Today we've finally gotten around to wrapping up 2016 by giving you the top rugby training blogs of the year. The articles are ranked from least to most popular and cover a huge range of strength and conditioning topics. These include a cardio program just for flankers, a thesis on prioritizing strength training over lifting for bulk and a range of training drills from one of the country's premier professional outfits. We highly recommend taking the time to read each post individually, but this summary article will give you the highlights anyway. Enjoy, the best training blogs our team released in 2016.
10. 5 training drills from the Ohio Aviators
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Who it's for: Coaches and Captains
The article actually refers to them as Pro Rugby Ohio, because when we wrote it, the franchise still hadn't chosen a name. But even nameless, these boys were able to come up with some killer training drills that any amateur rugby team can utilize in your own training sessions.
The training drills each focus on different (yet equally important) areas of rugby. Including:
- Getting ready to attack (Realignment)
- Removing a breakdown threat (Alligator Roll)
- Lineout speed (Ladders to Lift)
- Scrumming position (Tackle Bag Crawls)
- Team Work (Tire Carries)
Our favorite rugby training drill would have to be the first one which covers re-alignment. The video below shows the boys in action doing their re-alignment training. Why do we like it so much? It's simple, doesn't require a lot of equipment, forces players to think on their feet and most importantly helps your guys practice "changing modes" - that is, going from securing the ball at the breakdown, to quickly setting up a backline and attacking. You'll notice in the video that it's a mixture of backs and forwards doing this training drill because transitioning between functions on the field is a critical component of modern rugby.
9. Get strong ruggers. 'Big' will take care of itself.
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Who it's for: all rugby players in off-season
Number 9 on our list of training blogs from last year focuses on lifting weights. And the age-old question of whether you should lift for size or lift for strength, understanding that training protocols are different for each. The piece focuses on similar training principles to those expressed by former Crusaders strength and conditioning coach Ashley Jones, who blogs at elitefts.com. If you haven't before, we highly recommend checking out some of Ashley's work.
In our piece, we explain that lifting with hypertrophy in mind is detrimental to the athletic performance we need in rugby. That is unless you're a front row forward who specifically needs to increase size and strength around the upper back, neck, and shoulders. For the rest of us, though, all hypertrophy training does is make us slower and less flexible.
We've created several resources in the past few years that deal with specific training programs for size. Our recently released eBook on superset sessions is one such resource. But even without a tailored program, you can make the switch to strength-focused training by following these four simple principles:
- Reduce Rep Range
- Regulate your Rest
- Sprint More
- Set Targets Vs Bodyweight
Read the full article for more on this. But the pro tip would be that if you're genuinely looking to add size to your frame, your success will be based more on your diet than your training. We suggest simply adding a meal at night. That's right, just wake up at 3 am and knock down a 400-500 calorie whey protein shake and eat right during the rest of the day. The results will speak for themselves.
8. 'The Rectangle' - Flanker Cardio Program
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Who it's for: loose forwards who have to train solo
Cardio sucks. Well, to clarify, having a high aerobic capacity is awesome. But getting a high aerobic capacity sucks. It requires a heck of a lot of work. At most amateur rugby clubs, it's almost impossible to get in enough cardio training with a couple of 90 min team sessions each week. So if you want to get fitter as rugby players, you'll need to put in the work on your own. The challenge with training on your own is knowing what to do and staying motivated. We designed the following cardio program around the loose forward positions, being that we know them the best, but the workout can be just as useful for inside backs and hookers as well.
The basic principle of this training session is that although rugby players require incredible endurance to be world-class, they shouldn't train the way endurance athletes do. Instead, their training should focus on replicating short, moderate to high-intensity bouts of effort for an extended period.
'The Rectangle' does this by regulating your effort at a range of different distances and speeds, with the distance decreasing and the effort increasing throughout the session. It's also modular, so you can scale up (by reducing rest) as your cardio capacity increases.
You can watch a full description of 'The Rectangle' below. Or read the full article to learn about the different distances and why they're important for flankers specifically.
7. Rowing is the best cardio training for rugby
Read it here
Who it's for: all rugby players entering pre-season
In recent years, seeing rugby players on ergo rowers during pre-season training 'news' stories has become pretty common. But that wasn't always the case. In the past, we the standard formula was to run run run in pre-season because it was the only way to get fit. Don't get us wrong; running can be an incredibly useful way to increase speed and even strength. But during pre-season, when many rugby players are carrying some extra winter bulk (even the best suffer through this, don't feel bad) it's sometimes better to focus on building your aerobic capacity without putting undue stress on your joints.
