Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Strength & Cardio

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

Let us return to that bastion of homo-eroticism, physical graft, mud, and a quintessentially English desire to cause physical pain while being bound by strict rules that is rugby.

For the uninitiated, you should probably consult my previous expletive-laden post, Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Strength & Power.

If you followed my previous routine, you should now boast thighs with more girth than the Operation Yewtree file against a certain gang of media personalities from the 1970s.

In fact, the first place I look when lining up against my opposite number is the size of the guy’s thighs.

If he has the legs of Mo Farrah, I’ll quietly fancy my chances of a good days work.

If I am looking at the quads of Robert ‘Quadzilla’ Fostermann, then I’ll begin quietly settling my affairs and scribbling out a last will and testament.

Now to ruin all your hard earned gains by putting in some cardio.

Worry not, we will not be neglecting the gym work which is crucial for having the strength to dominate your opposition.

In addition to improving your VO2 Max and muscle endurance, this routine continues to target strength.

After all, lifting heavy weights is scientifically proven to make you happier, more successful, better in bed, and a finer, much more well-rounded person (I’m sure someone has probably backed this up with empirical data).

NB: my routine changed to this in mid-July, I just hadn’t written it down until now.

I have a life.

Fuck you, I’m not a performing monkey.

Now for some science

Sports scientists use the term “high-intensity intermittent exercise” to describe rugby.

Researchers in Canada (Docherty and colleagues, University of Victoria, British Columbia) revealed that during a game an average 47% of time is spent walking or jogging, 6% running or sprinting, 9% tackling or competing for the ball, and 38% standing.

While the low-intensity exercise periods predominate, periods that are the crucial, high-intensity, competitive phases of the game should be concentrated on during training.

Interval training works great to improve your cardiovascular system because it mixes up your routine, causing your body to constantly work hard.

In other words, it prevents the adaption process by not allowing your body to get use to an exercise.

With this in mind I have introduced intervals as they are good fitness builders, and infinitely more acceptable to someone of, erm, modest fitness levels.

I have pre-season training twice per week with my club, if you only have one training session per week then substitute in an interval session.

The routine

Sunday: gym (heavy session)

Exercise Sets Reps
Back Squats 5 5
Bent Over Row 5 5
Military Press 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Deadlift 3 5
Clean and Press 3 15

Monday: solo cardio fitness work (approx 50 mins)

5 mins warm up then:

Exercise Sets
Rowing 10 x (200m max, 30 secs easy)
Bike 8 x (30 secs max, 90 secs easy)
Run 12-20 x (30 secs max, 30 secs easy)

Tuesday: rugby training session

Alternative: intervals (as Monday)

Wednesday: gym (lighter session)

Exercise Sets Reps
Front Squats 3 8 (Half – 3/4 – Max)
Bench Press 3 8
Bent Over Row 3 8
Military Press 3 8
Farmers Walk 3 /
Planks 3 45 secs – 1 minute

Thursday: rugby training session

Alternative: intervals (as Monday)

Friday: gym

Exercise Sets Reps
Back Squats 5 5
Clean & Press 5 5
Bent Over Row 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Good Mornings 3 8
Pull Ups 3 Max

Saturday: rest

Make the most of your free Saturdays.

Go out, eat, drink, sit about all day in a deckchair reading some mummy porn, have a BBQ, blah blah blah.

Whatever you think you’ll be missing out on for the next nine months of Saturdays.



I’m still loving – and becoming slightly obsessed with – squats.

They just do so much for your leg strength, core strength and posture.

Plus between that and deadlifting they are some of the most strenuous exercises.

The number of squats in this routine has been decreased due to the increase in cardio work (aka running).

If your legs feel particularly fucked then chuck in some box squats instead.

Clean and press

I’m new to clean and press, but shit, don’t we all want traps like Tom Hardy?

And then to be held in his strong masculine arms as he tells us everything is going to be OK, that with careful planning and a more Spartan approach to life you can pay off that credit card…

Anyway, clean and press is great.

One strong quick motion to bring the weight up, and then squeeze out the press.

Become Trapzilla.

This exercise is spot on for lifting at line-out time, and I wish I had started on them sooner.

Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine


General rules still apply.

