A hooligans game, played by gentlemen, also known as rugby, is renowned for its intense, brutal and physically demanding nature in the world of team sports. Rugby players have always been big, but in recent years have been getting even bigger. Not only this, but when the sport became a profession, size, strength, power, stamina and agility all became essential attributes of any successful players physical prowess.
As a result of this. in order for any budding young rugby player to physically prepare themselves for this demanding sport, there are a number of different types of training you will have to incorporate into your rugby training programme. What follows in this article, is a definitive guide of what types of training to hone in on when training for the beautifully brutal game of rugby. We’ve also thrown in some top tips to optimise your workout, and things to avoid when in the gym. Without any further ado, let’s ruck and roll!
he first area of rugby fitness training you want to consider, is aerobic fitness. Otherwise known as cardiovascular fitness, this is arguably one of the most important types of physical fitness to focus on. Despite Rugby being a predominantly anaerobic sport, being aerobically fit means you can recover from anaerobic exertion, quicker. Not only this, but you’ll find yourself with a higher lactic acid threshold meaning you can work harder for longer (no more being known as the lazy one!).
Not only this, but if you find you and your team neck and neck at 19-19 at the final whistle, more often than not it will be the fittest team that will prevail. Being aerobically fit, is a great way to ensure your team has the upper hand, should the game go on for longer than usual.
Exercises you can do to boost your aerobic fitness level:
There are four main exercise machines you can use that are a great way to boost your aerobic/cardiovascular fitness levels. These are:
Elliptical trainers and Treadmills are particularly useful for rugby fitness training, as they allow you to adjust the intensity of your cardio workout, while simultaneously tracking biofeedback data such as your heart rate, distance covered and calories burned.
TOP TIP: Switch up your cardio rugby workouts by alternating your cardio machine e.g try the treadmill on a Monday, then the elliptical on Tuesday. This is a great way to let your body rest up while still allowing you to improve your aerobic fitness levels everyday.
As I mentioned above the main type of energy exerted during a game of rugby is anaerobic, which in layman’s terms means sudden, short bursts of energy. Heightening your anaerobic fitness levels in the gym, during any rugby gym workout it is crucial as you will have to mirror this type of training on the pitch during any game scenario you may find yourself in.
Aerobic and Anaerobic fitness levels are symbiotic, and have to be treated so. The higher your aerobic fitness levels, the quicker you can recover from anaerobic exertion.
During a real game of rugby, intervals of energy exertion can vary drastically – from just a few seconds, for up to as long as 2 minutes. Believe me, you’re anaerobic rugby training drills will need to reflect this time span. There are a number of different exercises you can incorporate into your rugby training programme, that will significantly improve your your anaerobic capacity – crucial for anyone who wants to make it in the world of the egg shaped ball.
Exercises you can do to boost your aerobic fitness level:
Bike sprints, swimming sprints and running sprints are most common forms of anaerobic exercises. However, We’ll stick to bike and/or running sprints. To perform the most efficient bike or running sprint, bike/jog at a sustainable pace of around five minutes, then sprint at maximum (but a comfortable) speed for between 30-90 seconds, depending on what your body feels comfortable with. After this short burst, return for a slow speed for 2 minutes. Repeat this process for 30 minutes.
TOP TIP: Again, alternate your anaerobic regime in order to let your body rest. For example, perform running sprints one day, and bike sprints the next. You’ll be amazed at how fast your body will reap the results. You’re welcome.
Agility & Coordination Training:
So you can run fast in a straight line – a good start, BUT more often than not, running in a straight line on a rugby field won’t get you all that far. A key part of any Rugby training programme, centres around agility and coordination. This means you will be able to respond to stimuli, process it and respond accordingly. On the rugby pitch, in a game scenario, these decisions need to be made and acted upon instantly, without hesitation.
Coordination, is what will stop you from being known as ‘butter fingers!’, and enhancing this skill through practising various rugby training drills, will see accurate movements on the pitch, as your brain/muscle connection is heightened. Catching a high ball, side-stepping your opposite number, a chip and chase while running, are all tasks that occur regularly during a game of rugby, that also require a lot of coordination.
Exercises you can do to boost your agility and coordination:
Exercise regimes that centre around agility and coordination, are a fun and easy way to develop and enhance a key skill-set within rugby and requires easy to find rugby training equipment. Rugby training drills that involve training ladders, low hurdles, cones etc are great to incorporate into your circuit routine.
Figure runs – this drill will improve your footwork and quickness. Mark out three points: A, B & C. Run around Figure A, then B and finally C. Have a workout partner time you and keep aiming for a new PB!
Low Hurdles 2-step – set up a line of low hurdles, sprint through these, making sure that two feet touch the ground between each hurdle. Keep your arms at 90 degrees with a strong pump to help drive your knees up. This will significantly enhance your agility and coordination.
Ickey Shuffle – Stand at the bottom of an agility training ladder, on the left hand side. As you begin place your right foot into the first square, as soon as you do this follow with your left foot. At the same time as your left foot hits the ground, the right foot should exit the square to the right of the ladder, while moving forward so you can progress to the next square of the training ladder. Repeat this until you reach the end of the ladder. Time yourself. Repeat these three exercises three times. In no time, your body will be reaping the rewards of agility and coordination training, leaving you sidestepping and off-loading your way to the try line – no TMO needed for you!
