The Science of Plyometrics

July 5, 2017

Training for the rugby pitch is as much about anatomical science as it's the skill of a rugby genius. Consider the role of plyometric bodyweight squats and lunges in improving the strength and power required for performing barbell power squats, and how this then relates to the game of rugby.

So let’s look at the muscles itself – the quadriceps, Hamstrings and gastrocnemius. The outer part of a muscle is known as the extrafusal fibres, containing sarcomeres that have the proteins, actin and myosin within them. These create muscle contraction through the sliding filament theory.

The inner part of any muscle contains intrafusal fibres that contain muscle spindles. It’s within this section that true power through the plyometrics can be developed! The muscle spindles are what detect, control and protect the muscle from over lengthening. Plyometrics force muscles to rapidly contract and relax, lengthen and shorten.

Through this action and the activation of the muscle spindles, explosive strength and power can be developed. In this instance the legs will improve the potential for weight lifted during barbell power squats through increased activation of the muscle spindles.

Also involved in this process is the Golgi tendon organ, found within the ends of muscles where tendons form.

The function of the Golgi tendon organ is to detect when the muscle is under too much pressure, for example when we try to squat a weight which is far too heavy and we are unable to complete a rep; this is the Golgi tendon organ detecting and sending the signal that the muscle cannot cope with the level of resistance.

Once a week try the following session example to monitor progress:

Complete a suitable warm up:

  • Dynamic warm up set: 20 X barbell squats with 40% of max lifting weight
  • Following the dynamic warm up, complete:
  • 1 X jumping squats to maximum reps with good form
  • 1 X jumping lunges to maximum reps with good form
  • 90-second recovery before heading to the barbell squats

Now complete:

  • 3 X 6-10 Barbell squats with 75% of maximum lift weight. Allow 90 seconds rest between each set
  • Once you have completed 3 sets of barbell power squats return to complete one set off jumping squats and jumping lunges.
  • This time allow 3 minutes rest period.
  • Finish this mini session with 1 X 1-3 maximum lift

Track your progress over a 6-week period and see if you make any advances in reps / weight lifted, and your power through the tackle and scrum if applicable.

This principle can also be taken to plyometric press-ups in order to develop bench press power. You’ll notice that within the session you only complete 2 sets of each plyometric exercise, broken down into one set of each. This is because after a certain threshold the muscles will no longer benefit from any form of plyometrics in quick succession, making it advisable and far more beneficial to limit sets completed to get best results.

Please note that a plyometric session that is of a moderate to high intensity is not advisable 48 hours prior to a game/ intense session of rugby.

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