Special Strength Training is a very advanced method of training for sports. It’s what makes the biggest difference between just going to the gym and working out and using the gym to improve your rugby performance. If you really want to become a better rugby player, you need to be doing this.
Last week we spoke about functional training, and why it made no sense.
Some people didn’t agree, others thought I was being pedantic. This week we discuss something that is similar to what you may have seen as “functional” strength, but is much easier to define, figure out what it means for you and get it in your training.
This week we talk about “Special Strength Training”
What is Special Strength?
Verkoshansky is probably the biggest expert when it comes to special-strength work, he defines it as “strength you can directly apply in your sport”. Pretty simple, right?
Why is it Different to General Strength?
With this in mind “general strength” would be any other strength work.
This is not to say that general strength doesn’t have it’s place, think – the stronger your general strength is, the more potential you have when it comes to special strength.
We in strength and conditioning bloody love pyramids – they seem to help explain everything we do! This is no exception.
If you want to build the highest pyramid possible, you’d build a real wide base (general strength), only then should you start to add height (special strength).
There may be a point where your pyramid is unstable, because you’ve gone too high without widening the base some more. This is the guy who is trying to do too much of the special strength stuff too soon.
There may also be a point where adding more width is a waste of time, you need to start building these blocks higher to actually see the pyramid. This is the guy who is only doing general strength work and no longer getting better at rugby.
Lastly, you’ll notice that when beginning to build a pyramid, the first few blocks are really significant. This is the guy who has just started strength training, his general strength will significantly improve his play without the need for any special focus.
What Are Some Special Strength Movements For Rugby?
What we’re looking at doing is improving your ability to perform in rugby, so it is important to figure out exactly what it is you do in your game.
|POSITION||JOB||GENERAL STRENGTH||SPECIAL STRENGTH|
Isometric Scrum Engage on Squat Rack
|Hooker||Ruck Clean Out||Shoulder Press|
Medicine Ball Scoop Throw
|Lock||Lineout Jump||Trap Bar Deadlift||1 Step Jump|
|Back Row||Ball Carry Into Contact||Bench Press||Kneeling Medicine Ball Throw|
|Half Back||Agility||Split Squat||Speed Skater Jump|
|Centre||Short Acceleration||Hip Thrust||Band Resisted Step Drive|
|Back 3||Flat Out Sprint||Deadlift||Continual Bounds|
This list is just to give you an idea. If you are a centre who clears out a lot of rucks, or a hooker who wants to step defenders, by all means change it.
Make sure you are completely objective in what you need to improve upon. i.e. if you’re a prop it may be cool and to improve your flat-out speed but how much is it really going to affect your game?
Once you have 2-3 specific areas of improvement you have a starting point. From here you must break down these jobs. It’s easiest done in the following steps.
– First we figure out what body parts and movements are used.
– Then we start to look at which direction the movement is, are you moving horizontally, vertically or laterally? Are you looking to remain straight or rotate?
Now we have a more specific idea of what we need.
So now you know which what you’re moving and in which directions, lastly you need to look at the speed at which these movements are performed.
For the most part, movements in rugby are performed at the highest speed possible. Logic says that this should mean we perform our Special-Strength movements at the highest speed possible, but whilst this is the end goal we can’t jump the gun and get straight into that.
OK Great Can I Just Plug These Movements In Right Away?
Just like when you’re doing normal weight training, form is critical. In fact it is probably the most important thing about Special-Strength work. Think about it, if you’re practicing a specific movement but that movement is wrong, are you even practicing at all.
Because of this it is important that we build up the intensity, speed and specificity of the movements.
Another reason we need to build into this type of work is the impact it can have on the CNS. Most rugby-specific special-strength work will be plyometric, high-impact and high-speed. This takes a toll on the body and if you’re not prepared for it you’ll get beat up and wont improve.
Instead what we need to do is build up to it:
Stage 1: Basic Movements: hops, bounds, jumps and throws in all directions. Emphasis is on perfect movement (take off and landing) mechanics. Medium volume, low intensity. Anywhere from 2-3 weeks (advanced) to 6 months (novice).
Stage 2: Repeated Movements: As Stage 1 but movements are now more specific (the direction of you’re movement) and more extensive. Mechanics must still be perfect as speed builds up. These can even be the final movement but at a lower speed (you can use a heavier load to guarantee this). Anywhere from 2 weeks (advanced) to a month (novice).
Stage 3: Most Specific Movements: As close to the in-game role you’re trying to improve. High-speed/force, high specificity, high intensity, low volume. You can still adapt these slightly by adding force to ensure that the form is perfect. 3-6 weeks in duration.
I’ve added these stages for the roles below to give you an idea of how to help.
|ROLE||STAGE 1||STAGE 2||STAGE 3|
|Scummage||Pause Squat Hold||Isometric Scrum Engage on Squat Rack||Isometric Scrum Engage Using Bands On Sides|
Ruck Clean Out
Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass
Power Stance Med Ball Throw
Medicine Ball Scoop Throw
Back Squat Jump
(Low) Box Jump
|1 Step Jump|
Ball Carry Into Contact
Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Pass
Power Stance Med Ball Throw
Punch Bag Hand-Off
45 Degree “Agility” Bounds
Speed Skater Jumps
|Short Acceleration||Broad Jump|
Low “Acceleration” Bounds
20m Sprint – Sled Drag
|Flat Out Sprint||Forward Hops|
Continual Bounds – Height Empasis
Flying 30m Sprint
Putting It In A Program
Obviously a program is a very individual thing – you need to pick the few components you want to improve and break them down individually.
In saying that there are still a few basic rules that everyone has to listen to.
The less experienced the player, the less time needed to spend doing the intense stuff. As I said earlier, if you’re completely new, you won’t need to do anything specific for the first few years of your training.
As you gain more experience the less time you need to spend in the preparation phases and the more time you need to spend doing the specific stuff (although you still must do the other stuff).
You can’t stay specific forever. There’s a pretty small window that you can make improvements on the special strength, because of this you will need to cycle between special strength work and general strength work (and all the stuff in-between).
Again, this stuff is like a pyramid, so you need to make sure that your base keeps getting wider if you’re going to reach new heights.
Schedule special strength work for your peak. Ideally at the end of a special strength cycle you’re rugby movements should be at the highest level. It’s therefore a good idea to schedule this work for your season (or the most important part of it) so that you get the most out of this transfer.
Pay attention to recovery. When you reach stage 3 special strength, you’re performing highest intensity work you can do – this is incredibly taxing. You’ll need to make sure you recover between sessions and during the session itself to get the most improvements.
If you aren’t leaving enough time for recovery you simply won’t make the progress, remember this stuff has to be high-speed, high skill and performed at max effort, you cannot do it fatigued.
Special-Strength exercises are an amazing way to become a beast on the pitch.
I could go on forever about this, there are entire books dedicated to it.
It’s no good just to take a movement that looks close to something you’d see on the rugby pitch and do it for an arbitrary number of reps.
Look at the movements you do in rugby and break them down. If you’d like inspiration be sure to check out my Instagram (@tj.strength) I have nearly all the examples I’ve discussed above in some form of video.
If you try this, be patient with your approach to this and ensure you are moving well, then you’ll get more benefit in your rugby than with any other type of training.
About TJ Jankowski
TJ Jankowski is a former international rugby player for Poland rugby, who achieved their highest world ranking of 23 whilst he was part of the team.