Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Explosive Strength & Power

Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Strength & Power

There is more to strength training than looking like a musclebound Peter Sutcliffe, bench pressing a small family car and eating your body weight in chicken breast.

I mean Gaston clearly trained for strength – necking loads of eggs and generally showing off how much heavy shit he could carry or throw.

But then he spent the rest of the film being all sinister and trying to rape Belle.

Beauty and the Beast is a pretty fucked up film when you think about it.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to put all that strength training to good work, and since pitched medieval battles in fields are no longer the cool way to settle national disputes, your next best option is team sports.

Preferably intense, brutal and physically demanding team sports.

Like rugby.


This article will deal with the pre-season training routine of a rugby prop forward (me) looking to build the explosive strength and power needed for the position.

The prop forward is historically the most rotund, strong and physically intimidating member of the playing squad.

Whilst also being the laziest, most keen to hit the beer, and often not genetically blessed with the gift of a neck or a metabolism.

I also benefit from a lower centre of gravity thanks to my stumpy legs, and a fucking abrasive ginger beard which can be used as a weapon of last resort.

Sorry ladies I am taken.

Rugby? I don’t think I’ve heard of that muscle?

First of all, it’s probably a good idea to introduce the uninitiated to the sport of rugby.

Essentially, you can only throw the ball backwards and there is no pussying out at any time.

You also need balls-out intensity and concentration at all times.

Can you name any other sports where you take to the field wearing no padding whatsoever with only an absurdly short pair of shorts to cover your modesty?

With rugby, you essentially embark on pitched battle against 15 other ape like human beings hell bent on smashing you into the ground on their way to victory.

Plus when the weather gets real shitty it essentially becomes one big, slightly complicated, homoerotic mud wrestle, with the addition of an egg shaped ball and a dude with a whistle.

rugby scrum

Players are split into two groups.

If you train for physique and spend a lot of time checking yourself out in the mirror before, during and after every gym session, then you are a back.

And you might as well stop reading now and go back to creeping on girls in All Bar One, this post is not for you.

If you train for strength, treat every callous as a trophy and think there is a special place in hell reserved for anybody who curls in the squat rack, then you are a forward.

Welcome to the fraternity.

What is a prop?

The props are two of the eight forwards in a team.

The two props with the hooker between them form the front row in each scrum.

As a rule:

  • The more muscle the better
  • The tougher the better
  • The stronger the better
  • The more intimidating the better

Packing in to a scrum is very physically demanding.

A short, thick, muscular neck is really useful as it will reduce the risk of injury

To get the idea of the strength involved at the top of the game here’s South Africa’s Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira shoulder pressing his 112kg colleague.

Another great example is former England prop Andrew Sheridan.

According to his Wikipedia page Sheridan is disgustingly powerful.

He is a near-elite class powerlifter and able to bench press 225 kilograms (35st 6lb; 496lb) and squat 275 kilograms (43st 4lb; 606 lb).

You can watch Mr Sheridan man shaming the Aussie scrum in the 2007 World cup below:

If you want to find out more about rugby positions, check out the RFU’s position guide.

Pre-season phase 1: power

OK, so this is technically pre-pre season before we start working stamina which means, gulp, cardio.

As such we can almost exclusively focus on power.

This is without a doubt my favourite part of pre-season as I can go to the gym, lift heavy, and then go home and feel quietly smug with myself.

This phase is all about lifting as heavy as you can, adding slabs of muscle, and pushing your 5RM to the absolute limit.

So with this in mind I have basically tweaked the standard SL 5X5.

Once you are warmed up, every session will begin with squats – good, deep, heavy squats.

And as long as you have come close but haven’t shit your intestines out of your arsehole, you may progress to the rest of the session.

For vanity reasons I also chuck in some arm work – it’d be fucking embarrassing if you cannot fill out the sleeves on your jersey at the start of the season.

