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Weight Training for Rugby Football

Get Big, Strong and Fast for Rugby


Updated November 29, 2012

Strength and conditioning training programs for individual sports are generally “periodized.” That is, they are broken into three or four phases in the year with each phase concentrating on a particular fitness development. Periodized programs provide a progressive buildup to peak fitness and performance for competition.

Each phase has different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous.

Rugby requires good aerobic fitness to provide endurance for sustained effort, speed and strength, and even bulk, to break through or effect tackles, and especially to push in scrums.

A year-round Rugby weight training program could look like the program outlined below.

Early Pre-Season

  • Players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after the off season.
  • Emphasis is on building aerobic fitness, basic functional strength and muscle bulk.

Late Pre-Season

  • Players are working up to the start of the season and pre-season trials are in play.
  • Emphasis is on building anaerobic fitness and maximum strength and power.

In Season

  • Competition is underway and players are expected to be fully functional for competition.
  • Maintenance of speed, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and strength and power is emphasized.
  • The heavy, building phase program is replaced by lighter weights emphasizing power.

Off Season

  • You won the title; time to relax for a while but you need to keep active.
  • Emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity -- cross training, light gym work – and easy on the booze because you don’t want to have to lose too much weight in the next pre-season workup. Several weeks' break from serious fitness and strength training is helpful.
  • As pre-season approaches, more regular work can resume with an emphasis on building aerobic fitness once again for the pre-season strength training.

Role-Specific Training

Further specialty programs may be useful. For example, backs and forwards will probably benefit from a slightly different approach in the gym, one emphasizing speed and agility, and the other bulk, strength and power.

The program here can only be an all-round program. You will be best served by working with a trainer or coach to meet specific requirements.

If you're new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources.

Always warm up and cool down before and after a training session. A medical clearance is always a good idea if you've had health and fitness issues leading up to the season.

Phase 1 - Early Pre-Season - Foundation Strength and Muscle

Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one rest day between sessions and a lighter week in week 4 to promote recovery and progression.
Reps: 10 to 15
Sets: 2 to 4
Rest between sets: 30 to 60 seconds

Points to Note

  • Don't lift too heavy in this phase. The last few reps in a set should be taxing -- yet without extreme effort to "failure."
  • Circuit training, running and other aerobic exercise should be added to this program where possible.
  • Stop immediately if acute pain is noticed during or after a weights exercise, and seek medical and training advice if it persists.

Phase 2 - Mid to Late Pre-Season - Strength Emphasis

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is a product of strength and speed, and is an important component of a successful football skill set.

Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 3 to 6. The players relying most on speed and agility and who need least bulk should do the lowest number of reps.
Sets: 3 to 5
Rest in between sets: 2 to 3 minutes

Phase 3 - Pre-Season to In Season - Conversion to Power

In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 2 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift lighter weights than you did in the strength phase, yet with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately so that each movement is done as fast as possible.

Duration: 4 weeks ongoing
Days per week: 2 to 3
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2 to 3
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds where appropriate
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Points to Note

  • In power training, it's important to maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against solid resistance. Lift lighter than phase 2.
  • The Olympic lift elements -- hang clean, deadlift, push press, thrusters -- require some technical ability to get right. Use a knowledgeable strength and conditioning coach, if possible, to fine tune these lifts.

Phase 4 - In Season - Maintenance of Strength and Power

Continue with power training utilizing a variety of Olympic lifts and derivatives for two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

Points to Note

  • Try to allow at least two days between any weights session and a game.
  • Try not to do gym training on the same day as you train on the field -- or at least separate workouts morning and afternoon if that's not possible.
  • Rest completely from strength training one week in five. Light gym work is OK.
  • Use your judgment. Don't sacrifice ball skills training for weights work if you have limited time available.

Off Season

Rest up. Use this time for emotional and physical renewal. Stay fit and active with cross training or other activities. Give yourself recovery time so that you can do it all again next year.

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