Best At-Home Workouts For Rugby Players

rugby at home workout

Covid-19 has placed rugby in a confusing state of flux.

Most players have been unable to play the sport they love, with any continuity, for almost a year now. Not only this, but they also have not been able to train with their team-mates or coaches properly.

Rugby is a game that demands a high level of physical conditioning. Endurance, strength, speed, and power must be combined with maintaining high levels of muscle mass.

Now that rugby players are training at home more often than they ever have, I wanted to offer some ideas on The Best At-Home Workouts For Rugby Players. 

Background

During the first UK lockdown, I was approached by Exeter Chiefs and England U16’s, U18’s and U20’s player Alfie Petch regarding training at home.

Exeter has to be considered one of the best European rugby teams of the modern era. They are the only team in history to have won the top four tiers of English rugby. Following their promotion from The Championship in 2010, The Chiefs won the Premiership title in 2017. They recorded a historic double in 2020 by claiming both the Premiership Title and the European Title.

The Chiefs coaching staff’s focus was firmly on the first-team squad’s requirements at this unprecedented time. As a player making his breakthrough into the senior team, Alfie felt that he needed to boost his training a little. 

The advice I gave Alfie is the same I would give a player at any stage of their career. 

  • Use the time constructively. A break from your team-mates and coaches is not an excuse to hibernate or get involved in 24-hour PlayStation marathons. 
  • Train your weaknesses. This is possibly the most common piece of advice I give from a sports performance perspective. I asked Alfie to contact his coaches and ask their opinions on what he needed to improve. I also asked him for an honest self-appraisal. I have seen too many rugby players over the years who only train their strengths, ignore their weaknesses and never reach their full potential as a result. If you spend some time focussing on your weaknesses, the chances are your strengths will only improve.
  • Work with the equipment you have. Do not worry about the equipment you don’t have. Gym kit is more expensive right now than it ever has been, and not everyone’s home gym is equipped for a generic rugby conditioning program. Take into account the equipment requirements and adapt the exercises as needed for a more personalized workout. Alfie had available an exercise bike, an Olympic barbell with plates (but no rack), and a 20 kg kettlebell.
  • Spend time working on flexibility and injury prevention. My personal opinion is that rugby players tend to neglect flexibility training, often throwing in a few half-hearted stretches at the end of a training session. I have been there myself. Most of your training and matches are performed in cold, wet, and windy environments, and you get into a mindset of finish up and get to a hot shower. Realistically post-workout flexibility does not happen with rugby players, and this is why I encourage them to commit to short, standalone stretching sessions, combined with some pre-hab work.  

Now, let’s break it down by function.

Endurance and Speed Workouts

rugby at home workout

Look after your endurance needs by getting out running or going for bike rides. Short, hard efforts are advisable. For example, I would rather you smash out a fast 3-5 km run than a half marathon at a snail’s pace. 

Also look to do one or two high-speed interval sessions a week. You could do something along the lines of 15 x 1:00 on 1:00 off efforts on your assault bike or rowing machine, if you have one, otherwise hit the trails in your running shoes and run 12 x 150m with walk back recoveries. 

Now, let’s take a look at what I consider to be the best at-home workouts (both with equipment and without) for improving strength and power for rugby players. 

I will show you Alfie’s tailor-made workout at the end if you’re feeling brave. 

Strength Workouts

A 2016 study by Jones et al. in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that squats were deemed the most utilized exercise in elite level rugby union strength and conditioning sessions.

There are good reasons why squats form the cornerstone of the sessions, not least because of the relationship between increased squat strength and speed but also because of increased squat strength and reduced instances of injury.

Before you engage in weighted squats or any other heavy lift, I recommend attending a coaching session on the correct technique.

For these workouts, I have kept the exercises based around barbells and dumbbells without the need for any specialist equipment that you may not have in your home gym.