If you know you have a certain deficiency then this early pre-season is also a great time to get to work on it.

Personally I have to work on my inability to haul my fat arse up for more than three chin-ups.

I haven’t listed specific weights as I don’t want to turn this into a dick measuring contest.

There’s always someone who can lift more, and there’s always someone with a bigger dick.

The routine

This power and strength routine includes three full-body workouts and one gentle cardio session per week.

Day 1

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Bent Over Row 5 5
Seated External Rotation 3 8
Farmer’s Walks 3 To failure

Day 2

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Military Press 5 5
Deadlift 3 5
Chin Ups 3 8
Planks 3 front, 3 each side 1 minute each

Day 3

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Good Mornings 3 5
Seated External Rotation 3 8
Farmer’s Walks 3 To failure

Day 4

Gentle 3-5k run.


No shoes

Take your shoes off for deadlifts, squats and military press.

I added 20kg to deadlift overnight and all my other lifts are progressing much quicker thanks to an improvement in stability and form.

Good mornings

Good mornings are fantastic.

Good back strength is crucial in setting the height of the scrum at engagement and dominating your opposite number.

But I only do them during off-season otherwise your back never recovers for games.

And if you are new to them, start with half your body weight at most and slowly work up.

Form is important as you don’t want to decapitate yourself, and be prepared for your hammies to burn the next day.

Farmer’s walks

No matter how busy the gym is, do farmer’s walks.

Take your dumbbells over to the matts or just take them for a walk past the sexcersizer, whatever keeps you going.

Take my advice and try to avoid walking into the guys bigger than you, and be careful to avoid dropping the fucking things on your toes.


An important aspect to bear in mind when squatting is the pace at which you do it.

For this stage you should be aiming for a 30X0.

By which I mean you take three seconds to slowly lower the weight, and then once you are at your lowest point, you immediately explode upwards.

There is no resting at the top – you must instantly begin taking the weight down again.

This gives the squats a sweat factor of 10.

After squatting heavy every session the 5k run will feel like 15k.

Try to avoid any steep inclines and remember that the focus in this phase is power, so don’t feel like too much of a douche if you have to sacrifice a little running distance to keep your squats strong.

Seated external rotation

You should aim for 10% of your 5RM bench.

Admittedly you’ll feel a bit of a tit when the 8kg dumbbell has you sweating on the last set.

Personally I have seen great improvements in shoulder strength and flexibility, as well as quicker gains on the bench and shoulder press compared to before I started.


As a bloater this is the bit I’m shit at.

I just love food too much – I train dirty, I eat dirty.

But little changes go a long way.

For instance, I cut 5kg (probably a lot more fat than that as I gained muscle) in one month by just reducing carb intake.

I had tuna/chicken and salad at lunch, much smaller carb portions at dinner, and snacked smarter, eating fruit, nuts (almonds are fucking delicious and a great source of protein) and biltong (thank you South Africa for your meat drying skills – and while we are at it well done for abandoning racial segregation as a means of maintaining minority rule).

Important: you need fuel to lift so carbs are still essential.

Don’t suddenly cut back on the calories or your lifts will be shit, your training will be a waste of time, and you’ll just generally be a disappointment to everyone.

Go play rugby

If you feel inspired to take up a proper sport and put some of your hard earned muscle to good use, then use the RFU’s club finder to find your local club and get your arse down to training.

come play rugby they said, it'll be fun they said

You’ll also benefit from the rich and varied social scene which goes with it: chinning pints until you’re sick through your nose, drinking out of any vessel which can hold liquid, getting naked on away day buses and freaking out the little old lady in a Nissan Micra you’re overtaking.

Or watching your teammate shit himself halfway down the M40 because he’s too tired and pissed to get up out of his seat.

Signing off

If you have any questions about this pre-pre season workout, rugby in general, or the average wind speed velocity of an unladen swallow, then let me know in the comments section below.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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  1. Hi Adam

    It’s funny you’ve written this post because all the rugby players (forwards or just fat blokes) in my gym are doing bicep curls, pec dec, lat raises and wrist curls.

