drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aussie coach introduces MyoQuip systems to British rowing

London Rowing Club coach Phil Bourguignon
London Rowing Club coach Phil Bourguignon has persuaded the club to instal the equipment that helped make his previous club, Sydney University, the leading rowing club in Australia. London RC recently became the first European rowing club to use the revolutionary MyoTruk and MyoThrusta machines as the basis of their strength conditioning.

After four very successful years as Director of Rowing at Sydney University Boat Club, Phil Bourguignon was looking for a new challenge. He found it in the Thames-side London Rowing Club, thus moving between two of the world’s oldest rowing clubs. SUBC had been founded way back in 1860 but LRC is even more venerable dating from 1856.

It is typical of Bourguignon that he took no time off between finishing up in Sydney in December last year and moving into the boat house at Putney. Back in Australia, juggling club and national team commitments, he had coached year round refusing to take vacations. In 2006 he was quoted as saying: “They say I’ve got four weeks off, but no … Athletes, their bodies don’t know what time off is. They’ve got to be trained every day. Athletes don’t know when holidays are.”

His work schedule was unrelenting, involving 15-hour days during the week, waking at 4:30 am and getting home at 8 pm. And he had no reprieve at weekends. His only free time was on Sunday afternoons when he often accompanied his mates out for a quiet beer but he was so exhausted that he often fell asleep after the second beer.

“Fortunately, I love waking up every morning,” Bourguignon said. “I love it because I’ve got such a great diversity of athletes, that I’m seeing something new every day. I see a change in somebody that wasn’t there yesterday and I say, ‘Yes! Thank God, that’s it, stay with that.’

“And you really look forward to waking up to see that.”

A feature of the Bourguignon approach was to strive to stay upbeat and full of energy in front of his athletes so they would act likewise.
Phil Bourguignon monitoring MyoTruk technique at Sydney University
“If I’m enthusiastic, they’ll be enthusiastic,” he said. “If I’m tired and morbid, there’s no way they’ll working hard. I can change the way they act in the boat shed by the way I act.”

He was renowned for never going out, preferring to stay home and watch video of his athletes so he could prepare them as best he could for their next challenge. When the athletes worked out in the gym during the afternoon, Bourguignon stood by their side, offering advice on how they could improve.

“I enjoy working with people’s psychology; I enjoy working to understand how people interpret things, how to make them tick and make them go better, just in their mind,” Bourguignon said. “I like working with a variety of people.”

He learnt how to focus on detail during a year he spent at the Australian Institute of Sport as a scholarship coach before coming to the SUBC. At the AIS Bourguignon learned how to coach precisely, how to coach every stroke. As he put it, he learned about “finding the inch that’s gonna win the race.”

For an unashamed workaholic, London Rowing Club offers the ideal environment. Bourguignon’s apartment is right above the boathouse.

At Sydney University Bourguignon coached rowers to win World Championships and Olympic medals. At London his focus is much more on medalling at Henley. Instead of coaching university students, his new charges typically work long hours in the professions or in the City. Consequently their training has to be much more concentrated. This is where Bourguignon sees the two MyoQuip machines as invaluable, enabling heavy strength work to be done very intensively and safely:

"After a long session on the water, backs are fatigued. Therefore, squatting after rowing is very dangerous. With the use of the MyoThrusta and the MyoTruk systems, athletes can still do their heavy weights after a long and hard session on the water." He noted that in Sydney he had “employed the MyoThrusta and the MyoTruk heavily in my training programs with athletes rowing at elite levels. I have not had one back injury to my athletes in 2 years of heavy training"

Back injuries tend to be endemic among elite rowers but there is the need to constantly strive for increased strength. Phil Bourguignon believes that he has found a means to avoid one while achieving the other:

"With rowing heavily involving the legs and core muscles, squatting alone provides many problematic issues such as an athlete not being able to support heavy weights through their core muscles. MyoQuip systems can do the extra weights without worrying about the core muscles, which provides more strength gain without the worries of injuries to the back.

