In order to develop appropriate strength and conditioning programs for our athletes, it’s important for coaches to understand how certain exercises carry over to sporting movements. We must use the exercises that have the greatest dynamic correspondence to field play in order to support performance outcomes. For example, it’s quite clear that squats and power cleans carry over to vertical jump performance. Thus, for sports where vertical force production is important, these exercises should be utilized.
In collision sports like football and rugby, tackling is an integral component to successful competition. Tackling requires strength and power to overcome the opponent and knock him/her off their feet. Mobility is needed to assume the correct position without compromising spinal position. Technique is required to apply contact to the opponent at a low enough position to avoid a broken tackle. However, there is limited research that assesses what exercises can be useful for improving tackling performance.
In a new study published in the July issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, a group of Australian researches sought to draw relationships with typical strength and power movements with tackling performance in rugby players. In 36 semi-professional male rugby players from 3 different tiers (i.e., first grate [n=10], second grade [n=12] and U-20 [n=14]) maximal strength was assessed with the 3RM squat and 3RM bench press. Power markers were obtained from a plyo-push up and counter-movement jump performed on a force plate. Relative strength was assessed by dividing the 3RM values by each individual’s body mass. A couple days following the strength and power testing, all athletes were assessed for tackling ability. This was done by having each athlete perform several tackles on right and left shoulders against an opponent who ran directly at the tackler without performing any evasive manoeuvres. Tackling ability was based on a list of 6 criteria as follows:
- Contact made at the center of gravity
- Initial contact made with the shoulder
- Body position square and aligned
- Leg drive on contact
- Watch the target onto the shoulder
- Center of gravity forward of the base of support.
When assessed as a group, the strongest predictors of tackling ability were squat, bench press, relative squat and plyo-push-up with r values of 0.67, 0.58, 0.41, and 0.56, respectively.
For the first grade players, the r values were 0.72, 0.72, 0.86 and 0.70, respectively. For the second grade athletes, relative squat and plyo-push-up were the only correlates to tackling ability (r values of 0.60 and 0.67, respectively). In the U-20 athletes, squat, bench press and plyo-push-up demonstrated the strongest correlations with tackling performance (r values of 0.77, 0.70 and 0.65, respectively).
The authors conclude that maximal muscular strength and upper body power are the biggest contributors to tackling ability in rugby players. Therefore, strength and conditioning coaches should seek to enhance these qualities in training to carry-over to field performance while technical work is developed with the sport coaches.
Speranza et al. (2015) Muscular strength and power correlates of tackling ability in semiprofessional rugby league players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(8): 2071-2078.