This is the way I see it.
You can have the best 8, 9, 10 combo in the world, or have the fastest back 3 who can run rings around people. But all of that mean jack if you can’t win a scrum or lift in a line-out.
If you’re a prop then you’re pretty much the most important player on your team. Boom, I said it.
This article is going to cover:
• What Front Row actually do in the modern game
• What this means in terms of physical requirements
• Most common mobility issues props have
• Most common weak points props have (it’s not your arms)
• How to put it all together
Back in the day all the front you used to do was walk from scrum to scrum, maybe lean onto a ruck if it was close by. That time has past though brother. Today’s props are ball players!
Let’s take a quick look at what props these days are actually doing
1. Scrummaging – this is pretty much a given. There’s more to it than just the engage and drive. Props need to be able to transfer the force produced from the locks (and to a lesser extent the back row)
2. Lift in the line out – Again this is a given really.
3. Be a ball carriers – In the modern game you see props running great lines off the backs. They’re busting holes all over the park and playing great rugby. It also means props now need to be able to move faster than a stroll (Ireland’s Ceiran Healy used to play on the wing in age group rugby).
4. Be a ball player – More and more props are becoming first receiver off rucks and open play set moves. This means they need the hands and decision making skills of a back.
5. Hit Rucks – be it to secure ball or turnover ball props should be the guys blowing the opposition out of the water here. I like to see props hitting 1 in 3 rucks but I know a lot of coaches like their big guys trying to hit every other ruck!
That’s a lot of work hey?! You better hope you spent a bit of time building a big motor!
Lets have a look at what this means in terms of what kind of shape modern day props need to be in for each of these jobs –
1. Scrummaging – In the scrum props have two jobs. First is to support the hooker so they can get a clean strike at the ball. Second is to direct and control the movement of the scrum. Both of these mean both props need to be exceptionally strong statically and dynamically.
So this means they need to be nailing the slow lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead, bench) and and the fast lifts (olympic lifts and other power based movements).
There’s reasons behind needing to get strong and powerful. Check them out
Scrummaging is brutal on your lower and upper back.
You need to maintain the correct back position throughout the scrum, this allows your (and the guys behind you) to most effectively transfer the force they produce through there legs. The RFU coaches this as “the tower of power”.
That force you produce comes from your legs and ass. We know what makes your legs and ass strong right? Squats and deadlifts.
You’re probably wondering why props would need dynamic movements though.
At the top level of the game forwards are aiming for 3 seconds scrums, That’s 3 seconds from when the ball enters the tunnel to it leaving the 8’s feet (unless you’re going for a push over try).
So it’s not enough just to drive slowly.
The prop need to learn how to express the strength they’re got from squats and deads etc quickly. The way you do this is quick lifts (I particularly like heavy tyre flips).
2. Line out lifting – Hopefully this is fairly obvious, lifting a 110 kilo second row 6 foot in the air needs a bit of strength behind it. If you can’t lift your jumpers then you can’t do your job on the team, it’s kind of like a 9 who can’t pass.
Again there is more to it than just being able to lift your guy though. Imagine you’re doing a 1 rep max power clean and jerk.
It’s knackering right? You’re probably not going to do much else for the next couple of minutes.
Now imagine doing that and having to get straight into a game of rugby. Tough!
This is essentially what’s happening if you’re not strong enough to lift your jumper. Say you’re lock is 110kg, there’s two of you lifting so we’ll say the front lifter takes 50 kilo and the back lifter is lifting 60kg. If you can only press 60 kilo overhead then as the back lifter you’re going to struggle with that. But if you can press 100 kilo overhead that 60 kilo load from the jumper is going to be no problem at all.
3. Being a ball carrier – This is a big thing for the front row in the modern game, and something which the big guys love doing. You guys are needed the break the gain line. With the organisation of defences these days a lot of players fail at this. Getting a big boy on the ball moving at pace is hard for anyone to stop.
But running is hard work! You need to be able to get some speed up, so that means getting your sprint drills in, you got to have a mean leg drive so your squats and deadlift, you have to stay strong in the contact area which means a ton of heavy ab work.
This should be coming across that being a ball carrier is hard work and very demanding. You guys need to work for it.
