of contraction, i.e., from 85° to 180° of knee joint angle - he is missing out on at least 50° of movement through the most vital range. One can almost guarantee that he has poor leg extensor strength.

    Note that he is working his hip joints through a much greater range. Basically for Scott the squat is only really a glute exercise, and to the extent that he was able to attempt heavy poundages he would be likely to impose severe loading on the lumbar region of his back.

    We can also see that until he learns to further flex his ankle and knee joints he cannot really take a loaded bar much lower than in the photo. This is because of the gravitational necessity to keep the bar directly above his feet. If he flexed his hips much more he would begin to lose balance.

    Compare Scott's articular geometry with that of the second stick-figure. Biomechanically there is no comparison - the second figure looks comfortably balanced with the gravitational path of the weight bar passing through the midline of the feet. Greater ankle flexion is a contributing factor but the most important point to note is the symmetry between hip and knee joint angles. In fact an exerciser adopting this posture would probably have synchronicity between these angles through the whole range of movement. As a result the shanks and back remain parallel and there is no adverse loading on the spine. The weight of the bar is always directly above the feet and both the quadriceps and gluteus maximus are being worked through their full range.

    The first advice that I would give Scott would be to concentrate on keeping his back more erect. This would almost certainly lead him to flex his ankles more thus shifting his knees forward. It will probably feel uncomfortable at first as his quads are not used to being asked to do any serious work.

    I suspect that many people fall into the habit of excessive forward trunk lean from observing power lifters. However a typical power lifter is probably someone with a very strong back who is focussed on muscling up maximum weight without being concerned as to whether they are adequately exercising their leg extensors.

    In any case a 1978 study (McLaughlin, T.M., Lardner, T.J. & Dillman, C.J. Kinetics of the parallel squat. The Research Quarterly, 49, 173-89. 1978) of nationally-ranked and world-class powerlifters identified a tendency for less-skilled subjects to exhibit greater trunk torques than more highly-skilled subjects. "It would appear from the data that high-skilled subjects attempt to minimize the trunk torque, and do so largely by reducing forward trunk lean." It was noted that among the subjects, the then world super heavy weight champion maintained the greatest trunk angle of all subjects and, despite his much greater bar load, had a lower trunk torque than many smaller, less-skilled subjects.

    The high-skilled subjects demonstrated larger trunk angles, lower trunk torques and more extensor-dominant thigh torques. "It therefore appears that the high-skilled subjects strive to use the leg extensors to a greater extent than do less skilled subjects. This greater emphasis on the leg extensors is obtained by a minimization of the trunk torques by the high-skilled subjects (achieved by maintaining more erect trunk positions)."

    The final stick-figure shows a typical starting position for an exerciser using the ScrumTruk. So long as they are instructed to pack low against the shoulder pads and keep their hips low they tend to automatically have their backs and shanks parallel and consequently achieve and maintain synchronicity between their hip and knee joint angles. An almost universal observation from athletes using the ScrumTruk for the first time is that they have a definite "burn" or "pump" effect in the quadriceps indicating that the device is very much leg extensor specific. The apparatus also encourages them to significantly dorsiflex their ankles.

    Our observation from two years of athletes using the ScrumTruk is that its techniques and balanced development of the hip and leg extensors transfer well across to the barbell squat - athletes with extensive Scrumtruk experience tend to subsequently show very good form and depth on the squat.


    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    The Strength for Sport Refertory

    It has now become standard practice to click on search engines like Google, Yahoo or MSN whenever we require information but the results are frequently frustrating. Spam sites, dead sites and pages which contain the search term but have no real relevance to the object of the search can make the search process very tedious.

    A quite common and irritating occurrence is to find what looks like a very useful article only to be denied access to it. Usually an abstract is provided but in order to read the full text you have to subscribe to the journal or pay an exorbitant fee to read a few pages. Increasingly academic journals have been taken over by publishing companies who are motivated by the pursuit of profit rather than the dissemination of knowledge.

    Fortunately there are still some authors and websites who are happy to provide free access to their output but it is often difficult to find this material.

    I spend a lot of time trawling the 'net for information relevant to my company's activities and as a result have accumulated a fairly substantial data bank of useful articles and web pages on specific topics. I have recently assembled some of it as a section of our main company website which I have named the Strength for Sport Refertory.

    In the sense in which I am using the word, a "refertory" is basically a directory or catalog of references. However it is not a normal web directory as the links are not to whole websites, but to individual pages. Nor is it an articles directory as we don't store the articles on our own server, but rather simply provide a link to the host website. This use of the word "refertory" is not an original coinage as I have come across a university library website where it is used similarly to characterise a directory of references.

    What we have in my refertory is a theme-specific directory of articles, posts and web pages which conform to the commons principle by being freely available for viewing without payment and by not being password-protected. We have already created sections on specific sports such as American Football, Basketball and Rugby, as well as general strength themes such as Biomechanics, Explosive Power, Speed Development and Trunk Stability.

    Over time I will be progressively adding links to the site and also hope that others will suggest material for inclusion.


