Posted on 12 Feb 2017
10 min read
Early in my career I was playing a club game in Christchurch for Marist Albion.
A teammate had taken it into contact and I was the supporting player so had to clean the ruck ahead of me.
I had come from the fly-half position and had a good start of five metres to clean out the ruck.
My target, already over the ball, was future All Black Mose Tuiali’i.
I knew I had to throw everything into it if I was going to move 112kgs.
I will be first to admit my technique at the time was not great, but I threw myself into it and hit Tuiali’i with everything I had.
I got completely bounced.
Tuiali’i didn’t move and inch I utterly smoked myself.
As a young player, this was a good lesson for me – when 79kgs hits a player of 112 kgs with average technique the bigger, stronger player will always win.
After this incident I was brutally honest with myself.
While I was in good shape and really fit (20 on the YoYo), I needed to build a hell of a lot more muscle if I was to compete at the highest level.
The underlying goal with any rugby-focused mass training routine is to build a bulletproof, powerful athletic machine that can cope with bigger, faster, physical collisions and play more rugby as injury-free as possible.
With that in mind, when I talk about building muscle for Rugby, do not picture that triangle-shaped musclebound guy at your gym.
Yes he can probably push the bench over 120kgs and yes he is bicep curling 40kg+ on the ezy bar, but this cat would never last on the field.
He would play like shit, have never-ending shoulder injuries, and anyone at a lighter weight who’s well conditioned would would empty him.
And don’t even get me started on his pin legs…
Many of you will have looked into building muscle and brought magazines like Muscle & Fitness or Men’s Health.
You have to remember that the guys who write these programmes have never built muscle specific for rugby or hit the rugby field before in their life.
The routine I followed to make my body battle-ready, while primarily geared towards building muscle mass, was also fundamentally focused on movement, transferring power, and being fast, allowing you to empty anyone on the field.
Another important caveat is that your body’s optimal weight for the field will vary from player to player.
There is a trend at the moment, especially in the UK, of coaches wanting bigger players, but the best coaches will see past just mass.
A good coach will look at each individual athlete and get the most out of that player according to his job on the field.
And that is what counts, getting the most out of your body, not just getting bigger for the sake of it.
Case in point: at one point in my career I reached a non-optimal weight of 88kg which was too heavy for me and restricted my performance on the field.
Bear in mind that guys like Ben Tumifuna are born with the genes to be big and powerful but guys like Welsh winger Shane Williams were not.
Williams, however, played for his country 87 times, represented the Lions four times, and was also named IRB player of the year in 2008.
I bet he was told he was too small at one point but look what he has achieved.
The key thing with Williams was even though he was not big he was strong, powerful and fast.
He was getting the most out of his body.
After a discussion with my coach, I decided to get to the optimal state for my body type I would have to go from 76kgs to a playing weight of around 86kgs and 12% body fat.
The off-season is the perfect time to build mass as a rugby player.
The majority of the year we want you to focus on skill development and technique but in the off-season it is OK to take a break from the field and hit gym.
During this time apply a short-term training goal of building mass with a specific outcome.
What I’m going to share with you is the exact off-season routine I used achieve my own goal of getting from 79kg to 86kg of lean muscle.
Significantly, this routine did not compromise on speed and agility – in fact I got even faster!
My 40m sprint went from 4.2 seconds to a PB of 3.98 seconds, while I set personal best lifts in the power clean of 115kg, bench press 135kg, weight pull-up 50kg, and max squat 210kg.
The programme is 6-8 week off-season block incorporating a full-body workout with both mass and power components.
It should be performed as follows:
|Explosive jumps (superset)||3||3-5|
|Explosive jumps (superset)||3||3-5|
|Explosive push-ups (superset)||3||3-6|
|Standing split stance one arm press||3||5|
|Standing split stance one arm row||3||5|
|Walking lunges with sprinter knee lift||6 (3 for each leg)||10|
Thanks for sharing – it’s much appreciated!
Your training days should be as follows:
Note that we are not training every day.
These are intensive full-body workouts, not bodybuilding-style split routines, and they demand sufficient recovery periods for optimal performance and growth.
For this off-season training block we want to be lifting heavy, at about 80-90% of our one rep maximum.
Our focus after a small power component is mass, so we want to be failing on the fifth rep.
A lot of people give up too early, so push as hard as you can for as long as you can, as this is where you will get the required stress and growth.
It is important that you don’t get a spot unless you are about to drop the bench on your face as the body needs to remember the weight.
Stick to healthy, nutritious foods, keep to calorie surplus, and do not avoid fats.
Give our ‘Ultimate Rugby Shake‘ a try and feel free to contact me if you need any more advice.
It is important that you track your goals and progress, so keep a training journal.
Write down your poundage, sets and repts each session, and keep track of your weight gain and body measurements.
Always start your gym session with an active warm-up.
I would recommend a few bodyweight exercises, such as push ups, bodyweight squats, reverse lunges, etc.
Also good are:
The first two sets should be warm-up sets of 2-3 reps, building up from a low weight.
The next three sets are work sets and should be performed at approximately 85% of your max weight.
Take two to three minutes rest between sets.
Keep your focus on speed of movement and try to be as explosive as possible.
NB: the power clean can be substituted for the high pull if you have never cleaned or are not confident with it.
Concentrate of using a full range of motion (if you do not have full range use a lighter weight).
Use a 5-1-5 tempo, which means down for five seconds, hold for one second, and then slowly up again for five seconds.
You might feel a bit out of place doing it this way – but, trust me, you’ll never have felt a burn like this before!
Good form should be paramount – make sure you push your chest out and keep a straight back to avoid injury.
Again, use a 5-1-5 tempo.
The “explosive” jumps should be supersetted with all squat and deadlift sets.
They can include: box jumps, knee jumps, single leg hops, or bounding.
Vary the bench between flat, incline and decline, ensuring strength across all.
Use a 5-1-5 tempo.
Superset every bench press set with explosive push-ups (claps or onto boxes).
Do not compromise on speed.
Start with a wide grip, then use a shoulder-width overhand grip, then use an underhand grip, and finally move onto a neutral grip.
Changing your grip after failure at each will allow you to get out more reps.
Use a split stance to focus on core stability and and pillar strength.
Use a 5-1-5 tempo.
Again, use a 5-1-5 tempo and a split stance.
Go heavy, keep the shoulders retracted and use a tight hand-grip.
During the lunge make sure you use a full range of motion and depth so we do not hinder running ability.
Your tempo should be 2 -1 -1.
I would suggest:
If you do not know what to do for prehab/rehab or you do not have a physio, finish your session with these exercises:
In addition, it is vital that you continue to work on your mobility, prehab, rehab and stretches after your workouts.
This routine will help you build mass and power for the rugby field, as well as help you work on technique, speed and agility.
It worked for me, and with some hard work and consistency, it will work for you too.
I just wish I had been exposed to this training programme earlier in my career as it would have sped up my development – and maybe I wouldn’t have been emptied quite so hard by Mose Tuiali’i!
On a side note, if you are brand new to weight training and the gym habitat a good starting point is The New Rules of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove (worth a read whatever your level), and for further information, seek out guys like Nic Gill the All Blacks trainer.
If you feel like giving my off-season routine a go or have any questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!