Thursday Oct 13, 2016 Functional Gym Training for Rugby - Why It Makes No Sense

Functional Gym Training for Rugby - Why It Makes No Sense
13
Comments

In today’s article Rugbydump Academy Strength Coach TJ discusses why searching for “functional” exercises may not be in your best interest. He talks about what may be a better way of looking at things as well as what Functional Training actually is.

A trend that seems to be growing in the fitness industry is “functional training”. More and more gyms seem to have either a “functional fitness” area, or be running “functional fitness classes”, or just have coaches that sell their method of training as “functional”.

Proponents of these functional methods of training would argue that their methods are superior to other movements/exercises. They will have you believe that their movements/methods will make you a better player, but other movements/methods actually might not.

To get an idea of whether this is true or not, first we need to answer the following question.

What Is “Functional” Training?

The problem with answering this is that the response will vary depending on who you ask.

Some will say that all movements must be in a “flow”, others will have you moving weight through multiple planes of movements (think different directions rather than the traditional up-and-down).

You also have guys that do everything on an unstable surface, others will  adjust your rest-times to make it more like an in-game scenario. On top of that we have strongman training, medicine balls and all the SAQ equipment that you can use. All of these things have been argued as “functional”.

Perhaps a better idea would be to explore what exactly is ‘non-functional”, I think many of these functional gurus would agree that single-plane, single-joint, fixed weight movements are non-functional.

Does that mean everything aside from this is functional? That’s not a very good answer, let’s just define what “functional” means. Google says:

So “functional” needs context to be defined. So when somebody says a certain exercise is functional without actually saying what the purpose of that function is then it is stupid. By definition, anything you do in the gym can be “functional” if you have a purpose for it.

A simple bicep curl is functional because it can build up the bicep muscle, which in turn can help with your pulling strength (in all senses). As a rugby player you may be better in a ruck, maul or tackle if your pull is stronger.

You could even possibly argue that by simply having bigger biceps, you can fill your jersey better and have a better chance of getting scouted – people may scoff at that notion but don’t shoot the messenger, it is something I’ve been told by an actual professional scout.

Let’s Get Functional

The point I’m trying to get across here is that everything can have a purpose or a function , but whether that function is needed for you as a player depends on a number of things.

Training Age

A younger/less developed athlete should be concerned only with perfecting the basic lifts before testing all the waters with the fancy stuff. It has been shown time and time in the science that the younger the athlete, the more return they will get from the simple movements. As a youngster you can cover your bases with as little as 5-8 exercises year-round and make outstanding progress on the pitch as a result.

A more advanced athlete will have to get more technical and incorporate some of the fancy movements to get the benefits of gym work on the pitch.

Movement Quality

If you are heavy footed, have poor posture and just generally move pretty clumsily then it’s no use doing advanced plyometrics or heavy barbell snatches. You need to learn to move better. Again, this is done with the basic lifts, possibly with the help of BASIC running drills and jump work.

You may also need to fix weak points, which may need to be done using isolation movements. Once these weak points are brought up and in a better ratio with the rest of your body, you should be able to move better. However if you just do advanced “functional” training, your body may figure out a way of doing it without using the weaker areas, creating poor movement patterns and even bigger weaknesses and imbalances.

In this aspect, you could argue that “functional training” may lead to you having a greater injury risk.

What You Need As A Player

This relates to your goals, which should in turn relate to your strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re small and weak, you may need to do a few isolation movements just to bring up some muscle and give yourself an easier route to getting stronger.

If you’re really strong already, the strength work could be just maintenance, but your power and speed work might need to form the bulk of your programme.

If you have really good stats in the gym but for some reason you can’t replicate it on the pitch, you may want to look at focusing on core work (to transfer strength onto the pitch) and rugby skills.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what is “functional”. Even if we ask “what is functional for rugby players?” the answer will vary from player to player.

A Better Way Of Looking At Things

To assess whether what you’re doing is functional, you need to ask yourself the following questions.

1. What are your goals for the current program?

2. What exercises and rep ranges are going to help you reach those goals?

That’s it, real simple. If what you’re doing for point 2 is helping reach point 1, what you’re doing is good and it is certainly functional.

Wrap Up

Anything can be functional if it has a purpose. It’s as simple as that.

I will finish this article by pointing out that “functional exercises” should not be confused with “Special-Strength” exercises. Special-Strength are a different beast entirely, and they deserve their own article, which I’ll give you next week.

