Plyometric training has been shown to be one of the most effective methods for improving  explosive power. It is important to remember that there are two components to strength,  maximum strength and fast speed strength (power). Your power is crucial to on field performance.

One major contributor of power is the ability to use the stretch shortening cycle as it provides a significant amount of energy to any fast paced movement. To develop and enhance the body’s ability to store energy during the stretch shortening cycle you can perform exercises that are called plyometrics. These involve short, fast and explosive movements that will over time improve your ability to store energy in a stretched muscle and use it for more powerful and explosive movements.

In order for plyometric training to be at its most effective it should follow a phase of maximal strength training. The purpose of plyometrics is to improve the player’s capacity to apply more force more rapidly. Logically then, the greater the players ability to generate maximal force or strength to begin with, the more of it can be converted into rugby-specific power.

Plyometrics should be completed at the start of a session when the player is fresh. It is very important that plyometric type drills are only included in a programme after a core stabilization and adequate strength training programme has been done. The general guideline from a strength perspective is that you can begin plyometrics when you can squat 1.5 x your body weight and perform 10 single leg body weight half squats with your eyes closed, and for upper body drills be able to bench press 1-1.5 x your body weight.

Plyometric training should progress gradually from lower intensity to higher intensity drills, especially for individuals who lack significant strength training.

Plyometrics require a complete and thorough warm-up (high knee marching, stretching, skipping, lunging, slow running with exaggerated movements, etc.). They are not high intensity/long duration exercises. They are explosive, ballistic, maximum power exercises with a fairly long recovery time in between. You need to focus on quality of the exercise rather than quantity. The recovery time is necessary to allow your body to replenish the creatine phosphate energy system. If you do not allow recovery time, you are dipping into the lactic acid cycle and, eventually, the aerobic system. Neither of these produces the power you are trying to develop.

The effectiveness of a plyometric training session depends on maximal effort and a high speed of movement for each repetition. Rest intervals between repetitions and sets should be long enough to allow almost complete recovery. Generally using a work to rest ratio of between 1:5 and 1:10 is recommended. For example, if a set of bounds takes 30 seconds to complete, the rest interval between sets would be between 150 and 300 seconds.

Do them on days when you won't be running much, e.g. maybe in conjunction with upper-body strength training, as they focus on leg work.It is not recommended that plyometric training be scheduled for the day after a heavy weight training session when muscles may still be sore. Increasing the load by adding additional weight through weighted vests of ankle weights for example is not recommended. Too great a load can reduce the speed and quality of movement negating the effects of plyometrics and increase the injury risk.

Plyometric volume relates to the number of repetitions per session. For lower body exercises a repetition is called a ground contact. It is recommended that for a beginner, who qualifies from a strength perspective to do plyometrics, he should do no more than 30 jumps (ground contacts, in his first session, building up to 80. The intermediate level player can progress to 100-120 ground contacts and only the highly advanced, extremely well conditioned and experienced player can attempt more than 120 ground contacts with a maximum of 140 per session.

Don’t do more than 2 sessions of plyometrics in a week. Recovery time between sessions is recommended at 48-72 hours.

There are many different plyometric exercises and they are classified on how much stress they cause to the body, low, medium or high intensity. Remember Plyometrics are just one of the different training areas any serious rugby player should focus upon. The other mains areas to focus on are agility, sprint training, resistance training, aerobic/anaerobic fitness, core and flexibility. The combination of these based upon your specific needs will produce the best results.

Here are few examples of some plyometric drills that can be put together to give you an example of an intermediate level session.

Depth Jump with 180 Degree Turn:

Jump/step off of a low bench (40-45cm high), land on both feet, immediately jump as high as you can turning 180 degrees and land on both feet. Repeat. Alternate direction of turn with each repetition. Perform 3 sets of 4 with a work to rest ratio of 1:5 or 1:10 to allow complete muscle recovery between sets (i.e.- if you perform 4 jumps in 20 seconds, rest for 100 to 200 seconds– 1.5 to 3 minutes– between sets). 24 ground contacts

Pyramiding Box Hops:

Set up three benches or boxes. (40-45cm high) about a metre apart. Start from the ground hopping up (swinging both arms at same time) onto the bench/box, then the ground, then the next bench/box, then the ground, etc., walk back to the start. Perform 6 times, work to rest of 1:5 or 1:10. 36 ground contacts

Barrier Hops:

Set up three hurdles (this can be anything), 40 to 60cm high. Hop over each in line. Walk back to beginning. Repeat 10 times in sets of 4.

30 ground contacts

Alternate Bounding:

This is actually an exaggerated running action. Begin with a short jog to get up to speed. At the starting line begin "bounding," pushing off hard with each step. The trailing leg should be extended, the knee bent (kick up your heels), and the leading leg extended as far forward as possible before landing without "braking" your momentum.. Go as far as possible and stay in the air as long as possible with each step. Bound 6 steps and walk back to the beginning.

Repeat 4 times.

24 ground contacts

Total ground contacts = 114

Steve Mac | conditioning specialist 

Steve has a history of top level involvement in rugby as a player and skills, strength and conditioning trainer. He was the Springbok Strength Coach for 2006 and 2007, being a member of the victorious South African squad to the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

Plyometrics for Improved Rugby Performance

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