Some of the training concepts laid out by Frans Bosch in his book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach can be intimidating. Many disregard his ideas without even reading the book. Others read it and get lost in the details of motor learning or anatomy, as I did at first. But when you look at the coaches successfully putting the ideas into practice, it is quite easy to see that it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, even Bosch himself takes a very straightforward approach to implementing the ideas.
Earlier this month I had the chance to shadow Bosch at a Welsh Rugby training camp here in Switzerland. Bosch has been working with the team for nine years. They are currently ranked second in the world entering September’s World Cup. I have had the chance to talk with Bosch many times over the past few years, but this was the first time I got to see him working with athletes in person, so it was an interesting experience. Below are a few impressions after seeing him coach up close.
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Got the chance to be a fly on the wall at the @welshrugbyunion @rugbyworldcup training camp for 7 of the past 10 days. Thanks for the hospitality @fransboschsystems. Watching elite rugby up close is another level. And fun to see world class athletes train in our backyard. #rugby #welshrugby #rugbyworldcup #inlovewithswitzerland #wallis #goms #training #trainingcamp
Making it simple
One quote Bosch made to me in passing helped put everything in context. We were discussing a common technical issue in the shot put and potential ways to fix it. Bosch simply told me: “You have to make the body give a damn.” It’s that simple.
The body doesn’t care how far the implement goes or what position the foot lands in. If you want the foot to land a certain way, you have to make the body care about that. The same thing goes in sprinting: the body doesn’t care how fast you go or how your foot strikes the ground. If you feel that striking the foot from above is important, then you need to create training environments that make the body care about that. Create an environment where the body will fail if it does not do what you want it to.
It’s not all or nothing
Many people think Bosch’s ideas might look silly, and some interpretations of them on social media are indeed silly. You might ask, how can this replace traditional training and the fundamentals that have been drilled into coaches for decades? The answer is that it doesn’t have to. Over the last few weeks Nick Lumley and James de Lacey both shared their approaches to speed training for rugby. Both use robust running concepts and also focus on hip lock exercises. But that is just a portion of their training. They also do standard sprint training, weight lifting, conditioning, and other staples of training. Same with Bosch at the Wales camp. Bosch’s work was just one piece of the puzzle.
Small doses work
Not only was Bosch’s work just one piece of the puzzle, but it was a small piece. In watching the Welsh train, Bosch would only have about 5 or 10 minutes with athletes each session. I’m sure he would have appreciated more time with them, but the key is that this approach can make a measurable impact even in small supplementary doses.
In fact, small doses are ideal with some of his concepts. Team sport athletes are already exposed to large running loads, so doing more running on top can sometimes be too much. If you are executing the drills correctly, neuromuscular fatigue will also set in before muscular fatigue, thereby taxing the system in a different way. As Nick Lumley wrote in his post:
“The fatigue is very local and of very short duration so it can be done in addition to the other work and not at the expense of it. For example hip lock drills can be fatiguing after a few reps, but athletes quickly recover and it will not carry over negatively to the next field session.”
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Identify your needs
You need to identify your needs in all aspects of training, but this point is easily forgotten. We might see the latest Bosch-style exercise on Instagram and copy it in training without asking what it is trying to do or what our athletes need. It is important to choose exercises based on what your athletes need.
With limited time to work with athletes, Bosch had to narrow his focus in the Welsh camp. The first few steps are critical in rugby, so he wanted to use some exercises that emphasize athletes finding right shape and holding those shapes. To do that, he tried to create different situations focused on achieving a well-balanced toe-off position, as well as building strong cocontractions around key areas like the pelvic sling, trunk, and lower leg.
These are some of the exercises they came up with, with the idea that they all make it hard or impossible to hold the shape if you don’t have the right cocontractions in place:
The video shows a range of options, but it is important to note Bosch might have used just one or two per group per training. Which exercises he chose depended on the experience level of the group he was working with, as well as what he was seeing in their movement.
Beginners might focus on the first exercises, but advanced athletes might find little challenge in that movement so it would be time to move on. Adding the rugby shield, picking up an aquabag, including a rotation, or adding external elements such as hurdles or the need to catch a ball can all challenge the athlete in new ways. Athletes with different needs might change the starting position and work from a kneeling start or other variations. You see examples of all of these in the video above.
Often Bosch is also feeding the error when making exercises more difficult; for example, if one of the players keeps twisting and collapsing at the wall, then rotating the upper body to catch a ball is a more finite endpoint that will give him info in successful attempts, and collapse worse on unsuccessful attempts.
Emphasizing play over perfection
The examples above are not of perfect execution, but that’s the point. The idea is to play around and find a challenge for the athlete that forces them to train the points you are looking for. We can explain the theory for days, but in the end you just have to try it out. Lumley is a great example, a year ago he was a skeptic of the approach, but took an exercise or two to try and no incorporates them regularly as part of his training. Your own training might look different depending on your needs, but it start with finding just a few exercises to challenge them and make their body give a damn about what position it is in.