Strength Training for Rugby/Rugby League Players
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.
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 1||50% Squat 12 x 2 – bar weight only||Week 2||55% Squat 10 x 2 – bar weight only||Week 3||60% Squat 8 x 2 – bar weight only|
|60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – bar weight only|
|Week 4||50% Squat 12 x 2 – + 30% weight releasers||Week 5||55% Squat 12 x 2 – + 40% weight releasers||Week 6||60% Squat 12 x 2 – + 50% weight releasers|
|60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +30% weight releasers||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +40% weight releasers||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +50% weight releasers|
|Week 7||50% Squat 12 x 2 – +20 of chain||Week 8||55% Squat 12 x 2 – +25 of chain||Week 9||60% Squat 12 x 2 – + 30kg of chain|
|60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +15 kg of chain||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +20 kg of chain||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – +25 kg of chain|
|Week 10||50% Squat 12 x 2 – + 1 set red bands||Week 11||55% Squat 10 x 2 – + 1 set green bands||Week 12||60% Squat 8 x 2 – + 1 set of blue bands|
|60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – + 1 set of red bands||60% Bench Press 12 x 3 – + 1 set of red bands||60% 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
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:
|1||3 x 6,5,4|
|2||3 x 5,4,3|
|3||3 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 – Monday||Workout 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.
|Olympic||Olympic||Hamstring/Lower Back||Upper Push||Upper Pull|
5.One Arm DB Snatch
|1.Safety Bar Squat|
2.Cambered Bar Squat
3.Single Leg Sprinter Squat
|1.Glute Ham Raise|
4.Romanian Dead Lift
2.Incline Bench Press
3.Trap Bar Shoulder Press
4.Steel Log Shoulder Press
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 Program||Tuesday||Wednesday||Friday|
|Power Clean work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3||Push Jerk 6 sets x 2 reps increasing by 5% each week, 70%, 75%, 80% then work up to a new max and restart the progressions||Box 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 progressions||Bench 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 3||Incline Bench Press work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3||Hang Clean 6 sets x 2 reps @70% of whatever the top weight was from Mondays workout||Steel 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 reps||Back Squat with Cambered Bar work up to a max set for 5||Chins 3 sets of max reps try and increase total number each week|
|week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3||week 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 3||DB Lateral Raises/Seated Plate Front Raises/Seated DB Bent Over Raises Tri set 3 sets x 10 – 15||Walking Lunge 4 x 22 metres||Reverse 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 3||Lying Triceps Extension s/s with E Z Bar Curls 4 x 8 – 12||Romanian Deadlift week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3||Cuban 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
|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 3||Steel 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 progressions||Box 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 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 single||Dips work up to a max set for 5 week 1, then 3 week 2 and finally a max for 1 in week 3||DB Hang Clean 6 sets x 2 reps||Trap 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 3||Plate Row 4 x 6 – 10 reps||Farmers Walk 4 x 22 metres||Chins 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 3||Seated One Arm DB Snatch, Upright Row, Cuban Press as a tri-set 10, 8, 6||Reverse Hyper 6 x 10||Floor 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 week||Triceps Press downs s/s with DB Hammer Curls 4 x 8 – 12||Sumo Deadlift week 1 – 4 x 8, week 2 – 4 x 6, week 3 – 2 x 5, 3 x 3||DB Scare Crow 4 x 10|
|Swiss Ball Sit Up & Throw Med Ball against wall 5 x 10||Russian 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.