Earlier this week we posted the first part of our interview with Dean Benton, head of Sports Science for the England Senior Rugby Team. Our interview covers a variety of topics on rest and recovery, and to start with we looked at sleep. Below we continue with part two of the interview where we continue to discuss rehabilitation strategies, recovery methods, and coping with travel demands. Read more
After tackling adaptation as last month’s theme, our focus at HMMR Media moves on to rest and recovery in December. To kick things off we sat down with Dean Benton, one of the leading practitioners in this area. Benton is currently head of Sports Science for the England Senior Rugby Team. In this role he is responsible for the co-ordination, design and delivery of athletic performance, sport science, recovery, rehabilitation, reconditioning to the England Senior Rugby team in the lead into the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Read more
Earlier this week we posted the first part in an interview with Frans Bosch. In it, we discussed chasing perfection, and the role of variation and attractors in motor learning. You can read the interview here. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. We continued the conversation to talk about some topics that are central to what I often write about: transfer, specificity, and transfer. In addition we ask him where his focus is heading forward. Read more
One of the larger influences on my coaching over the past year has been Frans Bosch. His recent book on strength training and coordination does not offer all the answers, but it has gotten me to think in detail about my approach. At the end of the year I reflected on four things I had learned from the book. But at the sam time I see how many of the concepts in the book are misunderstood and also have many questions myself. After meeting Bosch for the first time last summer I have kept in touch and had the chance to ask him some questions about the book recently. Read more
Pat Connolly has been at the top of the sport both as an athlete and as the coach of top sprinters like Evelyn Ashford and Allyson Felix. On Wednesday I posted the first part of my interview with her, where we discussed her general philosophy, the importance of repetition, and specific training methods. In this part she continues to discuss mental training, the differences in coaching men and women. We finished by getting her thoughts on doping. Having been involved in the sport since steroids were first introduced, Pat was one of the first vocal anti-doping advocates, having even testified in front of Congress to lobby for support. But the sport has evolved and so have her thoughts on the issue, which she describes below. Read more
Readers of this site should know the name Harold Connolly. He was not just the last American to win gold in the hammer throw, but also a global celebrity in the 1950s as he overcame adversity to reach the top of his sport for more than a decade. After he retired from throwing he continued as a coach, mentor, and strong advocate for the hammer throw until his untimely death in 2010. What hammer throwers might not realize, however, was that despite all of Harold’s accomplishments was not even the most successful coach in his own household. That title belong to his wife: Pat Connolly. Read more
At the start of my training talk with strength coach John Pryor from the Japan Rugby squad, I mentioned his approach blew my mind. I’ve gotten to know a lot of strength coaches from a wide range of sports, but never before heard a field sport team use such a methodical approach to transfer of training, specific strength, and complex periodization as when he described the Japan squad’s buildup to this year’s World Cup.
While the first two parts focused on the specifics of training, this final part focuses a bit more on the people. For example, for this whole plan to work everyone needed to be on the same page. And Pryor also needed to look outside of rugby for some key influences in order to create his plan. To finish up the interview we cover these topics and more.
And be sure to check out the other two parts if you have not done so already:
And if you enjoy this interview, you will definitely like Frans Bosch’s new book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach available here on HMMR Media. Much of Pryor’s programming is based on Bosch’s work and it provides more background on the underlying approach.
→ Related Content: Become a member and get access to many more in-depth interviews with world class coaches and athletes.
Part 3: There Is No “I” In Team
Martin: When you describe your whole periodization and day-to-day training setup I can assume the coaching team and the strength team together closely to create this integrated approach?
John: 100%. The only way that tactical periodization works is that the coach and the S&C are on the same page. That’s the best thing about Eddie. He used to be a little 80-kilo hooker and he loves the gym and the physical preparation for the game. So he was very open to planning it 100% together. If you didn’t do that it would be impossible or very frustrating. I also believe that many S&C coordinators forget their role. They think their role is to maximize each physiological capacity of the players like speed or aerobic capacity. But this isn’t the role. The S&C coordinator must follow the directive and game plan of the head coach, and be subservient to this. This is quite a different thing altogether.The only way that tactical periodization works is that the coach and the S&C are on the same page. Click To Tweet
Martin: It also means more time out on the field for the athletes and coaches then.
John: For the athletes the time on the field meant we had to bolster musculoskeletal support in our program. We were on our feet up to three times a day. Dean Benton came in to help with our recovery and regeneration program, and that was an enormous benefit for us. Dean has a capacity to educate players in this area that is impressive.
It was also intense for the staff since all staff were involved in all sessions. Normally, rugby coach might typically sleep in since there was no skill work in the morning and I could rest during the late morning skill session. But since technical and strength elements are integrated in all sessions, everyone is there.
It is stressful, but if you love coaching it is so much more exciting. I am a strength and biomechanics guy, but I hate being pigeonholed. It is so much more exciting. I would take the first 20 minutes of skills works with the backs and find ways to challenge this options concept. For example in one drill I would have two backs connected with an elastic band and sprint over hurdles while passing back and forth and racing against another pair. If the resistance is medium to high they have to maintain chest up and good posture or they will fall into each other. As soon as they jump over the hurdle they will be pulled together while in the air, so they have to hit the ground with the foot from above to regain position. I would design it but the skill coach would help with help with catch and pass.
