How to work out the day before a rugby match

While it might be tempting, the last thing you should do during the days leading up to a big rugby match is take a complete break from training. While you’ll undeniably save energy, extended periods of inactivity will leave you feeling sluggish on game day.

However, any training you do must not be too lengthy or intense. Otherwise, you run the risk of feeling fatigued which is not something you want when facing the opposition at kick-off time.

It takes anywhere between 48-96 hours to recover from an intense workout so, if you are playing a match on Saturday, your last hard workout should be no later than Wednesday. Any subsequent workouts should be designed to put energy into your body + not take it out.

So, what should you do the day before a rugby match? Here are a few ideas!

1. Go through your usual rugby warm-up and cool-down

Most rugby players have a well-rehearsed warm-up and cool-down routine that they’ve been using for years. It’s familiar and comfortable – like a well-worn pair of rugby boots. Anchoring you on familiar ground, running through your warm-up and cool-down the day before a match can help keep you loose and limber without robbing you of valuable energy.

While you could stop here, you might want to consider including any of the following in your pre-match preparations.

2. Skills training

Once you are warm and ready to go, some light skills training can help sharpen your body and mind. Passing and maybe goal kicking should be the order of the day – this is NOT the time for full-contact practice! Keep your movements slow and easy and focus more on quality than quantity. If you do this as a team, make sure you keep a lid on your enthusiasm to avoid turning what should be a light practice into a draining training session. Stop well before fatigue sets in.

3. Run it out…

Another effective way to make sure your legs feel strong on game day is to do some submaximal sprints. This is an excellent solution for players who find themselves alone the day before a match. Submaximal sprints provide your muscles with a dynamic stretch and the opportunity to practice your footwork.

Follow these rules to get the most from submaximal sprints:

  • Warm up thoroughly beforehand
  • Start at 40-50% of maximal effort
  • Do not exceed 70-80% maximal effort
  • Keep your sprints to 40-meters or less
  • Focus on your technique
  • Take long rests between sprints
  • Limit yourself to no more than 8-10 sprints in total
  • Cool down and stretch afterward, paying particular attention your hamstrings, calves, and quads



4. Go for a swim

Non-weight bearing and non-impact, swimming is much easier on your body than running. Swimming uses all your major muscles and joints which makes it a good way to wash away the cobwebs – pun intended – before a rugby match. Don’t turn what is supposed to be an easy workout into a marathon; 400-800 meters should be your limit. Use a mixture of strokes to make sure you work your muscles and joints from a variety of angles.

5. Get explosive

Some research suggests that doing a short power training workout 24-48 hours before a match may enhance power and speed. (1) In the study, athletes performed five sets of four repetitions in the barbell jump-squat at 40% of their one repetition maximum (1RM), with three minutes rest between sets.

Results revealed an average improvement of 5.1% at 24 hours and 3% in vertical jump performance – a standard test for lower body power. Additionally, the rate of force development increased from 9.7 – 18.3 % for the following 24 hours but returned to normal by 48 hours.

For this kind of “priming” workout to be effective, intensity should be high – in terms of the amount of effort – but volume is kept very low. This should produce a post-activation potentiation (PAP) effect which enhances neuromuscular performance.

While the study used barbell squat jumps as the potentiator, there is no reason to think that bodyweight squat or standing long jumps would be any less useful. As rugby is a full body activity, it makes sense to also use the same approach for the upper body – plyometric push-ups would be an effective exercise. Try this bodyweight-only PAP protocol:

  • 5 vertical squat jumps or standing long jumps
  • Rest 1 minute
  • 5 plyometric push-ups – hands on an exercise bench 
  • Rest 1 minute 
  • Repeat for five sets in total

Because this approach may not work for everyone – and the last thing you want is to feel fatigued on game day – first try this strategy before a training session or a practice/friendly match.

6. SAQ circuit

SAQ stands for speed, agility, and quickness. Most rugby players include this type of training in their workouts already but, as well as improving performance; it’s a good way to blow away any sluggishness before game day.

Just choose 6-10 SAQ exercises and do them as a relaxed circuit. In other words, don’t rush between exercises but, instead, go through the motions and enjoy each exercise for its potentiating effect. For example:

  • 15-meters high knees skipping 
  • 15-meters butt-kickers 
  • 15-meters fast feet 
  • 15-meters side shuffles 
  • 15-meters carioca
  • 15-meters backward running 
  • 15-meters alternating foot-to-hand forward kicks 
  • 15-meters walking Lunges

A couple of laps of the circuit, with 2-3 minutes between each one, should leave you feeling ready for tomorrow’s big game.

7. Self-myofascial release

Self-myofascial release, SMR for short, is a fancy term for foam rolling which, in turn, is a type of massage. Your muscles are made up of bundles and bundles of parallel fibers, and those bundles are enclosed in fibrous tissue called fascia. Hard training, static posture, and not enough stretching can leave your fascia “gummy” so that the muscles contained are unable to move freely. This reduces performance and could increase your risk of injury.

Just like a good sports massage, a session of SMR can help free your fascia and prepare your muscles for tomorrow’s match. Ideally, you should be foam rolling on a regular basis already but, if this therapy is new to you, make sure you start light and keep your sessions brief to avoid making your muscles sore.

Learn more about SMR here:

A 20-minute SMR routine to try here:

8. The 50-50 workout

This workout will help prepare your body for your upcoming rugby match. It will also boost your confidence because you are going to leave the gym feeling stronger than when you went in. 50-50 refers to 50% weight, 50% volume – a rule you are going to apply to whatever workout you are going to perform. A full-body strength training workout works best, but you could also perform either your upper body or lower body workout if preferred.

If, for example, you normally do 12 reps with 120 kg, on 50-50 day, you are going to do six reps with 60 kg instead. You can even add an extra 50 by doing only half the number of sets too – say two sets instead of your usual four. Each rep should be performed with perfect technique. Lower the bar under control and then explode it back up for maximal PAP-effect.

Whatever you choose to do before a rugby match, it’s crucial that you don’t do nothing! However, it’s also important that whatever you do ensures you can give your best on game day. Experiment with different strategies during training to see which ones works best for you. Also, make sure you are properly fueled up and have had an adequate sleep during the lead up to your game.


Tim Howard

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.