For any aspiring professional player, perfecting skills, maximising strength and refining the fundamentals of your play are vital. Therefore, in order to be the best in the sport, training and nutrition are the crucial factors that will help you to reach your greatest ambitions. As an enthusiastic studier of sports physiology, here are some hints and tips on how you can really develop as an athlete.
I have been, like many others, guilty of thinking gym work is the decisive factor. Rugby has developed into a very attritional, physical sport and there is no doubt being an avid gym go-er can be useful when on the field of the play. Yet, as professional’s, a players training time is divided into weight training, skill training/conditioning and crucially, tactical development, therefore approaching all three of those is areas is important.
This piece will give a simplistic yet detailed look at what you can do to really up your game during pre-season, so that when September arrives, you’re at the peak of your game! However, if you’re not sure how to perform any of these exercises, ask a professional to advise you first!
When approaching weight training, you need to focus on the specific muscle groups you are trying to work in relation to improving performance. It’s no good doing hours of chest work and turning a blind eye to working other areas of the body. Rugby tends to use every muscle group of the body; from Quadriceps to Triceps or even Latissimus Dorsi (Lat’s). Therefore, when devising a programme to follow, the best advice is to speak to a professional! Some of these exercise are hugely rugby specific, the others centred around developing power.
It’s simple. You need to ensure you get the heart rate going and a slight sweat on! A 10 minute ride on the bike and some dynamic stretching is the best way to go. Remember never to do static stretches until after exercise, as the increased elasticity makes the muscles and tendons weaker for a short time afterwards.
Basic Strength and Speed
- Parallel Back Squat-This is the most common of Squat’s and is performed with a barbell resting across the tops of the shoulders. It mainly focuses on the Quads, Glutes and Hamstrings and will really benefit your leg power in a game. Whether it’s scrummaging, mauling or driving through contact, its hugely beneficial! Tip- If you return to a standing position quicker than you went down into the Squat position, you can help to increase your speed.
- Leg Press- This exercise is on a machine. Be sure to always sit with legs shoulder-width apart. It works the same muscles as the Squat but takes the strain of the upper body. Don’t lock your knees!
- Leg Extension- Machine exercise. This isolates the Quad’s particularly. Don’t lock your knees!
- Leg Curl- Similar to the Leg Extension, however they isolate your Hamstrings.
- Power Cleans- Focusing mainly on the Hamstrings, the Power Clean is useful for a variety of things in rugby, such as the first phase of Lineout lifting. Use the speed and momentum of the hips to fling the bar up to the top of the chest. There should be no need to use your arm strength to fling the bar from the mid-thigh to upper chest area.
- Calf Press-Isolating the calf muscle. Can help to develop speed and jumping ability too.
- Weighted Lunges- Lunge with alternate legs holding weights at the side.
- Deadlifts- Both the generic Deadlift and Romanian Deadlift are good for the lower back. The best way is to use a barbell, however it is possible to use dumbbells. Tip- Do Deadlifts weekly, because strengthening the muscles of your lower back can help prevent injury in that area. Especially if you do a lot of upper body work.
- Hug knees to chest- Does as it says on the tin. It will stretch and strengthen the muscles.
- Back Extension-using a Hyperextension Bench or Bench, position face down on the bench. Slowly bend your torso down to the floor as far as you can go, then return to the starting point slowly. Repeat. Tip- Find out what position of the bench works best for you and always carry out the movement slowly.
Abdominals-all abdominal exercises are key for core strength and lessening the chances of injury. They can also aid balance.
- Sit Ups
- Ball Rolls
- Jack Knife
Middle Back, Lats & Traps
- Barbell/Dumbbell Shrug- Simply pulling a weight vertically by lifting your traps and shoulders towards your ears. Great for making a solid impact in a tackle! Tip- Don’t rotate forwards or backwards. It’s not as effective and can lead to injury. Personal experience!
- Bent Over Barbell Row- When performing it, always keep your head up and bend your knees. Alternatively you can use a supinated grip. This is where your palms face you.
