In-Season Rugby Training Workout Routine

In-Season Rugby Training Routine

We all know that the best things in life come in threes:

Back to the Future, The Naked Gun, Boob Academy I, II and IV (III was a misfire, IV a sublime return to form).

So here we come to the end of my trilogy of rugby (specifically front row) oriented gym tips.

If you want to catch up on what you have missed, here are the links:

Pre-Season Training Routine: Strength & Power

Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Strength, Aerobic & Anaerobic Fitness

If you haven’t read the previous two then please do, especially if you are not sure what the fuck rugby is, as I cannot be arsed to describe it again for any johnny-come-latelies out there.

To put it simply, it is the single greatest team sport on the planet which caters for people of all physical dispositions and comes packaged with a rich a varied social life.

On a side note, England’s women won the Rugby World Cup this summer, which is fucking class, but it went completely under-reported by the media, which is just some shitty sexist bullshit.

Back in the gym

We are now well into the rugby season, which may mean you have seen a sudden reduction in posers doing bicep curls in your local gym.


The real players – ugly, hairy, lumpen and misshapen will remain.

The first few games of the season will no doubt leave you feeling as distraught as Nigel Farage upon discovering that his son has become a member of a transgender Bulgarian dance troupe.

As such, I am a strong advocate of taking it easy for the first few weeks with regards to extra training.

The shock to the system of those first couple of games can lay you low for half the week if you’re not careful.

During a rugby season you can play 20-30 full games, and the demands of each game are intense, extreme and challenging.

Indeed, you’ll now hear many people referring to rugby as a collision sport rather than just a contact sport.

Sadly, you cannot just to rely on getting fit from playing games.

There certainly is such a thing as ‘match fitness’ – but it’s simply not enough.

So if you want to be the best player you can be, don’t be a pussy, lift some plates.

By maintaining good levels of strength, power, speed, agility and endurance during the season you will:

  • Improve post-match recovery time, allowing you to train more, play more and hit the beers harder and more enthusiastically than ever before – whichever sounds best!
  • Maintain and improve your level of performance across the season
  • Reduce risk of injury
  • Sustain high levels of performance during a game

Putting in the unseen work in your own time is especially important for any players in the front five, the most physically ravaging positions on the field, populated only by the most erudite, skilled and sexually gifted members of the team.

Also the unfortunate members of this fraternity are often considered the physical freaks, short and squat, or tall and gangly, and it is rare that anyone looks beyond these aesthetic simplicities.

When training, focus on the whole body and not just single muscle groups.

Unless there is a specific weakness which needs to be targeted, perform compound, multi-joint exercises.

To avoid over-training, reduce the amount of sets and reps, not the intensity.

Taking all of this into account, I have devised a considerate programme which allows you to stay in a perpetual state of development/maintenance across the season.

Each session focuses on three key lifts.

These lifts are followed by a plyometric drill which will recruit as many fast-twitch muscle fibres as possible, creating more force and speed when performing the exercise.

This will train your body to become better at recruiting more fast-twitch fibres out on the pitch.

You should take around 30 seconds recovery between the resistance and plyometric exercises.

The routine

Session A

Exercise Sets & Reps Intensity Rest (S)
Rowing Machine 5 min Warm Up
Olympic Bar Bear 2 x 3 Low 45
Kettlebell Swings 2 x 10 Set 1 50%, Set 2 Max 30
Back Squat 3 x 8 Max 90
Two Footed Jump Over Step 2 x 3 each side  Bodyweight 90
Dumbbell Bench Press 5 x 5 Max 90
Push Ups 2 x 10 Bodyweight 90
Clean & Press 3 x 8 Max 90
Pike Push Up 2 x 10  Bodyweight 90
Rowing Machine 5 min Cool Down

Session B

Exercise Sets & Reps Intensity Rest (S)
Rowing Machine 5 min Warm Up
Olympic Bar Bear 2 x 3 Low 45
Kettlebell Swings 2 x 10 Set 1 50%, Set 2 Max 30
Deadlift 3 x 4-5 Max 90
Jump Squats 3 x 5  Bodyweight 90
Single Arm Row 3 x 8 Max 90
Push Ups 3 x 10 Bodyweight 90
Military Press 3 x 8 Max 90
Pike Push Up 2 x 10  Bodyweight 90
Rowing Machine 5 min Cool Down



What I have outlined above is just a core workout.

