The problem with speed training for field sports is that speed can be difficult to transfer to the field of play. In his work with Japan Rugby and several professional clubs John Pryor has sought out solutions to this problem, developing a system of robust running that helps players develop the skills to hit the right positions in the various complex situations they might encounter on the field. In this episode we sit down with Pryor to discuss his approach to speed training for field sport athletes. Read more
Robustness is a term that gets thrown around a lot lately, but few people take a step back to look at what the term actually means. Robustness is more than just having the strength to endure more pressure; it is about being able to endure different pressures. Or, to quote the experts, the ability of a system to tolerate perturbations. We are happy to announce that our latest eCourse in the HMMR Media Classroom focuses on the topic. In it, John Pryor provides a practical guide to develop robust running skills. Read more
Sometimes complex problems demand simple solutions. Scottish Rugby strength and conditioning coach Nick Lumley has learned this lessons first hand. Whether it comes to periodization or monitoring, he has been asked to accomplish a lot with little resources for the Scottish 7s team. And he has found solutions that worked, helping lead the team to their first ever title on the World Sevens Series last year. On this episode we talk about some of the simple solutions Lumley has used to solve complex problems. Read more
Speed is key in every sport, but not all speed is created equal. In many sports, maximum speed is not the game changer. Instead, it is how fast you can respond to the opponent, change direction, and get moving again. In other words, multi-directional speed is often more important than linear speed. On this episode of the podcast professor Ken Clark explains the three elements of multi-directional speed, how it differs from other types of speed, and strategies to improve it. Read more
A question that comes up nearly every time I present on specific strength exercises is whether such work in the weight room is really necessary for team sports. Athletes from these sports spend large quantities of time on the field and little time training off of it. As a result many strength coaches feel a need to balance out their training and focus only on general exercises once the athletes enter the weight room. I must admit, it is a great question. In fact, I’ve been pondering it for a few months now. Read more
I’ve been coaching professionally for nine years and, like any young coach, I started out by reading anything and everything I could get my hands on, attending conferences and talking with other coaches. Scientists and coaches usually present research and theory behind training methodologies, combine them with practical experience and present positive results to support their work. Many of the basic principles of training I first learned about back then I still use today and have never let me down. Read more
We all talk about speed as if it were one simple thing, but it is a complex combination of factors. On this week’s podcast Speedworks founder and elite sprint coach Jonas Tawiah Dodoo walks us through the factors and discusses the nuances of training for speed in team sports and how to individualize speed training. Read more
No matter the sport, speed is the name of the game. Professor Ken Clark is an expert in speed, having researched the topic in detail. In this episode he explains how linear speed is generated and the implications that has on training for speed. 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.
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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
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