drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Andy Sheridan - an aberration or is prodigious strength the future of rugby?

Andrew Sheridan - Sale and England front row forward
England's loose-head prop, Andy Sheridan, achieved instant legend status when he demolished Australia's scrum at Twickenham in November. The Wallabies' Al Baxter was firstly sin-binned for his inability to hold his footing, then his replacement, Matt Dunning, was stretchered from the field with a neck injury. The more cynical might wonder how genuine that injury was, but either way it amounted to an acknowledgement that Sheridan was simply much too strong for two experienced international props. He has since been lauded as the strongest frontrower in the world.

The most interesting question is whether his strength is freakish and abnormal or the product of the dedicated application of modern strength training.

There is no doubt that Andrew Sheridan had the genetic endowment to be very big and strong. At Dulwich College, a prestigious south London public school, Sheridan was the dominant player in a team that remained unbeaten from under-11 to first XV. His first rugby master recalled: "Never before have I seen one player inject so much fear into the opposition and dominate so many games with a combination of size, speed and strength."

But the boy was not content simply to exploit his natural advantages. "Everyone was competitive, driving to be better players even at a young age, and that continued right through our time at the school. We used to boost each other. There was a real competitive element. Our training sessions were very hard, and as well as the three rugby sessions each week, lots of players were doing extra weights sessions, extra running, always trying to improve."

The Dulwich years led to an obsession with relentless weights training: "Weight training was something I have always enjoyed. Something I got a high from doing. There is definitely something addictive about it. That's partly down to the improvement you can see, but it's also to do with how you feel afterwards.

"They talk about endorphins or something being released - not that you can go and pick up your car after a hard session, but you do feel good. I liked the feeling of being able to shift a weight that to the average person seems very heavy. It's whatever works for you."

While playing for Richmond and later the Bristol Shoguns, Sheridan did many extra sessions in the gym, striving to become massively strong. He set himself a target of bench-pressing 500lbs (227kg), eventually achieving 215kg. "The weightlifting wasn't directly related to rugby, but if I reach a goal like that, I am going to be more confident."

He has since acknowledged "Getting strong on the bench press won't necessarily make me play rugby any better. ... Perhaps when I was 19 or 20 it was more of an ego thing trying to bump it up, but I've gotten over that now." His focus has shifted to improving leg strength and back strength.

Sheridan's forwards coach at Sale, Kingsley Jones, says "I've been in rugby all my life, and he's the strongest guy I've come across in the game or outside it. And he's so dynamic with it. ... He can do the fast exercises; he can do the strong exercises. He's just an incredible athlete."

Sale's fitness coach, Nick Johnston, believes that Sheridan has not yet reached his full strength potential. "From a trainer's point of view," he says, "he could probably improve another 25 to 30%. Which is quite frightening."

If he had not developed a preoccupation with strength training, Andy Sheridan would still have developed into a big and powerful rugby player but almost certainly not one who would have reached the international level. His example suggests that players with appropriate genetic endowment can achieve massive strength specific to the demands of their sport through the long term application of strength training techniques. However, in order to do so, these players currently have to almost defy the rugby world's orthodoxy in relation to strength and conditioning.

There is a general failure to recognise firstly that rugby players are typically not particularly strong given their size and secondly that superior dynamic strength can yield huge advantage in the sport of rugby. However, the gradual recognition and exploitation of these truths is beginning to revolutionise the game.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Northampton Saints endorse the ScrumTruk

Northampton Saints Performance Coach Tim Exeter
Premiership club Northampton Saints pioneered the use of the ScrumTruk in the U.K. Performance Coach Tim Exeter installed two ScrumTruks prior to the 2005-2006 season. Exeter, a former Scotland A centre, worked in strength and conditioning with West Bromwich Albion FC, Coventry FC and Portsmouth FC, before coming back to rugby with Richmond RFC from 1997 to 1999 then joining the Saints in 2001 where his innovatory approach has revolutionised the performance department.

