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Strength Training For Rugby


Strength training is a massive part of a rugby player’s training regime. It is essentially the foundation of their programme and can help with many things such as increasing speed and power, increasing muscle mass and reducing the risk of injury.

As a strength and conditioning coach, it is important to understand the physical demands of the game. One of the major physical demands of rugby is the number of collision-based contacts players have in each game. The number of these collisions can range from 5 to 70 per game depending on a player’s position, these collision-based contacts are normally tackling, ball carrying and rucking. Other contact demands to be aware of are things like grappling or mauling and scrummaging.

Even though the contact side of the game can vary depending on the position, there needs to be an understanding that all the players can come into contact with each other. This means someone who only weighs around 80kg has to be strong enough to stop a 130+kg player charging towards them. It also means there can be huge impacts on the field which their bodies have to be able to tolerate.

When writing a rugby players strength and conditioning programme we break it down into different cycles of training. The big picture is a macrocycle, for rugby this would be the season as a whole and allows us to plan a long way in advance. The next thing is to break up the season and focus towards certain competitions or training periods, this would be our mesocycles. The last cycle would be a week to week plan within a certain competition or training period and would be known as a microcycle.

Understanding how a season fits together, along with how taxing a season of rugby is on the human body is extremely important when implementing a programme which is an essential part of the strength and conditioning coaches’ role.

Within the season we have 2 main phases of training. The first phase is our preparatory phase or as everyone knows it, Pre-Season. Pre-Season is a great time of the year, especially if you enjoy working hard! The weather is normally good and there are no games, so all the squads focus is on themselves to be the best rugby players they can be both individually and as a team. Obviously, the physical preparation is a massive part of all this and we get a chance to see some huge improvements in this area.

During the pre-season the players are in the gym at least 4 times a week, this is broken up into 2 lower body sessions and 2 upper body sessions. Each session normally has 2 key lifts followed by some accessory work.

The second phase of training is our competition phase which is when our games kick in, this is when all the hard work the players have put in during the pre-season pays off.

With games being played every weekend it is important to reduce the amount of work the players do in the gym as we need to factor in not only recovering from training but also the game itself and the damage that it causes to their bodies. As a strength and conditioning coach, it’s important to understand the balance required during a season in order to make sure a player does not drop in strength levels, but also not be pushed too hard all season long. This comes back to the importance of having a periodized plan which also factors in when to rest and regenerate.

During the in-season the players are in the gym 2 to 3 times a week depending on how the fixtures are scheduled, 1 lower body session, 1 upper body session and 1 whole body session.

What do we include in our strength sessions:

Lower Body:

Key lift 1 - Bilateral strength (e.g. squat or trap bar deadlift)

Key lift 2 - Explosive strength (e.g. concentric squat jump or power clean)

Lift 3 - Unilateral strength (e.g. split squat or step up)

Lift 4 - Posterior chain (e.g. RDL or hip thrust)

Lift 5 – Horizontal force (e.g. prowler or sled runs)

Upper Body:

Horizontal push (e.g. BB or DB bench press)

Horizontal pull (e.g. BB or DB prone row)

Vertical push (e.g. DB shoulder press or BB military press)

Vertical pull (e.g. Chin-up or vertical cable pull)

Other accessory exercises will come into the programme depending on individual needs.

Whole Body:

Lower body key lift 1 – Explosive strength 1 (e.g. concentric squat or power clean)

Lower body key lift 2 – Explosive strength 2 (e.g. loaded squat jump or loaded counter movement jump)

Upper Body Superset 1 – Horizontal push s/set horizontal pull (e.g. BB bench press s/set BB probe row)

Upper Body Superset 2 – Vertical push s/set vertical pull (e.g. DB shoulder press s/set chip up)

Saracens Rugby Club