We are told at a young age that if you want to be a great rugby player you need to be doing more than everyone else. After all, that’s what the likes of Johnathan Thurston and David Pocock did to be the best.
We’ve all seen the documentaries that show JT, and the relentless criticism he came up against early in his career “too small”, “won’t make it”, “no chance” and subsequently how he would stay back after training each night to practise his goal kicking by repeating the skill for hours. He got it right and morphed into one of the greatest NRL players Australia has seen. His plan of attack was the more reps you do, the better you will be at that skill. Makes sense doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the same can’t be applied to the technique of speed.
Speed training is a skill that requires maximum effort for every single rep you perform.
To get faster you need to sprint fast. Every. Time. End of story.
This is why JT’s action plan can’t be implemented into your speed training. Try performing maximal efforts for hours on end. You just can’t do it.
Why? Because maximum efforts tap into your Central Nervous System (CNS) which does not take long to fatigue.
Rugby skills like catching, passing, tackling, goal kicking etc do not require maximal CNS effort to get a result, which allows your body to repeat a skill over and over. And over some more. If you go and practise with the intention of sprinting 20m x 100 times, it will not work out well both for your body and improvement. You will either injure yourself or tax your CNS so bad that you will require extra days to recover leaving you in a worse place than when you started.
It would be weird to practise the skill of passing 10 times, then shut shop and expect improvements, wouldn’t it? But when it comes to rugby speed this is the exact mindset you need to adopt. Again, it boils down that speed is taxing on your CNS and body in a way that the eye cannot see. Knowing when to end speed training is a critical factor when it comes to quality over quantity.
Therefore, less is more when it comes to rugby speed. Your goal to getting faster should be to do as many high quality (I’m yelling here MAXIMAL effort) reps as possible, as quickly as possible. When you have clocked your personal best it’s time to stop. This is your bodies way of saying “I’ve had enough”. Any more training will be damaging to your CNS.
I agree that this is easier said than done, which is why many rugby players struggle to get faster. It’s human nature that you want to continue in the moment, when you start seeing improvements.
It’s Quality VS Quantity friends. Think of speed training like eating food. Even though we all love food, my hands up – I love a good meat pie. But we also all know that if I ate too many pies in one sitting, no one is going to be happy! You need to find the right balance of quality and quantity. There is a sweet point to how much food you need. And friends, speed is the same.
Here are 3 ways you can focus on quality vs quantity with your speed training
1. Time your sprints
The only way to know the quality of each sprint is to use your stopwatch. If you’re not timing your sprints, you’re going to find it very difficult to know when to shut shop. Let’s say that you are sprinting 20m reps and your best time is 7 seconds. You hit 6.85 in that session. This means you have taken a big chunk of your best time. This is a sign to stop. The goal is to get faster and you have accomplished that. Call it quits and go home. If you don’t time your sprints, start doing it today so you know when it’s time to stop.
2. Listen to your body
Everyone’s body reacts differently to training (and life in general) so it’s important above all that you listen to your body. The best lesson I’ve learnt as The Rugby Speed Coach is that adapting your training to how you feel is the key. If you’re feeling tired or rundown, then reduce your training load or take a day off. We sometimes push our child to attend footy training even though they are tired. Forget this mindset when it comes to speed training. Believe me you won’t be doing yourself any favours if you train without maximum effort. Also, when training speed, allow at least 48 hours between training sessions to allow your Central Nervous System to full recover.
3. Is the Joy there?
After all that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? If you’re not enjoying your training, then it’s time to either take a break or spice things up. Get creative with your speed training. The easiest and simplest way to spice your training up is to add a challenge. Grab a mate to join in. Sprint against each other and watch your speed sky-rocket.
There you have it. Quality over quantity is king when it comes to speed training. The mindset of more is best can be thrown out the window when you want to develop breakaway speed. Perform sprints at maximum effort every time, but listen to the signs when it’s time stop. Your goal should be to do as many high quality (max efforts) reps as possible and as quickly as possible. Good luck, as always, I’m at the end of the email if you have any speed training questions.