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.


Philip Copeman said...

Nice Article Bruce. Don't think I agree with your statement that Genetics would have got him somewhere anyway. I bet when you check into it, you will find that Andy Sheridan just simply trained and eats a lot more protein that the rest of them.

I think that You, Nick and I are all on the same side. We should stop Pandering to Old School. Our message should be crystal clear - Stronger Wins. Stronger is MADE.

I have been talking to England, but their politics is worse than ours. It seems to me crimmnal that a team that really seems to have the edge in conditioning, can't translate that into Contact. The whole concept of Iron Rugby is how you use contact technique to gain dominance, with strength conditioning being a vital part. My rantings seem to fall on deaf or confused ears.

Al Baxter (and Dunning) looked a whole lot better this year. It was scary to watch Baxter blow Os Du Rand away in the Cheetahs Game.

Be interesting to see what he does in the Squat. I think we are going to see a move to lower body strength and speed in the Front Row. I am particularly impressed with Tialata of the Hurricanes. He has been using explosion to over come his size deficit.

Bruce Ross said...

Thanks for your comment, Philip, which as usual is very thought provoking.

I am still convinced that Andy Sheridan had a very favorable genetic endowment as evidenced by the comments of his first rugby master who would have had him before he began weight training. Besides, we could both cite many examples of players who used their natural size advantage to get to the international level without doing any effective strength training. But I think our common position is that their time has passed. I firmly believe that within the next few years, it will be quite common for players to be as strong as Sheridan is now, and not just front rowers.

With regard to Al Baxter and the squat, my understanding is that he has not been able to squat for a few years because of back problems. I would like to think that his very evident improvement in strength this season is somewhat attributable to using the ScrumTruk which is installed at the Waratahs.

I agree with your prediction of "a move to lower body strength and speed in the Front Row." In that respect, Andy Sheridan is only a precursor and not the full prototype. I see him as predominantly a scrummager. The next generation of props at the top level will include individuals who are massively strong but also very mobile around the paddock.


Oranje_Orakel said...

Hi Bruce

As a former prop- although only at club level I do find your comments very interesting

I am blessed to have three boys- 5 3 and 2 and although time will tell us what their liking in life will be- if they decide to play Rugby Union their Genetics may convince their coaches to play in the pack- most likely prop & Hooker

I am also reading alot of Philip's work and the exposure to the other training regimes had been quite an eye opener.

I am relaunching my own rugby related blog

www.oranjeorakel.blogspot.com for the domestic tiff- the Currie Cup 2006.

I would like to carry an range of articles from experts on the Front Row revolution in Rugby Union.

If you are willing to provide an article I will be really thankful

Great blog and I am reallt impressed with your training equipment

Congrats to the Waratahs win against the Cheetahs as well

Al BAxter was instrumental - he really Scrummed well

Patrick said...

Andy Sheridan is a big specimen but to say hes the best prop around is going over board. I remember when I came up against Carl Hayman he looked abit ordinary and was eventually subbed, which goes to show that the it was more to do with the sussie scrum being bad than sheer physical dominance from Englands forward pack. Think England will be in for a harder examination when they come down under and I am sure the Aussie will be relishing to opportunity of redeeming themselves for the embarrassment last year.

Patrick said...

oh check out my blog at http://nzrugby.blogspot.com/

Bruce Ross said...

Patrick, I have added your blog to my blogroll. Isn't it about time you resumed posting?


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