Context: Strength Training for Rugby

Updated: Jan 16

It is deeply rooted within our philosophy at Parfournen that strength is the foundation of all physical qualities for rugby athletes.

Want to run faster? Are you strong enough to generate the required forces?

Want to jump higher? Power = FORCE x velocity.

Want to improve your conditioning? Improved strength allows the body to become more energy efficient.

Want to dominate in contact? Strength.

How do some people manage to just look at a barbell and get stronger? Genetics have a part to play (as they do in everything) - but it's because they are training effectively.

The aim of this blog post is to go into further detail surrounding some of the key considerations when training specifically for strength.

1. Lift Heavy Weights.

Yes, seems obvious. But it is usually the first point we need to address with all our new clients. Most of your average gym 'goers' are stuck in the 3 x 12 reps trap for each exercise. Whilst this may be an optimal rep scheme for hypertrophy (muscle size) it's not going to get you any closer to Eddie Hall.

So what rep scheme should I be focusing on, and why?

Above: The Size Principle

As you may be able to tell from the graph, for strength and power development we should be working within the rep range of 1-5 reps. Our motor units are part of the process for generating force. Our bigger ones are responsible for generating the higher percentages, so it is important we train them.

So how do you go about this?

Firstly, your programming needs to include strength days working in the required rep range (maybe not everyday, but that is for a different blog post). A session full of 1 rep max sets may not break you on the first day, but your body won't hold up for long. In Parfournen programmes, we include sets and reps that look like 4-5 sets x 5 reps.

Secondly, you need to make sure you are lifting a significant weight relative to your 1 rep max.

Above: 1 Rep Max Chart

By doing so you are removing the guessing and leaving nothing to chance. The weight you are lifting is relative to you.

Finally, you need to try and move the weight fast. Hopefully it is heavy if you have figured out your percentages correctly - so it will not exactly fly up. But by moving it 'fast' you are applying maximum force, which means we get the desired motor unit recruitment for strength development.

2. Optimise Your Training Split

The common well known training split looks something like this:

Monday: Chest and Triceps

Tuesday: Back and Biceps

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Shoulders

Friday: Legs and Core

Theres a few problems with this split specifically for rugby.

1. With a game on the weekend it is no good fatiguing any body part on a Friday

2. Who said body parts can only be trained once a week? Myth.

3. Your chest doesn't need 8 different exercises on a single day for rugby performance.

This training split is more suited to bodybuilders, not rugby players.

One consideration is an upper/lower body split. We like to use these in our volume/hypertrophy planning, but not specifically for strength.

For strength, we use more of a full body split, training different 'movements' over the two/three/four days.

For example, on day 1 we may programme a horizontal push (Bench Press) whereas on day two we may programme a vertical push (Push Press) - this way we feel our athletes are able to get the most out of each lift and session.

3. Progression Progression (Deload) Progression.

The body needs a stimulus (weight training) to cause significant stress so it adapts and improves. When you have recovered (and adapted) you will have come back stronger. Now with your 'new strength' you need a new stimulus = increased weight (as well as differentiating exercise selection, but this shouldn't change every session).

Above: Supercompensation

There are two important considerations. Firstly, prioritising recovery. If you don't give yourself adequate time to recover, as well as eat well and get the required amount of sleep to support your training, you will overtrain and burnout.

Secondly is including deload weeks. These weeks are often included at the end of a training block when transitioning into a new one. The aim is to still train, however with a significantly reduced training intensity and/or volume. By doing so it further supports your overall recovery and ability to keep 'moving up' your strength numbers.


To conclude and bring everything together:

- Know your 1 rep max, and lift heavy weights (with force) relative to you

- Build a gym split that suits your playing and training calendar

- Focus on progressing through increased weight and exercise selection whilst supporting your work with optimal recovery strategies

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