If you play rugby, you need to train for rugby – that’s how you boost your playing performance to become a better, more successful rugby player. You need to include cardio, strength, power, speed, agility, flexibility, core, and skill training in your workouts to ensure you are “rugby fit.”

This is the very essence of specificity – the exercise principle that is the backbone of any successful training program.

Most of your rugby training should be quite general as, irrespective of your playing position, the demands of rugby are very similar for all of the players on the pitch. After all, no matter what position you play in, you need be able to run, tackle, pass and catch for the duration of a game. For that reason, a number eight’s training program shares many similarities with that of a fullback.

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Background

However, while it’s true that every player is exposed to many similar playing situations and physical demands, there are also noteworthy differences between what a forward has to do during a game compared to a back.

These demands need to be addressed in training which means that while all rugby programs should include general training elements, they should also address the specific demands of your playing position.

If you think of rugby training as a pyramid made of several layers, the base and middle of the pyramid is general rugby training, while the top of the pyramid is your position-specific training. You might not spend a lot of time working on position-specific training, but it’s the icing on the cake that will take your performance to new heights – literally if you are a lineout jumper!  

Remember though, to build a high pyramid, you need a broad and stable base so position-specific training should always be built on a solid foundation of general training. It’s no good doing loads of position-specific training if your general strength and fitness are below par. Your nutrition also needs to be dialled in – especially for maximizing training performance and supercharging your recovery. See our supplements and stacks pages for more on rugby-focused nutrition. 

Let’s get specific

To create a position-specific training program, you need to consider the unique demands of your role during a rugby game. For example:

  1. List the movements or skills exemplified by top-class players in your position
  2. What are the fitness components that underpin those movements or skills?
  3. What type of training will best address those fitness components?
  4. What exercises should you include to improve those movements or skills?

With these questions in mind, we have created this simple guide to the skills and training requirements of each playing position.

The front row

Key skills: Front row forwards have to be strong – arguably the strongest players on the pitch. They need to be able to generate huge amounts of dynamic force in the scrum, and also need lots of static strength too. If you are also a lineout lifter, you need plenty of overhead strength too. Hookers also need to be able to throw accurately to secure possession from lineouts.

Key physical characteristics: Maximal strength, explosive power, static strength, core strength, accurate ball throwing (hookers only).

Key exercises: Squat and deadlift variations, good mornings, clean and press, push press, thrusters, bench press variations, sled-work, direct neck work.

The second row

Key skills: Second-row players need to have a good vertical jump in the lineout to secure possession, and also provide a lot of forward-drive in the scrum. As occasional ball carriers, they also need speed and agility. Neck strength is also very beneficial, as is vertical pushing and pulling strength in the scum, and also in mauls and rucks.  

Key physical characteristics: Power, reactive speed, agility, static strength, dynamic strength, core strength.

Key exercises: Squat jumps and other plyometric exercises, exercises for jumping power, thrusters, Olympic lifting, sled-work, resisted sprinting over short distances.  

The back row

Key skills: Players in the back row are often used as human battering rams to break through the gain line. They also form a formidable defence and play a crucial role in scrums and lineouts, often linking with the backs. Other key skills include mauling, rucking and carrying the ball over short distances. As ball carriers, they need to be more than just powerful and strong, they also need to be skilled too.

Key physical characteristics: Dynamic and static strength, power, speed.

Key exercises: Leg workouts including Squat and deadlift variations, sled work, plyometrics and Olympic lifts, medicine ball throws, wrestling exercises to simulate mauls and rucks.

The halfbacks

Key skills: Halfbacks need explosive speed over short distances – for both offensive and defensive play. They also need good kicking skills. Unlike back row players, halfbacks tend to pass or kick rather than carry the ball onward to score. They often have to play in support of the centres and wingers, so they need to be able to maintain their speed or they could end up losing touch during a fast-paced attack.

Physical characteristics: Speed over short distances, kicking power and accuracy, acceleration, agility, and reactive strength.

Key exercises: Sled work, plyometrics, vertical and horizontal medicine ball throws, hanging leg raises to develop abs and hip flexors for kicking.

The centres

Key skills: Centers need to be tackling demons who can also break the gain line and provide support to the wingers when they are off on a run for try-scoring glory. Speed, balance and agility are the name of the game, and plenty of strength will help them make and break tackles more effectively. They also need to develop great reaction speed, so they can get into position quickly, covering midfield attacks and kicks from the opposition.

Key physical characteristics: Power, speed, reactive strength, agility.

Key exercises: Vertical and horizontal medicine ball throws and jumps, lateral plyometric exercises, sled-work, resisted sprints.

The back three

Key skills: The back three need to be masters of evasive running, defending against high, probing balls, and returning kicks back into the opposition’s territory. They also need to be fast, so they can make the most of the ground gained from long kicks. Of all the players on a rugby pitch, the back three are the ones most likely to score. 

Because they often have lots of space to run, they need to be quick over not only short distances but, potentially, the entire length of the pitch. However, they need more than straight-line speed; they also need to be highly agile and maneuverable. Strength could help them break away from tackles to secure a try.

Key physical characteristics: Speed, power, reactive strength, strength, agility.

Key exercises: Olympic lifts, lateral plyometric exercises, horizontal jumps and medicine ball throws, sprints over both short and longer distances.

Conclusion

Always consider your position when designing your rugby training program. General training will provide a lot of the performance benefits you want, but if you really want to excel you should also make sure your workouts reflect the unique demands of your position. After all, the demands of playing prop and on the wing are hugely different, so it only makes sense that the players in these positions should also train differently if they want to reach the top of their game.

AUTHOR

Tim Howard

Tim is one of the founders at Ruck Science who settled in Austin, TX after playing rugby all over the world for the past two decades. He's constantly used as a guinea pig for our most advanced or controversial diet and training experiments.