This season, our team has focused on using the road bike for long-distance cardio training. But last year's approach was the rowing machine, and it worked like a treat. The advantaged of rowing is that it's the only full-body exercise that puts absolutely no impact stress on your joints. That means your lower back, knees, and ankles all get a break during the workout. It also means less chance of injury during a critical training period in the season, and you get an amazing core workout which is often neglected by rugby players.
The rowing workouts in this article are designed to help you build speed-strength and strength-speed at the same time you are leaning out and increasing your cardio capacity. The focus of this kind of training is to increase the power output of your stroke as a means to going faster. You could similarly increase your stroke rate, but that's not going to give us the training benefits we're looking for. Instead, each session asks you to get slower with your stroke rate rather than faster and to focus on driving hard within each stroke. This can provide incredible gains in power over a very short period of time.
6. Coaching rugby using a Zone System
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Who it's for: high-school and college rugby coaches
In one of his first articles for us, high-school football and rugby coach, David Weitz lays out the 'zone system' he uses with his junior rugby teams. The Zone System isn't so much a pattern of play as it is a series of naming conventions that allow your team to communicate effectively during rugby training and games.
David's Zone System article includes several diagrams showing how his teams have chosen to label the field according to both vertical and lateral areas. They use 'Red, White, and Blue' from left to right and 'Zone 1, Zone 2, Zone 3, and Zone 4' from defensive Try line to attacking Try line.
Weitz explains that once you have the field labeled and understood by all players, it's easier to assign objectives to different zones. This assignment of responsibility to zones of the field gives everyone an instant understanding of what they need to do in that zone to help the team achieve its common aim. For example, the entire goal of Zone 1 is to 'get out of zone 1'. While on the surface this seems simple, assigning it leaves no room for confusion. There are many things a team will do to 'get out of zone 1' - but everyone understands the objective.
If you're a college or high-school rugby coach, we highly recommend utilizing a zone system like the one David has created here. Some of his other great work focuses on recruiting high-school rugby players and how to structure your team's defense around the breakdown.
5. 10 Stupid Simple Recovery Tips for Rugby
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Who it's for: all amateur rugby players
One of our primary focuses at Ruck Science is on perfecting the recovery process for amateur rugby players so that our games, seasons, and careers can last longer. We love rugby. And we want everyone to love it for as long as possible. So while plenty of the content you'll find on our website is dedicated to performance, there's just as much that deals with proper recovery from rugby games and training. You'll find this both on our blog and in our range of nutritional supplements.
We recruited NCAA strength and conditioning coach Mike Hedlesky in the middle of last year to help us understand the recovery and training protocols he's used with more than 100 NCAA All-Americans and 4 NCAA Championship teams. In his piece about recovery, Michael runs us through 10 stupid-simple tips that all rugby players can utilize to reduce recovery time and get back to training.
His analysis of RICE Vs MEAT is particularly important and something we've adopted in our recovery programs. Also, 'flossing' which has become a bit of a craze in recent years. Something else to consider is the difference between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems and why getting back to parasympathetic dominance is so critical. Finally, Michael goes into a superb analysis of the effect of recovery training on the mind as well as the body. In particular, he talks about how contrast baths give you a feeling of being recovered long before the full recovery takes place. Read it if you care about recovery and being able to train and play rugby for as long as possible.
4. The best rugby leg workout for power
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Who it's for: rugby players in pre-season
A lot of research has come out during the past few years into what specifically makes a good rugby player. And invariably, that research suggests that lower-body power is unbelievably important. Last year, a great paper out of Australia showed that tackling ability is directly correlated with lower body power. But also, that tackling ability changes during the season could be predicted by looking at leg strength and benchmarking it against earlier seasons test results.
The series of leg workouts we recommend in this article are designed to develop lower body power in rugby players. To do this, we use a combination of heavy squats combined with plyometric work, starting with box jumps and moving on to single leg box jumps. The idea being that we want to increase both strength and speed, the basis for the power formula.
The article includes a full leg workout program, no downloads, no eBooks; it's all right there for you. There's a particular focus on timing and pacing of the workout. As with a lot of the programs we endorse, the rest times are regular, with the start of each new set occurring at a pre-determined time. We suggest trying to stick to this as much as possible, while it's tempting to rest for an extra minute, the purpose of these kinds of workouts is not to recover fully between sets but to train your body to continue producing 80%+ bouts of work for an extended period. Use this leg workout if you want to get stronger and more powerful in your lower body.