    Maybe you’re doing it wrong……..

    1. Classic example of either:

      (a) Guys who don’t have a clue


      (b) Guys more interested in manscaping then actually performing. The moron rugger bugger, who wears a rugby shirt with the collar up in All Bar One and is constantly sucking his gut in.

      Scum, sub-human scum.

      You should tell them to stop squandering their precious pre-season – the only time of the year you can get a proper gym routine in – and read this post. By force if necessary.

      1. Ima second Adam on this one

  2. Hi Adam,

    What do you do gym wise during the season?

    Good to see stuff related to props!

    1. Hi Matt thanks for reading.

      Yeah I thought it was about time someone detailed the work involved in being in the row!

      My mid-season routine will probably form my next post for this fine website. And what you do is quite dependent on how often you have training, and whether there is an off-weekend.

      So for example at present I train twice a week (mon & weds) and I go to the gym twice a week (tues & thurs) as I don’t like to train much the day before or after a game. If I have no game on the Saturday then I’ll do a heavy session in the gym and then go home and forget about rugby for the rest of the day.

      Typically session 1 will involve a full body weights session – squats, bench, row, press and generally working on any weaknesses or areas you want to strengthen.

      But I try not to hit my legs to hard.

      Session 2 will hit the legs & back more – clean & press, squats and 3×5 deadlifts – again coupled with your own individual needs – I tend to focus on arms, shoulders and back. Still battling with the pull up bar.

      To work on shoulder stability I also use dumbbells more than the Olympic bar for bench and press.

      I’ll probably post something here on gym-talk in more detail once we are further into the season. I’m still fine tuning what works for me.

      Let me know if this helps. Hope the season has started well for you.

  3. Firstly, I wanted to say that this is a great post and I love the routine posted.

    I have started following it this week and can already see the benefits as it has helped correct my posture.

    I don’t play rugby but I do see it as a solid routine to improve strength so this will be my routine for the winter.

    What I would like to know is in regards to squatting 3 times a week. Do you squat at max level on each session, or do you go down to say 85-70% on one or two of the days?

    1. Firstly – great to hear that the routine is doing some good. Even without rugby it’s the kind of thing I’d be doing, so stick with it and you’ll definitely see some benefits. I’ve gone into this season in the best shape of my life.

      With regards to squats I’d recommend working to your maximum to get the most out of your workout. What you can do is reduce the sets, from 5 to 3 or 4 – just do what your body tells you.

      If you are reducing the sets make sure you work hard on getting as big a range of motion as possible. I also found that working on my core helped a lot with dealing with the large amount of squats – so planking, sit-ups, crunches and leg raises all helped to keep the stomach tight when you struggling with the last few reps.

      But if you are suffering with some back or knee pain, or you have only managed a couple of sets of squats – then by all means swap in some heavy sets on the leg press – just don’t make a habit of it! There really is no substitute for squats.

  4. Hey, this looks like the perfect plan for me!

    Except one thing… weighing in at 111kg, I find it hard to squeeze out that many chin ups this early in the plan.

    Should I go to failure (about 3)?

    1. Hi Will.

      I started out unable to do more than one – so that’s absolutely fine, just work to fail.

      There are a few good ways you can improve your strength in this area as well:

      – You can hold at the top of a chin up for as long as possible.

      – You can ‘do a negative’ so jump up to the bar and lower yourself down in a slow, controlled manner.

      – Use the assisted pull up machine to improve.

      I used a combination of these and saw decent results.

  5. Great stuff Adam.

    Thoughts on a post regular season workout program – but 8 weeks out from my first rep game?

    My body needs a rest, but should I “build” through, or just do a maintenance program?

    My main concern is injury due to not resting long enough after a hard season.

    Thanks for you time.

