Guest Blog: Speed & Acceleration Training for Rugby Players

This Blog article is a guest post by Max Himbury looking at Speed and Acceleration training for Rugby. The physical characteristics of speed and agility on the rugby field are invaluable, regardless of your playing position.

The Common Issue

I get it, you go to the gym to gain some muscle and hope to get stronger to improve your chances at putting someone on their back on game day. Despite this being beneficial in a very predictable way, it can be massively detrimental in the long run and not actually very transferrable to a Rugby performance. I mean, how often do you bench press a player for 8-12 reps to score any try’s?

I’ve had many, many occasions where I’ve been coaching a semi-pro Rugby player and had to convince them that they won’t magically lose every ounce of muscle they have by adapting their training to improve their athletic performance, specifically their speed & acceleration.

Hypertrophy training (rep ranges that optimises muscle growth by high volumes in total weight being lifted), is very useful in Rugby because of qualities such as increased mass and strength. However, over the course of the season, this can cause massive issues with longevity in physical wellness. Placing your joints under loads of stress in the gym and then running into other massive players in compromised positions will result in injury or at the very least, “niggles”.

Rest assured, not only will Speed & Acceleration training give your body a small break in elevated joint stress, but it will also help you generate more momentum going into contact (momentum = mass x velocity) and also help you finish off line breaks WHILE maintaining some sort of muscle mass (with the right programming and nutrition).

So put away your worries for taking the next stop on the gain train, just sprint along side it instead.

So what is Speed & Acceleration?

This can be very in-depth and nerdy, so I’ll keep it relatively light. Speed and Acceleration is a combination of technical efficiency and and very high levels of force production. If done right, it is a very physical action (hence the aforementioned potential for maintaining muscle mass). To improve your Speed & Acceleration, it is important to train the following segments; sprinting of course, resisted sprints (lot’s of this), technical drills and weight lifting with the correct bar velocity (how fast the bar moves) and resistance combination.

Lets break it down:

The Launch

This is the first 10 yards of your sprint. This is the section where you are producing the most horizontal force to propel you forwards by driving the floor beneath you, backwards. If you’re doing resisted sprints, this will be done at >60%Vdec (Velocity Decrement). This is a weight that is specific to your power output at this stage of a sprint. But to keep it simple, you can use approximately 90%BW (Body Weight). The rest of your gym work being focussed on “strength-speed” which is 80-90% of your 1RM (Rep Max).

Technically, you are launching off both feet and project your hips as far as you can with each step, by striking the floor behind your COM (Centre Of Mass). Your arm movements are big and aggressive to help throw you forward.

The Transition

This is between 10-30 yards, where you transition from producing more horizontal force to vertical and generating the most power (applying force with speed). The sled sprints uses a resistance of 50%Vdec or 70%BW. The rest of your gym work should be focussed on peak power, which is 30-80%1RM, moving the bar as fast as you can.

Technically, striking the floor behind your hips with stiff ankles will help continued acceleration as your body angle increases. Any excessive ankle movement just leaks energy. Drills such as pogo’s and high hurdle hops can improve ankle stiffness.

Maximum Velocity

Is what it says on the tin. 30+ yards at your top speed. This section you’re almost exclusively producing force vertically. However, resisted sprints should be <10%Vdec or <20%BW. Gym work being less than 30%1RM, moving the bar as fast as you can.

Technical focus for this portion of the sprint is arguably more important than the others as there is less of a physical demand, though there is still some. With a slight forward lean, strike the floor slightly in front of your hips with high force then drive your knee through as hard and fast as you can, avoiding the commonly seen “heel flick”.

This breakdown of “So what is Speed & Acceleration” is the absolute basics of it.


First things first, speed endurance. This is the ability to maintain max velocity for a sustained period of time, which is absolutely vital. This is especially the case in team sport because unless your coach has put you on for the last play of the game (thanks coach), you will often run repeated sprints and sometimes run the length of the pitch. There is no point in being the fastest player in the world if you run out of gas before the finish line. It will also teach you a little bit about technical efficiency (without any coaching) AND help significantly with the physical elements of sprinting. This is often neglected within programming.

Now for the juicy stuff, strength training. This provides you with physical qualities for The Launch (see above) and also prepares you for strength testing, where the results are the key pieces of data you need to program the blocks that follow the same order as the Speed & Acceleration breakdown; strength-speed, power, speed-strength and technical. With this order, the load (amount of stress your body is under through resistance) descends and becomes less about producing force brutally, and more about producing force quickly.

During all of these training blocks, drilling is absolutely non-negotiable. A-skips, wall drills, marches are examples of drills to work on your body angles, learning to hit the floor properly with each strike and running posture. If you drill correctly, you will find significant improvements in your technique.

It’s not that Simple

Everything you’ve read so far is only applicable in a complete sense, to track athletes. Team sport  is multidirectional including deceleration and re-acceleration, arching runs, and in contact sports, contact… This adds many new elements to technique and physicality, including slightly different foot placements to change direction forcefully.

Another thing that makes things not so simple, and this is a big one, body management. It’s easy to complete a Speed & Acceleration program if you are a track athlete. You just have to time your program to peak at your event. To do so mid-season in a team sport, is very challenging. You have fixtures to program around which takes minimum two days off your training week, and you also have fatigue to consider. However challenging, it is more than possible. You will be getting frequent exposures to max velocity and repeated accelerations on game day, therefore, training will have to be physical top ups and a large amount of technical training. It just takes clever programming and a lowered expectation on how much improvement you will make. Your best chances to get the best results possible will be in the off season, leading straight into pre-season.

A Speedy Conclusion

Despite being arguably the most important aspect to an athletic performance, speed and acceleration training is massively undervalued. In any team sport you play, you will be trying to out pace your opponents, so why not have it in mind when training.

Despite being a very complicated to perfect, you can keep it simple. Speed endurance comes over all. You’re no use if you don’t have any kind of repeatability in your efforts. Then drill. Drill the hell out of it. Then progress your training from high volume, to a velocity focus.

A Final Message

If you are interested in training for speed & acceleration and in need of some tailored coaching, get in contact using the contact details below. Online Coaching, 1:1 Speed Coaching and Speed Camps are available.


Instagram: @peak_athletic_performance

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