Ashley Jones

International Strength Coach

The attached strength program was specifically written for a Rugby prop forward but the philosophy and mechanics behind it make it applicable for any player wishing to increase their strength levels, irrespective of the position or the code that they play

The role of the strength and conditioning coach is to get the players strong and powerful so that the head coach can teach them how he wants them to play the game. This plan is an amalgam of the Westside training philosophies of Louie Simmons, Olympic style lifting and strongman training, and a combination of both traditional periodisation theory and conjugate training preparation.

Rugby-League

The other factors involved in the development of this program are that the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) has key performance indicators for strength: Bench Press, Power Clean, Squat, and Chins. These are tested for a 1 – 3 repetition maximum. With this in mind the players need to be strong in these movements as they are the basic core movements but also to ensure that they are not disadvantaged when testing time comes along.

The program variables of sets and reps are biased towards a volume phase as this particular player was in need of general hypertrophy as well as strength. If the player were okay as far as muscular size was concerned the sets and reps would more reflect a strength training protocol with possibly the following plan: week 1 – 3 – 5 x 5, week 2 – 5 x 3, week 3 – 5,4,3,2,1 or 5 x 1. The player could also take a leaf out of the work of Lyn Jones and set a max for 5 in week 1, then a max for 3 in week 2 and finally a max single in week 3.

The other variable within the program to consider is time, we try and ensure that each player rests no more than 60 seconds between sets and the total workout time will be somewhere between 45 minutes and 60 minutes. The spin off for us is that this type of training improves anaerobic endurance whilst increasing strength.

Other things to consider in this program are that this is a snap shot of a 3 week block within an off season training plan. The program exercises, sets and reps would change on a 3 weekly basis, for example on the Monday in this plan the power clean would be replaced by the clean pulls after 3 weeks, the safety bar squat might be replaced with a cambered bar squat, sprinters squat might be replaced with a high step up, good morning with Romanian dead lift, and zercher lifts with a sand bar lift and carry.

In our major lifts of Box Squat and Bench Press I use a variety of devices to change the neural responses of the body in relation to the exercise, thereby allowing for continued improvement. First 3 weeks, bar only and an increasing percentage for Box Squat and a set percentage for Bench Press, next 3 weeks the use of weight releasers, the next 3 weeks the use of chains and the final 3 weeks the use of bands. Each time returning to the increasing percentage protocol for Box Squats and the fixed (60%) for Bench Press.

To elaborate on the system, the following table maybe of use:

Squat and Bench Press Progressions

Week 150% Squat 12 x 2 – bar weight onlyWeek 255% Squat 10 x 2 – bar weight onlyWeek 360% Squat 8 x 2 – bar weight only
60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only
Week 450% Squat 12 x 2 – + 30% weight releasersWeek 555% Squat 12 x 2 – + 40% weight releasersWeek 660% Squat 12 x 2 – + 50% weight releasers
60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +30% weight releasers60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +40% weight releasers60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +50% weight releasers
Week 750% Squat 12 x 2 – +20 of chainWeek 855% Squat 12 x 2 – +25 of chainWeek 960% Squat 12 x 2 – + 30kg of chain
60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +15 kg of chain60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +20 kg of chain60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +25 kg of chain
Week 1050% Squat 12 x 2 – + 1 set red bandsWeek 1155% Squat 10 x 2 – + 1 set green bandsWeek 1260% Squat 8 x 2 – + 1 set of blue bands
60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – + 1 set of red bands60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – + 1 set of red bands60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – + 1 set of red bands

For a more detailed discussion of the use of these devices and the Westside system in general please refer to articles by Louie Simmons and Dave Tate at www.elitefts.com or www.deepsquatter.com or www.t-mag.com .

In season training can be very similar with the proviso that you are recovered from the game and the training does not interfere with the work you need to do to get ready for the next game. If you can train twice a week in season just select one each of the lower body and upper body days and rotate them on a 2 weekly basis and continue to gain throughout the season. Do not think that the season is the time that you maintain the gains that you made in the off season, if you continue to work hard and recover well you will continue to make gains. Colleagues of mine at many NRL and Super 12 teams have commented that players have hit personal bests in the weight room leading up to play off games.

Currently the team I am working with is using the following program as we are in-season, again the program is altered every 3 weeks to ensure the individual player is not always using the same exercises and also to train weak points and to ensure neural/muscular variation.

Workout 1 (Mon)Workout 2 (Tues)
1 x Olympic movement
*Speed Squat 8 x 2
1 x Squat option*
1 x Hamstring/Lower Back option*
Back ExtensionCore 100reps
Speed Bench 8 x 3
1 x Upper Body Press (not Bench)
*2 x upper Pull – *
1 each vertical and horizontal
Triceps/Biceps super setShoulder Assistance
To expand on this information, we currently use the following progressions on exercises marked with an asterisk (*) – week 1 – 3 – 5 x 5, week 2 – 5 x 3, week 3 -5 x 1. Back extensions are cycled over the 3 weeks as follows – week 1 – 3 x 20, week 2 – Isometric hold at top 3 x max time, when over 3 minutes is obtained hold a weight plate and week 3 – single leg 3 x 10 each leg. Shoulder Assistance work is cycled as follows – week 1 3 way dumbbell shoulder raise, lateral/front/bent over 3 x 10 of each, week 2 – seated DB cleans or seated DB Snatch super setted with Cuban presses 3 x 10, week 3 – red band lateral raises super setted front raises 3 x 20. Biceps and triceps super set uses a traditional periodisation schedule over three weeks – week 1 – 3 x 12, 10, 8, week 2 – 3 x 10, 8, 6 and week 3 – 8, 6, 4. Core is 100 reps of whatever they like to do Swiss ball sit-up and throw a medicine ball against the wall is a popular choice as is Swiss ball leg raises, the only criteria is that rotational movements and standing movements are included in the mix.

