Pre-Season Rugby Training Routine: Strength & Power

There is more to strength training than looking like a musclebound Peter Sutcliffe, bench pressing a small family car and eating your body weight in chicken breast.

I mean Gaston clearly trained for strength – necking loads of eggs and generally showing off how much heavy shit he could carry or throw.

But then he spent the rest of the film being all sinister and trying to rape Belle.

Beauty and the Beast is a pretty fucked up film when you think about it.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to put all that strength training to good work, and since pitched medieval battles in fields are no longer the cool way to settle national disputes, your next best option is team sports.

Preferably intense, brutal and physically demanding team sports.

Like Rugby.

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This article will deal with the pre-season training routine of a rugby prop forward (me) looking to build the explosive strength and power needed for the position.

The prop forward is historically the most rotund, strong and physically intimidating member of the playing squad.

Whilst also being the laziest, most keen to hit the beer, and often not genetically blessed with the gift of a neck or a metabolism.

I also benefit from a lower centre of gravity thanks to my stumpy legs, and a fucking abrasive ginger beard which can be used as a weapon of last resort.

Sorry ladies I am taken.

Rugby? I don’t think I’ve heard of that muscle?

First of all, it’s probably a good idea to introduce the uninitiated to the sport of rugby.

Essentially, you can only throw the ball backwards and there is no pussying out at any time.

You also need balls-out intensity and concentration at all times.

Can you name any other sports where you take to the field wearing no padding whatsoever with only an absurdly short pair of shorts to cover your modesty?

With rugby, you essentially embark on pitched battle against 15 other ape like human beings hell bent on smashing you into the ground on their way to victory.

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Plus when the weather gets real shitty it essential becomes one big, slightly complicated, homoerotic mud wrestle, with the addition of an egg shaped ball and a dude with a whistle.

Players are split into two groups.

If you train for physique and spend a lot of time checking yourself out in the mirror before, during and after every gym session, then you are a back.

And you might as well stop reading now and go back to creeping on girls in All Bar One, this post is not for you.

If you train for strength, treat every callous as a trophy and think there is a special place in hell reserved for anybody who curls in the squat rack, then you are a forward.

Welcome to the fraternity.

What is a Prop?

The props are two of the eight ‘forwards’ in a team.

The two props with the hooker between them form the ‘front row’ in each scrum.

As a rule:

The more muscle the better

● The tougher the better

● The stronger the better

● The more intimidating the better

Packing in to a scrum is very physically demanding.

A short, thick, muscular neck is really useful as it will reduce the risk of injury

To get the idea of the strength involved at the top of the game here’s South Africa’s Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira shoulder pressing his 112kg colleague.

Another great example is former England prop Andrew Sheridan.

According to his Wikipedia page Sheridan is disgustingly powerful.

He is a near-elite class power lifter and able to bench press 225 kg (35 st 6 lb; 496 lb) and squat 275 kilograms (43 st 4 lb; 606 lb).

You can watch Mr Sheridan man shaming the Aussie scrum in the 2007 World cup below:

If you want to find out more about rugby positions, check out the RFU’s position guide.

Pre-season Phase 1: Power

OK, so this is technically pre-pre season before we start working stamina which means, gulp, cardio.

As such we can almost exclusively focus on power.

This is without a doubt my favourite part of pre-season as I can go to the gym, lift heavy, and then go home and feel quietly smug with myself.

This phase is all about lifting as heavy as you can, adding slabs of muscle, and pushing your 5RM to the absolute limit.

So with this in mind I have basically tweaked the standard SL 5X5.

Once you are warmed up, every session will begin with squats – good, deep, heavy squats.

And as long as you have come close but haven’t shit your intestines out of your arsehole, you may progress to the rest of the session.

For vanity reasons I also chuck in some arm work – it’d be fucking embarrassing if you cannot fill out the sleeves on your jersey at the start of the season.

If you know you have a certain deficiency then this early pre-season is also a great time to get to work on it.

