Berrick Barnes warming up

The off season is the best time to focus on building strength as the stress of collisions and running in games and training is removed.

Bjorn Basson during the Vodacom Bulls training

Strength is one of the most important qualities to train for in rugby as it determines your performance in so many areas of the game.  Strength is simply your ability to exert force on an object.  The stronger you are the more force you can exert.

Maximal strength is the base upon which speed, power, endurance and most physical qualities are built.  The stronger you are the faster you can run, the harder you can tackle and the easier you will find it to last 80 minutes.

Many programs claim to improve strength but work in repetition ranges and use weights that are not maximally effective for building strength. In order to improve your maximal strength you should use the 3 to 5 rule.

3 to 5 exercises for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps, for example:

Session 1:

Squat – 3 sets of 5

Bench Press – 3 sets of 5

Deadlift – 3 sets of 3

Session 2:

Powerclean – 5 sets of 3

Squat – 3 sets of 5

Push Press – 3 sets of 3

Weighted Chin ups – 3 sets of 5

Exercises used should be compound movements (involving more than one joint e.g. hip, knee and ankle in a squat) using free weights. Add enough weight that the last rep of the last set is a struggle but does not ruin your form. If you train 2 or 3 times in one week you will be able to cover each of the 6 movement patterns. For a list of exercises to draw from have a look at the Guide to Strength and Conditioning article.

Order the exercises by performing the ones that are most complex and involve most muscle first and try to alternate between movement patterns as in the examples above.

Prepare yourself by each exercise by starting with just a barbell or very light dumbbells and adding weight over several sets until you reach the weight you will use for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps.  This way you can rehearse the movement and be sure that the relevant joints, muscles and tendons are prepared for the exercise.

Make sure to use progressively heavier weights as long as you can maintain form.

For those who aren’t used to strength training or returning from a lay off an excellent program by Mark Rippetoe in his book, Starting Strength Novice Progression. Here is an explanation, and you can find his book here.

For players with higher strength levels the Texas Method is an excellent off season program.