    1. Take a couple of weeks to rest then!

      Then slowly build up to the heavy lifts.

      I just spent the first couple of weeks after the end of the season doing very little but sitting around playing Fifa, surrounded by my own filth and drinking tinnies.

  6. What about rest times?

    Maybe I missed it.

    I’m assuming that, since it’s for power, you can rest as long as you like between sets?

    Also, would a Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday schedule work?

    1. Yep.

      I’m on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday or Sunday schedule at the moment.

      Just chucking in the run whenever I can fit it in around that.

      Lifting is the priority.

      But that’s probably because as a rule I’d rather be publicly acknowledged as a lover of Coldplay than have to run any great distance.

    2. Oh – and you can take as long as you want to rest, as long as you don’t take the piss with it.

  7. Great article!

    I have one question, I injured my shoulder last season (AC joint) and I was wondering how you would strengthen your shoulders (particularly the AC joint) to prepare for tackling, lifting etc?

    Just thought I’d ask for another voice on the subject, cheers mate.

    1. Hi Dylan.

      Sorry bro, I’m no physio – so not sure I can offer you solid advice on this one I’m afraid.

      If you do have injuries which have resulted in an imbalance and an increased risk of one side failing before the other then I’d recommend working with dumbells instead of the bar.

      That way if you fail you won’t be trapped under anything.

      And it works more of the muscles in your shoulder as you have to work harder keeping the weights balanced in the right place.

      The Seated External Rotation should also help with any AC rehab.

  8. This I think is a good routine, I’m going to start using it.

    I’m a second row and a frequent gym-er, do you suggest just sticking to this routine?

    As I like to pop in high reps/low weights for toning?

    For example I always do flys for chest etc.

    1. Hi Tom – glad you think the routine is worthwhile.

      Feel free to chuck in any extra work you like around this – it’s just a strength workout, but I would say if you’re able to do 4 or 5 extra exercises you aren’t working hard enough.

      If you’re looking for some different workouts there are a couple more posts by I’ve got on this site detailing rugby orientated workouts that you can check out:

      I’ve recently (as in I’m 2 weeks in) got into a routine called Mad Cow, as I was plateauing:×5-training-programs/

      Seems good so far.

  9. Hi Adam,

    Really enjoyed reading your article, well done!

    Quick question: can this type of training be performed by a back?

    Right at the top of the article you specified how you played as a prop and how this type of training will be beneficial for scrums, etc.

    I played as 9 and I’m looking for some sort of compound training that could make me stronger but not necessarily bulkier, would you recommend your programme?

    Thanks and once again keep it up.

    1. Hi Bjorn.

      I’d definitely recommend the compound exercises to anyone looking to build strength.

      At the top level SH’s are seriously strong guys who’ll build their routines around this kind of work.

      You probably also want to do more cardio work – and functional stuff like box jumps and chucking a medicine ball about will help.

  10. Great post.

    I am a lock and naturally pretty tall and skinny.

    I’m only 60kg and lose weight during the season.

    I would like to put on extra weight/muscle for next season, any tips for this?

    I’ll follow the weights routine but I’m guessing it will come down to what I eat too?

    1. Hi mate.

      Eat, train repeat.

      You’re lucky, you can just bulk – plenty of protein, carbs and fresh fruit and veg.

      I’m pretty sure there are some reviews of mass gain powders on this site.

      To begin with try adding 5kg to each lift each week – as long as you’ve completed the full 5×5 – you’ll be surprised how quickly you can gain strength – especially if you’re new to lifting.

  11. Hi Adam.

    Great article mate!

    Tell it like it is, I like it!

    What exercises would you recommended to build my arms?

    Also, I don’t suppose you have a diet plan or can recommend one to me please?

    Cheers, Dave

    1. Take it a little easier – especially on the squats or you’ll feel like you’re trying to run through syrup.

    2. Dammit posted the wrong reply then…

      Nutrition-wise I am not the man to ask tbh, It’s my failing – I should be asking for your help.