Make sure you sign up to Rugbydump Daily so that you don’t miss it.

13 Comments

  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Not to you, to the author of this article! Coming from a hip-hop background, i recognise snidey "public indirects" when I see them... For lack of a better term, he talks a lot but says nothing other than rehashing articles off other sites. At least we come up with our own ideas. If anything makes no sense, it is articles like this. I can give you a list of international players, coaches and support staff I have had the great fortune of direct contact over the years who would agree. Soon, the sport will reach "terminal velocity". When they are as big and as strong as this earth has to offer, they are going to need something between their ears too.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    1010, are you talking to me? If so, I actually appreciate the importance of strategy, however I feel that the modern game is inducing some sort of bulk first think later image onto the up and coming, rather than as you said, get the basics, then work from there. I remember us talking a long while back about how the youth is most countries kick a football around in the park, and that the reality is, consistent world winning teams in rugby won't be developed until that football is replaced with a rugby ball. As you mentioned in the past, there is only one Lomu, however replications or attempted replications of him have been crude battering rams who have focused mostly on speed and bulk. Lomu, lets not forget did have skills, these skills I'm sure were developed from familiarity...

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Judo is about theory. A 120lb Judoka can flip a 250lb bodybuilder onto their back because they use their momentum against them. Boxing is more than just 2 blokes punching each other in the face until they fall over, the contact situation is no different. It teaches body positioning too. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, but your view of the game seems quite blinkered. Chess sessions are more beneficial than chest sessions in terms of game management. People train their body, but do they train their mind, reactions and reflexes? Rugby is played wight he top 2 inches, assisted by the other 5 or 6ft, not the other way round

    Reply
  •  tjjankowski
    tjjankowski

    To reply to your comment. There are benefits, but few. I personally think if England players' schedules are being disrupted from their normal club stuff it should be to work rugby, specifically England's game plan and set piece etc. I don't understand the logic in pulling them out to do judo. I agree that doing other methods can lead to improvements. The problem from these other methods though is that there must be clear benefits each session. If you waste hours and hours in crossfit sessions learning how to handstand or snatch with perfect technique, thats time you could've spent working more rugby-specific skills and fitness. Not to mention the fact that the fitness needed for Crossfit is completely different from that needed for rugby.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    That last paragraph was exactly the sentiments of the player manager I was talking about. No player is ever 100% fit, because they're always pushed to their limits and past, all the time. Players are also relatively speaking, replaceable.... Perhaps less so in the fly half region, and perhaps the back row, but beyond those two areas, it's more or less a free for all... and it's hard to say that is the wrong way it should be, because as you mentioned, the entire game has changed.. winning is everything, money is everything.... apparently..

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    The comparisons are often disrespectful to the Legends. There is only one Jonah, but a million comparisons... which shows the impact his magic had on the game. Soon the sport may become a revolving door. There will always be someone bigger, faster and stronger. They may not be better, but they can handle the mileage of building, maintaining, repairing and carrying 30-50% more than their frame was designed to, with the impacts associated with others of similar stature, while never realistically more than 85% fit. Even if only for one more season... but hey, a win is a win, right?

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Crossfit is a contentious subject... people pay hundreds a month to mix up cardio and supersets when all they actually need for motivation is... motivation. You won't always have someone there to cheer you on, it is easy with loud music inside a warm gym. Like you say, heart and awareness are difficult to teach. Most of the commenters here have seen the game turn professional within their lifetime. The reality of the situation is that the players aren't so much getting bigger as they are getting more even. Mismatches made the game accessible. Forwards did their thing. Backs left them to it. Props were expected to drop any pass, and fly halves were told off for getting involved in collisions. Now the fly half is expected to hit like a prop, and the prop to handle like a fly half. This modern generation are quite possibly the most physically elite athletes in all of global sport. "Physical Combat", Speed, Strength, Skill and Endurance, an 80 minute Pentathlon... it was an inevitability accelerated by the introduction of "professional" practice, and catalysed by a healthy cash injection Pick-up Touch Rugby games are the skill seminars of the South. Then they get big. No coach can teach you the 1000s of hours of familiarity, reactions and reflexes growing up with a rugby ball gives you. Freakish innate talents cannot be replicated, this sport needs to start looking where the pass goes, and stop looking at the arms throwing it. Every big winger gets a Lomu comparison, but there has never been another Carlos Spencer.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    I don't doubt you, I suppose awareness and heart are two attributes that are extremely hard to teach (if possible to teach at all!). Perhaps players like Rupeni Caucau are similar examples. Am I correct in assuming that you would not write off cross fit training if it is used in a package, rather than on it's own. For instance, the Tongan back row you mentioned, could he perhaps have been an even more immense animal given the fact he clearly already had or has the rugby skills..? Whereas, for instance, someone who is an animal at cross fit, won't be a great rugby player simply by remaining in the cross fit realm.. I'm reading a bit about the England training camps (purely because the injury levels that it's totting up are quite large) and I see they're incorporating judo etc. Of course, the argument is "become an immense judo fighter and it doesn't mean you'll be any good at rugby" however, be good at rugby and some judo techniques could make you better...?

