It is almost the end of the annual Tri Nations series and the Springboks (South Africa) are on route to win the series. The Tri Nations sees the world's heavy weights in rugby union take each other on in a series of Test matches. The past decade has seen Rugby Union being dominated by the three Southern Hemisphere heavy weights - Australia (the Wallabies), South Africa (the Springboks) and New Zealand (the All Blacks) up until England's world cup victory in 2003 with all credit given to Jonny Wilkinson. This year's Tri Nations has seen New Zealand retain the Bledisloe cup (the coveted cup between Australia and New Zealand) however the series win itself is possibly going to be in the hands of the Springboks.
Rugby Union is a full-contact physical game. In most cases there is no use of padding whatsoever and it's only in the recent years that we have seen mouth guards being used. Head padding is becoming more popular given the notorious reputation Rugby players have of owning a pair of 'cauliflower ears' (The term use to describe repaired ears after the surgeons have done some work on them). Adding to the nature of the game, players tend to adorn metallic studded boots. Attempting to tackle a player from behind while chasing often tends to put one at risk of tooth-to-metal impact.
The game is about possession and territory. The ball is never to be lost to the opposing team and you work hard to gain territory as you advance. The strategies used are very similar to combat movements. Advancements are physical and brutal. They involve using brute force to break through the opposing team's defenses without being grounded. 'Grounded' is being tackled and often involves being thrown to the floor. It stands to no surprise that most levels of Rugby require the presence of paramedics.
The physical war like nature of the game has meant that players must prepare themselves for combat and become warriors. This is part and parcel of what made Jonah Lomu and David Campese such try-making machines in the past. England players vividly remember the time Jonah broke through waves of defense before scoring five tries against them in the 1995 world cup. Whilst Campo (David Campese) is likely to spend most of his time in his rugby shop at the Rocks in Sydney dreaming of the days he pummeled through the All Black defenses.
As strength training was critical to Gladiators in the days of ancient Rome, so is strength training critical in this full-contact physical sport. A look at the South African team in the Tri Nations 2009 reveals how a strong team is able to pummel its way to victory. The Springbok forwards were unstoppable. There defenses impenetrable. There attacks - in waves of tsunami.
Traditional Rugby Strength training has revolved around keeping players' legs strong and thick. This meant hours of training on squatting and hack squat machines. The aim of this was to build up leg strength for the players as this would be pivotal in ploughing forward on the field; particularly in the scrum and mauls. However, the world of strength training itself has changed dramatically and functional strength training is now critical to dominate the game. A look at Jerry Collins' arms reveals very clearly that he doesn't necessarily only squat at the gym!
Functional strength training is what differentiates a mediocre rugby player from a warrior.
Functional strength training addresses every single movement used in the game of rugby and strength training for it. For example players need to build there strength to address the scrum (varying positions), mauls, charging, tackling, handing off, the line out and explosive bursts of energy. Functional strength training involves taking every aspect of the game and breaking it down into manageable units; e.g. the line out - Players need to build strong shoulders / deltoid muscles as well as strong quads and hams to address this movement. This movement could be strengthened using exercises such as Barbell Thrusters. Handing off opponents involves the use of triceps, shoulders, the chest and back muscles. These individual muscle groups need to be strengthened.
Traditional workout routines for rugby involved focusing on the legs only and other non-targeted routines which seriously short changed players who are in essence going out to war. Military personnel are beginning to realize these changes and are training there soldiers in preparation for varying combat situations e.g. strength training for urban combat is different to jungle combat. You cannot be just physically fit any longer but one needs to be functionally strong and fit. For example urban combat requires soldiers to be able to lift rubble and pieces of concrete, climb up stairs with heavy gear on their backs, pull themselves up walls, etc.
Functional strength training for Rugby involves targeted strategic attacks on muscle groups and provides a decisive action plan to strengthen functional elements of the game.
The Free eBook Rugby Blitz directly addresses Functional Strength Training for the Sport of Rugby Union / League. It describes 10 rules to take Rugby players from Rugby Mediocrity to being a Rugby Warrior.