Strength & Power Training
Now for the part, all rugby players love – strength & power training! These two attributes are byproducts of each other, and should be treated with equal respect. Where slow performance using heavy weights, is an example of strength, an explosive vertical jump would be considered an expression of power – which requires the ability to recruit a lot of motor units simultaneously.
If you’re serious about generating an equally serious amount of power, I cannot recommend Plyometric training enough. This type of rugby strength training is, in my opinion the best way to bring both strength and power into your exercise regime.
Plyo Pushups – Just like a standard pushup but try exploding from the bottom position to an extent that your hands leave the ground completely. Cushion your landing and repeat for 30 seconds – that is one set. Aim for 3-5 sets depending on what you feel most comfortable with.
Box Jumps – Use a box that is around knee height, or higher (enough for you to have to tuck your legs on landing) – most gyms will have these, don’t worry! Squat to approximately parallel depth in order to prepare for the movement, then explode upwards and onto the box. TOP TIP: Be sure to STEP off the box, and do not jump down.
Depth Jumps – Stand on a knee-high box, with your feet approximately a shoulders width apart and your toes near the edge of the box. Step off and land in a full squat position. Make sure you spend a minimal amount of time on the floor before you launch into a jump as high as possible. Repeat this 5-7 times.
TOP TIP: Use your arms as much as you can to get the most height on your jump.
With the above effectively covering the power aspect of your rugby training programme, let’s turn our attention to strength – personally my favourite aspect of rugby training, as this typically means weights! One of the main end goals of rugby weight training, is to enhance your strength. Ever heard of James Haskell? Built like a machine… always wears ridiculously vibrant coloured scrum-caps? Yeah, him. Take a leave out of his book (or an exercise out of his routine), and you’ll be more than prepared for a brutally intense game of rugby. Here are just a few of the rugby weight training exercises he adopts:
Barbell Squat – Stand with your feet more than shoulders width apart and rest the barbell (with your specified weight) across your upper back with an overhand grip. Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your head up, back straight and bum out! Keep lowering yourself until you’re at a 90 degree angle. Dig your heels into the floor and explosively drive back up.
TOP TIP: Avoid resting the bar on your neck, and instead hug the bar into your traps. Trust me, this will save you a lot of pain the next morning. Thank me later.
Romanian Deadlift – Stand behind a grounded barbell. Slowly bend your knees slightly, to grasp it while simultaneously keeping your back, hips and shins straight. Without bending your back, push your hips forward which will allow you to lift the bar. From upright, push your hips back to the lower bar, bending your knees ever so slightly.
TOP TIP: All the power and strength generated here, should be coming from your hips and NOT your back. Make sure you do not use your back here, otherwise you will be in agony in the morning. again , thank me later!
Barbell Military Press – Position your feet together and lift the barbell to shoulder level, with your palms facing inwards. Then, explosively lift the bar above your head until your arms are fully extended, then exercise control to slowly bring the bar back down. Repeat this 3 times in reps of 2-5 with 60 second rest in between each set.
Dumbell Bicep Curls – Every gym goers’ go to exercise on arm day. Stand holding two dumbells at each side, with your palms facing towards you. Move only your forearms to curl the weights up into your chest/shoulder area, and return down to your sides under control. Repeat this 3 times with reps of 6-8 and 60 seconds rest in between each set.
TOP TIP: Keep your elbows tucked into your side as tightly as possible. This will isolate the bicep muscles for a more effective muscle workout.
Cardinal Gym Sins: 5 Things to avoid during a Rugby Gym Workout
Now that we have covered and explained the main types of training to cover in the gym, let’s quickly run through things to avoid when in the gym training for rugby. First of all, make sure you DO NOT over work one muscle group.
People say that variety is the spice of life, well variety is also the spice of an effective rugby training programme. Mixing up your workouts allow you to rest muscle groups, while working on others.
DO NOT rely too heavily on bicep curls. While banging out 100 reps (excuse the slight exaggeration) may make you feel great, and feel the burn) it is not the most effective way to build bigger arms.
Try focussing on general upper-limb strength through multi-joint exercises such as chin-ups, weighted dips etc.
DO NOT Rely on crunches sit-ups to heighten your core strength or tone your stomach. Isometric exercises are a much more effective way to develop your core strength.
Next time you’re in the gym, swap out the crunches/sit-ups for a plank or bridge.
DO NOT constantly up your weight limit, to build bigger muscles. A more effective way to do this, is to switch up the tempo of your repetitions. Next time you reach for a heavier weight, try increasing the time your muscles spend under tension, lengthening the duration of a lift is more likely to stimulate muscle growth.
Last but by no means least, DO NOT over work yourself. It is just as important to rest your body and your muscles, as it is to work them out.
Find time to have a day or two outside of the gym or off the pitch a week, with some well deserved rest and relaxation. You’re body and you’re mind will thank you.