- Chin Up- Army favourite. Body exercises are really useful! Tip- Don’t swing, much more beneficial to do a few properly than a lot badly!
- Inclined Lateral Raise- Using a bench, on an incline, raise the dumbbells horizontally with elbows slightly bent. Really pull your muscles together to feel the full benefit. It’s really useful for Front Rowers who have to squeeze those muscles together when forming for a scrum. Develops their power when the shove comes on.
- Pull Ups- Doesn’t need explaining!
- One-arm Bent Over Row- Place the free hand on the bench and tilt your back so that its at about an 80 degree angle. Keep your head up and pull the dumbbell upwards, using your back rather than moving it using your arm. Use a weight that doesn’t cause you to rock/swing and use momentum as it’s not as worthwhile.
- Seated Cable Row-Similar technique to the Bent Over Row. Again use a lighter weight so that you don’t lean back when pulling the cable towards you. Tip– If possible, as a variation, do this almost flat on your back with the weight higher up, helps decrease the likelihood of leaning.
- T-Bar Row- Helpful for those jacklers! Those Openside’s that want to steal that ball, this a great exercise for you. It’s a similar body shape to when you are ripping the ball from the opponent on the ground. Again, try and use your back and shoulder rather than isolating your arms. Tip– If there is some type of handle free, some fit perfectly underneath the Olympic bar so that you have both hands in the same position, as opposed to one slightly further down the bar.
- Upper Back Stretch- Simply interlocking both hands together and pushing outwards (palms out). Good to do after a back session to loosen the muscles.
- Bench Press- Form is key when bench pressing. Ensure when pushing the bar upwards, it remains steady and aligned. Tip– To increase power, when pushing the bar upwards, try to thrust is upwards quicker than you brought it down.
- Incline Bench Press- This will isolate the upper chest, which can again help rugby related skills such as hand-off’s. Aim to set the bench at around 35-45 degrees.
- Fly’s- Always ensure when doing Fly’s that you remain at a constant speed which allows you to complete the targets reps and sets.
- Alternate Hammer Curl- Raise the Dumbbell to shoulder position and hold for a brief moment. Again, try to avoid swinging.
- Barbell Curl-When Curling, extend arms fully as to work the whole of the Bicep.
- Bicep Curl- Holding the weights by your side, rotate the weight as you bring it towards your midriff, then as your arm reaches a 90 degree angle, curl the weight, holding it in the curled position for a brief moment.
- Seated Curls-Set the bench so that you are leaning back slightly. Then proceed to the curl the weights in the same fashion as a standard Bicep or Hammer Curl. Tip- Use a weight that allows you to always keep your back in contact with the bench.
- EZ- Bar Curls-Variation of Bicep Curls.
- Bench Dips- Another great bodyweight exercise!
- Skull Crushers-When using a EZ-bar or Dumbbell, ensure that the upper arms remain in a locked position, then bring the weight down from an extended position to where the lower arm is almost at 90 degrees with the elbow.
- Cable One Arm Tricep Extension- Using a single-handed handle, extend your arm down to your waist.
- Close-Hand Barbell Bench Press-Working on both Triceps and the chest. Really burns after a few sets!
Typically, certain positions have key exercise that are hugely transferable to the game of rugby, or drastically enhance things like speed and strength. For example, the Back Three may regularly do Jump Squats or Box Jumps to focus on maximising the fast-twitch fibres in the legs, and ensuring that speed it as its peak. Using weight training throughout the season is vital, yet most of the exercises that I’ve just discussed are very static and don’t really address the cardiovascular and conditioning side of things.
Conditioning can range from gym work like sled pushing, long-distance running, sprint training and run specific rugby training. In order to have a balanced program, you need to create a session that is specific to your individual needs for pre-season, but also ensure you avoid overtraining, as it’s easy to work yourself too hard!
In order to maintain or increase skills over the pre-season, undertaking certain conditioning program’s like Circuit Training can help develop cardiovascular fitness parallel to working on handling, contact work or kicking.
Most importantly, if you are trying to build towards a successful, profitable pre-season regime, ensure you also take on board the right foods. Quality nutrition will amplify the affects of training!