Top Ten Tips for In-Season Rugby Players – Part 1

You should be in shape right now! After a good 3 month off-season of sprinting, lifting, growing, eating and skills training, you should be the strongest you’ve ever been!

The problem is, most players forget that you must MAINTAIN your off season gains during the playing season. Just playing rugby games on the weekends (or 2-3 times a week for the younger guys!) is not going to maintain your strength OR muscle size. You WILL, without question, get smaller and weaker during the season if you don’t MAINTAIN your strength!

This is due to 2 things:

1. Endurance or Long Duration exercise makes you weaker1202647463_f (and skinny!)

The human body is incredibly adaptable, and will transform itself to perform as well as it can in any situation that you CONSTANTLY throw at it. So whatever you do the most of, your body will adapt to.

If  the majority of your exercising hours each week are spent running and playing rugby, you will adapt to become better suited to endurance exercise. Your fast twitch muscle fibres won’t be stimulated and will lose strength, your slow twitch fibres will adapt to provide more energy to the muscles via aerobic energy sources and enable you to perform better for longer.

You need to be able to play hard for up to 80+ minutes, the problem is, you’ll be weak as hell!


2. The higher workload of games and training means you have less time to recover

Playing a game is much more intense than just going to a team training session, you’re gonna get knocks and bruises, you will likely train twice a week with your team and spend most of that time running and doing skills training. This means that for at least 3 times a week you’re running for over 60 mins, which links with the above point, but also means that you’re probably still recovering from last weekends game during your first training session of the week, so you won’t be able to train with as much intensity! You will also have less time to focus on strength and power work, compared to off-season training programmes.

A drop off in training intensity (to help you recover) means you will stimulate LESS gains in your endurance capability AND lose strength!


So if you have to be able to perform for long periods of time, and you don’t have much time to recover, but you have to train and play, what should you be doing each week to maintain your off-season gains?

Top Ten Tips for In-Season Rugby Players

Print this list out and make sure you’re completing the majority of the items each week to stay STRONG, RECOVER QUICKLY, and MAINTAIN your off-season gains!

1. Perform Short and Intense Interval Training Workouts

After your regular team training session for skills/strategy etc., sprint the length of the field (approx 100m) and walk back. Complete 10 times. This will maintain and improve your repeated sprint ability, and also maintain your aerobic capacity. Basically, you’ll never get tired! This is a quick and simple training method, any longer and you wouldn’t recover. Providing you’re playing each weekend you should be maintaining your longer duration/aerobic ability so there isn’t a big need to go for long slow (and boring) runs. You can do any short, intense conditioning work that you want, just be sure to do it!

2. Stretch following a game (and get a massage if its available!)

After your game (and every training session), stretch the muscles that feel tight to restore them to their normal length. If you don’t, your muscles will shorten, get really tight, and take up even more of your precious recovery ability. Get a massage if your club provides it. Stretch your hips, hamstrings, calves, quads and chest/shoulders, as these are the areas that get really beaten up during a game. Spend 15 minutes after a game to save about 24 hours of tight muscles. Good investment of your time right? :)

3. Drink a Post-Game Shake

After a game your body will have extremely low blood sugar, depleted glycogen (carb) reserves and be dying for some protein to help rebuild your tired and aching muscles. Get yourself a drink with approximately 1g of sugars per kg of bodyweight (so if you weight 80kg, drink a shake with approx 80g of sugars in!), and 20-30g of protein. I tell my athletes to drink the 1 litre cartons of flavoured milk you can get at any supermarket (usually 2 for £2), keep it simple.

4. Do Your Strength WorkWP_000434

Twice a week, get to the gym. Squat on day one, bench on day two. Start off with 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps @ 85-95% of your max. Any lighter in weight and you won’t maintain your strength. Include 3-4 assistance exercises for the associated muscles, stretch and go home. You can do two whole body workouts if you prefer AS LONG AS YOU SQUAT FIRST IN ONE SESSION, AND BENCH FIRST IN THE SECOND SESSION! Some weeks you may only get one session in, just squat and bench in the same session, again, nice and simple.

5. Do Your Pull-ups  

Constant tackling takes its toll on your shoulders, to help prevent injury you need a strong back, especially the upper and middle back. This will help support your shoulders by having a strong and stable base of support. Pull-ups are second to none in building a beastly, injury proof back. Pull-ups increase grip strength and cause your back and arms to grow! Do pull-ups at least once a week, don’t go to failure! Try and get 20 quality reps each workout over several sets (even 10 sets of 2 reps if you have to!) and steadily increase the volume of reps throughout the season.


Print this list out and start implementing as much as you can! Focus on doing one thing right for one week, then add another thing the next week and so on.


That’s all for part 1, stay tuned for part 2!


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Anthony Shaw

Raw Strength