drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Monday, January 02, 2006

Rugby - the most strength-oriented code of football

[Summary: Rugby players are more involved in physical contact and for longer periods than players in other forms of football. With the exception of American football, they tend to be significantly heavier than other footballers.

Strength training in rugby has tended to focus on hypertrophy or maintaining strength levels rather than achieving full potential strength, but in the future there is likely to be a concentration on heavy, very mobile players who possess very high-range explosive strength.

Rugby players spend considerably more playing time in physical contact and contest with opponents than players in other forms of football.

Much of this contact involves extended grappling and wrestling, but what is also characteristic of rugby is the amount of time spent attempting to drive forward under loads considerably heavier than bodyweight. Obviously this is so in the scrum and maul, but also at the tackle. Both ball-carrier and tackler may strive to drive one another backward for an extended time after engagement. American football and rugby league are also primarily collision sports, but their tackles tend to terminate much more quickly.

Recognition of the importance of physical strength has led to a tendency for rugby selectors to favour increasingly heavier players even for backline positions. A modern professional rugby team is likely to average over 100kg bodyweight, compared with less than 95kg and less than 90kg for rugby league and Australian football respectively. Increased bodyweight appears to confer no advantage in soccer.

No valid size comparison can be made with players in American football. Its use of specialist teams means that individual players are only on the field for limited periods and therefore really massive players can be employed for the more static areas of engagement.

For professional rugby, players are often chosen on the basis of their size and apparent strength but are then not really expected to work to become significantly stronger. Much strength training in rugby appears to have the aim of generating hypertrophy - increasing muscle size and thus body mass - or of maintaining strength levels rather than seriously exploring the potential for markedly increased power.

Soccer, Australian football and rugby league are continuous-flow type games, whereas rugby and, to a much greater extent, American football are characterised by frequent stoppages and thus require lower levels of aerobic fitness. But I see little evidence that rugby coaches have fully realised the potential this provides to gain a competitive edge by requiring their players, backs and forwards, to seriously train for strength.

I would suggest that, given the development of very well-drilled coordinated defensive lines, the next stage in the evolution of rugby is likely to involve a concentration on the identification of and development of heavy, very mobile players who possess very high-range explosive strength.


Nick Tatalias said...

Although I think that you underestimate some of the American football guys athleticism, however I agree bigger faster explosive is the way forward. Sadly South Africans don't agree, well at least the general public, in a number of posts people talk about players getting bigger and stronger they speak about diminishing skills and agility wrongly assuming that bigger means muscle bound and slow. I believe bigger, stronger can not only be faster, more agile but can be more skillfull. I think the lack of focused defensive training and conditioning will form part of the future of union training. I am intrueged that people were very accepting of Jonah Lomou's size and speed but fail to see that all backs should weigh in over 105Kg and lose forwards 115kg and tight forwards at least 125 plus (my feelings and estimates)always capable of great speed of course.

Bruce Ross said...

If my post conveys scepticism as to the athleticism of American fottballers, Nick, it was certainly not intended. I do not have enough knowledge of that sport to make such a judgement.

I agree with you that "bigger, stronger can not only be faster, more agile but can be more skilful"; and I think this is an area where those in charge of the development of professional rugby players should be seeking guidance and ideas from their American football counterparts. There is no inherent contradiction between strength, speed, agility and skill. It is just a matter of players being better directed and prepared to work much harder.

I assume your reference to players' bodyweight applies to those in the top two tiers, i.e., internationals and Super 14 level players. That being so, the only disagreement I might have with your projections is the reference to "all backs." There is already a definite tendency in the direction of greater size, but I would expect - and hope - there would always be room for the very skilful individual who is somewhat lighter than the norm.

Nick said...

Bruce of course there should be room for dynamic players below the weight. Who in SA would leave Brian Habana out of their side, the problem is that people then want everyone to look like Brian Habana including the props.

With regards to lower ranked players (below the super 14 level) I would encourage the development players to be aiming at significant gains in strength and lean body mass even at premier club level. Its an ideal time in a young players career to put in the hard work and convert the teenage body into a powerfull physique, learn to play skillfull explosive rugby with the bigger body mass and strength. Use this development time to learn what creates thebest performance for them.

I guess body mass is not the premium trait you'd train for but for function and strength. As an example our countries best ever olympic lifter who is 20 years old weighs in at around 80kg, but can overhead squat 160kg - more than most rugby players in SA can back squat. I'd take that kind of (functional?) strength, of course in rugby they don't play in weight divisions so increased weight is important so long as the power to weight ratio increases also, or we could all get our way into top rugby by supersizing:-)

With regards to the football players, I agree that some of the lineman are very strong very heavy and very imobile and your comments were very insightfull, but some of the players playing are incredible athletes, Brian Urlacke at the Chicago Bears plays linbacker, weighs in 265lbs (120kgs) and is the fastest player in the side over 40 yards, athletic, fast, strong, agile, bright and defensive player of the year in the NFL. Thats the sort of person I'm thinking of for flanks and eigthman. Yes the game is very different but you may see where I'm going.

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Bruce Ross said...

I was a little surprised to see this article reprinted on a site titled Make up tip and subtitled "make up tips, and cosmetic enhancement advice".

When it comes to cosmetic enhancement most rugby players need all the help they can get.