    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    A prop's journey

    I came across a potentially interesting new blog, A prop's journey, the rugby diary of a young front rower from Brisbane, Queensland. It will be interesting to see how active he is in posting in the off-season but he seems determined to use the time for building up for the 2007 season. It could be worth following.


    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Building bigger and stronger rugby players - the Sydney University experiment

    It is widely acknowledged that the average bodyweight of rugby players has increased considerably over recent years. Less recognised is the extent to which modern defensive alignments and strategies have transformed rugby matches into contests of attrition where bigger and stronger teams tend to wear down their smaller and physically weaker opponents over the course of a game. Perhaps the most notable change has been the increased importance of physical dominance in the backline.

    Responding to this, Sydney University's rugby club has been able to demonstrate that with the right combination of coach and infrastructure, it is possible to fast track the physical development of players outside a professional playing environment. In fact within a couple of seasons these players are able to achieve a body mass comparable to that of seasoned professionals together with a solid foundation of basic strength.

    In late May, Sydney University announced its team for the first round of the Tooheys New Cup, the premier competition in Sydney club rugby. All of the fifteen players are past or current students who had been developed through the Club's Colts and lower grade teams. None of them are paid to play for the Club, although the eleven who are still students receive modest scholarship assistance. Only three of the players are on professional contracts.

    It is instructive to compare their bodyweight and age profiles with those of squads from four major rugby countries:

    TeamAverage Weight (kg)Average Age
    Wallabies - 2006 Squad102.626.1
    All Blacks - 2006 Squad102.925.5
    Springboks - 2006 Squad102.226.8
    England - 2006 6 Nations Squad101.227.2
    Sydney University - 2006 Tooheys New Cup Team100.522.5

    Comparative Bodyweight and Age Profiles

    It can be seen that the part-time, unpaid Sydney University players, though three to five years younger, weigh only a couple of kilograms less than the world's best players. This is quite extraordinary as normally a much greater weight disparity would be expected.

    For the past three years Sydney University Football Club has been operating an Elite Development Squad (EDS) program for its top grade and colts players. Utilising one of the best equipped gymnasiums in Australian rugby, players train for eleven months of the year and undertake four weights sessions per week off-season and a lesser number while playing.

    The program's strength and conditioning components have been devised and administered by Martin Harland, a sports scientist who has previously worked with professional rugby league, Australian football and basketball teams. His programs for rugby players place a high degree of emphasis on basic strength development and rugby-specific fitness. A distinguishing feature of his approach is a concentration on heavy lower body work through exercises such as squats, deadlifts and cleans. In addition, both backs and forwards make intensive use of the MyoQuip ScrumTruk, a rugby-specific apparatus that targets the large mass leg extensor muscles, specifically the gluteal and quadriceps groups. Hypertrophy or increased muscle mass is a natural and not unintended by-product of such training.

    Exposing backline players to basic strength training

    Another distinctive feature of Martin Harland's rugby training regimen is his requirement that backs undertake the same rigorous basic strength routines as forwards. Many strength and conditioning coaches reserve the heavy "grunt" work for forwards, or even restrict it to the tight five.

    Exposing backs to very serious weight training has produced a quite extraordinary outcome at Sydney University, as evidenced by the following table comparing body weights of forwards and backs for the Wallabies, the four Australian Super 14 franchises and Sydney University:

    Squad/Team (2006) Av Weight (kg) - ForwardsAv Weight (kg) - BacksDifference
    Wallabies - Squad111.191.819.3
    ACT Brumbies - Squad110.390.919.4
    NSW Waratahs - Squad110.892.818.0
    Queensland Reds - Squad109.792.417.3
    Western Force - Squad109.192.916.2
    Sydney University - Team105.395.110.2

    Comparative Bodyweight of Forwards and Backs

    Not surprisingly, the University's young forwards are outweighed by each of the five professional squads. However, in the backs the situation is reversed. The University players outweigh the national and provincial squads by between 2.2 and 4.2 kg per man.

    If we look at the column showing the difference in bodyweight between backs and forwards it can be seen that for Sydney University it averages 10.2 kg, against 16.2 to 19.4 kg for Australia's professional squads, a very substantial difference.

    The Sydney University experiment seems to be providing clear evidence that the bodyweight of rugby backs can be dramatically increased through serious weight training, but the question arises as to whether this has benefits in terms of playing performance.

    One answer is that the other strength-oriented football code, American football, has traditionally used training methods similar to those of Martin Harland. All players, whether linemen or running backs, are required to do heavy gym work. Surely no one would seriously suggest that their quick players have inferior dynamic abilities to rugby players.

    Another justification for building heavier backs with superior leg drive lies in the already mentioned importance of physical dominance in the rugby backline. With the modern emphasis on structure and coordination in defensive alignments, bigger and stronger backs are better able to continually repel opposition attacks and also over the course of a game are likely to create physical and mental fatigue in their counterparts.

