elitefts™ Sunday Edition

Over the last 10 years, I have attempted to analyze the training elements that would best transfer to improved rate of force development on the rugby field. Therefore, I thought it would be good to share this “power trip” with our readers.

A simple and basic approach to in-season power training for all sports, specifically rugby, is to alternate on a weekly basis between two different set/rep/load protocols.

In the first week, utilize a schedule based on light and fast—an inter-muscular coordination approach (Schmidtbliecher): 3 x 5 @ 60% of max, light and fast.

The next week, utilize a heavier load with attempted acceleration. Even if the bar does not move fast, you are still selectively recruiting the fast twitch motor units—an intra-muscular coordination approach (Schmidtbliecher): 5 x 3 @ 80% of max, compensatory acceleration (Hatfield).

Now for the exercises. Select one exercise from each group:

Explosive Rotational Explosive Pull Explosive Push Explosive Squat
  • Hammer Push/Pull
  • Power Tackler
  • Rotational Jammer
  • Clean
  • Snatch
  • Pull
  • Band Bench Press
  • Push Press
  • Jammer
  • Band Squat
  • ¼ Explosive Squat
  • Jump Squat

There are many derivations from these three exercises per group, so it is up to you to select the movements that give you the best results.

Rate of force development (RFD) is a key factor in sports performance. RFD has been described by Santana (2000) as “the ability to generate the greatest amount of force in the shortest time possible.” In the book Sports Speed, Dintiman, Ward, and Tellez (1998) define starting strength, a component of RFD, as “the ability to instantaneously recruit as many muscle fibers as possible.” They define explosive strength, on the other hand, as “the ability to keep the initial explosion of a muscle contraction going over a distance against some resistance.” After an exhaustive review of the literature, the leading Australian strength and conditioning coach, Damian Marsh, identified explosive strength as “the firing of muscle fibers over a longer period of time after initial activation.”

It is also the missing link in a number of athletic performance programs where maximal strength and/or hypertrophy have been a desired outcome or goal over a period of time. I am not saying that strength and appropriate hypertrophy are not important in training. I am saying, however, that they are often incorrectly prioritized over more important strength qualities. In a lot of ways, it is easy to program for strength and size increases, but it is often a lot more difficult to firstly understand the principles of and then to program for RFD.

As so succinctly demonstrated by Thibideau in his force chart, when you are training, you are trying to manipulate the Force equation by either emphasizing the mass or the acceleration components (or both).

sprint work ashley jones 091614

I like the continuum of training as described by Thibideau. I have not included the hypertrophy-related parameters within it (as follows):


Speed Strength (10 – 40% 1RM)
Strength Speed (50 – 80% 1RM)
Maximum Strength (>80% 1RM)

In a previous article, the speeds to train specific qualities and exercises were outlined. This is an excellent starting point from which to develop a plan of attack. In this article, the bar speeds of the bench press and squat were identified as:

Speed Strength: 0.8 to 1.0 meters per second
Strength Speed: 0.6 to 0.7 meters per second
Maximum Strength: 0.3 to 0.5 meters per second

Additionally, in reference to the modified Olympic lifts:

Power Snatch: 1.50 meters per second
Power Clean: 1.25 meters per second

These velocities were calculated using a Tendo Unit. However, I am sure that if you used a Gym Aware unit and program, the Ballistic Measuring System, or the V Scope from Eleiko, then you could use the same calculations on which to base your loading parameters. Hence, you can accurately use the speed of movement rather than the percentage of load to program.

Two workouts to optimize this continuum would be as follows. The sets and reps would be 12 to 4 sets of 2 to 6 reps, utilizing the inverse relationships law as outlined by Poliquin.

Ballistic or Plyometric Jumps Depth Jumps Box Jumps
Speed Strength Power Snatch or Clean Jump Squats
Strength Speed Snatch or Clean Pulls Band Box Squats
Maximal Strength Trap Bar Dead Lifts Squat variations

These could be performed as two separate workouts in an off-season plan, or as a power speed complex in-season (as a potentiation workout for speed and power). In this workout, the players would alternate from a field-based activity to a gym-based power movement as listed. This is summarized below.