Martin: As an athlete using a similar approach I saw both positives and negatives. Some athletes really gain confidence from the numbers they see in the weight room and have trouble when those big numbers are not given importance. But on the other hand you see the immediate benefit too as your play improves.
John: They knew everything they were doing was 100% for rugby. The main non-specific thing we were doing was some work to maximize lactic acid. But these intervals were immediately followed by skill or contact drills; e.g. 3 x 300m rowing at maximum followed by 30 seconds of rest and then a 3 minute skill block. One of the things that can stimulate greater adaptation is fatigue. If some muscles are knocked out of the game you have to find other ways to do it. We are an adaptive system. We might have a hooker do dumbbell curls, then attempt a line out throw. Or we might have a back fatigue a part or whole body and then do some skills. This is not just for physiological training, but to develop a more adaptive neuromuscular skill capacity.They knew everything they were doing was 100% for rugby. Click To Tweet
Martin: Would you include more general work then for athletes of different levels or in a different situation?
John: Great question. I actually never depart from some general work. The specific work I developed with Frans Bosch and Eddie Jones does not mean that general training is not necessary. This influence comes from Vern Gambetta. We work on the basics in trunk integrity, functional strength, general strength/hypertrophy and work capacity all year round, but these are typically in our warmup or headstart morning sessions. We will spend less time on general work in peak competitive periods. And two main training sessions each day (the fundamental and game training sessions) were always highly specific.
Martin: This reminds me a bit of how Steve Magness says it is an advantage for his distance runners to train in hot and humid Texas. This prepares them to run in all conditions. If you only train in perfect conditions you might fold when additional stress comes on.
John: In reality rugby players are not packing a scrum at 16 mmol/L of lactic acid, but if they have experienced 12 to 14 then there is a mental gain in knowing you can do it too. But other than that we used very little non-specific training.
Martin: Frans is obviously one of your big influences, but have Vern Gambetta as a big influence of yours. You also have brought in from Brumbies strength coach Dean Benton to work with your squad on certain occasions. Frans and Vern obviously come from the world of athletics, but you and Dean also have a background there as well. Do you have any other big influences?
John: The two biggest influences would be Vern and Frans. I use a lot of Gambetta medicine ball drills in our training, I’ve just replaced them with aqua bags. This change comes from another Frans concept: if you move from a stabile to an unstable load there is a greater stimulation in the body since it wants to protect itself. He calls it co-contractions. It is a simultaneous contraction of the muscles around the spine. When you put an unstable load on the shoulders the body is not quite sure where the force is going to come from.
I cannot separate my own ideas from Vern’s, because I learned from him at a young age. He was extremely generous to me when I was a young coach. Every program I have run has Gambetta’s fingerprints all over it.
I am an independent thinker, and have not learned from many people, but only a few really high quality individuals I was lucky to come across. My university lecturer, Dr. Warren Young was another good influence. But I have always been obsessed with running and fighting as long as I can remember, and have always learned from disciplines of both areas. I have trained a lot in martial arts and learned from that, and spent a lot of time with track and field sprinters and throwers.
Martin: You mentioned Dean helped you out with recovery planning, what were some of the other points he was influential on?
John: He came in for two weeks to help us with functional flexibility too. One other thing we noticed was a weakness in functional flexibility for really low scrummaging and low break down work. You might think that there isn’t a high degree of flexibility required for rugby, but you have to have strength in all of the positions even if they are not always extreme. If you are challenging the ball at a tackle contest you have to have strength in the lower positions. Dean is a king of detail. I am more of an “energy” coach. So Dean’s assistance on checking and adding detail to our plan was invaluable.
Martin: Again it comes back to specificity. Where there any other unique elements to your specific preparation that you attempted to target through specific drills?
John: One of the concepts there is upper body and lower body separation. Most rugby players cannot separate the coordination of upper and lower body.
For example if I am carrying the ball and you hit my upper body, then most rugby players that also stop their leg action. We created a series of running drills where we might run 40 meters while whirling a five-kilogram plate around our head or carry a pole like a pole vaulter. Almost 90% of our running was done with some variation of the upper body doing a different movement so that it would become comfortable with them to maintain leg movement independent of what the upper body is doing. That felt like a pretty new concept for rugby, and I know we can develop it a lot.
Martin: Thank you for the time. It was real enlightening for me to learn more about another sport, about its preparation and about your own spin on things. Best of luck in your next venture.
In the first part of our training talk with John Pryor from the Japanese Rugby squad we discussed how he worked with Frans Bosch to develop specific training methods for his backs. The unique approach took players out of the weight room and into situations where they were forced to develop the strengths they needed to play the game plan designed by coach Eddie Jones. Read more
In the waning minutes of their opening World Cup match against powerhouse South Africa in September, Japan was trailing by three points. With play entering injury time, the game could end any second yet Japan declined the opportunity to kick a game tying penalty and instead opted to to enter a scrum for a chance to win (or lose) the game. For those of you that do not know rugby, the scrum is likely the image you are most familiar with. Eight players from each team pack together to fight for control of the ball. It is a test of strength, patience, technique, and resolve. Japan won the scrum and took the ball back despite being smaller, weaker, and less experienced. They then went on to win the game. Read more
On Tuesday we published the first part of our training talk with the extraordinary coach Dan Pfaff. Dan has been enjoying a successful summer as head coach at Altis. To start out our interview we discussed in-season training methods and his 3-day rollover plan. In this final part of the interview we take a step back to discuss his training philosophy and how he takes that to create a plan. Read more