Fit for rugby

Fit for rugby


During the early days of professionalism coaches and trainers did not know how to fill the day of their players.

They trained for two hours in the morning, followed by two hours in the gym with another long training session in the evening.

Players could not keep up with the demands and although they were training hard - they weren’t training smart.

Nowadays every club spends a lot of their time on strength and conditioning trying to keep their players fit, big, strong, fast and out of the physio room.

When we talk about fitness, we have to be specific. All because you can be fit for a marathon, it doesn’t mean you are fit for the shot putt.

The same applies on the rugby pitch. It is very important to train your props differently to how you train your scrum halves.

Scrum halves can run up to nine km during a game and most of that is at a moderate to fast speed.

A prop will not run anywhere near as far or as fast as that but they will have to do lots of big exertions during a game such as scummaging, lifting in lineouts and tackling.


These guys spend most of their time pushing in scrums, driving lineouts and hitting rucks. They are the work-horses of the side.

They need to be strong and be able to keep going at all times.

With all the pushing these players do, it imperative that they have a strong lower body and core. Squatting, heavy sled pulls and weighted glute bridges are great exercises that will help them out on the field.

In order to get strong, you need to lift heavy weights around three to six times - and do repeated sets of them. Always get advice from a qualified professional who can show you the correct techniques to use.

There is no point running these players into the ground because in a game, they rarely run for more than 10 metres before they are involved in a big exertion of some sort.

For example, they will scrummage, then move into position, then make a tackle, move into a different position, then hit a ruck.

Then they will have a break of 40 seconds or so until the next scrum or lineout. So this is how they should be trained.

Interval-based training interspersed with bouts of maximum efforts is the way forward.

Maximum efforts can be things like tyre-flipping, sled drags, one-on-one wrestling or anything else you can dream up to mix things up a bit.

The work-to-rest ratio is the key to training rugby players effectively - and 'front five' players aim for 2:1.

If a rep lasts 20 seconds, give them 10 seconds rest before repeating it.


The backs are the racehorses of the rugby world and need to train this way. Speed is vital to this set of players and all of their training should reflect this.

They should do strength work in the gym (strong legs means better acceleration) as well as lots of power work.

I believe the best way to become fast is to run fast, so spend some time each week doing some speed drills and accelerations with your backs.

Come up with drills where the player has to react to a stimulus, then get them to sprint to a cone or beat a team mate one-on-one.

The stimulus can be anything from you calling out a player's name or holding up different coloured cones. Over a period of weeks, make sure that you mix the drills up to account for different sprint lengths directions and also some evasion work.

Being fit for a back is not about running long distances because this just teaches them to run at a steady speed.

In a game situation, backs do explosive sprints, make a tackle and then have a relatively long rest, so make sure that their cv sessions reflect this.

The work-to-rest ratio for them should be 1:1 - this allows for quality reps rather than lots of poor, slow ones.

Interval training drill from Sam Vesty for rugby fitness

Interval training for rugby fitness.

The player starts at A, hits through the tackle shield, changes direction and clears a ruck (a player holding another hit shield over a sausage bag), he then gets up and sprints through to the end.

The trainer gives five seconds' rest, then the player leaves from B and does a similar run to the first one.

At the end of that, the player has five seconds to get to the C position. From here, he does three sprints of 25 metres with 10 seconds rest in between. This counts as one set and the player will typically do between six and ten sets with 30 seconds' rest between them.

The number of sets depends on the level of fitness of the individual. Do not predetermine how many sets the player is to do. When they start to drop off the pace, that is when you should finish the session. It is imperative to record how fast the player is completing the 25 metre sprints.  It is from these figures that you can tell a) if the player is working as hard as he can and b) when to finish the session.

Remember, it is quality not quantity thast we are aiming for.


I am sorry to have to say this but if players are carrying too much body fat, this will seriously damage the effectiveness of a team.

Over a team, there can be as much as 30kg of extra weight. None of it serves a purpose.

If each player targets this area, your team as a unit will be fitter and faster for longer.

The best ways to target body fat is through exercise and diet.

With exercise, the best way to burn calories is to do interval training. Sessions like the one above are a perfect example of this.

Also, as part of any body fat programme, lifting weights is vital. If you can build more muscle, you will be constantly burning fat, even when you are resting.

With regards to diet, there is a lot of stuff written on this subject all over the media. Personally, I would suggest that you cut out sugary foods and eat a good lump of protein with every meal.

And the only way to be successful in the long term is to make lifestyle changes. There is no point in going on a diet for a week and then falling back into old habits that hurt you.

And you need to make changes that are attainable. Do not, for example, say I will never eat chocolate again. Believe me, it doesn;t work and I speak from experience. Instead, tell yourself that you will eat a little bit of chocolate, occasionally.

Good luck with the training and let me know how you get on with any of the above. I'd love to hear from you.

Similarly, if you need any further ideas on training suggestions, I will try and help as many of you as I can though the Living Rugby website, or via @LivingRugby and @samuelvesty

Read more of Sam's coaching tips on his blog.

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