Lineouts used to be straightforward affairs. The hooker threw the ball in the general direction of one of the taller players who jumped and hopefully caught the ball to win possession. The taller the player, and the higher they could jump, the more chance they had of catching the ball or tipping it down to the scrumhalf.
But, since the 1990s, lifting has been part of the game, and lineouts have become much more complicated. Teams have gone from having just a few lineout plays to dozens. Lifting allows players to secure much higher thrown balls, and jumpers also act as diversions to disguise the thrower’s real target. Attackers and defenders lift during the lineout, and often more than one player per side is raised.
This means that all the forwards play a crucial role in lineouts, both as potential jumpers and lifters. The best way to get good at lifting is to practice, practice, and practice some more. However, you can work on the physical aspects of lineout lifting in the gym.
All ruggers should do overhead lifts but forwards should prioritize variations of the shoulder press so that they can provide an effective assist to their jumpers. Increasing overhead strength and power will translate to a faster, higher lift.
However, lineout lifting requires more than just shoulder strength, which is the target muscle group in all overhead pressing exercises. A good lift starts with a powerful leg drive, making lineout lifting a full-body activity.
Here are our five favorite strength exercises for a better lineout lift, listed in order of difficulty and specificity.
Also known as a military press, this is the exercise ruggers need to master before moving on to more advanced overhead lifts. The standing barbell press teaches and reinforces proper pressing mechanics, and the lack of leg drive means you will have to learn to use your upper body properly.
The push press is a more lineout-specific exercise because it combines a powerful leg drive with an overhead lift. Because it involves more coordination, ruggers should master the basic overhead press before moving on to this lift.
The thruster is a push-press with a more pronounced squat at the start. This closely replicates the technique required for effective and safe lineout lifting as lifts usually start from a deep squat position.
The Z-press might seem like a regression because it’s performed seated, but it’s actually a more advanced overhead pressing exercise because it involves so much more core activation. Also, by eliminating your legs, it allows you to focus exclusively on your upper body strength. Most ruggers get more than enough leg strength training from squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc.
This is an excellent lifting exercise for pairs of players. It’s a decent simulation for lineout lifting that teaches players to work together. It’s not really a strength builder, but it’s definitely a functional rugby exercise.
Rugby lineout lifts are single-rep efforts. Although you may do a dozen or more lifts in a game, you won’t do them back to back without rest. Replicate this in the gym by doing sets of low reps, interspersed with long rests, and using moderate to heavy loads. That way, you can focus on speed and acceleration – crucial ingredients for successful lineout lifting.
Eight sets of three reps, resting 2-3 minutes between sets, is an excellent place to start, and ten sets of two reps will also work well. Regarding weight, once you are warmed up, you should train with near maximal weights. After all, you need to prepare your body for the demands of lifting one of your teammates. This is not a time to train with light loads.
However, you should avoid going so heavy that you have to grind out the reps. If you train slow, you’ll get slow. Experiment to find the heaviest weight you can use but still lift quickly. Terminate the set if you notice that bar speed is decreasing.
Work on your overhead pressing strength 1-2 times per week. If it’s a weakens of yours, prioritize overhead strength over horizontal pressing exercises like the bench press until it is no longer your Achilles heel.
Effective lifting in the lineout is not just important tactically. It’s also essential for the jumper’s safety, who has very little control when they are in the air. It’s up to the lifters to make sure they not only lift the jumper high, but keep them upright and stable, and then lower them safely back down too. Building a solid foundation of strength and power in the gym will help increase your lineout lifting performance, and your jumper will appreciate your time and dedication.