Strength and conditioning training based on muscle movements rather than muscle groups

Many gym-goers base their strength and conditioning training on muscle groups (legs day, chest day, back day, arms day etc) but this is a flawed plan as muscles need to work together to produce movement. So really we should train movements not muscles, writes Simon Nainby.

There are six basic movement patterns that we all use in our daily lives and when playing rugby. They are:

Squat, Bend, Push, Pull, Twist and Single Leg

We group these movements together to perform skills on the pitch such as scrummaging (squat, bend and push), rucking (squat, bend, push, pull) and mauling (squat, single leg, push, pull).

Practising good form in these patterns in the gym will allow the moves to become second nature so that when under pressure in a game, you will find it second nature to hit a ruck with a flat back or land from a lineout without turning your knees and ankles in.

Knowing these movement patterns and the exercises that train them will help you plan your training sessions to ensure you are efficient in what you do on the pitch.

Is It Time To Rethink Strength & Conditioning In Rugby?

Here are some rugby strength and conditioning sample exercise videos:

Strength and conditioning: Squat

This is a key movement pattern for virtually all sports. It builds strength primarily in the legs and hips (but also core strength) but importantly it develops balance, co-ordination and even flexibility. Done properly squats will help prevent injury as they strengthen the hips, knees and ankles to stay in the correct alignment.

Sample exercises:

Back Squat

Front Squat

Overhead Squat

Strength and conditioning: Push

The upper body movement of pushing an object away from the body or the body away from an object such as a hand off. There are 2 forms of push – horizontal (arms in front of the chest) and vertical (arms above the head) and they can be done with one hand or two.

Sample exercises:

Jammer Press

Bench Press

Arnold Shoulder Press

Overhead Press

Strength and conditioning: Pull

An upper body movement pulling the body towards something or pulling something towards the body.  Again this can be horizontal or vertical and one hand or two.

Sample exercises:

Pull ups

Suppine Pull

Strength and conditioning: Bend

Bending at the waist is something we constantly do in rugby as we pick up a ball, tackle, hit a ruck or scrummage or before we jump.  It is also a major source of injury and back pain so learning to keep a natural curve in the lower back as we bend and shoulders squeezed back is very important.

Sample exercises:

Romanian Deadlift

Good Morning

Strength and conditioning: Single Leg

Anything done on one leg which for the most part is running but also includes the following exercises:

Step Up

Bulgarian Split squat


One Leg Squat

Single Leg Romanian Dead Lift

Strength and conditioning: Twist

Rugby involves not only twisting through the torso such as when passing but also resisting twisting movements such as props resisting each other in a scrummage.

Sample exercises:

Twists: Medicine Ball Twist

Push Up and Rotate

Strength and conditioning: Combos

Once you have good technique in each pattern you can start putting them together in combination exercises that work more than one pattern just as happens on the pitch.

Sample exercises:

Deadlift – Pull & Bend

Powerclean – Pull, Bend, Squat

Glute Band – Squat & Push

Press/Push Press/Jerk – Push, Squat

Burpee – Push, Bend, Squat

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