    Having achieved a strong foundation of basic strength and greater body mass, Martin Harland is then able to focus on speed and explosiveness in his players. It is clear that the Sydney University approach yields results on the playing field. 2005 was the Club's most successful year, winning the Sydney Club Championship, the First Grade Premiership and four lower grade Premierships.

    Even more importantly, players who graduate from such a program are much better equipped to withstand the rigours of modern rugby.


    Friday, June 09, 2006

    Essentials of the Argentinian 'Bajada' rugby scrum

    Argentinian teams are renowned for the effectiveness of their scrummaging and the central importance of the scrum to their game. From an early age, Argentinian forwards are schooled in the 'Bajada' or 'Bajadita,' a radically different scrum method invented in the late 'Sixties by the legendary Francisco Ocampo.

    The most obvious characteristic of the Bajada is that second-rowers bind with their external arms around the prop's hip rather than between their legs. But, as explained by Springbok coach Jake White (SARugby.com), one defining characteristic of the method is that "all the power is directed into the hooker. In other words, they scrum along an imaginary arrow drawn pointing inwards from either side of the No 8, which means all the power is directed towards the hooker."

    The other defining characteristic is the "Empuje Coordinado" or "Coordinated Push." "The scrumhalf gives a three part call after the "engage". On "pressure" all members of the pack tighten their binds and fill their lungs with air. On the call "one" everyone sinks; the legs at this point should be at 90 degrees. On "two" the pack comes straight forward while violently expelling the air from their lungs. A key note is that nobody moves their feet until forward momentum is established. If the first drive is insufficient the scrumhalf begins the call again and the opposing pack is usually caught off guard and pushed back." Rugby Union from the Virtual Library of Sport

    A more detailed explanation of the Bajada was recently published in the World Rugby Forum. It was written by Sergio Espector, a Level 3 coach with Club San Patricio in Buenos Aires. Sergio played for 27 years with the Club and has coached for nearly 20 years. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his notes which I have reformatted - hopefully without too much distortion of his meaning:

    Empuje Coordinado is the resultant of a lot of little details in the way that the props place their feet, the locks bind,and the flankers and the number-eight bind and push too. The eight players push at the same time and in three movements, put all the power to the center of the front row. But the most important thing is that here in Argentina we believe that the scrum is not just another way to put the ball in play.

    To have a successful scrum with all eight forwards pushing in a coordinated way, the players' obligations are:

  • to respect individual techniques;

  • to respect group techniques;

  • to not initiate individual confrontations;

  • to stay in place before the opponent and focus on the task to be carried out; and

  • to undertake physical training appropriate to the demands of their position.

  • Individual skills

  • Backs to be straight

  • Heads lifted up

  • Hips lower than shoulders

  • Knees flexed to 90 degrees

  • All eight forwards must bind strongly and there must be no space between players

  • Feet placement must not change when the scrum is formed

  • All players must be able to see the ball at every moment in the scrum

  • Feet placement must be shoulder width

  • Correct body position

    Front row

  • Props bind strongly on the hooker below the armpits, and the hooker binds on the props in the same way

  • Hooker's feet in line

  • Props' internal foot in line with the hooker's feet, and external foot a little bit backward

  • Hooker determines the right distance between packs

  • At referee's signal to engage crouch and drive forward

  • Never enter diagonally or across the opponent

  • Heads should be in contact with the chest of the opponent

  • The push must be FORWARD

  • Second row

  • They bind on the other second-rower around their back

  • They bind on the prop with their external arm around prop's hip and strongly pull together the front row

  • Before engagement must have the knee of their internal leg resting on the ground

  • Internal foot a little bit backward

  • The shorter second-rower binds under the taller one

  • Heads below props' and hooker's buttocks

  • Back Row

  • Flankers bind on the second-rower below the other second-rower's arm

  • Flankers' external hands on ground

  • Number-eight binds around the second-rowers' hips

  • All must have feet in line

  • Flankers put shoulders below prop's buttocks

  • Number-eight puts head between the second-rowers' buttocks

  • Pack Technique

  • After referee's command: "Engage"

  • First command by the scrum half: "Pressure" - on this command the eight players must grip strongly with their arms and fill up lungs with air

  • Second command by the scrum half: "One" - at this time all eight players must flex their knees to 90 degrees

  • Third command by the scrum half: "Two" - the scrum half puts the ball into the scrum, or his opponent puts the ball in, and the players must expel the air in their lungs while pushing violently FORWARD, never up or down, nor to the side

  • With this all the force is transmitted to the hooker

  • Players must never move their feet off the ground until they overcome their opponents and have positive inertia - it is very important that the hooker respects this even though he has the ball under his feet

  • It is not necessary to hook the ball, but in my club we use hooking when the ball is put in by us, and all players push when the ball is put by the opponents

  • We spend a lot of time in training, developing individual and group skills to be able to scrum the way we like, because we think scrum is a strength that not only produces benefits to our forwards' minds, but equally produces collateral damage in our opponents. This is because in the first place their front-rowers and second-rowers lose energy to contribute to open play, and in modern rugby if you don't have 15 players playing all the time you are lost, and in the second place their back-rowers lose speed in defense, because they are busy pushing.