Traditional fitness drills for the modern rugby player.

What Are Traditional Rugby Fitness Drills? 

Traditional rugby fitness drills are basic exercises anyone can do or use for coaching. Most of them are used by “old school” coaches however they do still have a place in building rugby fitness. A personal trainer might use them to take a few punters through the mill. 

Traditional rugby fitness drills can be used throughout the season but more commonly they are used when we are building our engines during pre-season. Below are two traditional rugby fitness drills that are most definitely my favorites. 


Traditional Rugby Fitness Drill Number 1 – “Hennie Muller”





This drill is simple yet effective, named after the South African great Hennie Muller. Some coaches may have slight variations, but this version works very well. This fitness drill starts at the corner of the try line. 

  • Sprint diagonally across the field to the opposite try line’s corner
  • Jog the length of the try line 
  • At the try line’s corner, sprint diagonally back across the field to the opposite try line’s corner
  • Jog the length of the try line 

Key points for this rugby fitness drill:

  • Players must make it around the corners without cheating
  • Maximal effort on the diagonal and no walking on the try line length

Coaches can choose how many repetitions the players perform; you could pre-set a number such as five in a row or build it as a punishment for poorly performing skill drills. For example, every time a ball is dropped or not caught, the group would perform a Hennie Muller. This most certainly assists with individual accountability and improve focus during training. 


Traditional Rugby Fitness Drill Number 2 – “Malcolms” 






Again, some coaches have slight variations with this exercise but here is one version for you to test out. 

Players start lying face down on the 50m line.

  • Players jump to their feet and run backwards/back pedal to the 40m line behind them
  • Complete a down and up on the 40m line
  • Run through forward facing to the other 40m line for another down and up
  • Back pedal to the 50m line again for another down and up

This is one Malcolm. Sets of five really get the heart pumping and legs burning if your players push themselves. 

Key points for this rugby fitness drill:

  • Players are performing this at maximal effort
  • When you have a large difference in the fittest person and the slowest person, make sure there is no cheating, and that everyone completes their five repetitions
  • Some players tend to forget how many they have done as they get tired and just stop when everyone else stops, even if they have been overtaken twice. Sometimes it is to avoid the embarrassment of being so slow. 


Zone Two Building 

After personally training for more endurance-style racing, I was introduced to “Zone Two” running. I believe it has a place in building rugby fitness during pre-season, to build a superior aerobic base. 

Rugby is not an endurance sport but having an aerobic base will help your players (i) recover faster from sprinting, (ii) think clearer and (iii) perform better. So why wouldn’t we look to at least test it? 

Zone two running was formulated to work out the different heart zones that correspond to exercise intensity. It is usually used by ultra-marathon and marathon runners but can also be used for general health and well-being in addition to other sports. In rugby we often spend large amounts of time in zone four and five. 

To work out your heart zone we must first find out our maximum heart rate. The easiest way to do this, without purchasing expert equipment, is to take 220 and subtract your age. Zone two is roughly around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. 

What does this mean? Running at around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate is a pace that seems easy – runners sometime refer to this as “a conversational pace”. This is where we get a lot of great adaptations in the body, and I would recommend a heart rate monitor if you wanted to test this out.


Mobility Rugby Fitness Drills 







After our players have developed a baseline for aerobic fitness it is important to combine our fitness elements with some sort of mobility work. It is often overlooked by younger players as the pressure to get bigger, get stronger and push more weights is identified as the key area for improvement. However, incorporating more mobility work into our training will help keep a player injury free and help them build muscle that is more effective in the game and not just look big. Our players need to be able to move in all directions. 

The beauty of rugby is that it requires all types of body types and optimizing movement across the ground is something we all need. You can find great mobility drills for rugby players from Pilates and programs for gymnastics. Yes, gymnastics! We can learn a lot from other sports and incorporate key themes into our own rugby training. 

As a coach, adding five to ten minutes of mobility and prehab exercises before training will pay off during the season. A simple way to add it in is to have your players work from the 50m line to 40m or any 10m area that can be marked out. Instruct the player to go through a series of movement-based exercises. This can be done as a warmup or part of the training session (as some players will find it tough). 

Movements range from the stiff bear, the ape, the worm, the lizard, the crab, the frog, the army crawl and the bear crawl. We should all be able to move as people first and as rugby players. Too often our players sit for long periods of time during work hours, only to have them pull a hamstring or hip flexor. 

These drills will strengthen players just as much as their weights sessions and help decrease the number of injuries throughout the session.

Learn More

10% OFF

Use your club’s code and save 10% every time you shop with us.