Speed Training 2- training for Rugby Speed

Speed Training for Rugby

With RUGBY having moved into the professional arena , the speed and intensity at which the game is played would inevitably increase.  This increase in intensity has placed enormous demands on the speed and agility of players and especially the acceleration and first step quickness.

Speed and agility are two of the influencing factors that make a potential elite player stand out from the rest of the pack this paper provides a training program designed to develop speed and agility while integrating these qualities into specific attack and defence movements associated with the game.

A faster more agile player is able to be a potent weapon in both attack (ie. supporting making a break or making the break down quicker ) and defence (ie chasing down the player, getting in position and recovering  from a defensive tackle).  Speed can effectively be described as runs of 95 – 100% intensity while covering distances of up to 60m or 6 seconds in duration.

This involves the muscles quickly and therefore moving the limbs at the highest possible velocity: improvements in speed can be achieved by increasing stride length and / or stride rate.

Before prescribing a speed and agility program for rugby we must consider the specific needs of the sport in order to develop an appropriate sport specific program.  An analysis of the game reveals that players rarely sprint more than 40 mtrs , with most efforts carried out between 10 and 25m

Further more movement patterns show players travel in a forwards, backwards and sidewards direction at various intensities, starting  from the semi-walk to sprint during the game.

With rugby taking place on a field 100m x 70m and involving short bursts of speed with sudden changes in direction, first step quickness and acceleration speed are critical.  The ability to accelerate quickly will allow you to run by the opposing player , create an overlap, beat a player one on one or cut a player down.  Once you have the advantage over an opponent you take upper hand.

By training for speed you increase your explosive muscle power and in doing so you will find you are better equipped for rugby .  Training for speed and agility will not do anything for eye to hand co ordination, but a quick and agile body will contribute to a better all-round game .


Speed and agility training must be designed to meet the needs of the game , therefore remember the principle of specificity and its relevance to program design.  Consider the work to recovery ratio, movement patterns and intensity of effort during play and make these the focus of your training


1. Ensure an adequate warm up.

A warm up increases muscle temperature improving muscular efficiency, minimising the chance of soft tissue injury and allows the athlete to focus on the tasks to be carried out in the training session.

2. Concentrate on the task.

Always use good technique and focus on the task at hand.  If fatigue causes deterioration of technique, either reduce the training load or increase the rest period.

3. Relax

Relaxing improves the freedom of movement around the shoulder and hip joints allowing for the efficient stride rate , consequently minimises wasted motion .

4. Regular Sessions

For improvement you need to train specifically for speed and agility 2 – 3 sessions per week.

Sample Training Session

1. Warm Up (I5 minutes)a. Jog for 5 minutes (1 km}

b. Dynamic stretching exercises

c. Striding and over striding

2. Speed Work (30 minutes)a. Technique (drills)

b. Speed

(pure speed, acceleration and first step quickness)

3. Agility Work (15 minutes) a. drills

4.Warm Down ( 10 minutes) a. jog for 5 minutes

b. slow stretching exercises

a. Technique drills

Each speed session should focus on working on a number of technique drills.  Speed drill training enables a player to apply force effectively.  The drills aim to focus effort into efficient movements.  Working on these drills helps to develop correct sprint form which produces a more efficient sprinting technique.  Initially players should perform the drills slowly until they perform the technique correctly.

As they improve they can increase the speed and distance they carry out the drills and the number of repetitions per set.  Ultimately the objective with all drills is to execute them with as much speed and quickness as possible in order to specifically train the neural pathways.  The specific speed drills can be found  in Table 2 and include various elbow drive and high knee pick up drills.

b. Speed

As discussed earlier most runs in rugby do not exceed 40 mtrs and are commonly  between  10m and 25 m.  This suggests that training should focus on acceleration and first step quickness .  However pure -speed training should not be neglected.  Sessions should begin with first step quickness, followed by some acceleration training and finishing with pure speed training

Training in this order allows the athlete to be relatively fresh when they are working on their quick feet drills such as those carried out with first step quickness training; this then allows for more effective training as the neural system has not been taxed.

First Step Quickness

Involves distances from 5 -10 m, specific elbow drive, knee pick up and butt kick drills can be used here as they specifically work on rapidly moving the feet off the ground.

Acceleration Training

Involves working on acceleration speed particular drills such as Fartlek sprints and acceleration runs which require the athlete to accelerate quickly to peak speed from a ,jog and occur frequently in a game situation.

Uphill sprints on a grassy incline of up to 10 degrees (Klinzing,1992) are beneficial to both first step quickness and acceleration as they require high knee lift, vigorous arm action and help work on pushing power away from the start (Klinzing,1992}. These drills act as an additional form of overload and have a ” conditioning ” training effect, particularly during pre-season training preparation.

Pure Speed Training

Involves all out maximal speed runs of up to 70m as this is roughly the average length of a run on a rugby field  When performing sets of these sprints one should essentially be fresh and breaks of up to 3 minutes should be imposed between sets, rest between repetitions can be the walk back to the start.  The inclusion of down hill sprints on a slope no greater than three (3) degrees provides sprint assisted  work in the form of gravity .  The slope should not cause the runner to move in a way as if they were bracing themselves or to lose balance, resulting in them running slower.

Warm Up

An adequate warm up increases the temperature of the muscles preventing injury and results in an increase in muscular performance.  The session should begin with a 5 minute jog preferably with a tracksuit on to help minimise the risk of strains and torn muscles.  Following this some slow and essential stretches should be carried out (see Tab1e 1), especially focusing on the lower body (ie groin, quadriceps and hamstrings}.  Then prior to starting the actual speed training, a number of striding run through at 60% should be performed to complete the warm up session.

Warm Down

The warm down should be similar to the warm up excluding the striding.  The main reasons of the cool down is to loosen the muscles and in doing so reduce muscle stiffness and soreness following speed sessions.


The focus was on providing a speed / agility program specific to the movement patterns of the game of rugby .  The program can be adapted by players and coaches to suit individual needs.  Furthermore once an adequate base has been achieved with speed and agility work, the ball can be added so as to make the drills more specific to game situations.

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