Rugby Fitness Training: The Ultimate Guide To Get Fitter For Rugby

Programming for rugby fitness training is one of the most challenging but also enjoyable tasks in sport. Why? Because the demands of a rugby player are so far reaching that you need good levels of all fitness qualities. You also have athletes of all shapes and sizes with differing fitness demands depending on position. It’s a challenge but it is also stimulating to be able to use a variety of fitness training methods.

The other challenge is that no one athlete responds the same to a training approach. So you need a large toolbox of fitness training methods and understand which to use with each athlete at the right time.

The purpose of this rugby fitness guide is to teach you everything you need to know to get yourself or your players fitter for rugby.

Before we discuss fitness training:

We’re going to share with you some awesome rugby fitness training methods shortly, but before we do it’s important you understand some prerequisites that will determine how effective your rugby fitness training turns out to be. If you get these things right you will reap the benefits of your fitness training, recover quicker, adapt better and avoid injuries.


You’ve probably heard this before: “You wouldn’t put diesel in a Ferrari”. And it’s right, if you want to get the most out of your fitness then you need to fuel well. Make sure you’re getting the right balance of macronutrients, especially Carbohydrates which are important for fuelling high intensity activities like rugby fitness training and playing.

Learn More About Rugby Nutrition


Hydration not only effects your performance in games and during fitness training sessions, but it also effects your ability to adapt and recovery between them. Make sure you take your hydration seriously. Aim for at least 3-4 litres a day and isotonic drinks during intense fitness training and games.

Hydration For Rugby


Sleep is your number one form of recovery. In fact cryotherapy; which has often been hailed as a great recovery modality is thought to be effective due to it’s impact on sleep! There is also research out there showing that less than eight hours of sleep increases risk of injury and injury stops you from training to increase your fitness. Aim for 8 hours a night and if training really hard try and get a power nap in too.

Listen to our Podcast with The Sports Sleep Coach

3 Things that will get you fitter indirectly: 

Strength Training 

Strength should be a huge priority for a rugby player. Strength is not only needed to dominate the physical collisions in the game but also as the foundation for all other physical fitness qualities that are important for rugby. Strength development is important for improving speed, power and fitness for rugby.

Research has even shown that rugby players who have a stronger squat perform more high intensity work in a game. Not only that, despite doing more in the game they also recover faster between games. If you want to get fitter for rugby, you need to get stronger.

Get Stronger For Rugby NOW!

Plyometric Training 

Plyometric training is mainly considered as a speed and power training modality. But it also has a profound effect on fitness and injury prevention. Improving your plyometric ability makes you more energy efficient ie. It takes less energy for each foot strike you make. If you think about how many foot strikes you make in a game you can potentially save a huge amount of energy by improving your plyometric ability.

Body Composition

Improving your body composition is an easy way to increase not only fitness but also speed. It’s simple really, if you decrease fat mass, the weight that offers no functional or contractile benefit, you will improve fitness scores and be able to cover the ground quicker. If you don’t believe us try running round the pitch for a while with a 10kg weight vest on!

Improving these three factors will help massively to get you fitter for rugby and should be a priority in your rugby strength and conditioning program. Once you’ve got these covered however you need to really consider your rugby fitness training…

Get Bigger For Rugby

Rugby Fitness Training The Basics

Before you can decide what type of fitness training you need to do to improve your rugby performance, you need to understand some of the basics of physiology we’ll start with the energy systems.

Rugby Fitness Energy Systems

Rugby Fitness Training Get Fitter For Rugby

The graph above shows the three energy pathways the body uses to generate and supply energy for physical activity; the ATP-PC, Glycolytic and Aerobic. Let’s look at them all individually:


This energy system provides energy rapidly from the ATP-CP stores in the cell. They typically provide energy for 5-15 seconds of high intensity activity. It is one of the two anaerobic energy systems, which requires no oxygen. 


This energy system generates ATP from glycolysis; the breakdown of glucose. It can provide energy for 20 secs -2mins and again is anaerobic. A by product of glycolysis is lactic acid and hydrogen ions. I’m sure you’ve felt the effects of this after a tough fitness session when your legs feel heavy!


The aerobic energy system requires oxygen to generate ATP and uses protein and carbohydrates but predominantly fat. The aerobic energy system supports long duration low intensity activities. But more importantly for rugby fitness the aerobic system is important for recovery between high intensity bouts.

It is important to understand that the energy systems never work in isolation, they are all being used at varying degrees throughout exercise. You should also understand that the intensity of the exercise you perform and the work:rest ratios you use dictate to a great extent which energy systems get used.

When you look at the energy systems you should see the need for all to be trained to get the most out of your rugby fitness training and how you train will dictate which energy systems you stimulate.

Work:Rest Ratios for rugby fitness training

“It ain’t what you do, it’s how you do it!”

We are going to show some great rugby fitness training methods but it is imperative that you understand that you could employ anyone of these methods but if you don’t use it right you won’t get optimal results.

