Although not seen as the most glamorise position in rugby. The props definitely don’t get the recognitions they deserve on the rugby field or as athletes in general. Although the front row seldom entertains the crowd with flashy skills, it is by far one of the most demanding playing positions there is in all team sports.
So what exactly is expected of the front row during the game?
For starters, they have to pack down in a scrum anything between 10-20 per game. This is probably the most exhausting part of the game for any position. Their secondary role would be lifting in line outs anything between 25-35 time per game. Apart from lifting, they will be an integral part of between 8-14 mauls per game, this being another very taxing activity. In general play, they would make between12-15 tackles, carry the ball between 8-12 times (and expected to dominate contact), clean 25-30 rucks and cover 4km-6km in 80min
To be able to this, every coaching department wants their pound of flesh from the big guys and non-more that the conditioning coach. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the physical assessment standard expect from international front rows
BODY FAT PERCENTAGE: < 15%
AEROBIC CAPACITY: 1200m time trial: <4:20min
ANAEROBIC CAPACITY: Repeated sprint test: >740m
SPEED: 10m: <1.78
STRENGTH: Bench Press: 160-170kg (1.5 x BW), Squat: 270-300kg (2.5 x BW)
POWER OUTPUT: Vertical jump: >50cm, Power to weight ratio: 70w/kg, Peak power in major lifts: 7000-800watts
During the week between Super Rugby and the Springboks assembling in camp, I had the privilege of spending two days with Steven Kitshoff while preparing himself for the Rugby Championship.
On the first day, I met up with them in the gym after he had spent about 45min on the field with Stormers S&C coach Stephan du Toit for some conditioning. The gym session started with serious lifting in the bench press and box squat, using the gymawere to ensure maximal output with each rep. For those who have never trained with any velocity measurement before, it makes a huge difference in terms of output and effort if your intention is to move the bar as quickly as possible with every rep. From what I can recall we both had some decent velocity with 220kg in the box squat, but when it came to bench press, I was found seriously wanting (125kg vs 150kg).
After the big lifts, we went into some overhead work with split presses. The goal was to chase a certain movement speed and see how heavy we can go in achieving that speed. I did not fall out of the bus completely, but while the Bok prop could do all his lifts with speed, I only manage a couple before dropping off the pace.
Next up was some upper body push/pull supersets. Steven managed an easy 4 set of 6 reps with the 65kg (with some reps in the tank left) in the incline DB press, while my ego led me to the 55kg which left my gym partner to do a bit in the spotting department
The session was ended off with the watt bike. This is without a doubt where the novice (me) was separate from the pro. After just a couple of intervals, I was exhausted and way of the pace, but Steven just never stopped and I was amazed at the output he could reach and sustain during the intervals. I must also mention that Stephan du Toit set the pace in this part of the session
After waking up to a slightly stiffer back and chest the next morning, we head out to the gym again for a lower body session. Steven mentioned that he went to the gym again the previous evening for some additional cardio work.
The gym session started with some Trap Bar deadlifts, and as was the case of the day before, I could match every rep and the same weight. This was followed by some banded box squat and chasing velocity again. Again this was in my area of strength so could match him, but then we head back to the dumbbell rack for some shoulder presses and again I was left seriously wanting. The Springbok prop completed his 4 sets of 6 reps with the 55kg dumbbells. Next, we did some loaded eccentric control during landing and hamstring work before taking the prowler (loaded with BW) outside.
After about 20 x 6m with shuttle runs in between we were back on the watt bikes for about 30min of intervals to finish the session off.
So what are the take home messages after these two days?
- Rugby players need to strike the balance between output and capacity.
The one does not overshadow the other, no matter what your position. Steven had no problem producing strength and power after 2 hours of non-stop training that challenges various energy systems.
- It takes some time to develop this capacity.
After speaking to Stevens trainer about his capacity, he mentioned that one of the biggest differences between the senior pro’s and junior players coming into the system is their tolerance for training and ability to handle the workload.
- You can squat two days in a row
For those who did not notice, we squatted on both days. Heavy box squats followed by banded box squat the next day. If you plan your program properly and manipulate volume and intensity you should be able to do various forms of squats every day in the off –season. Although I’m not a professional player, I had no problem squatting back to back days and even do some deadlifts.
- Props need to be all-round incredibly strong
I often get asked what you should do in the gym if you are a prop. My answer is doing the big lifts as often as possible and as heavy as possible with good technique. I would also say lift the bar as fast as you possibly can, regardless of the weight. Strength training is a long journey and does not happen overnight.
- What you do away from the gym will determine what you can do in the gym
If you want to train like a pro every day, you need to look after yourself. Eating healthily, sleeping and staying hydrated are crucial for the body to repair itself. Another big thing we often miss and cutting external stress from your life. If you want to stress your body in the gym, you can’t stress it at home as well. Remember that the mind cannot discern between physical and mental stress and often issues at home can lead to players not recovering and not adapting the way they should to their training.