You can, time and fitness dependent, plug in extra exercises, e.g. pull-ups, bicep curls, skull crushers, dragging a sled until you’re breathing so heavy you’re afraid your lungs will invert, front squats, weighted sit ups, etc etc.

You’ll know what you need to work on, and what exercises you like or don’t like.

So just play around and keep mixing things up so you don’t get too comfortable.

Warm up and cool down

As the season progresses, you’ll probably find that your teammates start dropping around you like flies.

Injuries are a fucking ballache, wrecking your game time and leaving you hobbling around the office like a twat, spilling your coffee down yourself on the way back to your desk.

Avoid that shit by warming up and cooling down properly.

Spend five minutes on the rowing machine slowly building up intensity so that you have a bead on by the end and your heart is pumping.

And make sure you stretch out relevant muscle groups before the key lifts.

Seriously, warming up is important.

Your body will take some serious shit on a Saturday, so for fuck sake look after yourself!

Olympic Bar Bear Warm Up

Warning: you will probably feel like a total bellend doing this exercise.

Olympic Bar Bear is a fairly recent discovery for me.

The Bear Complex consists of five barbell exercises performed back-to-back without resting.

You start by power cleaning a barbell off the ground.

With the barbell now resting at shoulder level, perform a front squat.

The third exercise in the Bear sequence is the push press.

Using momentum, press the barbell over your head and lower it back down in a controlled manner to the back of your shoulders.

From this position you will perform a back squat.

After the back squat, perform one more push press, returning the bar to the front of your body and then back to the ground.

Do this with an empty or very lightly loaded Olympic bar – this is just a warm up.

And if you want to truly beast yourself, you can load up the bar at the end of your session and hammer out a couple of sets.

I have only attempted this on the occasional week I have no game that Saturday, it’s pretty savage.


Finally, kettlebell swings are a great half way between warming up and actually getting some weight moving.

Remember the drive comes from your hips, not your arms.

And seriously remember to dry your hands before starting especially if you are a sweaty bastard like me.

I lost the fucking thing the other day and sent it flying into the plasterboard wall taking a chunk out.

Fortunately my gym is basic, poorly lit and deeply unwelcoming, so no-one noticed/gave a shit.

Double teamed exercises

Cracking out some relatively straightforward bodyweight exercises immediately after the compound lifts is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I fell flat on my face a few times trying to jump over the step after squatting.

The really beautiful Eastern European girl I’m slightly afraid of was waiting to use the squat rack and could not stop laughing.

Beautiful because she squats; afraid because she squats nearly as much as me.

Fitting in gym time

OK, I’ll admit finding the time to squeeze in gym sessions with two training sessions, a Saturday taken up wholly by rugby, a job, a girlfriend, friends, and Netflix isn’t easy.

So I have tried to keep these sessions short and sharp.

You should be able to easily fit this in, either in the morning, during your lunch break, or in the evening.


Rugby is a very taxing sport.

It will take a toll on your body over the course of the season, which is why a sensible gym routine is so important.

Too much and you will run yourself in to the ground, too little and you are just setting yourself up for failure and injury.

So follow the simple routine outlined above, chuck in your own variations on top, and you should have a solid base from which to go out on a Saturday and perform.

Have a good season, ‘Winter is coming’.

Over to you

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions about this in-season routine, rugby in general, or if you know how to squat heavy without letting a little fart slip out.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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  1. Hi Adam,

    Great blog mate.

    Fucking funny stuff too.

    It’s taken a while to find or create a training routine that might just suit my body.

    At last though!!

    Something that looks very much suited to my training needs/goals and satisfaction factor.

    Really gonna enjoy getting stuck in to these routines.

    I’m 6’4″, currently 16st, and a little wobbly in the typical areas.

    Hoping that shit falls off and muscle starts to take its place.

    However, my diet is shit too.

    That is, eat lots and lots, but not necessarily the wrong stuff.

    Anyway, not a player myself, but absolutely love the sport and everything that comes with it.

    Again, love the blogs!

