Whether you’re a keen amateur or aspiring professional rugby union player, we have noticed on our rounds there is a dearth of fitness tips for individuals who are determined to take their game to the next level. It is one of those sports where a highly specialised fitness regime is needed, so this is an attempt to rectify that situation.
The following is a conglomeration of the most prescient points from material published on the subject over the years, with the added splash of personal experience from someone with knowledge of the fitness levels required to reach the highest level in the sport. Part of the regime includes a guide to rapid and effective strength gain, combined with interval and plyometrics training, which is designed to increase a player’s ability to make explosive and powerful movements. This is interspersed with speed endurance and overall fitness tips.
So, sweat bands at the ready please…
Upper body strength is important for all rugby players, irrespective of their position on the pitch. Lower body strength is equally important, but this will come partly with the endurance work which is to follow, although specific leg weight training is also a must.
The upper body exercises which should form the core of your weight training regime include bicep curls, military presses, tricep extensions, deltoid lifts, pull downs and butterflies. In terms of the lower body, leg curls and leg extensions are essential. In addition to these core exercises, weight training specific to a player’s position should be integrated into the routine. As an obvious example, for front rows neck strength is all important whilst strong wrists will help scrum halves.
To build muscle, low repetitions of heavy weights are essential. If you can do more than 12 reps on any weight then it is not heavy enough. A weight which allows you to do between 8 and 10 reps is perfect and it is only necessary to do one set of each exercise per training session. The aim is to reach a point where your muscles can lift no more without resting. When that point is reached, move on to the next exercise.
Significant weight training is best carried out during the off season as once the season begins recovery after each game is more important, leaving little time to concentrate on strength.
Sprint speed is essential for rugby players and this can be improved with interval training. Speaking from experience, a routine which has produced excellent results in the past is one where players run a total of 400 meters in 25 yard increments. So, firstly they will sprint 25 meters before walking back to the start; then sprint 50 meters before walking back; then run 75 meters, but not at a full sprint; then the same for 100 meters. The exercise should then be repeated from 100 meters back down to 25.
During the off season is the best time to work on overall endurance. This can be easily achieved by completing a number of sets of the above interval training. By repeating the above four times you will cover a total of 1,600 meters, all at either sprinting speed or just below sprinting speed. The closer you are to the start of the season the more you should ramp up the repetitions, so just before preseason you should look to cover in the region of 3,200 meters, which is eight repetitions of the above.
Interval training is an excellent method of not only improving general fitness but also helping to decrease recovery time after matches when the season has begun. In the off season the ratio of work to rest should be around one to four, giving players plenty of time to recuperate after a grueling season whilst still maintaining a satisfactory level of fitness. As the new season approaches this should be ramped up, until the work to rest ratio is one to three, or even one to two.
Plyometric training is a form of exercise which improves the muscles’ ability to exert the maximum force in the shortest possible time. Due to the intense nature of plyometric exercises, a full warm up should be conducted before each session to reduce the risk of muscle strains. Each individual exercise is short and sweet, with the emphasis on the quality of each repetition rather than the quantity. Due to the explosive nature of each exercise, plenty of recovery time should be built into each; however, this does not have to be time wasted. Professional sides often use the downtime between plyometric exercises to discuss tactics for a forthcoming game or work on set play manoeuvres.
Typical examples of plyometric exercises which have aided the development of players in the past include barrier hops, which involve hoping over three hurdles set at anything from 18 to 24 inches from the ground before walking back to the beginning. This should be repeated in sets of 4 or 5, between 8 and 10 times. Box hops, which involve three benches or boxes set up two to three feet apart and around 18 inches in height. Again 8 to 10 sets of 4 or 5 with plenty of downtime in between is about right to achieved the desired results.
It’s perhaps not the most revelatory form of exercise, but jogging is a great method of maintaining fitness endurance and dispersing the lactic acid which develops during a match situation. Anything between 30 and 45 minutes of jogging at a comfortable pace will suffice, and is an effective warm down after a match day or a gruelling training session.
Hopefully this guide to rugby fitness training for amateur players and aspiring professionals has helped to fill the gap which seems to be out there for thorough training programmes which can take your fitness to the next level. Obviously skills training plays a huge part in your development as a player, and that, combined with an exceptional level of fitness, ensures come the new season you are game ready!