There is no doubt over the last 20 years that rugby players in every position have packed on more lean muscle, became faster and hit harder. The average player size is up by nearly 2 stone since the early 90s which is an incredible stat. This is down to a few key factors which are nutrition and training. In this article, we are going to cover the training principles of the top rugby players.
We’ve interviewed many top players here at RugbyWarfare and nearly all players mention their training revolves around strength training. This means in the week they will include upper body and lower body strength workouts consisting of roughly 3-6 reps and 3-4 sets. Mostly Olympic lifts are used as they are functional and can translate into better performance on the field. Prowlers, ropes, skipping rope sessions are also now popular to help improve muscular endurance.
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Rugby players still do super-sets and hypertrophy (hence their muscular builds). Strength training and doing functional lifts does improve performance but it’s also important that players do add muscle so that their strength can keep increasing in the future. Adding muscle also helps with body composition, rugby players are typically around the 10-15% body fat mark. This is the optimal body fat percentage for muscle growth, performance, and recovery. Being too lean can negatively affect performance and likewise for carrying too much fat.
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Rehabilitation and stretching
An often overlooked area of training is rehab and stretching. Rugby players take it seriously. After speaking to 10s of players they all mention the use of the foam roller before and after training to ensure optimal recovery times. Rotator cuff training is also used as this means the shoulder joint is always warmed up prior to heavy push sessions. This decreases the risk of injury. Many injuries in the gym happen due to pressing and not being warmed up properly so this is key for rugby players. Check out this research study on the effectiveness of foam rolling.
Fitting it all in
The body is an incredibly efficient machine. It will adapt to high-frequency training and will become stronger from it. Overtraining is often thrown around when discussing training 3-4 times a week. If you are covering all bases with your nutrition (which will be covered in a different post), and ensuring you are getting enough protein, carbs, and fats to recover and build then overtraining should not be a problem. This does not mean you should fit in as many weights sessions as possible, timing is vital. Rugby games are played on the weekend and you need to make sure that your training sessions on the field are not negatively impacted by your weights sessions. This also spreads into the weekend, you need to ensure that you are giving your body all the tools it needs to grow and recover. 2-3 whole body strength sessions with some added hypertrophy training should be adequate enough to see substantial increases in performance and muscle mass over the course of a season. Again, check out this program we have created here, it’s in PDF format and easy to follow with a training calendar.
As you can see, the training of a professional rugby player in 2015 consists of heavy strength training using functional movements, mobility, and rehab work to ensure the body is flexible, agile and injury free and also on-field sessions for skills and endurance. This is a lot of work each and every week but the body is a machine, it will adapt and grow.
George Lowe mentions that skills are more important than weights so the weight room shouldn’t be central to your game. Use it as a tool to get bigger, faster and stronger.
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