    Thanks Adam

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

  2. Hi,

    The photo of the empty gym is a pretty good one.

    I should know, I took it.

    It was taken for City Gym, Portsmouth, UK for their website back around 2008/09 or so when Bill Watts still owned the place.

    The bald guy in the image is Nick Martell, the now owner of Fratton Gym (also in Portsmouth).

    Also, interesting read.

    I play no. 6 for my local team but for me I prefer the following in season:

    Day 1:

    Clean high pull – 5 X 2-3
    Push Press – 5 X 2-5
    Front Squat – 5 X 2-5
    Chins – 3 X Max reps
    Core – Circuit of sit ups, Russian twists and back extensions 3 X 15

    Day 2:

    Snatch High Pull – 5 X 2-3
    Bench – 5 X 3-5
    Back Squat – 5 X 2-5
    Row – 3 X 10
    Core – Circuit of hanging leg raise, side sits and back extensions

    I don’t like the full olympic lifts for rugby players as it is my experience that their form at the catch is usually terrible, even among pro athletes, and unless a suitably qualified Olympic weightlifting coach is available, the high pull variations are far more beneficial as they require significantly less technical proficiency, allow for the use of more weight and focus on the part of the lifts that’s most beneficial for rugby players (or American footballers, fighters etc), the explosive triple extension, especially at the hip.

    I also like to incorporate both front squats and back squats in my program.

    The front squat is so beneficial to athletes due to it’s corrective nature.

    Use incorrect form on that lift, or be poor with regards to flexibility/mobility, and that lift will make an arse of you.

    The back squat is never omitted due to it’s potential to make the entire body stronger.

    I prefer the push press to the strict press as I feel it teaches better co-ordination of the body to move heavy weight overhead, allows for the use of more weight and is generally better at getting the body to work as a single unit.

    The bench press is included for complete upper body strength development.

    I generally feel pressing is more relevant to athletic performance than the bench, however I feel the bench is also an important lift for building complete upper body strength and so should not be left out of a well rounded program.

    Off season, my programming doesn’t change a great deal, aside for the addition of a third lifting day and the rotation of set/rep schemes from week to week to allow for hypertrophy in order to add mass for the next upcoming season.

    The phases work from hypertrophy, to maximal strength, to power/explosive strength, and back again, in 1-2 week cycles, based on feel.

    Day 1:

    Clean high pull – 5 X 2-3
    Push Press – Phase 1: 3 X 10, Phase 2: 5 X 5, Phase 3: 5 X 2-3
    Front Squat – as push press
    Chins – 3 X Max reps
    Core – circuit as for in season

    Day 2:

    Hang clean (if you’re proficient enough) – 5 X 2-5
    Incline D/B Bench – Phase 1: 3X10, Phase 2: 5 X 5, Phase 3: 5 X 2-3
    Deficit or Speed Deadlifts: 5 X 5 or 5 X 3
    Face pull – 3 X 10

    Day 3:

    Snatch High Pull – 5 X 2-3
    Bench – Phase 1: 3 X 10, Phase 2: 5 X 5, Phase 3: 5 X 2-3
    Back Squat: As Bench
    Row – 3 X 8-10
    Core – as for in season

    And that’s it.

    I adjust movements based on what I feel needs to be addressed for me personally and may drop movements out depending on how I feel.

    The movements that will always remain are the first 3 lifts on each day (whether in season or off season) and the core work.

    Everything else is just fluff.

    Again, interesting read, and completely agree with your description of those of us who play in the forwards haha.



    1. Hi Aaron – thanks for the comment.

      First up – top drawer photography skills, do you ever get any dollar if something you snap becomes a meme?

      Secondly – nice routines.

      I’ve always been keen on incorporating some snatches and cleans into my routine – but have never been 100% comfortable with my form, I might have to try out the high pull variations – definitely a good shout.

      The core workout looks strong also – on reflection that is something the suggested routine is neglecting.

      Hope the season is going well for you fella

  3. Oh man.

    I know I’m really late to the party, but I just discovered your blog as I was looking for some workout routines for 15’s season (I’m in a women’s team, I play prop/lock).

    Glad I stumbled on this, as you’re such a prime example of non-toxic masculinity.

    Thank you.