F: Field based, G: Gym based

F1. Dynamic Movement Warm-up: Ladders and Mini Hurdle Sequences
F2. Medicine Ball throws and Acceleration Sprints over 10 to 15 meters
G1. Depth or Box Jumps in gym
F3. Assisted Sprints
G2. Power Snatch from blocks set at knee height, Block Cleans, or Jump Squats (6 sets of 3 reps at 30 to 40%)
F4. Maximal Velocity work over 30 to 60 meters
G3. Clean or Snatch Pulls from the floor or Band Box Squats (6 sets of 3 reps at 60 to 80%)
F5. Resisted Speed Efforts utilizing either pro-power speed resistors, power speed chutes, or power speed sleds. These are often performed with a contrast sprint after the loaded sprint.
G4. Trap Bar Deadlifts or Front or Back Squats (6 sets of 2 to 3 reps at > 90% 1RM loading)

This entire speed and power complex training is completed inside of 60 minutes.

For many years, Olympic style weightlifting and its variations have been used as the foundation for many strength training programs for improved sporting performance. The rationale behind this lies in an understanding of the effects this style of training has on the force-velocity curve.

chalk hands mark watts ashley jones sprint olympic training 091614

Most general strength training focuses on the development of force without the application of velocity. Since the generation of maximum force is usually represented via an isometric contraction, this would appear to be disadvantageous to the expression of force in respect to time. Also popular in general training is tempo training that emphasizes slower speeds of contraction during both eccentric and concentric phases. Although this may be an excellent mode of training for hypertrophy, it still relates force to force development rather than the rate at which that force is developed or expressed.

Coaches should also be aware of the momentum equation when designing programs that emphasize hypertrophy. Since both mass and velocity impact momentum, it is important that an increase in mass does not have a disproportional negative effect on velocity. If a coach suggests that a player needs to gain mass in order to be more productive, analyze the effect of mass gain on momentum.

For example: A player before a hypertrophy program has a mass of 94kg and a maximum velocity of 8.7 m/sec. After undergoing an off-season resistance program to increase his mass, he now records a mass of 98kg and a velocity of 7.9 m/sec. The question remains, though, has this improved positional athletic performance?

Momentum 1 = 94 x 8.7 = 817.8 Newton’s
Momentum 2 = 98 x 7.9 = 774.2 Newton’s

A decrease of 73.6 Newton’s, which amounts to almost 9% decrement in momentum.

The player has to be assessed on many more criteria than this mathematical calculation, but it is a good starting point from which to debate the emphasis in many programs on increasing mass.

I am an advocate of Olympic weightlifting and its derivatives. I have included a summary by two advocates of Olympic lifting and its modified movements for you to consider. The caveat I place on the Olympic style of training is that it must be taught and continually coached. There is potential for injury in all types of physical training, but I believe that if the exercise is coached and the athlete has been screened for potential musculoskeletal problems, then injuries can be avoided.

According to O’Shea (2000), Olympic lifting and derivatives require the following attributes or focus (which he attests are the reasons that this style of training transfers to optimal athletic performance):

  1. Use of all major muscle groups
  2. Full range multiple joint movements in multiple directions
  3. A strong ballistic impulse (maximum recruitment of Fast Twitch)
  4. Acceleration and speed
  5. Technique – balance – timing
  6. Maximum neuromuscular conditioning
  7. The athlete thinks in terms of: Strength, speed, technique and high velocity power.

mark watts olympic training ashley jones 091614

This rationale is supported by the work of Dreschler (1998) in his reasoning of the unique value of Olympic lifting to athletes:

  1. Maximum activation of a number of motor units rapidly and simultaneously
  2. Athlete learns to apply force with his muscle groups in a proper sequence (summation of forces)
  3. Learn how to accelerate objects
  4. Application of plyometric concepts under loading
  5. Train the muscles most used in sports
  6. Train qualities of explosiveness
  7. Fun and challenging to perform

Jump Training/Plyometrics

I use a lot of jump movements in power training programs, usually as a contrast with bar power and strength movements. Reading through archived articles of Louie, I found some gems that I think have really added to our programs.

