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Strength Training & Conditioning For the Rugby World Cup 2011 by Pulling a 12 Ton Truck Or Plane
Have you seen the strongman competition? Won by Zydrūnas Savickas in 2009, it is held annually and often features giants such as Bill Kazmaier, Mariusz Pudzianowski and Magnus Ver Magnusson performing feats of unimaginable and inspiring strength. Perform stunts such as lifting atlas balls, the ‘Hercules hold’, throwing a keg, turning over giant tyres, ‘duck walking’ and carrying a car, against the clock and the competitors; the strongman competition is the ultimate strength event in the world. The strength and conditioning of these athletes is amazing. Strength conditioning not only involves the ability to lift huge weights but also to carry them over distances that take into account the cardiovascular aspect of their training. When you see the strong events you can’t help but notice that some of these athletes are pushing themselves to the point of nosebleeds. The effort and dedication given to the event is out of sacrificial love to be the best regardless of the cost. I wouldn’t want to tread lightly into an exercise program or train any of these Incredible Hulks let alone compete in Strongman.
One of the strong events is pulling a truck or an airplane with a rope. Vehicles such as transport trucks, trams, buses or planes are pulled across a 30 meter course by hand as fast as possible. In 2007 a fire engine lorry was towed and in 2008 a coal lorry. The truck itself sometimes weighs over 12 tonnes. How is a human being able to pull a truck that heavy? What kind of weight training, strength training exercise, strength conditioning or gym workout would one follow to achieve such monster proportions of strength? Some of these athletes are able to pull the truck past 30 meters in about 30-40 seconds. This shows raw strength along with endurance and speed. How is a human being capable of such a feat? Does science have an answer to this? Is this all geometry and physics? Or is this something to do with the strength training anatomy of the individual in question ie is he an archman?
Yes, it takes tremendous strength to do this. But is there more to it? Close inspection of the lorry or tow plane – when you look at the athlete’s stance in the event, you notice that his stance is a bit like a 100m sprinter in the blocks. Take a close look at Dwain Chambers, Usain Bolt or Assafa Powel in their blocks before they sprint in the 100m. The stance of the strong is similar. They all tend to lean forward at a 45 degree angle.
A ball thrown into the air at an angle of 45 degrees travels the furthest. A cricket batsman like Vivian Richards of the West Indies or Aravinda De Silva of Sri Lanka can hit the leather cricket ball out of the cricket ground, past the spectators, over the seagulls and into the housing complexes nearby by targeting their hits at a 45 degree angle. This is pure physics. A missile fired at 45 degrees travels the furthest because at this angle most of the distance is covered with the greatest force. This theory is implemented in the firing of missiles and rockets. So by maintaining a 45 degree angle to the ground, a strong man’s strength training anatomy is able to drive maximum force against the truck/plane he is pulling. A higher angle provides less downforce and potentially causes difficulties in balancing as its center of mass / gravity is thrown off course. A lower angle reduces the frictional pull the strongman has on the ground. The strength effort at a 45 degree angle is the greatest.
A look at the truck / plane pull reveals that a strongman does not do one single pull (or forward push), but instead does a continuous series of continuous repetitive pulls. His conditioning strength includes momentum. It doesn’t explode with just one pull but uses the speed from each pull to drive the next pull. Bodybuilders often avoid this type of training as momentum uses physics rather than muscle fiber to make the weight move in their training motion. Each pull from the strong man loosens the rope before being pulled again. Friction causes the truck to slow down after each pull. This strong event is compared to a strength training exercise of performing a 220 Kg squat for more than 40 repetitions in less than 30-40 seconds. Does that sound practical to you?
What does all this have to do with Rugby? The World Cup is not too far away and a lot needs to be done in preparation. Strength training and more so – functional strength training, is likely to be a decisive factor in the Rugby World Cup 2011. The Tri-Nations 2009 revealed that strength, power and endurance crowned South Africa victorious. It’s about time teams around the world took advantage of functional strength training and drank the spoils of warrior grade training. Who better than kings to learn strength and endurance from? The strong man.
