Pre-Season Rugby Training: The Complete Guide

Membership Program: In Season 2122 Block 3 – Day 28 Recovery

Pre-Season Rugby Training

Pre-season is a time of year that holds a significant importance for rugby players. It is feared by many as a brutal period of training that pushes individuals to their absolute limits and exposes deficiencies that they never knew they had, or, perhaps, that they knew they had and pre-season exposes them to the world; coaches and teammates alike!

This article and the included videos will present and talk through how to get the most out of your pre-season program and give you some helpful hints and tips that you can apply to your own training.

For you to have an effective pre-season and for the purposes of this article we have assumed that you have made the most of your off-season. If you want to check out more information on training during the off-season and getting yourself ready for pre-season then simply use the search function on the website to find all of our off-season resources. Going into a pre-season cold is a recipe for disaster in terms of injury risk and flaring up tendon and soft tissue issues, even if you follow the advice in this article to the letter!

Rules to maximise your pre-season:


  1. DO NOT TRY AND CHEAT THE SYSTEM. You can not cram preparation in for pre-season, you are where you are in terms of your fitness and strength and frantically trying to make huge leaps is likely to put you at risk of injury. Progressive overload is key
  2. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS. Pre-season is about improving yourself. It is easy to get bogged down looking at other players around you but ultimately it is where you are now, and where you want to get to that are the most important factors
  3. DO WORK OUT WHAT YOUR PRIORITIES ARE AND SET GOALS. Goal setting has to be a fundamental part of the pre-season block. If you do not know where you are going, how do you know when you get there? Goals keep you accountable.
  4. DO PLAN AHEAD. If you  are working in a structured system then the planning may be done for you. If not then planning phases in to your pre-season is essential. For this we would advise progressive 3-5 weeks of training followed by a de-load to allow your body to adapt to the higher level of loading. Within the training blocks there should be a logical structure to follow – no lower body weights before speed exposure is a good example
  5. DO FULLY COMMIT. Pre-season is not easy, it can feel long and it can be tough going. If you fully commit to a well structured, progressive program you stand the greatest chance of maximising your progress and preparing yourself for the season ahead. If you don’t do the work, don’t expect the results
  6. DO TRAIN WHAT MATTERS. Rugby players need to use multiple physical and mental characteristics on the field and pre-season is a great opportunity to develop all of them. To identify and focus on the type of training you should be prioritising, take a look at the Rugby Renegade Performance Pyramid. It is a useful guide to let you know where you’ll find the most low hanging fruit and see the most returns for your efforts.
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Planning your Pre-Season

Long term view: Macro-cycle

Crucially and before doing anything else, look at your timeline and create a skeleton structure to your pre-season block. Here are four options you could use depending on when you start your pre-season and when your first competitive match will be, 6, 8, 10, and 12 week structures. There are different ways of viewing “friendly” or “trial” matches. Either as a competitive match or as part of your pre-season training. Whatever your views are of friendly fixtures, it is vital you have a deload week prior to that first league or cup match – you need to be at your freshest and chasing an additional high load week will not help your performance when round 1 arrives. If you include trial games as part of your pre-season then try and align them with a high-load week. Games generally will produce higher physical demands than training.

What dictates a low, moderate or high load week?


Monitoring load doesn’t need to be made overly complicated. If you don’t have access to monitoring tools, a stop watch and planning your drills is a great place to start. If you don’t have access to devices like rugby specific GPS units, a lot of higher end wearables will allow you to get plenty of useful data that can help inform your choices. All it takes is for a small group of players to wear them and you’ll get enough for a group average. 


For any metrics that you may measure we would only recommend an increase of 10-15% between each level of loading: low – moderate – high. 


There are no end of metrics that you can measure to establish load profiles for players. A few that are commonly used are the following: 


Field based markers

Total volume (you could use time or distance for this but total distance is preferred)

Meters per minute (total meters / time in minutes):  A good measure of intensity

Acceleration & Deceleration load

High speed running meters 


Gym based markers

Total load (weight x sets x reps for each lift in each session)


Player load markers

Rating of perceived exertion (RPE) x duration of session in minutes


De-load weeks & Recovery


It may not be that you have a week off but a reduction in overall load to similar volumes and intensities of the low load weeks would be appropriate. That way your body is allowed to re-generate and you don’t miss out on valuable gym and field based training. 


Equally as important is the importance of appropriate recovery. As a rule of thumb, recover as hard as you train. During the moderate and especially the high load weeks, recovery is crucial! A minor reminder though – Do not mistake recovery for avoiding getting the work in. Pre-season is hard. It should be hard and it will help you improve as a player and an athlete if you apply yourself. Keep your training days high and your recovery days as low as possible. Chasing extras will not help you in the long run. For position specific components like kicking, tackle tech, breakdown tech, etc. bolt those on to the end of your field sessions rather than adding them to your days off. Your body is already warm and due to their nature unit specific skills should be more controlled than open field based training. The days off are there for a reason and it is not so you can spend 2 hours goal kicking, flaring up your adductors and fatiguing your hamstrings before training the next day. You will see in the example weekly schedules where you can add in your positional extras and unit specific skills.