With Equipment

One Lower Body – One Upper Body – One Assistance  

Monday:

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Perform the following routine with 1:30 – 2:30 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsReps%1RM
Back Squat36-1075-85%
Dumbbell Lunge36-1075-85%
Romanian Deadlift36-1075-85%
Back Extensions312-15Bodyweight
Split Squat36-1075-85%
Single-Leg Calf Raise36-1075-85%

Wednesday:

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Do the following routine with 1:30 – 2:30 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsReps%1RM
Bench Press36-1075-85%
Bent-Over Barbell Row36-1075-85%
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press36-1075-85%
One-Arm Dumbbell Row36-1075-85%
Bench Dips312-15Bodyweight
Dumbbell Upright Row36-1075-85%

Friday

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Perform the following routine with 2-3 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsReps%1RM
Bench Press36-10Bodyweight
Bent-Over Barbell Row36-10Bodyweight
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press3MaxBodyweight
One-Arm Dumbbell Row36-1075-85%
Bench Dips36-10Bodyweight
Dumbbell Upright Row33 each sideLight KB or DB

Without Equipment 

Workout to be performed as a circuit twice a week. 

Warmup with foam rolling and easy exercises such as running on the spot, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Repeat 5-6 rounds of the following as quickly as you can, maintaining perfect form:

  • Squats x 10 
  • Alternate Lunges x 10
  • Alternate Jumping Lunges x 10
  • Jump Squats x 5
  • Push-Ups x 10
  • Dips x 10
  • Back Widows x 10

Then, repeat four rounds of the following with the focus on perfect technique and controlled movement. Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises. 

  • Piked Push-up x 10
  • Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (Bodyweight) x10
  • Plank 60-90 seconds
  • Burpees x 10

Power Workouts

rugby at home workout

Disclaimer! Power training typically involves high-speed, dynamic exercises performed with or without weights. Power training carries a risk of injury and should be performed by trained athletes under a qualified coach’s supervision.

Jones et al. also suggested that the second most utilized exercise amongst rugby strength and conditioning coaches is the power clean. This movement has long been a favorite of coaches and athletes looking to improve performance in power-based sport. 

The power clean is a physically demanding, full-body, Olympic weightlifting exercise. It requires high levels of strength, stability, and mobility to perform correctly. The incorrect technique or poor conditioning can lead to injury. 

For your home workouts, I have suggested an alternative for the power clean as the kettlebell clean and press. This is a brilliant exercise with very similar benefits.

However, it does not require the ability to perform the “front rack,” which many rugby players who have suffered wrist or arm injuries struggle with. If you struggle with the power clean, I suggest substituting it for the kettlebells or adapting it with kettlebells. 

Please remember that power training is strength + speed. Too often, I see rugby players trying to boost their power without first building the necessary foundations.

Make sure you spend the time developing your strength and speed before you even think about power training.

With Equipment

Monday:

Rather than working towards % of 1 rep max, we are working with our 6 and 8-rep max. This is the weight at which we can perform 6 or 8 perfect reps of the exercise, with rep 7 or 9 potentially showing technique failure signs.

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Perform the following routine with 1-2 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsRepsRep Max
Clean Pull3Sets 1&2 = 5 reps
Set 3 = 6 reps
6
Push Press3Sets 1&2 = 5 reps
Set 3 = 6 rep
6
Back Squat (slow down, explode up)3Sets 1&2 = 5 reps
Set 3 = 6 rep
6
Dumbbell Forward Lunges (same as above)3Sets 1&2 = 5 reps
Set 3 = 6 rep
6
Romanian Deadlift3Sets 1&2 = 5 reps
Set 3 = 6 rep
6

Wednesday

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Do the following routine with 1-2 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsRepsRep Max
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8
Bent-Over Barbell Row3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8
One Arm Dumbbell Row3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8
Weighted Dips3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8
Dumbbell Upright Row3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8

Friday

Warmup with foam rolling and easy cardio exercise, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Try to avoid doing the ballistic push-ups, high knee bounds, or box jumps on hard and unforgiving floors. 

