All Blacks keep it simple with training methods
Fluorescent elastic bands and grown men in giant jolly jumpers, you could be excused for thinking the All Blacks have gone all new-age in their quest for success.
Not according to the team's long time strength and conditioning coach Nic Gill who says the multi-coloured bands have become vital tools in attaining a physical edge.
And, while some of the training field activities might look a bit whacky, Gill said rather than dreaming up new methods, he focused on keeping things as simple as possible.
"When I was younger I fell into that trap, but really it's about doing the basic things that have got them where they are as a player and helping them do them better," Gill said.
"A guy like Conrad Smith, his performance program for a test match is simple, but he just does it very, very well."
Players were so mentally stimulated in the All Blacks environment there was no incentive to over-complicate their physical training, he said.
"The expectations around that black jersey create a work ethic that is awesome. It makes my job easy because they are so motivated. So we keep things very simple, but the guys do them very, very well because they are so pumped.
"It's for a short period of time. It is only three weeks, so it's a very intense period. There is a lot going on, there are expectation and drive and a big mental load...
"So for me it's not about simulating their minds. There is a lot going on with the coaches and that does that. I just worry about making sure their body is ready to do what they want it to do. I like to use the saying, familiarity brings intensity."
That means nothing out of the ordinary that could throw a player's body out of sync during test week.
"You don't want them getting soreness from doing something new. They know how much they squatted last week, so they can say, 'I'll squat another 5 kg this week', or, 'last week I did this and I was a bit flat come Thursday, so I'm going to ease off.'"
So what's with the harnesses and stretchy jumper leads that are attached to the players?
"We try to apply assistance or resistance based on what we are trying to achieve," Gill explains. "The bands are great because the harder you push or pull, the harder you are resisted, but there is an element of give. It's called accommodating resistance."
The technique is used to increase both speed and strength.
Players could be catapulted to speeds greater than their legs were naturally capable and likewise, lineout jumpers propelled upwards in the same manner.
Or, conversely, the bands could provide extra resistance to a normal training drill.
"In the good old days you chucked someone on your back and did 10 metre fireman carries, now we use the bands to sprint against or run against or crawl against," Gill said.
The most grueling use of the bands is in the gym where their resistance is taking weights sessions to new levels.
"The way the body works with the lever system is that, say with bench press at the bottom of the lift you are weaker than you are at the top," Gill explains.
"If you have 100kg on the bar then at the bottom it's quite a struggle, but at the top it's easy. So that means at the top of the lift we are not actually overloading the body.
"We use bands to make the top of the lift overloaded. The weight on the bar stays the same, but at the top when you extend your arms the bands kick in and all of a sudden there is an extra 20kg of resistance."
The same applied to squats where an All Blacks' 160kg lift could become 180kg or 190kg with bands attached.