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Everything You Need to Know About Sprint Training for Rugby

While wingers need to be exceptionally fast, in the game of rugby, speed will always be an asset. There’s a lot of science about fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers and your natural ability to cover the field at a break-neck pace, but the truth is, you can also train to be quick. That’s why sprint training for rugby is an absolute must in your training program.

“Strength may get all the accolades, but in my experience, speed is the true physical ability that separates great players from average players.” — Keir Wenham-Flatt

Here’s everything you need to know about sprint training for rugby.

1. Sprinting isn’t straightforward. 

When you look at Olympic sprinters, they have the luxury of blocks to start on and a straight line to go down. With rugby, you don’t, and the way you train should reflect that. Ruck Science suggests perfecting your technique to help reach your top speed faster — without the need for starting blocks and straight lines. In other words, they want you to “replicate the demands” of the rugby field while still executing sprint form. When you train not only for improving your speed but for improving your speed under the conditions you’ll play in, your training will translate to performance with significantly more ease.

2. Sprint training is regular and quality.

Like anything in life, you lose it if you don’t use it. You must sprint at least twice weekly with a specific sprint workout — not just interval training or other drills. Interval training does build excellent fitness, but it won’t build speed. A quality sprint training session looks like a maximum of 45 minutes of focused exercise. Build your session around various distances (on the field, you’ll go anywhere from 1 to 100 meters for about 5% of your total match), and let yourself recover nearly fully before starting the next exercise. Whereas interval training focuses on keeping your heart rate at unpredictable levels to overload your cardiovascular system, sprint training is ineffective when you stop hitting your top speed. So, your goal isn’t quantity — X number of sprints until you’re exhausted — it’s quality. Hit that top speed every time.

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3. Power and speed are gym buddies.

As your speed grows, so should your power. Like any fitness regime, sprint training also requires balance. When working on your sprinting, you also need to incorporate strength workouts into your weekly schedule, mainly focused on developing your lower body muscles. Think about it, if you want a powerful zero-to-one-hundred sprint start, you need some explosive power in your legs. Rugby World suggests developing your speed by working strength at a capacity of 80% of your 1RM for 6-8 reps. If you want to incorporate even more sprinting into your strength-building days, Rugby Renegade suggests hill sprints as the ultimate tool for training explosiveness and power.

4. Being fast requires flexibility.

Again, rugby players aren’t necessarily sprinting in a straight line. So, your muscles need to have some flexibility in how they move so that you’re as agile as you are fast. You’ll also avoid muscle tears and other injuries. Think about how a muscle works: When it stretches, it contracts back. This is called the stretch reflex. Sprinting works with the same reflex, meaning the more you can hone a powerful contraction back from a stretch, the faster you can push those muscles down the field. Do this with jump training movements and plyometrics.

Sprinting empowers your central nervous system (CNS) to recruit your muscle fibers faster for movements. This will translate to more power in the end as you focus on other areas of training. So really, training for speed will benefit your overall performance. If your program incorporates actual sprinting and foundations of form, scenarios that translate from the gym to the field, power boosts to the muscles that make up your base, and flexibility to allow for agility, you’ll be tearing down the field in no time. However, like anything, it’s essential to keep up with it so you don’t lose it! For inspiration, listen to this podcast from Rugby Renegade with speed coach Jonas Dodoo and remember to keep yourself motivated to bring your best to any session, no matter the style.

“I don’t believe in magic; I believe in hard work.”
— Richie McCaw

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