The Off-Season Rugby Lifting Guide
Here’s how to hit next pre-season stronger, fresher, and ready to dominate on the pitch!
For amateur rugby players, the weights room can be a best friend and a place to dread. But off-season gym work doesn’t have to be boring or painful. In fact, putting in some sensible work in your off season should help you rest, recuperate, and get much stronger so you arrive at the start of pre-season a better player. Whether you play League or Union, forward or back, here’s how to make the most of your off-season gym time, not forgetting those all important sports supplements!
5 Key Reasons To Hit The Gym In Rugby Off Season
1) Recovery. Off season is the time to recuperate after your competitive season. Gym work will help your body recover without losing fitness.
2) Strength. Properly programmed gym work in off season helps you increase your maximal strength before the start of pre-season.
3) Power. Rugby (especially rugby league) is very power orientated, and building more strength gives a solid foundation to physical output.
4) Conditioning. Include conditioning-style CV or weights work into your gym training and you’ll become a faster, sharper player.
5) Cardio. Smart cardio choices will keep your fitness up and help you start next season in decent shape
Off Season Rugby Training And The Gym
Most rugby players’ off season lasts 12-16 weeks. This is not a time to beast yourself, but there’s no point letting everything go for months, either. Off season is a valuable opportunity to put in a different kind of hard work so you feel the benefit when next pre-season rolls around. The change of focus is likely to leave you feeling fresh and reinvigorated, and time away from the pitch will let you concentrate on weaknesses, misalignments, and areas of your strength and power that are lacking.
Gym Programming For Rugby Off Season
Off season gym work should definitely not be about fancy body part splits with tons of accessory work, or long workouts which drain your ability to recover. Remember, the focus here is on doing some solid foundation work to benefit the upcoming rugby season. You’re not a bodybuilder. You’re still a rugby player. The only thing that’s changed is your training ground – temporarily.
Your gym training must prioritise exercises that give the most bang for your buck. This naturally means multi-joint, compound exercises. You should focus on thee categories of movement (not exercise): pulling, pushing/pressing, and squat. The best rep ranges will be low rep, heavy load for total low volume. This approach will help build maximal strength before your pre and in season training brings in the power-based training. If you need a place to start, try the coach Tsatsouline method: training 3-5 times a week, with 3-5 separate exercises per session, and 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps per exercise. It’s easy to remember, simple to track, and a solid place to start
As with any training, your off-season gym work should still be progressive. But you must find the delicate balance between progressive overload and recovery. Push just hard enough to keep the stimulus on your body, but never tip into overtraining territory. For example, you could do 4 sets of 6 reps for the first 4 weeks, and then add a small amount of weight to the bar when that feels easier. If you can do the same workout with the same load and not compromise form (even on the final couple of reps), you can probably add 5% weight to the bar next time.
Off season training for amateur players should be limited to 4 days a week. The focus is on applying enough training stimulus to elicit adaptation, and then give plenty of time and energy to recovery. After a tough competitive season, you will probably be glad of the opportunity to train less often and spend more time focusing on other areas of your life!
You could split training as push/pull/legs (3 days), upper/lower/upper/lower (4 days), or push/pull/legs/upper (alternative 4 days). Or if you have 2-3 days between gym sessions, you could do full body every time.
Pull exercise options
Push/press exercise options
Squat exercise options
Barbell back squat
Core & Conditioning In Off Season
Off season is also a valuable time to work on core strength and conditioning. Both of these training factors will pay off in greater power output, control, and stability next time you’re on the pitch. Forget sit ups and try whole-body movements which put your core under tension: planks and plank variations, barbell roll outs, Turkish get ups, and hanging leg raises are good options.
Conditioning work will contribute to your general physical preparedness when pre season starts (and your coach will thank you for it!) Don’t be one of those guys who rocks up to pre-season training out of shape and with a ton of work to do.
Cardio Selection For Off Season Players
A little well-placed conditioning work in off season will keep your fitness levels high, train your metabolic system, and keep you feeling fresh and athletic even though you’re not playing matches. Cardio in off season should be a maintenance exercise, not a bid to make any vast changes in CV fitness. Your pre-season training will see to that!
Think short to medium duration and high intensity activity rather than tons of time on your feet. Outdoor runs with short periods of high intensity work, sprints, 100m drills, hill reps, and cardio work on gym machines are all good choices. Don’t head for the stepper or the stationary bike. Instead, seek out the Concept2 rower, Wattbike, Airdyne or Assault bike, or Ski Erg. Yep, all the stuff most people avoid! (Think positive: you’ll never have to queue for these bits of gym kit!)