Texas Rugby throwing up the Double C’s w/ Horns.
Coach Travis Holley and I have been coaching the University of Texas Men’s Rugby Team (in the gym, not on the field) for the past 2 + years. When we were first approached by Jacob Lieberman about coaching them, our response was enthusiastically: HELL YES. We had never coached a team of Ruggers before and the thought of coaching a collegiate group of athletes was a young coach’s dream. We had visions of the All Blacks, the Wallabies and the Eagles. What we got was, well… something different.
The boys that showed up to the RedBlack Gym that first semester were train wrecks of immobility, imbalances and motor control disfunction. Only a handful of them could squat below parallel without crumpling – and those that could had trouble doing so more than a couple of times. Pushups were difficult and forget about pull-ups. These guys either had no previous coaching or bad high school coaching (squatting deep will hurt your knees). I’m still undecided as to which is worse.
Jacob had been an athlete of mine in the Rx Program and knew the benefits that a solid strength and conditioning program could provide to his players. The Texas Rugby Team is not a varsity sport – in other words, they have little to no money for the program and have no scholarships to offer their current players or prospective players. The team has traditionally been on the smaller side when compared to other teams in their conference and around the nation, and as such, they have to play with better tactics and remain a step ahead of their opponents. They also have to be scrappy as hell, which they are.
But seasons filled with injuries and poor results prompted Jacob to enroll his boys in the RedBlack Gym and place their S&C needs in our hands. What I did not realize was the profound impact they would have on my life or the even more profound impact that CrossFit and weightlifting would have on theirs.
In Brief: The way I trained them was ASAP. As Simple As Possible. They trained with me 2X/week: Mondays and Wednesdays (8 sessions/month, 3 months/season). Everyday they would do one major lift:
-Press or Push Press
-Back Squat or Front Squat
-Deadlift or Sumo Deadlift
-Power Clean or Thruster
and then hit a conditioning piece. The conditioning was made up of moving weight in some form or fashion for short durations (5-7 minutes) or for intervals (3-4 minute repeats). Sandbags, barbell complexes, kettlebells and dumbbells were everyday tools of the trade. I also made Cindy part of their warmup everyday: 5 strict pull-ups, 10 perfect pushups and 15 virtuoso squats. If you can’t control your body in the gym – don’t expect to be able to do it on the field.
Believe me when I say that these boys can do two things very well: 1) Work their asses off and 2) Learn quickly.
TWO MEN: TWO RESULTS (Danny Camara and Greg Hesch)
Suffice it to say that these two gentlemen were not on my list of “players to watch out for”. Danny was overweight, even for a rugger, and Greg had so many mobility issues that we had to scale every workout for the first year. Danny had trouble keeping up with the others in the warmup and Greg complained about his chronic knee pain daily.
But they were willing to put in the work and willing to learn. The hallmark of many great athletes is coachability, and these two have it in spades.
In their own words:
“I can’t remember all my PR’s but they go a little something like this:
Squat: 385 to 420
Deadlift: 450 to 525
Power Clean: 225 to 240 (If not for lack of mobility I know it would be way more)
Strict Press: 185 to 215
Push Press: 205 to 240
My biggest gains (besides losing around 40-50lbs) have been in terms of mobility, FITNESS, and increased work rate (I remember getting the highest # of reps in that “Rugby Gone Bad” workout we did in class which would have been unheard of last season, much less the season prior). I don’t know how to measure that, but I do know that my first season here I wasn’t fit enough to play an entire half. The following season I was able to only really play a good 40 minutes (one half). Now, not only do I not really get tired enough in 15’s for it to affect my game anymore, but I have been able to play and score a few times in 7’s – which requires a shit-load more fitness. Also, though I’m around 40 lbs. lighter in the scrum, I’m able to make up for it by being able to get lower in the scrum and have a stabilized core that allows my leg drive to power through a nice even plane – which is in turn a LOT more effective in the scrum. The loss in weight in no way shape or form has reduced my ability to lay bitches out (on the reg!!!) because I am more mobile, explosive and can get lower in tackles and carries.
Oh and I used to not be able to do any pull-ups at all – and now, despite shoulder issues I can knock out Cindy with no problem.”
“This is a very rough estimate on all my lifts:
Deadlift: 225 to 375
Front Squat: 155 to 265
Back Squat: 185 to 295
Power Clean: 135 to 185
Strict Press: 95 to 155
When I started I was at 260 lbs., now I’m at 235. My flexibility and general health have seen the largest improvement. When I started, my hips and knees were so bad that I was having problems doing air squats. As someone who struggles with psoriatic arthritis, staying active is a huge factor in keeping my joints healthy, and CrossFit has allowed me the kind of full body stable strength and flexibility that my joints need to keep from locking up. On the rugby field, my strength increases have allowed me to start dominating in the scrums. I also had trouble with lineout lifts, but now Danny and I are launching guys as heavy as 200 lbs. up in the air like it’s nothing. My stamina has also obviously taken a huge jump. I used to struggle to get through a match, and by the second half I was almost always dragging my ass across the field. Now I’m still blasting over rucks full speed at the 80th minute. One thing that I didn’t expect was how CrossFit has increased my body control, making my form in tackles, scrums, and rucks one of my greatest strengths as a rugby player. I went from barely keeping up on the second team of a club that was getting beat 100-0 to starting for a nationally ranked team.”
*Danny lost weight and increased his strength, while at the same time becoming one of the top performers in the conditioning sessions. Greg could literally not air squat without knee pain. Yesterday I watched him FRONT SQUAT 265# with ZERO pain. Simply amazing. These two guys deserve the utmost respect for what they have accomplished.*
The boys I have seen come through our gym are simply an outstanding group. Polite, industrious – and yes, more than a bit mental (ZULU, anyone)? They have reduced the incidence of injury on the field and turned 180* from a team with a losing record to a nationally ranked 15’s team and a 7’s team that will be appearing in the national championship tournament for the second consecutive year.
I believe CrossFit and weightlifting have transformed this team. Credit must be given to the boys who came in day after day and put in the work: they sacrificed their time, sweat, blood, tears and many days: the contents of their stomachs. No one forced them to do it, and each one of them paid their own way. The great leadership and vision provided by their coaches has lead them to the only possible result: success. Without Butch and Jacob at the helm, who knows where the team would be today.
I want to thank all of the gentlemen that have allowed me the opportunity to coach them over the past 2 years. I would also like to thank UT Rugby and in particular: Coach Butch Neuenschwander, Coach Jacob Lieberman and Coach Micky Johnson for trusting us with your players. They are fine men indeed.
Modified Outlaw Training
A) Every 20 seconds for 4 minutes (13 total reps):
-1 Power Snatch @ 75% (of max Snatch any style)
B) Every 20 seconds for 4 minutes (13 total reps):
-1 Power Clean @ 75% (of max Clean any style)
C) Run: 5X400m – rest 2:1 – 25 burpee penalty for every set that deviates +/- 5 sec. from the fastest set.