Conditioning for rugby

banner_pulling_weights Rugby is arguably the toughest sport in the world, it’s an 80 minute physical challenge that some of the fittest and toughest athletes play.  To give rugby some context for those of you unfamiliar with the sport, Bradley Wiggins the tour de France and Olympic gold medallist called it the ‘hardest sport in the world’ when referring to rugby league.

Here’s some tips to help you train to become a rugby player;


Cardio:  As mentioned earlier a game is two halves of 40 minutes which means that the players will need to have good aerobic fitness, however during this time they are working at such high intensity that much of what they do will use the lactate energy system, working at just beneath their OBLA (Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation) when lactic acid levels begin to rise faster than it can be removed.  Training aerobic and lactate intervals will help improvements in these areas.  LSD/Continuous training will have minimal benefits if you are already fit as the intensity is rarely ‘steady’ during a game.  Speed is also crucial, being quicker than your opposition is a huge advantage in rugby, Jason Robinson is perhaps the player to play both codes most successfully and much of his success was based around being quick and explosive; to increase speed and explosive power, you can train the creatine phosphate system, this energy system lasts for no more than 10-12 seconds at a time and is only activated with a 100%.  A mixture of all of these is important.

Recently I have been incorporating sled pulls, prowler pushes, box jumps, shuttles and heavy Olympic lifts such as the snatch, clean & jerk and thrusters to help with my speed and anaerobic capacity.

Resistance: You’ll need to be strong, powerful and durable to last in rugby so a mixture of strength and endurance training is important.  As rugby challenges most of the muscles in the body you should use compound exercises when training, deadlifts, squats, pull ups and power cleans (as mentioned above) are some examples of exercises which will assist in your development.  Power = strength x speed so to increase power, speed up the concentric movement in your reps to increase the force you generate, for example in a squat you can control the movement as per normal during the lowering phase (2-4 seconds) and then explode during the upward phase. In rugby league you can make up to 40 tackles and carry the ball into contact 25 times so durability is also key, in-between games look to maintain strength in your sessions.  If you need to increase your size then the off-season is the ideal time to train for hypertrophy gains.

Top tip: Don’t waste your time with isolation exercises such as bicep curls and lateral raises, ‘blunt force trauma’ is key and compound lifts will enable you to recruit far more motor units and enable you to maintain strength and size during the on season.


Your core unit is the most important group of muscles you can train in most sports and it is especially true for rugby.  An increase in core strength will help you tackle and dominate your opponents as well as break their attempts to tackle you.  Dominating in the tackle is very important as it dictates the speed of the next play, the higher the level you play, sides will measure ‘tackle success’ as a percentage and if you haven’t dominated that tackle it won’t be deemed as successful. Many teams use wrestling techniques and training methods to improve their performance in the tackle area. Core stability will also affect balance as you run, your ability to pass and also kick successfully.  Your core is made up of an inner and outer units of muscle.  The outer unit are those we are more familiar with; rectus abdominis, external obliques, erector spinae and latissimus dorsi but it is the inner unit which is what shows evident core strength during sport.  These are made up of the multifidus,  transverse abdominus, quadratus lumborum, internal obliques and diaphragm.  Exercises like the plank are great for increasing core strength but you can develop this further to make exercises more relevant to rugby such as barbell ab rollouts which mimics trying to play the ball after being tackled and use of lunges with a barbell overhead will also engage the core. Furthermore, if you concentrate on heavy compound resistance training such as squats, deadlifts and my favourite front squats, these will activate and improve your core far better than any amount of ab curls or sit ups. For more information on core development check out our previous blog here.


As we’ve just touched on, to really link your training to the sport you should try to make the exercises relevant to the types of movements you will do in your sport.  Use of a medicine ball in place of the original ball will help improve core strength if used for passing etc.  Single arm chest press will improve ability to ‘hand off’ an opponent and remove opponents after being tackled baring in mind that the other hand will be holding the ball.  Split leg barbell squats will also help to improve any muscle imbalances in either leg, when running you only use one leg at a time so it is important you train each leg individually.

Think about the training that you do and if you play rugby think, how will doing this assist my performance?

Thanks to Will Koller for providing this interesting and very informative article on conditioning for Rugby.

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