Training for Aspiring Rugby Players - How to Stand Out

The second blog in our sports specific series is focusing on rugby. Of course many of you will know that Sterling Fitness has a large involvement in the sport - Sam not only plays for Canterbury Rugby Club, but he also provides rugby coaching for local school teams and pre-season fitness sessions for small groups of Canterbury players. Having played at a high semi-professional level for many years both in Ireland and England for clubs such as Ampthill, Munster U20, Wasps, Bury St Edmunds and Canterbury, Sam can provide comprehensive Personal Training and advice for players of all levels. Read on for all of Sam's tips for success, and how to approach your training off the pitch to prepare yourself effectively for a good performance on the pitch.

Rugby is a sport with huge diversity between players of different positions. The roles of a back are completely different to a forward, and even within these sections, each individual position requires different attributes to contribute effectively to the game. Because of this, the training approach and style would differ depending on the position. In this blog I'm going to explain from the perspective of a centre as this position has a lot of all-round requirements. For specific training for your position, get in touch via our website or Facebook page with a 1 to 1 Personal Training or Online Personal Training enquiry.

As with any sport, some degree of natural ability is essential to succeed at a high level, but simply having the natural flair for rugby isn't sufficient - you absolutely must put in the work in the gym and in training sessions. Your training schedule will be determined by your coaches, however it's the extra work in the gym that will really make the difference. How much time you spend in the gym is dependent on the individual and the time in the season, but for a moderately fit player during the season, I would suggest 4 gym sessions per week with your rest days being before, on and after game day. This will probably mean that you are in the gym on a training day, so just ensure that you have some time between sessions in the day. If you feel that you need it, an optional light session focused on activation can be performed the day before a game, providing you don't work to failure.

So what qualities does a rugby player need?

Strength Endurance

Rugby is a full contact sport where strength is vital for every position. Overall strength should be trained in movement planes rather than a body building style of muscle group splits to ensure functionality. So, strength training should be split into squat, hinge, push and pull, with rotational/lateral and single leg work to mimic the movements on the pitch. It's so important to bulletproof your body by being as strong as possible (without hindering other skills such as speed) to reduce the chance of injury. A great quote to remember is 'train for everything so you're ready for anything'.

However, it' not quite as simple as just being strong. Strength endurance is crucial to being able to produce maximum force when fatigued, so this should also be trained. Strength training should be within a low rep range of 3-6 whilst training to failure, whereas strength endurance training should be much higher - around 20 reps per set.

Explosive Power

Power is the combination of speed and strength, which ultimately is the definition of a good rugby physical ability. This is required for stepping tackles, making tackles and breaking tackles - which are the key elements of the game. It can be easy to get stuck in a rut of just strength training, but every player should be completing an all round program with a heavy emphasis on power. Some exercises that I think are vital are: cleans, snatches, jerks, box jumps, med ball throws, single leg broad jumps and plyometric push ups.

Core Stability

Another essential quality for both making and resisting a tackle. Great core strength will help every part of your game no matter what your position, whilst also helping with injury prevention. Every muscle group is affected by your core, so a weak core can lead to others compensating and therefore injuries and strains can occur. My recommended exercises for improving core strength are: Paloff press, weighted plank and unilateral exercises such as offset load lunges and unilateral overhead work (offset overhead squats).


This is a combination of speed and coordination. Whilst some people are naturally more agile than others, most people have to train for agility. To do this, I would include agility ladders, hop sequences and many other plyometric drills. Core strength forms a massive part of agility as you must be able to move at speed whilst maintaining postural stability.

Aerobic Fitness

Anyone who has played a game of rugby understands the fitness required to go the full 80 minutes. Even one half of a game requires a high level of cardiovascular fitness! Rugby requires endurance to keep going throughout your game, but also short bursts of high intensity. This all boils down to being able to consistently reach peak performance and recover quickly enough to keep repeating that high intensity effort. Unfit teams are easily beaten when players are tired and legs are heavy, but if you can ensure that you are as fit as you can be, then you can produce a consistent game throughout. Training your aerobic fitness should be tackled with a few different approaches. HIIT, low intensity steady state (middle distance runs) and intense conditioning should all feature in your training program. These can either be separate gym sessions (conditioning in the morning and strength in the evening), or added onto the end of your strength sessions.

Training for speed can also fall under this category as sprint training can make up some of your conditioning. Explosive sprints are fundamental to a backs training.

So, it's obvious that training is intense and you have to be committed, but there are so many other aspects of life as a rugby player that have to be considered. Recovery is essential - if you are constantly sore or injured you aren't going to perform well. Some common forms of recovery include:

  • Stretching and mobilisation

  • Mindfulness

  • Cold water immersion/ice baths

  • Compression tights

  • Sports massage

  • Encorporating deload weeks or off weeks within your training program.

These tips are just scratching the surface of an effective training program for rugby. Diet, mindset and motivation are all key areas to address as well - if you really are serious about moving up the ranks in the game, it has to be a lifestyle that you adopt. Commitment and dedication are crucial - you can't perform well if your heart's not in it!

Here at Sterling Fitness we love programming for and training aspiring athletes, so if you are interested in Personal Training, either online or 1 to 1 in the Canterbury area, get in touch via our website, email or Facebook page.

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