I can’t get to the gym, what training can I do in my garden?

Unless you are a professional rugby player, you will have to fit rugby training in around the rest of your life. Commitments like work, school, friends, and family can derail even your best rugby training intentions.

Team practices and training sessions are usually scheduled well in advance and are all-but compulsory if you want to stay on the team. That means you are much less likely to miss them.

In contrast, personal gym-based training is more flexible and that means it’s easy to procrastinate and put it off until tomorrow. And, of course, tomorrow never comes! Before you realize it, that gym-based strength or conditioning workout that you had planned ends up being bumped right out of your diary.  

Similarly, you might find that hitting the gym is just impractical. It might be the because your local gym is not very rugger-friendly, or the commute takes longer than your training session. Either way, missing the gym can have a big impact on your playing fitness, and that could mean you end up spending more time on the subs bench than you should.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Here are FIVE types of training that don’t need a gym and that can be done in your garden.

Before you start…

Whatever workout you are doing, make sure you prepare your body and mind by warming up properly. A thorough warm up will increase your core temperature, mobilize your joints, increase muscle flexibility, and get your head right for training.

There are lots of different ways to warm up, but most include these common elements:

  1. Pulse raiser – progressive cardio for 5-10 minutes
  2. Joint mobility – to increase synovial fluid production in your joints
  3. Dynamic flexibility – to increase range of motion of major muscles
  4. Muscle activation – exercises and drills designed to fire up your muscles and nervous system
  5. Preparatory sets – a couple of easy sets of your main exercises for practice

It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide you with a detailed warm-up to follow. It depends on your needs, the workout you are about to do, and even the temperature of your training surroundings. But, so long as you include these five warm-up elements, you’ll be golden.

1. Sledgehammer and tire

Part conditioning workout, part power and endurance workout, hitting a tire with a heavy sledgehammer is a great workout for ruggers. It’s a full body activity that also increases coordination. It’s also great fun to hit something and not get arrested for it!

You can source an old SUV tire from any tire dealer and they’ll probably give you one for free. Buy a sledgehammer from your local Home Depot for $20 or less. While you are there, pick up a pair of work gloves to prevent blistered hands.

Armed with your tire, hammer, and gloves, you can do several different workouts…

Tabatas: Hit the tire as hard as you can for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat eight to ten-times for a short but effective anaerobic conditioning workout.

Flips and smashes: Flip your tire 10 times, and then hit it with your hammer 20 times. Repeat for 10 sets resting 60 seconds between efforts.

Timed challenge: See how long it takes you to hit your tire 200 times. Stop and rest whenever you feel you are unable to hit the tire with maximal force.

Density challenge: See how many times you can hit your tire in a predetermined time e.g. 10 minutes. As before, stop and rest whenever you feel you are unable to hit the tire with maximal force.

Tire medley: Storm through the following series of exercises as fast as you can. On completion, rest for 60 seconds and repeat. Do three to five laps in total.

  • 10 tire flips
  • 15 hammer swings
  • 20 push-ups – feet on tire
  • 10 tire jumps – jump into the middle of your tire and out again. Turn and repeat
  • 20 push-ups – hands on tire
  • 15 hammer swings
  • 10 tire flips

2. Rock lifting

When it comes to strength training, lifting rocks is about as old-school as it gets. Lifting rocks is the perfect outdoor training activity and very rugby-specific. Training with heavy rocks will train your grip and lower back, and you’ll need to commit to each and every rep. After all, a missed rep in the gym is no big deal but miss a rep of overhead rock presses and your toes are in serious danger!

If you don’t have any suitable rocks in your garden, go out and find yourself one. Don’t worry about exactly how much your rock weighs; providing it’s moderately challenging to lift to your shoulders and press overhead it’s about right.

Once you have your rock, try the following exercises:

  • Power clean from the floor
  • Power clean from hang
  • Strict press
  • Push press
  • Jerks
  • Power clean and strict press/push press/jerk
  • Hang clean and strict press/push press/jerk
  • Bent over row
  • Floor press
  • Front squat
  • Zercher squat
  • Sumo deadlift
  • Romanian deadlift

For sets and reps, do 3-5 sets of as many reps as it takes you to reach Rating of Perceived Exertion or RPE 8/9. That means you have just a couple of reps left in the tank, and your movement speed noticeably decreases. Rest 60-90 seconds and then do your next set. Don’t worry if you end up doing fewer reps on subsequent sets; just make sure you hit the same RPE.

If you don’t want to risk dropping a rock on your head during your workout, consider the next best thing – a sandbag. Just get an old army-type duffel bag and fill it with several smaller 5 to 10-pound sandbags. That way you can adjust the weight of your training sandbag quickly and easily.



3. Bodyweight and gymnastic-type training

Bodyweight exercises and gymnastic-type training are perfect for garden-based training. Grab an exercise mat or a folded towel for comfort and get to work. You can use bodyweight and gymnastic-type training to develop strength, power, endurance, or cardiovascular fitness. It all depends on how you use them.

Check out the links for details on these types of training plus sample workouts.

4. Jump rope

Jumping rope is one of the best no-frills conditioning exercises around. As a rugger, you should be doing a reasonable amount of running for fitness, but a jump rope means you can get a great workout on your patio.

For the best jump rope experience, get yourself a decent jump rope. A vinyl speed rope is idea as it’s both cheap and hardwearing. Or you could get a steel wire heavy rope which is more expensive but presents a greater fitness challenge.

Make sure your rope is the right length; when you stand on the middle, the handles should just reach your armpits. If your rope is too long, tie knots in it to shorten it. If your rope is too short, discard it and get a new one as it will just ruin your jump rope experience!

Workouts to try include:

  • Boxing interval rounds – jump rope briskly for 3 minutes, rest for 60 seconds
  • Tabatas – jump rope as fast as you can for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 8-10 times
  • 30/30 intervals – jump rope as fast as you can for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds
  • Double unders – do as many double unders as you can (two turns of the rope per jump). Rest to catch your breath and repeat
  • Jump rope/burpee pyramid – 100 jump rope turns, 10 burpees, 90 jump rope turns, 9 burpees, 80 jump rope turns, 8 burpees

5. Broken hundreds

Unless your garden is HUGE, you probably don’t have space to sprint long distances. Don’t worry; this workout only requires 20 yards of space.

Place markers five markers five yards apart as shown below:


From 0, sprint out to the five-yard marker and then back. Immediately turn and sprint out to the ten-yard marker and back. Next, sprint out to the 15-yard marker and back before finally running out to the 20-yard marker and back. Congratulations, you have just sprinted 100 yards. Rest a moment and repeat.

As well as being a good cardio conditioning drill, this workout will improve your starting, stopping and turning ability. Not bad for a workout you can do in your garden!

Necessity is the mother of invention and training in your garden may mean you have to invent some in innovative workouts to develop your fitness and strength for rugby. However, just because you train at home does not mean your fitness or strength will suffer. With imagination and dedication, you can be every bit as well-prepared as your gym-dwelling teammates.


Patrick Dale

Patrick Dale

Pat is an ex-Royal Marine and owner at fitness qualifications company Solar Fitness Qualifications Ltd. Pat has authored three exercise books and thousands of articles. Pat has competed at a high level in several sports including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing and powerlifting.