Specialised Functional Training for Rugby

August 21, 2017

Functional training is a trending topic within the fitness industry at this time. Defined as ‘training that attempts to mimic the specific physiological demands of real life activities’ or for us enthusiasts – the demands of playing a tough game of rugby.

Functional strength and fitness training will improve agility, strength, flexibility and decrease the risk of injury by suitably preparing the muscles for the demands of the game.

By functionally training means, every exercise relates in some way to the sport of rugby, for example a compound movement such as mid stance squat can be applied to the movement of driving through a tackle, but on the other hand isolated movements such as bicep curls bear no resemblance to the sport of rugby. This doesn’t mean that you should never practice these movements to increase strength in that area, but focus should go on the more compound and relevant movement patterns.

For the sake of this article we will discuss a general rugby specific workout rather than positional focused workout.

Agility Runs

Ideal for every position in the game. Every player needs to have quick feet, be fast off the mark and be able to change position at speed with good execution. Agility ladders, agility run tests and other methods are key to developing the speed, agility and quickness that rugby players need to be successful in reaching the try line or nimbly dodging a solid defence – doing this whilst minimising risk of injuries.

Mid Stance Squats

Think of driving through the ruck, maul or even the scrum. The transfer of explosive power through the whole legs, hips and core is vital in achieving this.

Barbell Deadlift

Again, very similar to the above in terms of the development around the core, hips and legs, adding strength to the whole of the back in the process. There really is no exercise that is as effective in full body strength, power and injury reduction if performed correctly. Best example for the deadlift – the power of the scrum!

Power Cleans

Perfect for full body explosive power and developing coordination. This is great for piling through the tackles on both sides of the ball or coordinating the body for the lineouts.

Press Up to Core Twists 

Increase upper body strength and develop a solid core whilst improving stabilisation around the scapula! There aren’t many exercises better than an adaption to one of the most basic moves in the fitness encyclopaedia. This move is a great addition to any players routine, and can be useful in fending off tackles and also for injury prevention in the shoulders.

Kettlebell Swings

Build full body strength, coordination and power though the hips and thighs, and get the heart and lungs firing to build stamina of a warrior.

Barbell Overhead Squats

Focus on this move is core strength, stabilisation of the shoulders, range of motion and flexibility. It will also build strength around the legs and hips; perfect for the world of rugby in particular the lifters in the lineout.

Dumbbell Arnold Presses

Made famous by the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, this move hits all parts of the deltoids (shoulders) while also powering up the triceps. Again think fending off the tackle or lifting in the lineout

Try the following workout and allow 75-90 minutes in order to complete fully, or if you are short of time break it down into shorter workouts to complete over the course of the week. I’ve mixed in some light, isolation exercises for a short ‘active recovery’ set within the workout.

Complete a suitable warm up of a short 3-4 minute pulse raiser followed by a light set of deadlifts, cleans and presses to warm up the muscles. Warm up should total 6-8 minutes.


Mid stance squats – 3 sets 8-12 reps

Dumbbell bicep curls – 1 set 20 reps

Barbell deadlifts – 3 sets 8-12 reps

Tricep cable pushdowns – 1 set 20 reps

Power cleans – 3 sets 8-12 reps

Leg extensions – 1 set 20 reps

Press ups to core twists – 3 sets 20 reps (10 to each side)

Lying leg curls – 1 set 20 reps

Barbell overhead squats – 3 sets 8-12 reps

Light later to front raises – 1 set 20 reps

Standing Arnold presses – 3 sets 8-12 reps

Finish with a set of 25-30 reps 2 hand kettlebell swings

Follow the workout with an 8-10 minute gradual cool down and static stretch routine.


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