Strength is crucial for successful rugby. Rucking, mauling, scrummaging, and fighting for possession of the ball all require strength, and lots of it. In many instances, especially in player-on-player situations, the stronger you are, the better. However, rugby is not just about strength alone.
A lot of rugby players hit the weights to improve their performance, and while that commitment and effort should be applauded, many mistakenly follow programs that are not rugby-specific, training like bodybuilders rather than the athletes they are.
It’s one thing to be big and strong, but rugby players also need lots of muscular endurance and another muscular fitness component – power.
No matter what power exercises you include in your workout program, follow these guidelines to make them as effective as possible.
There are hundreds of exercises that can help increase your power for rugby. Rather than provide you with a long list, in this section we’ll examine the most common power training methods, providing you with appropriate example exercises.
Olympic lifting should really be called powerlifting, and powerlifting could be called strength lifting. This is because the Olympic lifts involve lifting heavy weights very quickly, which is the very definition of power, whereas powerlifting involves lifting very heavy weights slowly – the definition of strength.
Semantics aside, the Olympic lifts are a proven method for developing power. After all, the most effective way to lift a weight from the floor to your shoulders or overhead is do it quickly.
The main disadvantage of the Olympic lifts is that they can be hard to learn. The best way to learn the Olympic lifts is under the tutelage of an experienced coach as improper form can soon lead to injury.
Luckily, there are some simple variations of the Olympic lifts that are easier to learn and more accessible.
Plyometric exercises involve a rapid loading or stretch phase, followed by a rapid contraction. This trains something called the stretch shortening cycle or myotatic reflex. In simple terms, the faster you load and stretch a muscle, the harder and faster it contracts, a bit like rapidly compressed spring. That’s why you can jump higher if you rapidly bend your knees first, but won’t be able to jump as high if you squat slowly and then hold it before jumping.
If you do this type of training often enough, you can increase the amount of power you can produce voluntarily. They’re a central part of the power leg workout we outlined last year. Plyometric exercises often involve jumping, but can also include medicine ball exercises.
With all plyometric exercises, the aim should always be to turn the eccentric or stretching/loading phase into the concentric/lifting phase as quickly as possible. For example, when doing squat jumps, you don’t squat down, pause, and then leap. Instead, on landing, you try and spring into your next jump as quickly as possible.
The dynamic effort or DE method is a good way to develop power in a regular gym environment. It uses the exercises that most ruggers are familiar with and turns them into power exercises.
For the DE method, load up your barbell with around 50-60% of your one repetition maximum. This will feel quite light. Then do two to three reps, lowering the weight under control, but lifting it as fast as you can. Rest 1-2 minutes and then repeat. Do six to ten sets in total.
The DE method works really well with squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and overhead presses, but could be applied to almost all free-weight exercises. As with all power exercises, your intention must be to move the weight as fast as possible, and you should terminate your set and workout when bar speed starts to decline.
With this method, strength and power exercises are combined so that you can a) train multiple muscle fitness components at the same time and b) increase your performance in both types of training.
For strength and power complexes, you perform a heavy set of an exercise using around 90% of your 1RM. After a 3 to 5-minute rest, you then perform a power exercise using a similar movement pattern. Because of something called post-activation potentiation, or PAP for short, you’ll be able to generate more force in the power exercise than normal. The power exercise will further excite your nervous system so that you can then, after another 2-3 minutes rest, perform better in the strength exercise.
This is an excellent training method for ruggers who have limited time for training.
No matter what position you play, power training will improve your performance. Ideally done in the late in the off-season and early pre-season, and after establishing a solid base of general strength, power training will make you more complete and effective player.