Strength Training For Rugby: Essential Principles
Updated: Jun 7
Rugby is one of the toughest sports around, and if you're not strong enough you're never going to be able to compete at a decent level. In this article, I'll be providing you with some key principles to follow in your training, plus the 3 most important things you need to be focusing on. Let's get started, shall we?
Key Principles for Rugby Strength Training
1) The strength training you do should carry over to the demands of your sport I've seen some rugby strength programmes that only seem to have you doing sets of maximum pushups, or loads of arm work, but is that really useful to your rugby performance? Not really. Fun at the end of a workout? Sure, but not exactly top priority. You want to be doing strength exercises that offer you the best possible carryover, things like squats, lunges, bench press.
2) Conversely, the strength training you do should not try to replicate your sport A lot of new 'functional' (whatever that means) coaches seem to have the mistaken impression that your gym training should replicate your sport. So they have athletes doing weird stuff like maximal isometric drives into pads to 'replicate' the scrum, or jumps off unstable surfaces to 'replicate' a line-out. You know what ACTUALLY replicates a scrum or a line-out - Practicising a scrum or a line-out!
The gym is not the place to practice pseudo-sport like exercises. That's what your rugby coach is for. Use your time in the gym to focus on building strength and developing general athletic qualities. 3) The strength training you do should not interfere with your actual rugby training Way too often I've seen guys get carried away in the gym, only to show up to training in the evening absolutely shattered. Why on earth would you sacrifice the quality of your most sport-specific training? Your strength training should complement your actual rugby training by being properly scheduled, and by using appropriate sets, reps and weights.
The 3 Most Important Things to Focus on When Strength Training For Rugby
Alright, so with the 3 key principles in mind, what should your main focus points be with your strength training. 1) Developing Brutally Strong Legs Stronger legs produce more force, which allows you to sprint faster, avoid collisions, and tackle more aggressively. Exercises like heavy squats and lunges should be the cornerstone of your strength training if you want to maximise your rugby performance. And I can promise you now that you'll struggle to find a single professional player who squats less than 2x bodyweight. Typically I recommend classic rep schemes like 3 sets of 5 for squats or 3x10 (5 each leg) for lunges.
2) Packing on Lean Muscle to Fill Out Your Frame I don't care how technically skilled you are, if you're a 6ft+ guy who weighs less than 90kg you're gonna get killed out there.
If you were playing back in 1955 you might have been alright, but then the average professional player back then only weighed in at 85kg. Nowadays the average pro weighs in around 105kg, and it's becoming increasingly common to find club level players at 100kg+. You need to be planning in some high volume, hypertrophy-focused training phases, especially in your off-season, to get plenty of high set, high rep work done. I'm talking... 4x8 Squat, 4x10 Bench, 4x10 Pendlay Rows, 3x12 lunges type of workouts.
3) Improving Rate of Force Development (RFD) Being strong is great because it increases the maximal amount of force you can produce. With that said, it's also important that you're able to produce that force quickly so that it carries over as well as possible to the dynamic nature of competitive rugby. Exercises like Box Jumps, Split squat jumps and Explosive press-ups are fantastic for this. Typically 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps right at the start of your workout does the trick.
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Strength Training for Rugby Summary
Proper strength training for rugby should focus on building massive amounts of leg strength, packing on lean muscle and improving Rate of Force Development. A combination of plyometrics plus multi-joint, compound strength exercises should accomplish this, and there really isn't much need for fancy exercises that 'replicate' the sport. . That's pretty much all for today, but if you've got any specific questions feel free to get in touch and I'll do my best to help out. And if you want more training advice, workouts and programmes, consider joining my mailing list. 'Til Next Time
Msc Strength & Conditioning British Weightlifting Tutor/Educator