What’s more exciting to watch than a player being able to suddenly explode out of the blocks and leave defenders for dead?
It hurts me to say this (being a Queenslander – go the maroons!!) but New South Welshman Damian Cook would have to have one of the deadliest explosive first steps in the NRL. It’s confusing for me to show you the video of him – I mean I love speed and this guy has got it going on, but he is from blues territory, so before I share this please know that I’m somewhat hurting to be extolling his virtues.
Cook going from 0 to 100 in a second, finding a hole in Queensland’s defensive line, and then being able to break through the tackle of legendary Queenslander Billy Slater – this comes back to that first explosive step.
Take a moment to appreciate the fine art of an explosive first step in action.
The more explosive your first step, the harder it is for a defender to react. Every rugby player needs this secret weapon.
An explosive first step isn’t all about taking that one “first” step just quickly, it's about taking that first step quickly then accelerating at a rapid pace. That burst of acceleration is the key and what allows players to break the defensive line.
Before we look at my two simple drills to build an explosive first step, let’s lay down the basics of acceleration.
Acceleration is how fast you can get to your top speed. With rugby, we generally have around 10m to get to our top speed, but if you’re a 100m sprinter like Usain Bolt he has around 50m to get to his top speed. If we’ve only got 10m, given that we are all rugby players here, your first step becomes critical and lays the platform to your quickness out of the blocks.
To be able to get our body into a position that enables explosion off the blocks, your body and shin angles need to be around 45 degrees. Too far forward in either, your body or shin angles, and it will be difficult to develop optimal knee drive (develop power) and maintain your balance. Too upright and your body will act as a brake and not enable you to generate enough force backward to propel your body explosively forward.
To help your upper body and shin angles maintain a 45-degree angle, try looking at a point in the ground around 3 meters ahead. Tip: looking up will automatically lift your body up.
Check out how this player's shin and body angle is at 45 degrees.
When it comes to our steps, ground contact time is longer during the acceleration phase as we are trying to develop force into the ground.
Now that you have an understanding of acceleration, let’s look at my two drills to develop a deadly first step.
1. BOX BLAST
This drill is great at mimicking the action of your foot contacting the ground during the first step of acceleration.
Select a box that flexes your knee no more than 90 degrees, when you have one foot on top of the box. Whilst the true angle of your first step is approximately 45 degrees of knee flexion, we want to ensure that you can accelerate out of any position on the field.
- Lift the top foot about 6cm above the box and stomp your foot on the box
- Use this stomp to propel your body upwards
- Minimise pushing off the back leg so that the top leg generates all the force
- Repeat for 8 reps then switch legs
1. SINGLE-LEG HURDLE JUMP
Because there is only one foot in contact with the ground at any given time during acceleration, it makes sense to train on one leg.
- Start by lowering your hips
- Push hard into the ground with your standing leg
- Drive your hip as you jump over the hurdle
- Drop your hips to absorb the landing and maintain balance
There you have it, Friends, incorporate these two drills, along with proper acceleration mechanics (shin and body angle at 45 degrees) and you’ll be on your way to developing an explosive first step to leave defenders for dead.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact me with any queries about your rugby speed technique.