The knees-to-feet jumps have been a great way of not only improving our power production, but also in teaching the key element of hips-through (which is a main concept in all of our Olympic movements, such as clean and snatches). We have used a counter movement swing with the arms in order to generate explosive movement, and we have added weight via weighted vests and dumbbells in each hand. The best I have seen so far is a set of five done with 30kg DBs. I also program them using the knees-to-feet for horizontal and vertical displacement. I currently have a player who does the knees-to-feet jump onto a 30cm box.

Louie has written about advanced movements such as the use of an Olympic bar or how to initially perform a clean movement in a squat position with the bar at shoulder height and the elbows up and forward. The most advanced is moving from the kneeling position with an Olympic bar held in snatch grip against the thighs, and going into a squat snatch with the bar and body in the receiving position for the Snatch. I have had one player who regularly can do this advanced jump movement.

To regress slightly, other methods to load the jumps that we have tried are:

  1. Knees-to-feet with hands locked onto hips
  2. Knees-to-feet with the hands locked behind the head
  3. Knees-to-feet with the arms by the side

All of these movements add a degree of difficulty to the movement.

Start by assuming a kneeling position on the floor. Keep the toes turned under the foot in contact with the floor. Kneel tall initially and then rock the hips back, keeping the entire body tight so that the buttocks contact the heels. Then, rapidly drive the hips forward and up so that the entire body leaves the ground and you land in a deep squat receiving position.

The other jump that we get a lot out of is the simple box jump from a two-foot starting position in front of the box. There's no step in—just use the arms by a counter movement swing. Our current record is to a 125-cm box with the athlete weighing 100kg. The use of rubber gym flooring squares has allowed us to increase the height of the jump progressively by 2.5cm, rather than what was allowed by the heights of our four boxes (75cm, 90cm, 105cm, and 125cm). This is yet another idea that we owe Louie a vote of thanks for.

Power Program/Power GPP

A few years ago my assistant, Luke Thornley, and I came up with this program as an extra power conditioning program for some of our players. For a new training option, one which can double as a conditioning workout as well as a full body power workout, this workout maybe for you.

Using a combination of Westside and Olympic training theory blended with a training concept where the number 24 becomes the volume of the selected training exercise, we have developed a power circuit.

Working with a partner in an “I-go-you-go” fashion with limited rest in between sets, this workout can be performed in about 30 minutes of nonstop action. The exercise selection is up to you, but I would suggest starting with the template as suggested and use your imagination to develop your own challenging circuits.

The weight you select is crucial, as you want to maximize your power production. So, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of maximum would be ideal. If you are not moving the weight fast enough, just decrease the load.

The program is as follows:

12 x 2 Band Box Squats
8 x 3 Power Snatch from Floor
6 x 4 Block Power Cleans
4 x 6 Band Deadlifts on Pulling Platform

Current Program

At present, I include both light and heavy power-based training sessions in a weekly plan depending on whether a player is a starting team, a bench, or a non-game member for the upcoming game. Usually game members and bench players will complete a light power workout on a training day 48 hours before game day. (For example, they would complete a light power workout on a Thursday for a Saturday game). Non-game members usually do a heavy power session on that same day.

All members are allocated either a heavy power or full body strength workout earlier in the training week, usually on a Tuesday, if they had previously played on a Saturday.

Light Power

  • Snatch, Clean, or Pulls (all from Blocks) or Band Box Squats supersetted with Push Press or Split Jerk from Rack—6 x 3 @ 50 - 70%

Heavy Power

  • Warm up with a superset of Bosch Squat and Borzov Hops—3 x 5 (progressive step load)
  • Clean, Snatch, Pulls from the floor, or Band Box Squats supersetted with Jump
  • Push Press, Split Jerk, or Band Bench Press supersetted with an Upper Body Plyometric

Week 1: 4 x 6 @ 60% Tuck Jumps/MB Drops—4 x 12
Week 2: 5 x 3 @ 80% Box Jumps/Chest Clap Push Ups—5 x 6
Week 3: 6 x 4 @ 70% Knees to Feet/MB Chest Pass—6 x 8
Week 4: 4 x 2 @ 90% Depth Jumps/Depth Push Ups—4 x 4

Thanks for reading. I hope I have given you some new ideas or have reinforced how to program power development for the athletes you train.