Updated: Mar 5, 2020
When it comes to speed, we don’t think about flexibility. Let’s face it, speed and flexibility just don’t match.
I’m here to tell you that your flexibility plays a massive impact on whether you are a fast explosive rugby player that flies past defenders, or a slow sluggish rugby player that struggles to get away from defenders.
Flexibility lengthens the muscles which allow your joints to move in a full range of motion.
When sprinting, knee drive is paramount to developing speed. Think of it this way: the higher the knee drive, the more speed you can generate. If I can drive my knee up to 90 degrees, I’m going to be able to generate a lot more speed than if I drive my knee to only 45 degrees. If I had a dollar for every time I see a young rugby player struggling to drive their knee to 90 degrees I would be a wealthy man. I see it way too often.
There are 2 reasons to why the knee doesn’t drive to 90 degrees:
1. The player does not stretch often enough resulting in their hip flexors, glutes and hamstring muscles being short not long (side note: short muscles are slow and long muscles are fast)
2. They sit down for long periods which results in tight glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors
I’ll explain later on how to fix this problem but firstly let’s explore.
Which muscles are the key to improving speed?
When it comes to speed, your glutes, hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings are the key to your rugby speed.
Let’s look at what each muscle does when you sprint
Hamstrings – pulls your legs backward so that your legs can generate force to push off the ground quickly
Quadriceps – work with the hamstrings to pull your legs forwards when sprinting
Glutes – the largest muscle in the body. They support the work of the quads and hamstrings by pushing your body forwards
Hip Flexors - allow your legs to move in unison with the rest of your body resulting in a fast and efficient sprinter
HOW DO I STRETCH FOR SPEED?
The simple answer is to stretch every day. Make it a routine part of your daily life and yes, that applies to you as well Mum and Dad (stretching is good for everyone!).
Not only will stretching make you faster, but it will also improve your quality of life from getting off a chair to tying your shoelaces. I digress, let get back to speed.
Add these 3 stretches to your daily routine to improve your speed on the field
1. Hip Flexor Stretch
2. Glute Stretch
3. Hamstring sweeps
How long should you hold a stretch?
When stretching to warm up, you should be holding the stretch for 3 seconds. I like to have my athletes perform their warm up stretch over 10m then sprint 10m.
When cooling down, you should be holding that stretch for 20-30 seconds. This will allow the muscle to release tension and lengthen the muscle. Perform 3 reps.
So, let’s quickly recap.
Long muscles are fast and short muscles are slow.
To keep your muscles long, therefore, allowing your joints to move in a full range of motion, you must be stretching before and after training and on game day. So next time you are stretching and feeling bored remember that it's making you a faster rugby player.