Personally I have to work on my inability to haul my fat arse up for more than 3 chin-ups.

I haven’t listed specific weights as I don’t want to turn this into a dick measuring contest.

(There’s always someone who can lift more, and there’s always someone with a bigger dick.)

The Routine

This power and strength routine includes three full-body workouts and one gentle cardio session per week.

Day 1

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Bent Over Row 5 5
Seated External Rotation 3 8
Farmer’s Walks 3 To Failure

 

Day 2

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Military Press 5 5
Deadlift 3 5
Chin Ups 3 8
Planks 3 Front, 3 Each Side 1 Minute Each

 

Day 3

Exercise Sets Reps
Squats 5 5
Bench Press 5 5
Good Mornings 3 5
Seated External Rotation 3 8
Farmer’s Walks 3 To Failure

 

Day 4

Gentle 3-5k run.

Notes

No shoes

Take your shoes off for deadlifts, squats and military press.

I added 20kg to deadlift overnight and all my other lifts are progressing much quicker thanks to an improvement in stability and form.

Good Mornings

Good mornings are fantastic.

Good back strength is crucial in setting the height of the scrum at engagement and dominating your opposite number.

But I only do them during off-season otherwise your back never recovers for games.

And if you are new to them, start with half your body weight at most and slowly work up.

Form is important as you don’t want to decapitate yourself, and be prepared for your hammies to burn the next day.

Farmer’s Walks

No matter how busy the gym is, do Farmer’s Walks.

Take your dumbbells over to the matts or just take them for a walk past the sexcersizer, whatever keeps you going.

Take my advice and try to avoid walking into the guys bigger than you, and be careful when you fail to avoid dropping the fucking things on your toes.

Squats

An important aspect to bear in mind when squatting is the pace at which you do it.

For this stage you should be aiming for a 30X0.

By which I mean you take 3 seconds to slowly lower the weight, and then once you are at your lowest point, you immediately explode upwards.

There is no resting at the top – you must instantly begin taking the weight down again.

This gives the squats a sweat factor of 10.

After squatting heavy every session the 5k run will feel like 15k.

Try to avoid any steep inclines and remember that the focus in this phase is power, so don’t feel like too much of a douche if you have to sacrifice a little running distance to keep your squats strong.

Seated External Rotation

You should aim for 10% of your 5RM bench.

Admittedly you’ll feel a bit of a tit when the 8kg dumbbell has you sweating on the last set.

Personally I have seen great improvements in shoulder strength and flexibility, as well as quicker gains on the bench and shoulder press compared to before I started.

Nutrition

As a bloater this is the bit I’m shit at.

I just love food too much – I train dirty, I eat dirty.

But little changes go a long way.

For instance, I cut 5kg (probably a lot more fat than that as I gained muscle) in one month by just reducing carb intake.

I had tuna/chicken and salad at lunch, much smaller carb portions at dinner, and snacked smarter, eating fruit, nuts (almonds are fucking delicious and a great source of protein) and biltong (thank you South Africa for your meat drying skills – and while we are at it well done for abandoning racial segregation as a means of maintaining minority rule).

Important: you need fuel to lift so carbs are still essential.

Don’t suddenly cut back on the calories or your lifts will be shit, your training will be a waste of time, and you’ll just generally be a disappointment to everyone.

Go play rugby

If you feel inspired to take up a proper sport and put some of your hard earned muscle to good use, then use the RFU’s club finder to find your local club and get your arse down to training.

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You’ll also benefit from the rich and varied social scene which goes with it:

Chinning pints until you’re sick through your nose, drinking out of any vessel which can hold liquid, getting naked on away day buses and freaking out the little old lady in a Nissan Micra you’re overtaking.

Or watching your teammate shit himself halfway down the M40 because he’s too tired and pissed to get up out of his seat.

Signing off

If you have any questions about this pre-pre season workout, rugby in general, or the average wind speed velocity of an unladen swallow, then let me know in the comments section below.

I look forward to hearing from you!