Not just that you need to be able to accelerate into the contact area and still have the energy to get up and hit the next ruck. So strength and endurance here!
4. Being a ball player – This might seem to have the smallest physical requirement and the greatest skill and I’d probably agree with that. But the ability to make good choices, which player is running at a hole and should get the pass or is it better to hold on to the ball, while tired is hard. The easiest way around this is to not be so tired! Simples right. To become a ball playing front row you need to build your motor.
5. Rucking – the requirements of rucking is very similar to that of scrummaging. You need to again be able to transfer the force from your legs through your body to move the opposition. This means you need the same static strength to hold your body position and the same dynamic strength to explode through your opposite man.
In terms of hitting enough rucks it comes back to the point of having a big motor. The ability to have a good enough aerobic base to keep going for the whole game.
As you can see props have a lot of work to do off the pitch.
They should be the strongest guys on the park and be able to keep going and going.
One of the biggest problems a lot of rugby players and in particularly front row have in becoming strong is that they don’t have the movement capability that they should.
I only yesterday spoke to a front row player who was telling me he couldn’t even raise his arms overhead because his shoulders and upper back were so tight.
The main areas that props suffer with in their mobility is shoulder mobility, upper back (thoracic) mobility, and hip mobility.
Getting these stiff and tied up areas more free will mean that you can lift more effectively, more pain free and get into better position for scrummaging and lifting.
Should and upper back mobility is are intrinsically tied together so would be worked together. To fix these mobility issues I’d recommend these drills:
1. Shoulder Hurricanes
2. T – spine foam rolling
3. T – spine bridge
4. Breathing drills
Hip mobility is a big deal for everyone and even more so for big guys who tend to leave this stuff out. I’m going to say this for it though as much as I don’t like doing it, hip mobility is going to make a huge difference to your lower body strength work and your sprinting. Here’s my top 4 hip mobility drills
1. Frog Stretch
2. Couch Stretch
3. Squat Breathing Reset
4. Goblet Squats
A few weeks of doing these drills is going to make a huge difference for anyone. Spend 20 minutes a day working through each of these deals.
Out of all the props out there I think 70% if not more can probably bench press more than the rest of their team (although one of the wingers I coached had a 150kg bench so maybe not his team haha). But how much pressing strength does a prop need? How many props can deadlift triple bodyweight? Probably not as many as there should be.
What’s the point of saying that?
You see with props there is a lot of strength in the wrong place. For a lot of front row there is some glaring weaknesses that needs addressing.
Lower back: You’ll have noticed that a lot of the physical requirements that are mentioned above centre around lower back strength. How often do you work your lower back? Are you doing hyper-extensions? Good mornings? Zercher squats? Glute-Ham raises?
If you aren’t you need to think about why not, are you just that strong you don’t need to or are you skipping them because you’re weak in your lower back and it’s hard work?
Upper Back: How many props can bench 120kg? Probably quite a few.
How many can do 8 great pull ups? Probably not so many.
Think about which muscles keep your chest up and stop you collapsing in a scrum. It’s your spinal erectors and upper back. Look at a lot of the top level front rows (Cerian Healy’s Ice bucket challenge comes to mind) they have backs that would make a lot of powerlifters jealous. Its not quite a flash as benching guys but if you can’t at least match your bench press with your bent over row you need more back work. I’m going to leave it as simple as that.
Abs: When was the last time you saw a prop bust out a set of hanging leg raises? Or do any ab work? Probably a while as well.
Ab work is dull and hard work but, you’ll have noticed that in the physical requirements of the scrummaging section there was a lot of talk about transfer of force. That’s where your abs come into it. Your abs keep your torso solid and stops it buckling under the pressure of a bar or in a scrum. The strongest guys in the world do a ton of ab work this means you need to as well. I’ll give you a few tips on what to do because it’s not sit ups. Get on the ab roller, do hanging leg raises, get on the grappler or my favourite load up a bar with 130% of your front squat and hold it in the rack position for as long as you can.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
There is a ton of info for you here guys and I want to help out by putting it together for you.
It boils down to a few simple points.
1. Get your mobility drills done every day this will allow you to move better and train better
2. Become incredibly strong in the slow lifts then learn how to express that quickly
3. Turn your weak points into strong points.
4. Tons and tons of ab and lower back work.