  12. This seems like a really good training plan for my off-season training.

    I just recently finished my rugby season and I just signed up for 7s (not serious) just for fun with my mates.

    It’s on a Friday night and I only have access to a gym on Monday to Friday – do you think if I do the Day 3 session on Friday in the morning I will be too fatigued to play my 7s in the night?

    1. Take it a little easier – especially on the squats or you’ll feel like you’re trying to run through syrup

  13. Hey Adam.

    First thank you for your article, there’s some great advice in it and I really like your style of writing.

    I am playing currently second row, would you also recommend your training guide for me, or should I focus on some other exercises?

    I would like to take on some size over the off season, especially in the shoulder region, because by now they are too weak to resit some bigger hits, especially because I am struggling with a shoulder injury since always and now also a knee injury, since my last tournament.

    Gym time for me is two times a week, for more is by now no space left.

    Do you have any ideas for me?

    Would be great to hear from you.

    Greetings from Germany mate…

    1. I’m no professional but i know through experience that doing workouts like this and eating a lot of the right foods will bulk you up and get you stronger.

      This training plan is good especially for a tight five player.

    2. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the ways of the second row – other than that you obviously cower behind the front row at scrum time!

      Power and strength is still crucial for the position.

      You may also want to consider some more explosive movements like jump squats or box jumps – should help with line-out etc.

      You’ll have longer levers so squatting will be tougher – but all the more rewarding for it.

      You may want to try out front squats and see hopw that works for your body shape

  14. Hi Adam.

    Not sure if you will see this as the article is quite old but it’s worth a shot.

    I am a 15 year old lock/blindside flanker playing at high school in Auckland.

    I only way 70kg right now and have been in the gym for a few months and have noticed an increase in my lifting weights but I myself haven’t gotten any heavier.

    I was wondering if this programme would help me put on size and strength?


    1. Josh – don’t get fixated on your weight – fuck that.

      If you’re becoming a stronger, meaner and all round better rugby player, what the hell does it matter?

      Just eat well, train well, lift well.

      It’ll all fall into place.

      Although at 70kg I wouldn’t be at the front of the queue to play tighthead just yet…

  15. Hi Adam,

    I just wanted to ask if this is the workout that you personally did for playing prop and if you feel you got very good results from it.

    My off season just started and I really need to put on more muscle and cut some fat for next season and this article seemed like a good routine to work.

    Let me know.

    1. Hi Will,

      This is the routine I used a couple of seasons ago, I’ve made some tweaks to it since then for personal preference, or to target specific weaknesses.

      But I still stand by it as a really good base to work from.

      Personally I bagged some really good strength gains by just adding incremental plates every week.

      When it comes to shredding that’s 20% exercise and 80% diet, and I’m no nutritionist.

      It’s all about getting the right diet for your body type – I usually recommend lowering the carb intake on non-exercise days and cutting as much sugar as possible.

  16. Hi Adam,

    Great article firstly, but I wanted to ask a few questions.

    I play front row for my club side (was prop through my junior years but now playing hooker as considered too small at the moment).

    I’m 5’11” and around 90kg but I’ve decided this season I really want to firstly get leaner but then bulk up.

    What would be your suggestion as to the order of how I go about things?

    The way these articles are written out it appears you suggest hitting the gym hard first before focusing on cardio?

    Which is something I’ve read elsewhere or do I focus on losing some fat first with more cardio etc before then trying to bulk up in the gym.

    Any help on nutrition as well would be appreciated.


    1. I found HIIT to be a really good fat burner.

      And I found excessive consumption of Pale Ale and Bratwurst to be a really good fat gainer.

      Gaining muscle mass helps you burn fat.

      I’d recommend checking out other posts on this site on nutrition – I am not an expert on such things.

  17. Hi Adam,

    I use to be a back for I was skinny and quick then I got bigger and filled out.

