Developing Power for Rugby Athletes

We have been receiving a number of emails asking how Rugby Athletes can increase their Speed and Explosive Power on the pitch.

Hopefully this article will provide Rugby athletes, coaches and fitness enthusiasts with an adequate amount of scientifically based information which will allow them to use our Rugby Renegade Strength and Conditioning programme effectively. Our programme incorporates explosive based strength training in a safe, efficient, and effective manner.

What is Explosive Strength/Power?

Explosive Strength refers to a Rugby Athlete’s ability to exert a maximal amount of force in the shortest possible time.

For example, think of a Rugby player exploding into a tackle, or a weight lifter squatting a near maximal load or a high-jumper propelling himself off of the ground.

Power, which results from Explosive Strength can be represented as:

Power (P) = Force (F) x Velocity (V)i-feel-the-need-the-need-for-speed-quote-1

So how do we achieve greater Force and Velocity?

Answer: We get stronger and faster!

For individuals that are at a beginner and intermediate level of training then initially improving your maximal strength will be far more important than increasing speed. However, as an individual progresses and exhibits a higher level of maximal strength, targeting training to improve speed becomes an essential component to improving explosive strength and power as well.

But what movements require large amounts of force in short periods of time on a rugby pitch? Explosive movements!

These include sprinting, tackling, jumping, carrying a ball into contact, jackling, side stepping, kicking, passing……punching.

 So how do we actually become more explosive as Rugby Players?

1. We need a Greater Recruitment of Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers.

 To keep things as simple as possible, the human body has two types of muscle fibers; slow twitch (Type I) and fast twitch (Type II).

 Slow twitch muscle fibers are built for endurance/long lasting activities, are predominantly active in smaller motor units, and are the first and easiest for the body to use.

 Fast twitch muscle fibers are built for explosive/high force activities, are predominantly active in larger motor units, and require a much greater stimulus for the body to use effectively.

As a rugby match lasts 80 minutes its important that we have a good combination of both!

2. Improved Rate Coding

 Similar to how recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers is important for improved explosive power development, increasing the frequency of neural impulses sent to these motor units may be beneficial as well.

Simply, rate coding is the frequency at which neural impulses are sent to motor units, which have already been activated. Through improving this process and increasing the rate at which these impulses are sent to the motor neuron, an individual can effectively increase the amount of force created without activating more motor units.

So why is all of this important?

In rugby, we require explosive movements. It is absolutely essential for a rugby athlete to be capable of generating a large amount of force in a very short period of time. As such, specific and targeted training to improve muscle fiber recruitment and rate coding is likely necessary and may dramatically improve on field performance.

When should Explosive Power be trained?

Rugby athletes looking to improve explosive Strength/Power would be best to incorporate these movements near the beginning of a training session. This will allow athletes the ability to perform these (sometimes highly technical) movements when they are most “fresh” and capable of maintaining proper

With one of the primary goals of these movements is to produce as much force as possible, the athlete would likely perform better in a non-fatigued state; if fatigued they may not apply maximal force and subsequently won’t achieve the desired training effect.

However, replicating more game specific situations from a conditioning element it could be beneficial to add these movements in a pre-fatigued state as you often find rugby athletes needing to replicate powerful movements over and over again during a game. You will often see us do this in our WODs.

How is Explosive Strength/Power developed?

Explosive strength and power is developed through teaching the body to produce maximal force in minimal time.

To do so efficiently, we must train both maximal strength and speed strength in a manner which allows for optimal rest, recovery, and adaptation processes to occur, this is a system we implement into our Rugby Renegade Strength and Conditioning Programme.

Lifting heavy is the superior method for improving maximal strength. Handling near maximal loads will teach an individual to apply as much force as possible throughout the entirety of a given movement. Learning to strain and fight through the lift is of the utmost importance for the improvement of maximal strength. We use exercises like Back Squats, Front Squats, Box Squats as well as Bench Press, Weighted Pull Ups and Bentover Rows to develop our maximal strength.

As well as lifting heavy, we also want to lift weights fast, we refer to this as the Dynamic Effort. Zatsiorksy defines the Dynamic Effort Method as “lifting (throwing) a non-maximal load with the highest attainable speed.” Since developing speed-based qualities such as Rate of Force Development and Reactive Ability are very much a skill, using the Dynamic Effort Method is essential in the process of teaching an individual to become as fast and explosive as possible.

Rugby athletes should perform their explosive/power based movements with light to moderate loads (anywhere from 0-60% 1RM). When performing these movements it is essential to actively try to perform the movement as quickly and explosively as possible!


Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that these movements, despite being relatively low intensity (in terms of weight being lifted) can be extremely taxing on the tendons, joints, ligaments, and central nervous system (CNS). Taking this into account, coupled with the fact that each repetition must be performed explosively and with great technique, we recommend performing a minimum of 12 and maximum of 30 individual explosive repetitions per training session. We use a variety of sprinting, jumping and throwing exercises to develop explosive strength and use speed squats and Olympic lifts to develop Speed Strength / Strength Speed.

These Strength qualities are included in our Daily Rugby Renegade Strength and Conditioning Programme in a way that will allow you to achieve optimal on field performance that is our main goal!

Want To Become The Machine You Were Meant To Be?

Join Team Renegade Now

Recommended Posts