Can I train rugby alone? If so, what exercises should I do?

Rugby is a team sport – but, of course, you already know that! So, to be a successful rugby player, you need to train with your teammates regularly. Team training sessions are important for lots of reasons, including:

  • Developing individual and team skills
  • Learning and practicing set plays
  • Improving fitness
  • Building team spirit

Playing rugby means committing to at least one team practice per week, and probably more. Missing practices may mean your captain or team manager starts to think twice about selecting you to play.

But, given the current global COVID-19 situation and the fact that life sometimes just gets in the way and makes team practices are difficult to intend, ruggers need to be able to train on their own too.

After all, just because you can’t train with your teammates doesn’t mean you should let your hard-won rugby fitness and skill fall into decline.

Here are some solo training ideas for ruggers who can’t make it to team practice.

Hit the gym

Muscular strength, power, and endurance are all essential for successful rugby. The good news is that you can develop all of these fitness components on your own. Ruggers won’t benefit much from bodybuilding-type gym workouts. While bodybuilding IS good for increasing muscle size, it’s a lot less useful for improving athletic performance. Because of this, most ruggers should include the following exercises in their gym-based workouts:

  • Squats – front, back, overhead, goblet, Zercher, etc.
  • Deadlifts – conventional, sumo, Romanian, partial, etc.
  • Power cleans
  • Overhead presses – barbell, dumbbell, push-ups, etc.
  • Pull-ups/chin-ups
  • Bent over and seated rows
  • Bench presses – barbell, dumbbell, flat, incline, decline, etc.
  • Plyometrics
  • Medicine ball throws

Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. Check out these FREE readymade rugby strength training programs!



Build your fitness

Strength and power are nothing without fitness. Ruggers need to be fit enough to keep up with the flow of play. Lack of fitness could mean you get left behind, leaving a big hole in your team’s defenses. It is every rugger’s duty to work on their personal fitness, and this can and should be done on your own.

Effective workouts for building fitness include:

  • Steady-state running, swimming, cycling, or rowing
  • Circuit training
  • Interval training
  • Fartlek training
  • Rucking (hiking with a backpack or weighted vest)

Most ruggers should do 3-4 fitness sessions per week. If you can’t run at least a couple of miles without stopping, you probably need to work on your basic conditioning.

Try some sled training

Training on your own makes it hard to develop conditioning for scrums, mauls and tackling. But, if you can get hold of or make a sled, you have everything you need to work on these fitness attributes.

Pulling and pushing a sled use the same muscles as pulling or pushing the opposition. It also teaches you how to drive and adopt the most mechanically advantageous position for moving forward.

Pushing and pulling a sled is also a great form of low-impact conditioning. Because it is a concentric-only movement, you shouldn’t experience too much post-exercise muscle soreness, even if you work really hard.

No Sled? Make one by attaching a rope to an old SUV tire and attaching it to a weightlifting belt.

Read more about sled training in this article.

Work on your speed and agility

Whatever position you play in, you need to fast and agile. It doesn’t matter how big and strong you are, if you are nothing more than a lumbering hulk, you won’t be much better than a slow-moving battering ram on the field.

You can work on your speed and your agility on your own. All you need is some space to run and a few cones or poles to work on your changes of direction.

To develop your sprinting speed, you need to treat speed training like it’s your priority. Stop chasing fatigue and turning your sprint workouts into conditioning intervals. Instead, sprint flat out, recovery fully, and then go again. If you sprint while tired, you’ll just end up sprinting slower. Because of the law of exercise specificity, this will actually reduce rather than increase your speed.

Sprint over a range of distances, from 10-20 meters up to about 100 meters. Use the lines on a rugby pitch for guidance. Also, work on mid-sprint accelerations and declarations. For example, start off as fast as you can, ease off and cruise for 20-30 meters, then pick up the pace again.

You should also try starting some of your sprints from a prone or supine position on the floor. This will help replicate getting up and on the move after a tackle.

Agility is your ability to change direction fast. It’s no good being able to sprint at top speed in a straight line; you also need to get around the opposition. Turning forward momentum into lateral movement requires power and strength and a fair bit of skill too, but it’s also something you can train on your own.

Like sprinting, agility is best trained with quality rather than quantity – and you don’t need an agility ladder to develop it. In fact, agility ladders aren’t much use for ruggers as they don’t train the type of agility you need.

20-1-20 PROGRAM


Practice passing, catching and kicking

Just because you are on your own doesn’t mean you can’t practice the fundamental rugby skills of passing and kicking. All you need is a ball, a wall, and some space.

For passing, stand 5-10 meters away from a wall and practice passing to a predetermined mark on the wall. Because of the ball’s uneven shape, it will bounce off at different angles, and you should do your best to catch it on the run. Also, try hitting the mark while you are moving.  

The closer you are to the wall, the faster it will bounce back, and that will help develop your reaction times. Move further away from the wall to work on your passing accuracy. Practice passing from all directions and not just from your dominant side.

For kicking, just head out onto the field and put your boot to the ball. Practice standing kicks, kicks on the run, and also chasing high kicks. Even forwards should be able to kick – it’s always good to be able to surprise the opposition by doing something other than just run into them! If you are the goal kicker, you really must spend time working on that skill too – those extra few points can be the difference between winning and losing a game.

Become a student of the game

Prepare your mind for rugby as well as your body by spending your alone time watching classic rugby games on YouTube or reading up on the latest rule and regulation changes.

Becoming a rugby expert will have a positive effect on every aspect of your game, from inspiring you to keep training to teaching you new plays to making sure you don’t commit so many rule infringements and give away easy points.

Yes, rugby IS a very physical sport, but it’s also mentally demanding too. There is a lot to think about during a game, and cognition is often harder when you are tired or about to get clobbered by the opposition’s number eight!

Train your brain and your train your body to maximize your rugby performance.

Wrapping up

While it is not an ideal situation to find yourself in, you can still train for rugby if you are on your own. It will take motivation, willpower, and determination, but you’ll see the fruits of your labors when you play your first game and see that the opposition has not been doing their homework.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Don’t be your team’s liability. Instead, use your alone time productively so that, when you get back to playing, you are in the best shape possible.


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.