5 Surprising Gym Secrets Of Pro Rugby Players

gym robshaw

Harlequins Head of Human Performance John Dams reveals five surprising secrets behind the athleticism of players like England’s Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown…

1. Leave the bicep curls to the footballers…

“We prefer to work on upper-limb strength through the use of multi-joint movements such as chin-ups, weighted dips and military presses, as opposed to through isolation movements like biceps curls,” explains Dams.

“These multi-joint movements tend to be more efficient exercises which work in a much more functional way. We still isolate muscle groups but mainly as a way to add training volume.”

2. Old exercises, new tricks

“We tend to be very traditional with our strength training,” explains the club’s Head of Human Performance John Dams, who oversees the players’ physical training. “Our general preparatory exercises are tried and tested and we don’t tend to vary them much. Squats, deadlifts and bench presses form a large part of our strength programme.”

“We like to use small variations of our main lifts, such as box squats, band-assisted bench presses and trap-bar deadlifts,” reveals Dams.


3. Don’t be afraid of yoga

“Making sure the players can move properly is huge for us because they need to be able to sprint at high speeds regularly throughout games,” explains Dams. “We have had a massive push to make our players more dynamic and more resilient to stress. We like them to use foam rollers, bands and Lacrosse balls for self-massage which helps to improve muscle health and reduce muscle soreness.

“The overall goal is to increase their active range of movement and these therapy sessions develop improved motor patterns and mobility. We also get them to do hot yoga because it helps with their flexibility, mobility and recovery.”

4. Bridges > sit-ups

“The foundation of our core work is isometric, such as planks, side planks and bridges,” explains Dams. “We do some dynamic work such as cable wood chops and weighted sit-ups too, but our primary focus is on developing isometric strength.”

5. 4 seconds for bigger muscles

“When you are looking to build muscle, you need to stress the muscle to literally cause damage (on a micro level) to the muscle,” says Dams. Only then will the muscle adapt by growing back stronger.

“An efficient way to do this is to increase the amount of time the muscle spends under tension,” continues Dams. “If you change the tempo – that is, change the speed of either the concentric (shortening) or eccentric (lengthening) component of the lift – you can change the time under tension to help stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth) and gain mass.”

“If you do a bench press with a four-second eccentric tempo – instead of a one-second eccentric tempo – you will do more damage to the muscle and get better results to stimulate growth,” advises Dams.


Read more on the Telegraph.




  1. Ross William Drew

    Point 4 is useless…
    More damage to a muscle may mean more growth (bigger muscles) but it doesn’t equate to performance (stronger muscles). The reason being that you are concentrating on type 1 muscle fibres with slow concentric movements meaning you build bulk in place of power (ergo performance). Faster concentric movements encourage type 1 muscle fibre building which is more conducive to jumping/running/pushing/pulling.
    If you make eccentric movements slow, all you really do is increase the amount of DOMS you feel the next day.

    • One could argue that the easiest way to strenght and power is to first build muscle mass and then go for strenght and power. But what do I know about these things.

      • Ross William Drew

        You could argue that but you’d be completely wrong. It’s a complete myth that the bigger muscles are, the faster and stronger they are.
        Muscle mass doesn’t simply equal strength and power and in fact can be a hinderance to it. Like I just explained, the muscle fibers that tends to add more mass are type 2, also known as “slow twitch” – it adds plenty mass but fires more slowly. Type 1 (or “fast twitch”) fires much more quickly, tires faster and is what creates your power and speed.

        Type 2 is what bodybuilders try to build and it’s the reason you don’t see bodybuilders in sport. It’s also the idea behind the myth that building muscles slows you down.

        If you want to run, jump or create force/speed/power over a short period of time, large, type 2 muscles will be useless. Building type 1 (higher weights and sets, lower reps) is useful for taking hits and pushing a scrum and that’s about it.

        • My point was not that an athlete should be hypertrophing all year long, but say when off-season first starts you do a 4 week hypertrophy and then start building strenght, atleast this is something that for example Kevin Shattock and Charles Poliquin advice to do.

          You seen like you know alot of S&C so would you advice to start strength training immediately? Im not trying to take the piss, im just a guy who tries to self-learn about S&C and there is so much info on the internet and this is an area where one is not always right or wrong but someone else might be more right, if you catch my drift

          • Ross William Drew

            Well if you are a prop who rarely needs to run or do anything explosive, mid weight-high rep is excellent; you need loads of slow burning, long lasting strength and plenty bulk. The fact is though that most of the men on the ground need to move fast, hit hard, kick hard and the way to do that is train somewhere between a sprinter and a powerlifter/strongman. More towards the sprinter the higher your jersey number really.

            Bulk is handy for rugby I agree so there might be some argument for off season type 2 muscle building but I’d argue that you could just do twice as much type 1 building with plenty plyo, get slightly less bulk in exchange for much higher speed and explosive power.

          • Well I am a hooker so close enough to a prop then ;D
            And I always explained the odd hypertrophy with the reasons you explained.
            I also try to go for plyo round the year to keep mobility up which is fairly important in the modern game regarding the number on your back.

            And thank you for your insights, they are much appreciated.

          • Ross William Drew

            Ah but as a hooker you need to think about the poor guys that need to lift all that bulk in the linnet 😉

          • My job is to throw the ball in and the other guys jobs are to jump and lift, no hard feelings :D. Yoga does good for the flexibility, but you always get some lose some, and that is where you have to make decision to go for maximal bulk and strength, power and mobility or try and walk on a rope with having abit of everything.

          • Ross William Drew

            Yea, bit of a brain fart there. Sorry. Lifting hookers….what was I thinking?!?

    • I think your excellent point may be a bit of a nod towards the question “how can rugby players be so bulky but still retain their speed and agility.” Hmmmm

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