    I started playing forward positions.

    The problem that I had was I was not a huge kid so my only hope to not get ran over was to be solid which I was not because my mass was more fat then muscle.

    I took a break so I could just build that up and regretfully have not done that much.

    I need a way to build muscle for the season.

    I am 13 going on 14 I am 5 8 and 122 pounds.

    I am moving up in an age group and will be playing with 14-I think 17 year olds.

    I look bigger then I am.

    I will not be scrum but will this still help?

    1. Sorry that was confusing, I will simplify.

      I look bigger then I am.

      I am not gonna be a back.

      Will this work if I will not be a scrum but still a forward to build muscle?

      1. Hey mate, you’re only young, just go out and enjoy playing rugby with your mates.

        Gaining muscle and eating right will help you lean up.

  18. Excellent stuff here.

    I’m just starting out with a club, and am definitely looking forward to using this.

    I was thinking of modifying a bit though, and instead of doing a third lifting day, incorporating a recovery day doing yoga to help with injury prevention, and because I’m sure being able to touch your damn toes probably helps with general athleticism.

    Not playing in any games this season since I’m essentially going from couch potato pro to rugby, and I’m not in my 20s anymore haha.

    Want to take the time to learn the game as best I can before I’m out competing on the pitch and generally getting in the way.

    Anyway, was thinking about this schedule.

    Monday: session 1
    Tuesday: rugby practice
    Wednesday: recovery and yoga
    Thursday: rugby practice
    Friday: session 2

    Then for the next session on Monday I’d do session 3, etc.


    1. Whatever works for you bro.

      You can try this out if you’re looking at two sessions a week:

      Superb news that you’re taking up rugby – best sport in the world!

  19. Hey thanks for the routine.

    Looking forward to giving it a crack!

    How long would you do this routine for in offseason?

    My break is for 3 months before the preseason starts up again (so running, burpees and all that horrible shit lol).

    I wanna do a month of nothing as the body is pretty banged up.

    Which leaves me 2 months to get as strong as possible, but hopefully not too far behind in cardio.

    What would you recommend?


  20. Great article Adam and exactly what I’ve been looking for.

    I’d also be interested to hear your in-season routine.

    Many thanks.

  21. Shit dude, this post is awesome! :3

  22. Hey there amazing article sir.

    I’m 190cm and 140kgs and 19 years old and back when I played school rugby I used to squat almost 290kg and Bench 160kg but I stopped playing rugby for 2 years and I want to make a comeback.

    I was wondering if this would work out and if so how heavy should I start?

  23. Hey Adam, this article looks great! For these lifts, what amount of weight should I be using? 80% of my max? I am not quite sure. It is also something I was going to ask about your last rugby article.

  24. Hey, I’m currently two games away from the actual start of the season.

    We currently hold practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I’m still weight training and I feel like I’m over training at times.

    What kind of workout schedule and exercises should I perform to get strong during the in-season?

    Thanks again for your time.

  25. Hey Adam, I really like your writing style – to the point, no bullshit.

    I’m 46 prop FWD who hasn’t played or trained really hard for ten years, however I do know my way around a gym.

    Anyway I’m going to play again next season.

    The point is do you think jumping right into 5×5 strong is a good idea?

    I am still a bull of a man and hard work is something I am used to.

    And is it a good idea to add cardio in between sessions of 5X5?


  26. Thanks a lot Adam.

    I was searching for this type of schedule.

    This is awesome, I really like it.

  27. Hi Adam.

    My son plays prop – 1.87m and weighs 95kg and is 16 years old.

    He wants to play for the first team next year.

    As his personal Strength and Conditioning Coach (aka me his mom) he will be following your progam for this off season.

    Wish me luck!

  28. Hey how long do you follow this?

    All pre season or do you start to put in more fitness closer?

    Or what’s the go?

    I’m a hooker/prop.