There was a time in rugby before the game became professional when lineouts were much more evenly contested than they are today. Way back in the 1990s, the was no lifting allowed at lineout time. This meant that there were significantly fewer lineout variations. Basically, you just had to chuck the ball to your tallest guy and hope he had the 'ups' to pull it down.
Variations in modern lineouts
Since lifting became part of the game though, the lineout has gotten more complex. What you'll see in professional games nowadays is a coordination of strength, speed and explosive power. Multiple players need to be on the same page in order to execute an effective lineout. We've all seen the results when one player doesn't pull their weight, its usually a disaster.
But as offensive lineouts have gotten better, so have the defenses. In fact some teams are so good with their defensive lineout that it's almost an advantage to them to put the ball into touch. To trick defenses, offensive play calling has become more complex and players have needed to be more flexible in their roles. Most teams have not (and probably will not) go so far as to have props jumping. But at the professional level, you'll regularly see a starting side in which everyone from 4 through 8 can both jump and lift.
Variations need combinations
The more people you have in your starting pack who can take on both roles, the greater your ability to use lineout variations. Having 2 jumpers who can lift lets you utilize a fast 4-man lineout. Having 3 lets you expand this to a 5 man setup. But if you've got 5 guys who can do both jobs? Now you can run a huge number of lineout variations that can be difficult for the defense to cover.
The key here is having athletes who can both jump and lift. Players who have both of these capabilities are slightly more valuable than those who do not. Some of this is biological. More endomorphic players will obviously be easier to lift and will have greater length in the air. But those same players can also be excellent lifters given their height. Again, the key to creating variation in your lineout is to have players who have a combination of skills, both on the ground and in the air.
Rugby Canada has a great eBook on positional skills which you can download here for free.
DEVELOPING LIFTING POSITION STRENGTH
Let's not mince words, lifting in lineouts sucks. When you get it right, you're supposed to get it right and when you mess up everyone knows it and yells at you. The only person who gets an even worse deal at lineout time is the Hooker, more on that another day. Lifting is about more than pure strength, its about functional strength, speed, extension and staying power. In developing a strong lifting position, its crucial to improve all these aspects of your lift. Before we get to the program itself, we're going to examine the specifics of the lineout lift and how the small variations in this gym workout will help make you a better lineout lifter.
Clean + Press
The clean and power clean are very popular strength exercises for rugby players. But for functional lineout strength, we suggest you avoid doing the power clean. Why? Because the standard clean actually puts you in a better body position for a lineout lift. During a power clean, much of the force is generated by your upper body and the twisting movement you make to get your elbows under the bar. In a standard clean however, you need to drop your body weight towards the ground and BEND YOUR KNEES which are two essential components of getting in lineout lifting position.
When lifting in a lineout, it important to use your legs more than your arms. So we want to try and avoid movements that are too heavily focused on the upper body. The standard clean puts you in almost the exact same starting position as you would be for a lineout lift. Whereas the hang clean or power clean are too heavily focused on the shrug which are not as useful to us for developing lineout lifting strength.
Once you reach your lifting location, you'll need to drop your body weight and grab your jumper. This movement is mimicked in the first motion of the clean, where you've shrugged the weight upwards and pulled your body under the bar. In your lineout lift, this movement is an un-weighted 'drop' of your body. During your clean, focus on shrugging and dropping in quick succession. Shru...drop. Shru....drop should be the mantra repeating in your head.
At the top of your press, you're looking to achieve maximum height. In order to do this, you'll need to look up slightly and elongate your entire body. Maximum extension means getting all the way up. To quote USA Eagles prop Chris Baumann, "if you're not on your tip toes, you're cheating your jumper by 2 inches." You can replicate this position in your clean by extending all the way up so that you're on the balls of your feet when you've completed the press.
NOTE: we don't actually suggest you get up onto your tip toes during each press. We actually tried doing this for a time and it caused some serious calf pain and tightness int he days afterwards. But you can still get onto the balls of your feet for sure.
Hold at the top
How many times have you seen a lineout fail because the jumper wasn't in the air long enough? It's probably at least a half dozen times a game. Your singular focus as a lifter is on getting your jumper in the air and keeping them there. You can't control the lineout throw, but you can make sure that your jumper is in the air whether the throw comes at exactly the right time or 2 seconds late. In our gym sessions, we're going to plan for the 2nd of these situations which means holding our press at the top for 2-3 sec.
Control the weight down
All too often you'll see people in crossfit gyms especially dropping barbells from above their heads. Not only is this dangerous, it also re-enforces a bad habit for lineout lifters. One of your key responsibilities as a lifter is to get your jumper down on to the ground safely. When in the air, the jumper has very limited control of their body. It's your job to control their body weight as they come back to earth and protect their ankles when they land.
To help re-enforce this, slow down and control the back end of your clean. In other words, don't get to the apex of the overhead press and then just step away from the bar. Lower the bar to your chest and then roll your shoulders over and perform a 'decline' V-row to get back down to your waist. Your jumpers will thank you for this one.