Rugby League or Rugby Union; it doesn’t matter which version of the game you play. Driving forward with constant force, continuous waves of attack with the hope of penetrating opposition defenses and forming thunderous defensive walls are an integral part of the game. The strongman truck pulls immediately remind me of a Rugby Union scrum. The position of the body, the stances and the aims ie moving forward against a force, (the opposition’s scrum force and the frictional force on the truck are in the same direction!) are strikingly similar. Following the strongman example, if a rugby player positions himself at a 45 degree angle when driving forward, he is likely to have the most force and power. So he is able to maximize his strength training by leveraging his angle of attack. When the entire scrum comes together in this formation they are a force to be reckoned with. Some scrum teams weigh over a ton and I wonder how many 747s they could pull. The scrum also needs to move forward in repeated bursts of pushing forward. They all need to be synchronized to give maximum power. I immediately start looking at the movie 300 where the Spartan Warriors came together to form a defensive defensive group that pushes forward in synchronized harmony. Maximum force is used in this way.
Most of the crowd-pleasing moments in a rugby match occur when a carrier or defender is pumped to the grass in a tackle. The more ‘road runner cartoon type’ the tackle, the more reaction one gets from the crowd. We are like the ancient Romans during the gladiatorial battles. Most ‘victims’ of such tackles are those who stood tall in the tackle. We learned that if you position yourself above 45 degrees you may have problems with balance and you certainly cannot exert much force while you are not balanced. It is easy to shift your center of gravity / mass from a point of balance and you could easily be fooled no matter how strong, powerful or heavy you are. If you are below 45 degrees you are likely to fall forward or slip in wet grassy conditions. At 45 degrees any defender has a fair chance of using his maximum strength to bring down an attacker. Any attacker is most effective when maintaining a 45 degree angle while charging forward. Any defenders caught above or below 45 degrees are vulnerable and open a weak link in the 300 Spartan Warrior formation. They will also find it difficult to get to the site quickly enough. As a carrier, always keep your eyes open for such opportunities. As a defender, always stick to formation.
Have you ever wondered why Power Lifters perform their movements quickly? Whereas bodybuilders do slower repetitions but much more of them. Powerlifting movements such as the bench press, deadlift or squat are performed quickly. Powerlifters are the pinnacle; top strength conditioning individuals. In fact, for bench presses or squats, lowering the weight quickly and using that momentum to burst up is one way to trick your muscles into pushing heavier weights; although that would have Olympia bodybuilder gurus like Dorian Yates swearing at you. Momentum is critical. Physics dictates that F = MA ie Force = Mass multiplied by Acceleration. The faster a player moves, the more force they are likely to exert on impact. In the scrum, charging, rolling mauls or defending, the more momentum the more power. The opposition needs to use equal force to stop you. Even if they tackle you by your ankles, their arms, legs and shoulders will have to absorb the force of your impact and they are sure to never forget you. Strength and speed attribute to power. Power will decide who will win the Rugby World Cup 2011. Will it be the All Blacks? Or the Springboks? England? Fiji? Functional strength training will reveal the new champions.
Olympic lifters (look out for them at the London Olympics and then Samba in Rio!) also take advantage of speed. In strength conditioning it is important to include repetition. That is, train your muscles repetitively for the movement you want to perform. There is a very good reason why Olympic athletes may not be able to bench as much (I often see people on the internet criticizing strong competitors when they find out they can’t bench that much either). That’s because of our strength training anatomy. Diving into human biology, our brains build neural pathways. A neural pathway tells the brain that a certain set of muscles needs to be used in a certain sequence under a certain force. Our bodies adapt to the pressure placed on them and build the strength training anatomy necessary to handle the load. This adds strength to the setup – practice makes perfect. It is futile to determine one person’s strength over another as it all depends on the function they have been training for. Sometimes the lanky man looks more dangerous down the dark alley than the big bench monster. Using momentum along with conditioning your body (by repeating the strength exercises) provides the most power. As part of your strength training, weight training, gym workout or training program, involves speed and repetition to push or pull heavier weights.
There is still much to be learned from the science of strong competitions. Strongman competitors, Power Lifters and Olympic lifters all provide unique learning points for Rugby players. Learning battle plans from Spartan Warriors is wisdom; it is wisdom to learn about fighting from Gladiators and it is wisdom to learn from the professionals of this world on how a physical game like Rugby could be mastered and taken to a whole new level.
There will be many more to come.
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