By Kimber Rozier CSCS, Pn1 – Running is a skill that is frequently overlooked by rugby players. It is a skill, just like passing or tackling, that requires practice and a speed resistor (or harness system) can improve horizontal force production, linear acceleration, and stride mechanics through all phases of a sprint cycle to make any player a better runner and more complete rugby player.
Using a speed resistor trains the body to not only move itself, but also the added resistance of whatever you’re pulling. Over time, you adapt to the added stimulus and increase the level of maximal force production. Since force is the combination of mass x acceleration, when force stays the same but mass (weight) goes down, you’re going to accelerate faster. Meaning – when you sprint without the speed resistor, as in a game, you’ll move quicker.
For example, when accelerating, you’ll want to lean rather far forward while generating optimal hip flexion and getting as many steps in to the ground as possible. This is, however, incredibly hard to break down and do slowly without falling. Having a friend or coach hold the other end of a speed resistor allows you to practice sprint technique.
Benefits of Speed Resistor
More Power Development
As many teams don’t have access to a gym or prowler, resisted running can be a great way to train the legs to become stronger on the pitch. Single leg movements are paramount to the game of rugby – running, cutting, jumping and tackling all require explosive strength through one leg. Being able to move powerfully through resistance can help you explode through tackles or develop the necessary leg drive for scrummaging. Although heavier resistance won’t translate to the rapid nerve firing needed to sprint, it can act as a substitute to strength training.
Engines need power to work, and your muscles are what generate that power. Developing more muscular strength creates more force potential, and it can also assist in injury prevention.
For strength, your partner should provide heavy resistance over longer periods of time. Resisted bear crawls or even pulling a scrum sled will set your quads on fire.
Acceleration Off the Mark
Gaining speed is all about overcoming inertia to create momentum. Speed resistors allow for a lower body profile, a quicker leg drive and more force powered through the ground. Athletes can work on their leg speed through one cycle from foot strike through the swing phase and propulsion.
The faster you can pump your feet into the floor and throw the ground behind you, the quicker you’ll gain speed. Work on ankle stiffness and avoid over-striding to take advantage of your body’s natural mechanics. Training these movements properly and developing the strength and power to load that machine creates a monster of an athlete.
In a game where it’s a race to break the gain line, whichever team gets there first has the advantage. Shorter and quicker sprints off the line either stops attackers in their tracks or leaves defenders with broken ankles. Speed resistor training helps you come out on the winning end of that equation.
Use 5-15 m accelerations with ample rest time to recover and go again. Sprint forward – toe flexed, heel underneath your butt and knee striking forward in sync with the opposite arm. Maintain a straight body line as you explode force back into the ground, pulling it behind you and propel yourself forward. After training under resistance, drop the speed resistor but keep the same form. You’ll explode off the mark like a rocket that’s just been unleashed.
Using your Speed Resistor at Training
So you understand the benefits and have finally done the work to get yourself a speed resistor. What do you do with it? Start with these three drills for different areas of the game.
Try and find a coach who can critique your form for this drill, as it’s all about getting the technique right. In the acceleration phase of sprinting, athletes need to maximize hip flexion, ankle stiffness, and shin angles to forcefully extend the leg down just underneath the body. Learn to use your body to your advantage. Rather than having it work against itself, proper form will create a smooth launch pad for the power you’re generating in your legs. Recoil by firing those hip flexors up, bringing the opposite arm to your chin, leaning forward and maintaining a strong posture. Then strike that foot back into the ground. Keep the shin at a 45 degree angle and avoid reaching out in front of you. At the same time, you’re rapidly cycling the other leg back through in to hip flexion, preparing to strike on the other side.
Practice this at a marching speed – slow and deliberate moving forward. You’ll eventually want to increase speed and add resisted skips, but starting slow allows you to break things down and check for optimal positioning. Are my ankles flexed? Am I leaning forward? Are my arms pumping in sync with my legs? Where’s my head looking? All of these points are harder to measure at speed and difficult to maintain under fatigue. Breaking it down helps you practice better execution.
15 m Resisted Acceleration
Resisted running promotes an increase horizontal force production through the body. When coupled with optimal running form, the motor adaptations from resisted acceleration drills have been shown to improve speed performance under 20 m.
Fit the speed resistor over the shoulders and add a forward lean while your partner holds the other end of the rope. Beginning in a two-point stance, sprint forward for 15 meters while pushing the ground back behind you. The first few meters in the drive phase requires a hard lean, knees propelled forward as if you were to shatter glass in front of you, and as many reps on the floor as you can get.
A key component here is to make sure your partner isn’t providing too much force. Having your partner hold you back too much can cause technique faults and train the body to move improperly. You should feel a slight resistance, but still be able to make it 15 meters quite quickly.
Resisted Bear Crawls
For pure total body power, something necessary for scrum and tackle dominance, moving weight at a low body angle is critical. Scrummaging especially requires repeated longer duration efforts, so towing another’s body weight will build the special strength to drive in a scrum from 5 meters out.
With the speed resistor attached, drop to all fours and keep a neutral spine as you crawl forward. Emphasize hip flexion and full extension behind the body rather than trying to simply walk with your butt in the air. With each step, you want to generate as much power as possible through the legs, transfer it through a solid, straight line core and directly into the speed resistor at the shoulders. Stick to between 5 and 20 m pulls, however, as form tends to breakdown and fatigue sets in after that.
Allow for adequate rest between reps to keep it from becoming too much of an aerobic exercise. Make sure to switch partners and allow for a minute or two between each rep.
Get a Speed Resistor for your rugby club.
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union and as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C. She is currently training with Harlequins in England.