Another program we are using with other members of the squad is a more traditional method with sets and reps varied over 3 weeks as follows:

WeeksSets/Reps
13 x 6,5,4
23 x 5,4,3
33 x 4,3,2

Exercises are changed every 3 weeks and the sets and reps revert to week 1 and follow through with the new exercises.

Workout 1 – MondayWorkout 2 – Thursday
1 x Olympic
1 x Squat
1 x Hamstring/Lower Back
1 x Upper Push
1 x Upper Pull
1 x Core 50 reps
Hang Clean & Push Press OR Power SnatchPower TacklerBand Bench Press or Med Ball Chest PushesBox Jumps OR Jump SquatRehab/Prehab
3 x 5 @ 60 – 70% for all exercises

To give you an idea of the exercises that are most often used the following tables categorise our main exercise selections, of course the lists are endless with many variations. I have limited them to the top 5 in each category.

OlympicOlympicHamstring/Lower BackUpper PushUpper Pull
1.Power Clean
2.Hang Clean
3.Clean Pull
4.Power Snatch
5.One Arm DB Snatch
1.Safety Bar Squat
2.Cambered Bar Squat
3.Single Leg Sprinter Squat
4.Front Squat
5.Farmers Walk
1.Glute Ham Raise
2.Reverse Hyper
3.Good Morning
4.Romanian Dead Lift
5.Tyre Flip
1.Bench Press
2.Incline Bench Press
3.Trap Bar Shoulder Press
4.Steel Log Shoulder Press
5.Push Press
1.Chins
2.Bentover Row
3.Upright Row
4.Seated Row
5.One Arm DB Row

If you do not have all the equipment mentioned in the article/program don’t worry, you can easily adapt the movements with equipment that you have in every gym across the world. Remember in the memorable words of Charles Darwin and the title of Bill Starr’s landmark book in strength training “The Strongest Shall Survive”, good luck and work hard.

Off Season Program

Off Season ProgramTuesdayWednesdayFriday
Power Clean work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3Push Jerk 6 sets x 2 reps increasing by 5% each week, 70%, 75%, 80% then work up to a new max and restart the progressionsBox Squat with Chains 12 sets x 2 @ 50% week1, 55% week 2, 60% week 3 then work up to a new max and restart the progressionsBench Press with Chains 9 sets of 3 with 3 different grips60% max
Safety Bar Back Squat week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3Incline Bench Press work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3Hang Clean 6 sets x 2 reps @70% of whatever the top weight was from Mondays workoutSteel Log Press work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3
Sprinters Squat week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6,Steel Log Bent over Row 4 x 6 – 10 repsBack Squat with Cambered Bar work up to a max set for 5Chins 3 sets of max reps try and increase total number each week
week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3
Good Morning with Cambered Bar week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3DB Lateral Raises/Seated Plate Front Raises/Seated DB Bent Over Raises Tri set 3 sets x 10 – 15Walking Lunge 4 x 22 metresReverse Grip Bench Press week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3
Zercher Lift from floor week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3Lying Triceps Extension s/s with E Z Bar Curls 4 x 8 – 12Romanian Deadlift week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3Cuban Press 4 x 10

Start each workout with a dynamic warm up and finish each workout with core, individual prehab/rehab exercises and the Royal Court a la combat conditioning (Hindu Squats, Hindu Push Ups, and Neck Bridging)

Second 3 week block

MondayWednesdayFridaySunday
Steel Log Power Clean work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3Steel Log Push Press 6 sets x 2 reps increasing by 5% each week, 70%, 75%, 80% then work up to a new max and restart the progressionsBox Squat with Bands 12 sets x 2 @ 50% week1, 55% week 2, 60% week 3 then work up to a new max and restart the progressionsBox Squat with Bands 12 sets x 2 @ 50% week1, 55% week 2, 60% week 3 then work up to a new max and restart the progressions
Box Squat with Weight Releasers 8 sets x 2 @ 50% week1, 55% week 2, 60% week 3 (increase release weight each set so that last 3 sets are above your best weight for a singleDips work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3DB Hang Clean 6 sets x 2 repsTrap Bar Shoulder Press work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3
Step Ups week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3Plate Row 4 x 6 – 10 repsFarmers Walk 4 x 22 metresChins Press work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3
Good Morning with Safety Squat Bar week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3Seated One Arm DB Snatch, Upright Row, Cuban Press as a tri-set 10, 8, 6Reverse Hyper 6 x 10Floor Press week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3
Glute Ham Raise 5 sets go for as many reps as you can and increase each weekTriceps Press downs s/s with DB Hammer Curls 4 x 8 – 12Sumo Deadlift week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3DB Scare Crow 4 x 10
Swiss Ball Sit Up & Throw Med Ball against wall 5 x 10Russian Twists 6 x 10

My thanks go to the number of people that have helped in the overall development of this program, those of you who have trained hard and accepted the ideas and put them into practice to you this is dedicated,as Sir Issac Newton has been quoted as saying “if I can see for great distance it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”.

Although these programs are just guides for training, they are the work of great strength coaches, such as Ian King, Charles Poliquin, Dave Tate, Louie Simmons.

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