"When athletes get too strong for their skeletal frame and core stability in squatting, they can use the MyoThrusta and the MyoTruk to increase strength safely where they can add far more weight than they are able to squat without the risk of injuring their back."

His name indicates Gallic ancestry but Phil Bourguignon’s broad Aussie accent gives the lie to that. It will be interesting to see what impact the boy from Brisbane has on Thames-side rowing.

(MyoQuip systems are now manufactured in England and distributed throughout Europe by Gen3 Kinematics who supplied the MyoThrusta and MyoTruk to London Rowing Club)


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Physical imposition rugby – the Sydney University system

I wonder how many people watching the 2010 Sydney Premiership Club Grand Final realised they were seeing a classic demonstration of a revolutionary style of play that I have termed “physical imposition rugby”.

The clash of Australia’s two most historic and successful clubs saw Sydney University triumph by 46 points to six; five tries to nil; and seven goals to two. Both sides were weakened by injuries from the previous week, Randwick losing five players and University two.

Game strategies based around physical domination are nothing new in rugby, but where the Sydney University style is innovatory is that it is not just based on the forwards overpowering their opposition but the whole team systematically grinding the other team down.

The foundation of the University system is a training methodology which involves minimal actual conditioning but rather an almost exclusive focus on heavy strength and speed training. The counter-intuitive result of this radical approach is that the team is renowned for its ability to finish over the top of its opposition, particularly in the final quarter of games.

If we take the Grand Final as a template of how physical imposition rugby should be played we can distinguish a number of defining characteristics.

Sydney University play is structured and methodical with an emphasis on patience and relentless control. In defence the team presents a “brick wall” across the width of the field and has confidence in its ability to continually repel attackers. Two or three players engage the ball carrier and try to drive him back, usually so effectively that multiple phases yield either no net gain or a loss of territory. The aim is to frustrate opponents so that they eventually lose the ball in a turnover or knock on.

Although multiple players usually make the tackle and attempt to secure possession, virtually no one is subsequently committed at the breakdown. This frees players to fan out at the sides of the ruck in readiness for the next assault on the defensive line. There is no attempt to slow the opposition ball down as the more tackles the team can make with multiple defenders engaging a single attacker the greater the toll on the opposition’s reserves of strength and fitness.

In possession, because of their enhanced physicality University players enthusiastically attack the line, often recruiting support players for the ball carrier even amongst the backs. In tight play they frequently vary the pick and drive from the back of the ruck with passing to a small pod of forwards standing four to five metres to the side of the ruck.

One of the distinguishing features of the Sydney University style as it has now developed is the use of big midfield players who function like forwards. Both centres in the Grand Final weigh around 105kg and play very physically.

Supplementing the trench warfare is a strategy of field position where the emphasis is on relentlessly going forward. Both Berrick Barnes and Luke Burgess kicked into Randwick’s defensive corners aided by a very committed chase typically led by Tom Carter. This produced defensive lineouts near the Randwick try line or hurried kick with insufficient angle to gain much distance.

When Randwick attempted to kick deep, University usually had at least a couple of players in position to receive the ball. Rather than floating a long pass across field the ball receiver typically elected to counter attack directly, often into a heavily populated area where they would get past at least a couple of defenders before being brought to ground. Then the process of physical imposition would continue.

University’s patience and relentlessness predictably caused frustration in the Randwick players giving an outstanding kicker in Barnes opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking over to yield a 16-6 lead at half time. In the second half physical and mental fatigue caused Randwick to concede another 30 unanswered points.
During the match University played some very enterprising rugby but much of it came after they had softened up their opponents.

The precondition for playing physical imposition rugby is a specific type of fitness which is essentially anaerobic and heavily strength based. However it also requires exceptional mobility in order to contain and counter the opposition game plan. Technical proficiency in the set pieces and mauls is a primary focus, but it is a 15-man involvement in physical imposition that is the strategy’s defining characteristic.

Sydney University has demonstrated that physical imposition can be employed very effectively at a semi-professional club level and there is no reason why it wouldn’t be equally successful in a fully professional environment. However this would require radical rethinking of both player conditioning and the role and attributes of centrefield players.