Tim Exeter credits the ScrumTruk with helping to improve the Saints' scrum performance:

The addition of ScrumTruk has enhanced our training. It is position specific and gives better transfer than traditional exercises. It helps de-load the lumbar spine which traditionally is restricted post match for some days. We mix in with some traditional exercises and this helps give the necessary variety and stimulation to the players. We have adapted exercises using double leg, single leg and walking up and back and found functional improvements in strength and stability and the players like it!"
Tom Smith, Saints, Scotland and Lions front row forward

The ScrumTruk also receives strong endorsement from Tom Smith, who says: "I have found ScrumTruk invaluable as a tool to improve strength specifically related to scrimmaging whilst reducing the impact on lower back and shoulders." A world class prop, Smith, who has been a Saints player since 2001, was a 61-cap veteran with Scotland, as well as playing 6 back-to-back tests on the last two Lions tours.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Bands, chains and broad biomechanical correspondence

[Summary: The addition of bands or chains to free weights permits adjustment of the resistance to the muscles' load-bearing capacity throughout an exercise movement. This broad biomechanical correspondence allows exercises to be performed explosively over their full range, effectively conditioning the body for actual sporting and athletic activities. The development of sophisticated mechanisms employing the same principle has important implications for sport-specific strength development.]

There are two main types of variable resistance exercise equipment:

Close biomechanical correspondence

Manufacturers of cam-driven machines claim to vary their resistance to closely match the torque curves of natural joint movements. In other words they assert a close biomechanical correspondence (CBC) between resistance and muscular capacity. However, given the variation between individuals in relative limb lengths, muscle attachment points, genetically endowed strength relativities between various muscles, etc., it is doubtful that such claims of accurate correspondence between load and load-bearing capacity are justifiable.

CBC machines are basically designed for single-joint movement of isolated muscle groups performed at a measured pace. Their very limited applicability to sports training is highlighted by Zatsiorsky's comment: "The important limitation of many strength machines is that they are designed to train muscles, not movement."

Broad biomechanical correspondence

The other type of variable resistance apparatus does not attempt to achieve any precise correspondence between resistance and muscular capacity.Rather the rationale for their use is that substantial benefits are achievable from load variance so long as the changing load-bearing capacity of the muscles involved is approximated. Bands and chains are examples of apparatus that rely only on such broad biomechanical correspondence (BBC).

In operation heavy rubber bands or steel chains are attached to either end of a loaded barbell and anchored to the floor or other fixed points. This enables a progressive increase in resistance for exercises such as squats and bench presses. A distinguishing feature of these exercises is that they are heavy load and involve multi-joint or whole limb movements.

The deceleration problem with free-weight exercises

Explosive strength is fundamental to many sporting or athletic activities but free weights are defective in building explosive strength. In the squat or bench press, for example, various studies have shown the bar decelerating for much of the final section of the range of motion. In the deceleration phase there is significantly decreased motor unit recruitment, velocity of movement and power production. In addition, when free weight movements are performed forcefully, antagonistic muscle action takes place to slow down and halt the limb to avoid soft tissue rupture or joint dislocation.

Conditioning the muscles for deceleration during the final stage of an exercise movement is counterproductive if the objective is to enhance ballistic-type sporting actions like throwing or jumping. This is also true where there is an inertia-dissipating or energy-absorbing mass to be moved, as in tackle engagements in football. Similar dynamics apply at the line of scrimmage in American football or in a rugby union scrum. In each of these cases the appropriate simulation is an acceleration through the whole range of limb movement.

Adding BBC characteristics to free weights enables exercises to be performed explosively or ballistically with the progressively increasing resistance providing a braking effect. Peak power occurs near the extreme points of angular motion.

A new generation of BBC machines

Recently MyoQuip have introduced a new system of lever and fulcrum technology that achieves the same basic effect as bands and chains but permits the development of sophisticated mechanisms with a high degree of specificity to particular sporting activities.

Because of their primitivity the use of bands and chains has largely been restricted to the power-lifting community. A major limitation of the equipment has been the difficulty in incrementally changing load. The fixed load component can be readily altered by adding or removing weight plates, but there is no way of making minor adjustments to the variable element provided by bands or chains.

With MyoQuip's machines, incremental load changes are effected simply by adding or removing weight plates, and the rate at which the load changes during a movement can be altered by choosing a different pin setting.

The MyoQuip technology also permits considerable flexibility in the orientation of effort. For example, the ScrumTruk machine is operated in the horizontal rather than the vertical plane, while the HipneeFlex, which is used to develop the leg flexor muscles, is configured for decreasing instead of increasing resistance.

The further development of machines delivering full-range muscle activation in either extension or flexion across multiple joints is likely to have important implications for strength training for sport.