Do the following routine with 1-2 minutes rest between exercises.

ExerciseSetsRepsRep Max
Power Cleans366
Ballistic or Clap Push-ups3Max
High Knee Bounds38 each leg8
Jerk Press or Kettlebell Squat & Press388
Burpee Box Jumps38
Dumbbell Front Raises3Sets 1&2 = 7 reps
Set 3 = 8 reps
8

Without Equipment

I recommend performing the bodyweight strength circuit once a week, followed by this plyometric / post-activation potentiation workout, once a week.

Warmup with foam rolling and easy exercises such as running on the spot, followed by joint rotations and light dynamic stretches. Cooldown appropriately and spend 10 minutes stretching.

Repeat Round 1 Three Times

  • 2:00 Skipping
  • Rest 1:00
  • Vertical Jumps x 5 
  • Rest 1:00 

Repeat Round 2 Three Times

  • Pause Squats x 10 (pause at the bottom as long as you need to make 10 reps tough)
  • Rest 1:00
  • Tuck Jumps x 5
  • Rest 1:00 

Now perform the following circuit three times.

  • 1x slow push up 1x ballistic push up – to failure
  • Wall Sit 60 seconds
  • 5 x Bounds
  • Plank 60 seconds
  • 10 x V Sits
  • 5 x Ankle Hops

Alfie Petch’s Session

rugby at home workout

As a prop, Alfie has quite a specific set of requirements for his training. He has to maintain considerable muscle mass at 124kg body weight and power, speed, and agility. 

We identified that Alfie needed to work on his power at the scrum, his strength at the breakdown (mainly clearing out the opposition and securing the ball), his speed off the mark, and his ability to lift his second-row jumper at the lineout. 

Alfie’s coaches also expressed a wish for him to improve his ability to get off the floor and make tackles when he’s tired, as they felt this was one of his weaknesses. They also wanted him to improve his anaerobic capacity.

A recent knee injury meant that Alfie could not run for extended distances. He wanted to achieve a good level of cardiovascular training effect from the session to make up for his lack of road running. 

Here is the workout we had Alfie performing. 

4 Rounds of:

  • Spinning Bike 2:00mins, HR at 85% +
  • 10 Barbell Zercher squats from the floor (the Zercher squat creates an incredible blend of leg training along with brutal, isometric upper body training, similar to what Alfie experiences in the scrum and at the breakdown.)
  • 5 Hands Off Burpees (count to three in hands-off position)
  • 5 each arm Kettlebell Single Arm Snatch to Overhead Reverse Lunge
  • 6 each arm Kettlebell Single Arm Clean and Press
  • 10 Long Jump Run Back 
  • 5 Hands Off Burpees (count to three in hands-off position)
  • Rest 4:00 minutes

Here’s a quote from Alfie about his training session. 

“That was an absolute beast! By the time I got to the clean and press I was blowing like I do in a game. I had to really focus on my movements as I was getting tired. Round four was brutal!”

Final Thoughts

Although rugby is a team sport, there is a lot to be said for the player who takes it upon themselves to train at home. 

It is often challenging to work on your weaknesses in a team environment, and squad training sessions are usually for the team’s good overall, rather than the needs of an individual. 

It is a great idea to perform a thorough self-appraisal, talk to your coaches and team-mates and develop an at-home workout program that will enhance your performances on the field.

Although we feel very frustrated with the position rugby is in right now, let’s try and stay as positive as we can and use this time constructively.   


References

Jones, Thomas W.1; Smith, Andrew2,3; Macnaughton, Lindsay S.4; French, Duncan N.5,6 Strength and Conditioning and Concurrent Training Practices in Elite Rugby Union, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 12 – p 3354-3366, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001445

Physical Preparation for Elite-Level Rugby Union Football, Paul Gamble, CSCS London Irish Rugby Football Club, Middlesex, United Kingdom, Strength and Conditioning Journal: August 2004 – p 10-23

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