Two keys for continued progression in the gym and on the rugby pitch

Playing and training for rugby is hard. You will have to commit a lot of time, effort, and energy if you want to be successful. You’ll also have to embrace the physicality of the game, accepting that you will have to suffer some bumps, bruises, and knocks for your love of rugby. This ain’t soccer you know!

But, despite putting in plenty of time and effort, a lot of ruggers find that their progress both on the pitch and in the gym grinds to a halt. This is often referred to as a plateau or a rut. There is nothing worse than putting in hours at the gym and on the training pitch only to see your performance stall.

It’s like a banker investing money and getting a negative return. Loss of performance could soon turn to disillusionment and, frustrated with your lack of progress, you might be tempted to hang up your boots and become an ex-rugger.

However, training and playing plateaus are not inevitable. Age might mean your progress is somewhat slower – young bodies adapt better to training than older ones – but, with a couple of training adjustments, you should be able to bust out of your current performance rut and start seeing the progress you want.

Keep yourself out of a rut by implementing these tried-and-tested strategies.

Train above the intensity of the game

The military have a saying: train hard, fight easy. The basic idea is to make sure that, no matter how tough the enemy are, or how gruelling the combat environment is, you have faced worse in training. This not only build physical strength but mental strength and confidence too.

Applying this strategy to your own rugby-specific workouts is simple – turn training intensity up to 11!

The harder you work in training, the better you’ll be able to perform on the pitch. This overreaching means that you’ll always be prepared for the demands of competitive rugby.

So, how do you do this? Here are a few guidelines:

  • For power exercises like cleans and jumps, complete each rep at maximum velocity. Stop your set the moment you start to slow down
  • Lift progressively heavier loads to develop greater strength, working mostly in the 3-5 rep range
  • Do training sessions that are longer than a rugby match to build a cardiovascular “cushion” so you know you can keep playing hard – even into extra time

Analyse the demands of rugby and make sure your training exceeds these demands. Apply this rule to training intensity, load, and volume. Go the extra mile – sometimes literally!

Of course, you can’t go all-out every training session and expect to make progress. You’ll soon burn out and become exhausted – even with a top-quality pre-workout supplement like Pre-Game.

Instead use periodisation to combine training peaks with periods of less intense (but still demanding) training so you can continue making progress for as long as possible. For example:

  • Week 1 – moderate intensity/low volume
  • Week 2 – moderate intensity/moderate volume
  • Week 3 – moderate intensity/high volume
  • Week 4 – high intensity/low volume
  • Week 5 – high intently/moderate volume
  • Week 6 – high intensity/high volume
  • Week 7 – deload/active recovery
  • Week 8 – start over but at slightly higher intensity

The main thing to remember is that gradually increasing overload is key to making progress. Ultimately, your body doesn’t want to waste its valuable resources getting stronger or fitter, and would much rather be weak and soft.

To forge a body fit for rugby, your training needs to a) specific to the demands of the game, b) increase gradually to keep driving your strength and fitness levels up, and c) include periods of recovery so your body can adapt to the demands of your workouts.

If you need help planning your workouts, make sure you check out one of our FREE training plans.



Train below the intensity of the game

The previous section might make you think training below the demands of rugby is nothing but a waste of time, and lot of trainers and coaches also think this is the case. You are sure to have heard training sayings like:

  • No pain, no gain
  • If the bar ain’t bending, you’re just pretending
  • Go heavy, or go home

And while there is undeniably a place in your workouts for training to the max, there are times when it may be beneficial and even necessary to calm things down and train below game intensity.

For starters, lower intensity training can help develop the components of fitness that high intensity training does not effect. For example, sprint intervals have minimal impact on cardiovascular fitness, lung capacity, and cardiac output. And whoever heard of high-intensity stretching?!

Easier, slower-paced workouts definitely have a place in your training; you can’t go eyeballs out all the time – at least, not for long.

It’s also important to remember that successful rugby is as much a product of skill as it is fitness and strength. It’s no good being the biggest, fittest player on the pitch if you can’t play proficiently.

The best way to acquire a new skill and hone existing ones is in low-stress situations. Trying to learn or practice skills whilst under high amounts of physiological stress is all-but pointless. All that will happen is you’ll make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes will become habits that are heard to break.

The saying that practice makes perfect is only half true; perfect practice makes perfect. That means learning and practicing skills the right way from the very outset, and taking things a little easier to allow those skills to become something you can do without thinking.

Good examples of this include practicing passing and kicking unopposed, and while physically and mentally fresh.

As your mastery improves and you can perform your chosen skills under low-stress conditions, it’s then time to turn up the heat and work toward replicating those skills under high pressure situations.

To put this into context, imagine trying to learn to ride a bike without training wheels, on a busy road, and under race conditions, while your dad bellows endlessly in your ear. It’s very unlikely you’ll be successful!

However, find a quiet road, put on those training wheels, and without the pressure of competition, you’ll soon learn how to keep your new bike shiny side up. Then, as your confidence and skills increase, you can remove those training wheels, move onto roads with more traffic, and even start to build up speed. Tour de France here we come!

Low intensity training that falls below the demands of rugby provides active recovery, allows for the acquisition and practice of key rugby skills, and will help improve the components of fitness not addressed by higher intensity training. In short, it’s very bit as important as higher intensity training.

What about training at the same intensity of the game?

As a rule, very little of your training should be done at game intensity. Why? Because it’s not high enough to illicit the training response you want, but it’s too high for the acquisition and practice of new skills. Friendly matches, for example, are fun and provide a good way to blow off the cobwebs before the real season starts, but will have minimal impact on performance.

Putting it all together

Your training should be built around workouts that are above and below the intensity of playing in a rugby match, with relatively few workouts in the middle ground. Which type of training is best for you depends on your current level of fitness, ability to recover, your experience, and your priorities. Make sure you customize your training program according to your unique needs, and fuel your progress with the best recovery stack around – Ruck Recovery Pro.


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Training Team

We are building the most comprehensive library of training materials for amateur and pro rugby players. With protocols for hitting training goals including power, agility and strength. Our team consists of elite-level trainers from rugby, S&C, powerlifting and performance nutrition backgrounds.