Focus on acceleration
One of the keys to a successful lineout is getting the jumper in the air quickly. This requires coordination between jumper and lifters, timing both movements and above all else, acceleration into the air. During your clean, focus on getting up to your holding position as quickly as possible with good form. Just like strength, speed is something you need to train for. You'll notice in our program that we never ask you to lift above 80% of your 1RM. Most reps are done at 70%. This is very much deliberate. We want our lifts to be fast. If we're training with too much weight, its going to be hard to develop that quick snapping" movement. If you're languishing during a workout, go slightly lighter and focus on speed.
DEVELOPING JUMPING POSITION STRENGTH
Jumping in lineouts looks like the easy part of the progression, and in many ways it is. The one critical thing for jumpers to get right is body position. A human is a difficult thing to lift at the best of times. But a limp, floppy or unbalanced human is just about the most awkward object you can try to get above your head. Your main job as a lineout jumper is to get into a body position that makes you easy to lift into the air and hold. Here's how we suggest you go about developing jumping position strength.
The Hollow Position
The hollow position comes to us from Gymnastics. Gymnasts will use the hollow position routinely as it provides for a tense and stable platform from which to launch other maneuvers. It's also a common body position used by olympic divers in order to create a stable and streamlined entry point at the water.
Here's how to make sure you're in a correct hollow position:
- Keep your arms up by your ears.
- Tuck your chin to your chest with your chest rounded inward.
- Contract your stomach muscles.
- Keep your hips turned under.
- Squeeze your legs tightly together, and keep your toes pointed.
Now, lineout jumping isn't exactly the same as gymnastics. During a lineout jump, you probably won't be tucking your head to your chest. Instead, you're going to be looking slightly upwards and towards your hands. But the rest of these points are spot on. Your chest should be rounded, your hands forward of your shoulders and your stomach and legs contracted as tight as possible. This is the position we want to achieve and hold during our jump.
Why the hollow works at lineout time
Being in this body position makes you as easy to lift as you could possibly be. Stability is the key. By keeping everything tight there's less chance of you falling out sideways or spreading your legs and being dropped. The slight crescent shape your body creates will also makes you easy to hold in the air. The crescent puts your feet and hands slightly in front of your ass which will give your rear lifter the ability to get under your vertical center of gravity. At the same time, having your legs pulled firmly together will let your front lifter control your lower body.
Exploding into the Hollow (burpee variations)
So the hollow position sounds great, right? Now we need a way to practice getting into the hollow position while also jumping into the air. Luckily, there's a movement we're all familiar with that we can tweak a little bit to give us this practice. The dreaded burpee. Our variation on the burpee involves the following tweaks:
- Perform a slow, narrow decline pushup
- Explode off the ground with your upper body
- Pull your legs towards your chest
- Land your feet shoulder-width apart, feet parallel
- Spring upwards from your existing foot position (don't reset your feet)
- Launch into a hollow body hold in the air
- Land and repeat
We suggest using the burpee rather than a box jump because for most players, becoming a better lineout jumper has more to do with body position than vertical jump. In the box jump your landing position is all squished up and you're landing well above your starting position. Whereas the burpee puts you in the right situation mid-flight and brings you back to the same starting point, just as you would during a lineout.
Hollow Body Holds
The final part of this program is aimed at giving you a stable body position in the air. We're going to practice this using a Hollow Body Hold, again borrowed from gymnastics training. There's nothing too complicated about this movement. You can google 'hollow body hold' and you'll find a stack of resources on how to do it from people with more stability training and core strength knowledge than we have. This video is pretty good as is this one by men's health.
Doing hollow body holds will give you the core strength to maintain your body position while your lifters keep you in the air. The entire core session is only 10 minutes at the end of each workout. Don't skip this! It's tempting to just walk out of the gym after your burpees, but a few weeks of practicing your hollow body holds will make your cleans better and easier too.
How it should look
Now that we understand the movements, lets look at the training protocol. If you read our rugby leg workout program, you'll probably notice a lot of similarities here. Again, we're aiming to do 40 minutes sessions to replicate half a game of rugby. We're going to use short intervals with plenty of rest between sets. But as we outlined in our flanker cardio program, its crucial to standardize your rest periods in order to replicate game play.
Its unlikely that you'll have time on your training calendar to fit in multiple lineout session during any given week. So the most you're going to do is probably one of these sessions every 7-10 days. There's nothing wrong with that. Just focus on your form and remember that increasing speed and achieving correct body position is more important than increasing the weight of your clean and press.
The program is also fairly high-intensity. You're not going to get a lot of rest at all. If you're looking for ways to maximize your performance both during the workout or during rugby generally checkout our BCAA supplement and nitrate powder - both of which have been shown to provide endurance benefits during training.
How it should look
10 x 3 cleans @ 70% 1RM + 5 burpees every 3 mins
Time: 30 mins - Reps: 30
10 x 30 second Hollow Holds every 1 min
Time: 10 mins - Reps: 10
15 x 2 cleans @ 80% 1RM + 3 burpees every 2 mins
Time: 30 mins - Reps: 30
10 x 30 second Hollow Holds every 1 min
Time: 10 mins - Reps: 10
The last word on this program is that its pretty tough on your cardiovascular system. You're going to get worn out and you'll probably burn through a LOT of calories in the process. If you're following a LCHF diet like the one we describe in our analysis of the All Blacks' diet, be sure to fuel up with a pre-workout supplement that contains some carbohydrates and replenish your body with our package of recovery supplements.