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  • Writer's pictureJason St Clair Newman

Rugby Off-Season Training - Part 3

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Basic Strength and Into Pre-Season

In parts one and two, I touched on things to think about when approaching the rugby off-season and then laying that foundation for the next training phase.

As I move a player on to the next phase I want to make sure they have been consistent in their training (consistency of training is a key indicator of future performance - Turn up!).

If they have, we will move up to building basic strength and onwards from there.

If they haven't I may spend more time in the foundational phase, after all, you cant build a house on weak foundations.

So what does this next phase look like?

Basic Strength Phase

In this phase of training, I want to think about building on their current strength levels and also ensure there is a thread of other physical work going on as well.

What do I mean by a thread?

During this phase, while the focus will generally be on getting stronger, I want to make sure they are still doing other elements of preparation that are important to their sport so the body "doesn't forget about these". Several times I have seen especially youth athletes doing too much strength work and they look very heavy when they run like they have lost their spring.

We don't want this - so weaved/threaded through the programme will always be elements of physical demands of their sport for example...

Explosive and Speed work.

Although they won't be as heavily emphasised - which will normally be represented by much lower volumes, I want them to still be a part of the programme.

It's important to note here, that there are many different ways of training through this phase that will give you results, this is just my way of doing it.

Now how does the "strength phase" look across age groups?

From early youth into middle-late teens and adults in general even at amateur levels, most rugby players recognise that being stronger helps on the field and will have either started or are about to start a programme based around this.

For youth players, it may still be bodyweight work, or if they are capable, using added resistance, whether this is through Dumbbells, Barbells or Kettlebells for example.

When looking at the younger levels and through the teens, one of the best quotes I have heard is from sports scientist JB Morin that went something like...

Youth athletes are like a full tube of toothpaste you can squeeze anywhere and you will get something out

JB is alluding to that through these formidable years, you can pretty much do many different forms of training and rep and set schemes, whether 1 x 20, 2 x 10, 3 x 8, or 5 x 5 and get better. Why? Quite simply as they have not been exposed in the same way as an experienced lifter, there is a large learning curve where neural adaptation to the training (the ability to recruit the muscle) becomes more grooved and they can recruit more of their muscle as they consistently train. Also to their advantage, muscle-building hormonal levels are circulating at high levels (Testosterone and Growth Hormone) which helps contribute to the development of lean muscle mass.

This combination of the two leads to excellent strength gains if training is consistent and done well. A classic example of this is seeing strength almost increasing almost exponentially when they start training for the first time as the muscles are exposed to the movements the brain recruits more of the muscle fibres in the working muscles.

If I were to put this simply it's like adding more people to your side of the tug of war rope, the more you add the stronger your pull is in that direction.

SIDE NOTE: Don't do anything stupid that breaks you, you can't play if you are on the sidelines injured! trying to lift maximal weights to the point of failure through youth years, in my books isn't needed I wouldn't even suggest it is needed later on either.

I feel it's a myth you need to train to failure to get results.

As players get older and have more years of lifting under their belts programmes and ideas may change a little, but I generally haven't seen this at amateur levels, most (not all) players haven't hit the ceiling on their strength potential.

The types of programmes can vary, as I mentioned there are lots of different versions out there. One example of a great programme to follow that I have used and still use is the

Bigger, Faster Stronger programme. (Don't mix this up with the movie with a similar title called Bigger, Stronger, Faster).

As a general programme from Youth through to Adults, this covers a lot of ground.

I may change parts of it up to include different exercises depending on the athlete's needs, and utilise different jump work, stretches etc, but as a guideline outside of an individualised plan, the authors have written a great strength and power programme that works well.

You can even follow this through Pre-season adjusting it around your rugby training.

My advice is always, to make sure you allow enough rest between sessions to make sure you recover and aren't going into rugby pre-season sessions in a fatigued state which can increase your risk for injury.

Dan John at Dan John University also is an excellent coach to look at, he has thousands of videos on training and gives excellent advice from my point of view.

Is it all just lifting?

In short no

While the emphasis is on getting stronger during this phase I want to also start addressing speed, and will look to include at least two-speed sessions a week for serious players.

This will normally be focused around acceleration in one session and more top-end speed in the other.