    Reply
  •  tjjankowski
    tjjankowski

    Doc, I played with a Tongan back row who was an absolute animal on the pitch. We had to do Crossfit training as part of the team at the time... and guess what... he was awful, could barely deadlift his bodyweight let alone do a power clean. None of that mattered when he played

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    TJ, interesting point I remember coming across a little while ago is lifting requirements for the springboks, actually come to think of it, I think it was all round stats. I think there was lifting stats for front row, second row, back row and backs... (maybe there was further division in the backs), the I believe there was sprint times as well as distance times, or perhaps bleep test. Unfortunately it was a while ago so I cannot remember when or where I saw it. I suppose much like your article above it's important to look at the whole picture, which is, I guess those stats are designed to whittle down some possible entrants and not to be used to determine a good rugby player.

    Reply
  •  tjjankowski
    tjjankowski

    I mostly agree, although I'd argue that strength training of some sort benefits all sizes, levels and positions. Mass gaining for rugby isn't always a great thing, because you don't know what to do with that mass (it's like running around with a weighted vest). Although with solid accessory work and prep work it is definitely possible - it just depends on diet. Luckily most (if not all) pro club's S&C coaches are smart enough to know that a strong bench press and/or squat doesnt necessarily mean a great player. In fact the more rugby S&C progresses the less testing has been used, I might write an article on this in the coming weeks.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    I suppose to some extent functional training in position specific form has it's place in guidelines.... for instance you might be 6'8" and chunky but not having much going on in the leg mass, so functional training so that you cover leg power in rucks, mauls, scrums isn't a bad heads up. But really as 10st10 says, the game is changing astronomically. I believe I posted a link to a BBC article written by a player manager (and perhaps he was an ex scotland player too...) who basically wrote that the 'buyers' of these players are interested in numbers too... g-force being one, how much shock can they produce in their hits. I think a bunch of us have said it before, we remember school days rugby of idk U13, when we shivered onto a pitch in our baggy shirts and bold pasty legs only to see the great hairy bearded beast who was coaching the opposition with his 3 other fellow coaches were indeed not coaches but players themselves.... and of course, the pummelling ensued. The fact is I remember hitting 1st team rugby and we'd all sort of caught up one way or another... some sporting stubble, others just sporting less puppy fat and a bit more mass.... Nowadays, it's teams of mini Haskells and bloody Joe Marlers all running around at the age of 12....

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Functional is any training with relevant motions in mind. It has been the same since Ancient Greece... compound lifts, find what you are lacking, then work on the specifics. T-shirt muscles are useless without the back muscles to quite literally back them up... you can take one look at someone and see whether they are strong, or just big Strength training benefits bigger players, 3x8 and 5x5 sets build bar numbers very quickly, but don't stress the body enough to build muscle. It is why powerlifters can train 7 days a week and still maintain their weight class... which is the quandary smaller players fall into. You need to have the mass to give your strength a solid base to work off of, but the volume training required to build the mass builds strength too slowly. This goes back to your year off article, while it might help to build up younger players, it takes them out the game, age group, and more importantly, off of the hollywood bicep scout's radar This is why I play touch rugby nowadays! Give it 5 years and we will see NFL style "Combine" training camps and drafts, the game is changing at an alarming rate... while it is still halfway accessible to the average man, anybody wanting to become a pro will need to counterfeit their birth certificate by 5 years on their 21st just to get a trial

    Reply

Great Tries

View All

Big Hits & Dirty Play

View All

See It To Believe It

View All

Funnies

View All

Training Videos

View All

Player Features

View All
Functional Gym Training for Rugby - Why It Makes No Sense | RugbyDump