Weekly View: Meso-cycle


So what does a pre-season program look like? We are going to present two structures, the three and the four day training week. Both with two consecutive days off in the training week, they do not necessarily need to be Saturday & Sunday as you might want to use those as key training days. If you are wanting to see meaningful change then we advise 3 days as a minimum over the pre-season training block. The two schedule options here maximise the time between lower body training and reduces the potential impact of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and lower body fatigue impacting field based sessions and speed exposure. We haven’t included timings in the programs as this will depend largely on your training facility and availability.


4 Day training week


X4 Field sessions

X4 Units skills

X2 Speed exposures (over 90% max 2-3 efforts)

X2 Skills focussed sessions

X2 Upper Body sessions

X2 Lower body sessions

day training week pre season

3 Day training week


X3 Field sessions

X3 Units sessions

X2 Speed exposures

X1 Full body weights

X1 Lower body weights

X1 Upper body weights

day training week pre season

Session Structure: Micro-cycle

If you train efficiently the following time lines should be enough to complete meaningful sessions without overloading


Field based warm ups: 15-20 minutes

Team sessions: 60-90 minutes

Units Skills: 30 minutes

Gym prep & injury prevention: 10-15 minutes

Gym Sessions: 60 minutes


More is not always more. Look for quality over quantity. Always.


As a coach or player the content and duration of the sessions should always be communicated to the group. Going in to the unknown creates a self management and self preservation mentality about holding something back in the tank. Just in case. Session structure should be communicated clearly and ahead of time to get the best from them.

The Importance of Speed Exposure

Including speed exposure and speed prep is essential to be included in pre-season. It is for this reason we have included 2 exposures in each of the example meso-cycles. 2-3 efforts at above 90% is classed as a very high velocity effort. Of course, the actual executed speed will differ greatly across a squad of players but it is the relative speed for each player that is important. 


Running at over 90% of maximal speed has been shown to have a protective effect against soft tissue injury. 95%+ is even more protective. It should be a feature of your pre-season and should be maintained in-season too with a reduction in volume (1-2 exposures of 1-2 efforts).


Relating the speed exposure to the macro-cycles above the speed exposure should be relevant to the level of the training week load.


Low load: 75-80% Maximum velocity

Moderate load: 80-90% Maximum velocity

High Load: 90%+ Maximum velocity


By doing this you will progressively introduce speed exposure in-line with the overall training exposure, helping to reduce the risk of injury.


For more resources on speed check out our other articles and resources on the website and YouTube channel.


rugby player running fast. Speed

Pre-Season Testing

Should you test in pre-season?


This is a question that gets asked all the time! Some coaches and teams are a big fan of testing, others not at all and some sit in-between. You may have spoken to or listened to coaches that are 100% against testing, some 100% in favour. Like with most things related to performance sport there is no black and white. It is very context dependent and depends largely on what tests you choose to do and how they are executed that will dictate their value. 


First and foremost


TRAINING DATA INFORM YOUR TRAINING JUST AS MUCH AS TESTING. If you are not a testing advocate then simply tracking your training can show week on week progress. It also removes the temptation to over reach simply to score well on a test. We mentioned some of the possible metrics you can track earlier in the article. 


If you are part of an organisation or team that like to do pre-season testing then here are some simple tips to get the most from it:


MEASURE WHAT MATTERS: Your team should have identified key attributes for your style of play and team ethos – behaviours that fit a model. Choose tests that are in-line with those desired qualities. 


MEASURE BEFORE AND AFTER: A stand alone test tells you very little in terms of measuring progress. 


PREPARE APPROPRIATELY: Tests need to be factored into the training week. Tests by their very definition may add a lot of stress to your body. Factor it in and adjust accordingly. Running tests before a high intensity field based session just does not make sense. 


DON’T TRAIN TO GET BETTER AT A TEST, TRAIN TO BECOME A BETTER RUGBY PLAYER. Having worked through a high number of pre-seasons in our careers we can safely say that some of the best players we have worked with do not test well, for a number of reasons. It does remind us that testing is not the be all and end all and when it comes to selection for a shirt. We have never seen that decision made using pre-season testing data. Use test and training data to inform you about where you are  in relation to your teammates but most importantly where you were. 


TESTING CAN BE A GREAT TEAM BUILDER. Let’s face it, we are all competitive by nature and testing can be a great way to introduce an element of competition within a group and serve as a fantastic motivator to push each other. Never underestimate the value of competition within a rugby team!


The focus of this article is getting your pre-season structure right. Nutrition will play a big part of your ability to train at your best and recover between sessions but it is not the focus here.

You can find all the information you need in our article: Nutrition for Rugby

Summary: Pre-Season Training

Pre-season training for rugby can seem overly complicated. But, as with most of the advice we give players. Get the basics right, work consistently hard and the results will come!

For pre-season it is easy to get tempted to over train. Start with the end in mind and work backwards to establish your monthly, weekly and daily program (we’ve done all of this for you in the membership and the pre-season training programs)

Where to find out more:

If you would like a fully detailed pre-season training plan we have two great options for you:


  • The Rugby Renegade Membership where you will get daily training programs including gym sessions and conditioning as well as injury prevention and recovery sessions
  • The Rugby Renegade Pre-Season E-book covering gym based sessions and conditioning for your whole pre-season training block

If you have an actual injury it is important that you get it reviewed by a professional before starting any rehab or corrective exercises that you see on our site. You can book online, rugby specific physiotherapy consultations on our website.

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