3. Transitioning from 15s to Rugby 7s
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Who it's for: anyone who's not a tight-head prop
Rugby 7s might have the same laws as 15 a side rugby, but in reality, it's a totally different sport. The energy demands are different, the athletes are different, and the pace of the game is different. The result being that if you want to switch from playing 15s during the winter and into playing 7s during the summer, you're probably going to need to change your diet and fitness regimes. In this excellent article, and one of his first for ruckscience.com, Calvin Harrell examines how amateur rugby players should go about switching from the 15s season to the 7s season.
CH makes some really important points about game play in 7s based on his discussions with former USA women's 7s coach Jules McCoy. Here's just a taste:
Rugby Sevens is about possession with momentum acting as a catalyst to scoring. There is less scrummaging and very little kicking for territory involved in the 7s version of rugby. But every player in every position needs to be able to clean out a ruck, pass off both hands and sidestep in mid-field.
2. How to lean-out for rugby season
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Who it's for: ruggers who want to get leaner
We've seen in the past few years that many rugby franchises are adopting low-carb approaches to nutrition in an effort to get leaner. But that's not very helpful, what we need is a formula for putting that into practice. Our 2nd most popular training article of 2016 was also dedicated to the diets of rugby players. But this one factors in strength-focused training and sleep principles to give you a complete formula for becoming a leaner rugby player. In the piece, we cover the three basic principles of fat (not weight) loss and how to achieve it.
Change your primary energy source - from carbohydrates to fats. That means adopting a ketogenic-approach to energy usage. Rugby players require carbohydrates during games, but for the rest of the week, we don't need as many as we've always been told we do. Changing your primary energy source from carbs to fats takes a few weeks to get right, but once, the performance and body composition results speak for themselves.
Change your training - to be more explosive. Many people believe that training within your 'fat loss' heart rate zone is the best way to get slim. And you can find an abundance of examples of endurance athletes who are incredibly lean. But that doesn't mean that training in this zone burns the most calories or the most fat. In fact, lifting more heavy weights, doing intervals and sprinting have all been shown to burn more calories overall than fat-zone training. Explosive training is the way to get lean for rugby season.
Change your rest - nobody gets enough sleep these days. But it's incredibly important if you want to hit your training and bodyweight objectives. This means setting a consistent bedtime alarm, utilizing melatonin when necessary and staying in bed for at least 8 hours even if you're not asleep.
We've tested these methods on ourselves and seen excellent results. There is a testing group currently in progress that will be reporting on their results within the next few months as well so stay tuned for that! Now, on to the final article on the 2016 list of best training blogs for rugby players.
1. How to eat right at Rugby 7s Tournaments
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Who it's for: Rugby 7s players
Rugby 7s tournaments are some of the most grueling single-day team sporting events. When you're playing upwards of 5+ games int eh single day, the body takes a huge beating. This is true whether you're playing in the cold of Montana or the heat of Texas. To get through the day, you need a measured approach to nutrition that focuses on replenishment of energy reserves without reliance on single-use sources.
So for example, you want to avoid caffeine as much as possible during Rugby 7s tournaments. Caffeine gives you energy by giving your body the stimulus to produce adrenaline. But your adrenal gland can only produce so much adrenaline in a single day, and it can't do it "on command" half a dozen times in an 8 hour period. It's just not built for that kind of usage. So relying on caffeine as your sole source of energy at a Rugby 7s tournament can be detrimental to performance. This is particularly true late in the day if you're used too much caffeine and haven't eaten enough real food.
What 7s players need to do instead, is balance their diet with complex carbs, fruits, and lean proteins to get them through to the last game of the day. Never eat too much in a single meal (even at 'lunch') and focus on foods that are common and you're familiar with. There's nothing worse than running to the bathroom every five mins because you've eaten something that upsets your stomach.
Our rugby 7s diet article was the most popular rugby training blog of 2016, we believe, because it focuses on exactly what to eat before and after each game of the tournament. You can print this article and give it to a mate, and they'll be able to follow the simple formula very easily. Every athlete is going to be different, so feel free to customize the meal plans to your specific needs. But remember, your diet at a rugby 7s tournament is one of the most critical factors in late-day performance.
Next week, we'll have a list of the most popular rugby-focused nutritional supplements last year including stacks, individual products, and samples.