Try to eat clean, but you will need to increase the calorie intake to keep the energy levels up for the amount of cardio you’ll be doing.

I have been trying to introduce more fish to my diet.

Fish high in omega 3 has been proven to improve lung capacity, plus it’s a great low fat protein source.

However, this has proved to be challenging as the other half will seemingly not allow fish to be cooked and consumed within 100m of the flat.

So I’m reduced to anti-social fishy lunches and taking advantage of nights I’m left alone by combining salmon and PornHub into a grotesque lads night in.

It also doesn’t help that my office gives away free doughnuts every Friday.


So, with this pre-season routine we have a super simple cardio workout that includes intervals, as well as a more specialised weights workout.

It’s all about strong legs, back and core.

And having massive traps that will scare the shit out of everyone.

Trapzilla + Quadzilla = Propzilla


So how’s your pre-season coming along?

Think I’m not working hard enough?

Have any questions?

Let me know in the comments section below!

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  1. Hello.

    I’m a strength and conditioning coach, I want more training programs and drills to condition my team.

    Thank you.

  2. Hey, so I was just preparing for rugby, and I was wondering a few things.

    First off, for the workouts, should we be increasing weight every time like Stronglifts, or is that too much?

    Second, how should I know when to increase weight if not like Stronglifts?

    Because Stronglifts is all I’ve ever done and so I’m not used to increasing by myself.

    And third, because rows and bikes usually up our stamina should we do sprints for runs to work on our speed?

    1. Hi Alex.

      I tend to increase the weight when it feels right.

      I’ll try and hit a PB on at least one/two of the big 5 lifts every week.

      Obviously this gets tougher as each week goes by – but you’ll only be doing this routine for a few weeks anyway.

  3. Hi Adam,

    Where do you feel that this workout fits in with the other one that you posted?

    Do you feel this is to be put in once the season approaches?

    I really love your articles and the other workout has given me significant gains so thank you for that.


    1. Thanks Ed.

      I only use this routine for the final 3-4 weeks before the season, but if you’re looking to particularly work on cardio fitness – having spent a fair chunk of last season injured I know I am – than by all means stretch it out .

  4. I’ve played rugby on and off for the last 5 years but I want to get rather serious about it next fall.

    I’m 24, 6ft 235 and im about 13% BMI.

    Is there any suggestion on a position I should train for specifically?

    I’ve found playing lock at 6ft can be troublesome.

    1. Hi Doug,

      If you’ve got gas and decent fitness levels why not give the back row a go?

      Maybe blindside flanker or Number 8?

      You can also offer another option at the lineout.

      Alternatively you can move forward, but training for the front row will take a lot more time and effort as the positions are quite technical.

      If you’re planning on moving out into the backs please stop reading this blog.

  5. Do both this workout and previous workout still relate to back row ?

    1. Yeah boi – it’s all strength work.

  6. Backs rules 😀

    I’m an inside center and I find quite interesting your routines, especially the other one, I’ll give it a try and ill let you know how it went.

    Cheers mate.

    1. Shame, real shame.

      As long as you’re one of those backs who do some ruck work I’ll forgive you.

  7. Hey Adam,

    I’m coming off playing four years of collegiate rugby where I played mostly second row at about 6’2″ 235 however my coach had a knack of finding ways for me to get in the front row when we were short on props.

    As a result, I spent the better part of a season at tight head and got the hang of it.

    However I spent time at blindside flanker too.

    So I’ve been everywhere 3-6.

    Since college I took the fall off and have put on some weight after starting a desk job (sitting all day sucks) and am up to about 250.

    My question is do I work to get back down to a leaner weight and get my fitness up to stay in the second row and possibly back row or do I stop worrying about my weight and focus on strength and embrace by prop-hood?

  8. Hi will this workout be good for a bit of size and strength?

    I don’t play rugby but just want the build haha.

    Also just to clarify the workout is it:

    Sunday – heavy workout

    Monday – cardio

    Tuesday – rugby training / is there a alternative?

    Wednesday- light workout

    Thursday – cardio

    Friday – heavy workout

    Thanks a lot looking forward to hearing from you.

  9. Hello.

    I would love some specific training for my pre-season training.

    I play hooker and have aspirations to play top level so if you could help me out that would be great.