Within these sessions, I will have some plyometric work (based on the player's capability and strength) as well and those exercises will also be different depending on the session itself - so more acceleration style plyometrics like jumps and more max speed style plyometrics like bounds in each respective session.

A typical session might look something like this


Active RAMP warm-up

1-3 Plyometric exercises

4-8 Accelerations over a short distance

Max Speed

Active Ramp warm-up

1-3 Plyometric exercises

1-3 Max speed runs over a longer distance

Over time the volume will build a little and this may be done through more reps and sets or longer distances.

The hardest part I have found is getting players to get their head around the rest periods, you have to feel rested and ready to go, it isn't conditioning work so using the right sort of rest is key so your reps are based on quality, not based on quantity.

So rest maybe anywhere from 1:10 to 1:20 (3sec sprint may rest 30-60sec then repeat for example.

Another area to look at is mobility/flexibility, if a player has particular issues these will be addressed in a specific programme for them. However I do like to make sure there is a regular programme of mobility/flexibility even if there isn't to help maintain tissue health and the ranges of motion the player needs to be able to get to based on their sport.

Now you may be looking at this and thinking,

that doesn't seem like much, but remember you aren't a professional player (maybe not yet) but you have other things in your life such as school, study and exams or working all day in your job, training endless hours in the gym and on the pitch is not the way to go.


You aren't able to train, eat, rest and recover, get a rub down from team physios, go back out and train again and repeat each day - the pros are paid to train and play, that's their job.

If you recall from one of my first posts - Train like a Pro when you are One, youth players and amateurs often get caught up using professional programmes and often get hurt or blow up because of the volume, intensity or difficulty of the programme.

The pros are paid to train and play, that's their job.

Types of exercises

You will notice if you look at the Bigger Faster Stronger programme, and generally, any example of an exercise I post, that the exercises are multi-joint big exercises, and not isolation exercises (single joint). I think in terms of coordinated movement for developing strength (developing all athletic qualities to be fair) versus single-joint exercises.

Does that mean you can't do your favourite bicep curl, no it doesn't, however, I would rather you use a pull up which also works your biceps plus a whole lot more?

Essentially I want your energy to go into the big exercises, not the little exercises.

Here's an example of a session I may do during this time I would be aiming for 3 sessions per week in the gym.

Prep work

Halo with a plate or kettlebell 1 x10

Goblet squats with a curl 1 x 10

Half Kneeling Windmill with a kettlebell 1 x 5

Multidirectional lunges 3 x through each side

Key Exercises

Power clean 3 x 3

Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press or Military press 3 x 3

Inverted Row (with pause a the top) 2 x 5

Hanging Knee Raise 2 x 5

Suitcase Carry or some other form of weighted carry 3 x 20m each arm

You can see this doesn't look like a bodybuilding programme consisting of

8-10 exercises of 3 x 10-12 reps, which I do see a lot of when asking what players are currently doing. Volume doesn't need to be crazy to get results and most body-building style programmes should probably have an Asterix placed by them as many of these people are using drugs to perform them.

One of the hardest things I have found as a coach is to get players not to do so much and save that extra energy for speed work, recovery and skill work.

Does this mean you take it easy, of course not, when you are in there you still train hard with laser-like focus my recommendation though is just to keep it simple?

The gym isn't a place to spend hours at - get in get it done get out.

Heading into Pre-Season

How does this change heading into Pre-Season?

There won't be too much difference in Pre-Season, however, I will drop the weights sessions down to 2 per week to allow for recovery from rugby training, and will make sure there is now a real focus on the rate of force development with exercises such as hang cleans, sled sprints, maybe snatches and push presses (depending on the athlete's ability).

Does that mean no more strength work?

no, if you recall earlier in the article I mentioned about maintaining a thread of things throughout, so while there is more focus on the rate of force development in the pre-season players would still have an element of strength work in there, it's just (unless its a glaring weakness) not the main focus of the sessions now.

So there you have it - a basic outline of your off-season into the start of your pre-season.

Any questions please feel free to reach out to me, I'm happy to answer these.

As I have mentioned there are many great coaches out there with many different approaches and ideas. One method of training isn't the only way to get results.

Find what works for you, and get solid advice from people who care about you doing well, not their Instagram account ;)

Have a great season and look out for more articles as we closer to the new season


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