Youth rugby warm-up for muscle activation
Whether you are training for or playing rugby, you should never neglect your warm-up. Warming prepares your muscles and your mind for the challenges to come. A well-executed warm-up should improve your performance and may also reduce your risk of injury.
This is especially true for youth rugby players – they are the future of the sport!
Warm-ups should be dynamic in nature. That means they should involve plenty of movement and many of those movements should mimic what you are about to do. Static jogging and static stretching, two common warm-up ingredients, are not really enough.
Dynamic warm-ups, DWUs for short, are a much better way to prepare your body for rugby training. DWUs ready a player’s body for physical work by:
- Increasing heart rate
- Expanding the range of motion of muscles and joints
- Increasing the body’s core temperature
- Improving blood circulation throughout the body
- Activating the central nervous system
One way to warm-up for rugby is the RAMP method, discussed in this article. In this instance, RAMP stands for Range of motion, Activation, Movement preparation, and Potentiation. In this article, we’ll focus on A for Activation.
What is activation?
Most rugby training activities and the game itself are very dynamic and explosive. Movements are done quickly and with power. Maximum effort! Life is generally quite sedate, and that means your muscles are in standby mode much of the time. To get them firing with the power and purpose required for optimal performance, your muscles need waking up. This is the aim of activation.
Activation increases the speed of the nerve impulses traveling from your brain to your muscles. Improving communication between brain and muscles means you’ll be able to switch on more motor units at the same time. This takes the brakes off of your performance.
Think of activation like this: In the scrum, if only three players are pushing, your team won’t produce much of a drive. But, if you can get all eight players to push at the same time, much more force is generated.
Activation drills allow you to recruit more motor units so that you can generate more force. They don’t make you stronger; they just allow you to tap into more of your existing strength and power.
Activation drills for youth rugby players
A lot of activation drills involve things like plyometrics and Olympic lifting. For most youth players, these methods are too advanced to be safe or practical. Don’t worry though, there are still plenty of youth-friendly activation drills you can use in both the gym and on the pitch. Please Note: Activation drills should be done toward the end of DWU to make sure that the joints and muscles are ready.
1. Monster walks
Long periods spend sitting mean that the muscles of the glutes and hips are in dire need of a wakeup call. These muscles are crucial not only for power production but also for joint stability. Monster walks are a practical way to fire up the hips and glutes.
Put a resistance band around your knees. Take half-a-dozen steps to your left and then to the right. Keep tension on your band throughout. Do not let your feet come too close together.
2. Mini-hurdle jumps
While full-on plyometrics are not advisable for youth players, there are still some useful jumping exercises you can do to activate the lower body muscles. Mini-hurdle jumps are a good option.
Place a series of five hurdles about 3-4 feet apart. Using two-footed jumps, leap over each hurdle in turn. Try to minimize ground contact and move quickly from one jump to the next. Do not squat down into each jump. Instead, keep the legs relatively stiff to maximize nervous system and motor unit activation.
3. Band sprintsPrepare for sprinting with band resisted sprints. The band gives you something to work against while limiting how far you can travel. This exercise is a great way to fire up your glutes, hamstrings, and calves for more explosiveness.
4. Band pull-aparts
Long periods of sitting don’t just affect your lower body; your upper body goes to sleep too. This is especially true of the shoulder girdle and the muscles between the shoulder blades. Activating these muscles will improve shoulder stability and function, and also improve posture.
Hold a resistance band out at shoulder-height. Open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest. Return to the start position and repeat. Keep your shoulders down and back throughout.
5. Medicine ball slamsThis exercise fires up the core, lats, and arms. Because you can use different sized medicine balls for different players, this exercise is easily scalable for the entire team. With your feet shoulder-width apart, quickly raise a medicine ball above your head. Immediately hurl it down to a spot about 12-24 inches in front of your feet. Don’t just use your arms; uses your entire body and try and bury the ball in the ground. Catch the ball as it bounces and repeat. Make this a partner drill by placing two players facing each other and instructing them to alternate.
6. Partner towel rowsThis exercise will fire up your back, forearms, and biceps, as well as your lower back, core, and legs. Adopt a squat or a split stance as required. In pairs, hold a towel in each hand, one arm bent, one arm straight. Pull your end of the towel toward you as your partner resists. Use an alternating arm action. Think of this not as a strength training exercise but a way to reinforce the mind-muscle connection. Apply only enough resistance that you can feel the target muscles working.
7. Bear crawlsIf you only have time for one activation exercise, the bear crawl should be it. This exercise will fire up the arms, shoulders, core, and legs all at the same time. Adopt the quadruped position with your arms vertical, legs bent, and weight distributed evenly between your hands and feet. Without dropping your hips, crawl forward keeping your torso flat to the floor, and core braced. Use your diagonally opposite leg and arm. Do not allow this exercise to become a race. Instead, focus on movement quality and not quantity.
8. Kneeling plyo push-upsPlyo push-ups are an excellent activation drill but may be too advanced for some youth players. Doing this exercise on the knees makes it much more accessible. Do plyo push-ups to activate the chest, shoulders, and core. Adopt the standard push-up position but then bend your legs and lower your knees to the floor. This is your starting position. Bend your arms and lower your chest down to the ground. Explosively extend your arms and push yourself off the floor. Land on slightly bent elbows and descend into another rep.
Reps, sets, and recovery
To get the most from these and any other muscle activation drills, you should only do enough reps to get the job done. Stop your set before there is any noticeable drop off in performance. The actual number of reps will vary from player to player and exercise to exercise.
Remember, these drills are designed to fire up the nervous system, not build muscle or strength, or improve conditioning. Do as few sets as necessary to achieve the desired result – usually 2-4 will be sufficient.
The focus should always be on the quality of movement and not quantity. Because of this, rests between sets should be long enough to allow for a full recovery. Make more efficient use of time by arranging exercises into non-competing supersets, trisets, or giant sets.
Move quickly from one exercise to another to maintain body temperature and elevated heart rate. Do not put exercises together that overlap and will affect the performance of the next drill. For example, bear crawls, and plyo push-ups would be a poor combination.
Good examples include:
- Monster walks, band pull-aparts, and plyo push-ups
- Bear crawls, medicine ball slams, and mini hurdle jumps
- Partner towel rows, kneeling plyo push-ups, and band sprints
Please see our FREE guide to Strength and Conditioning Training for Youth Rugby Players for more information on age-specific training.