Here’s an example; you want to get faster and be able to repeat it for the duration of a rugby match so you perform repeat 100m sprints. This could be a good training approach but you use short 30s rest periods which doesn’t allow enough recovery for you to perform them at enough intensity to stimulate the adaptations you desire. In fact it will end up turning into an aerobic fitness session!

The point is you can perform any type of exercise to get fitter for rugby but it is the work:rest ratios that determine whether it is the type of fitness you are targeting. See the table below for the exact work:rest ratios for the fitness qualities targeted. And remember it’s not what you do but how you do it!

rugby fitness training how to get fitter for rugby


Fox, E.L., and Mathews, D.K.(1981). Physiological basis of physical education and athletics. 3rd Edition. Philidelphia: W.B. Saunders

Viru, A. (1995). Adaptation in sports training. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press

If you understand how to use these work:rest ratios you can manipulate any fitness training modality to achieve the fitness qualities you need. This gives you almost endless variations of fitness training sessions to develop. But how do you know what fitness qualities to target with your training?…

Rugby Fitness Tests

Fitness testing is a great way to help you figure out what fitness training you need to perform to get fitter for rugby. For  best results use a testing battery that can gauge your fitness levels of many different fitness qualities. Make sure that covers all the energy systems previously discussed. Then you simply look at how far you are from the standard on each test and the one you are weakest at should be the focus of your fitness training.

Another way to asses your rugby fitness is to take an honest look at your game or ask a trusted coach to give you honest feedback. Do you gas out after a couple of sprints? Do you struggle with the initial intensity of the game but come back as the opposition tires? do you run out of steam in the last 10mins? These questions often give a better insight into your fitness training needs than a one off test. don’t ignore it!

 5 Rugby Fitness Tests

Rugby Fitness Training Methods:

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for!! Here we share some of the best rugby fitness training methods we’ve used in our online subscription program and with some of the top players in pro sport…

Running Rugby Fitness Training Methods:

Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS)

Maximal Aerobic Speed training is a great way to build you aerobic capacity for rugby. It involves determining your MAS from a 5min running test and then using it to program individual specific intervals. An easy tool to use for coaches to train a large number of players but still keep it specific to the individual’s ability. Limitations of it are that it’s one paced so it won’t prepare you for high intensity efforts but research shows it increases aerobic fitness for rugby. There are loads of variations to use and the MAS numbers make it an easy way to program progression.

Hill Sprints

fitness for rugby renegade

If you have access to a good hill then you can get one hell of a fitness session in. You don’t want too steep an incline for best results but occasionally a really steep hill is good for character building. Increase your rest periods for more of a speed/acceleration session and decrease them for more of a conditioning session.

“Hills Pay The Bills!”

Checkout 4 Hill Sprint Sessions for Speed, Power & Acceleration

Repeated Speed

It should be clear by now that you fitness training should improve your ability to produce specific work that you perform in a game and obviously sprinting is high up there! The ability to repeat sprint efforts with minimal drop off in performance is extremely important for rugby players. Some of your rugby fitness workouts should include sprint efforts with relatively short rest periods to simulate the fitness demands of a game.

Learn More About Repeated Sprint Ability

HIIT Shuttles

High Intensity Interval training is a must for anyone who is serious about getting fitter for rugby. These types of sessions will include change of direction, down and ups and of course a variety of different distance sprints. All of these elements make them a rugby specific and tough fitness training workout. These types of sessions are short and intense which makes them a good choice to add at the end of your rugby training to add a conditioning stimulus.

5 Simple Conditioning Sessions for Rugby

Treadmill Sessions

The majority of your running should be done on the field but treadmill fitness sessions can be a good way to reintegrate following an injury or as a change of pace when the pitch is water logged! Difficult to perform really high intensity fitness sessions as it takes a while to get up to speed but great for aerobic work and slightly less stressful on the joints.

Long Slow Distance (LSD)

Long Slow Distance running shouldn’t be used too much if you want to get fitter for rugby. You see rugby fitness is more about repeated high intensity sprint efforts and physical work than running continuously for long periods of time. To really persuade you would you want to play rugby if you had the physique of a distance runner?! Didn’t think so! If you’re really out of shape you might want to use this initially but soon progress to higher intensity fitness training methods.

Resistance Fitness Training Methods:

Barbell Complexes

Complexes are great for challenging the whole body under load for a continuous time. They will improve grip strength, body composition and conditioning. A barbell complex consists of typically 3-6 barbell exercises performed back to back without putting the bar down. Loaded heavy they can be really tough. The only issue is that usually one exercise limits the load. For instance you can squat and deadlift way more than you can overhead press.

The Bear Complex – How To Get A Lot Out Of One Bar!


Resistance Circuits

Resistance circuits involve using a selection of strength training exercises organised in a circuit to elicit a fitness effect as well as building strength. These help with preparing you for the physical aspects of rugby like rucking, mauling, scrummaging and tackling. The goal here is to be able to produce force repeatedly with as little fatigue as possible.

Strongman Workouts

rugby fitness 3

Strongman training is a great addition to a rugby fitness training plan. It adds variety and the exercises tend to challenge the body in compromised positions that you may just find yourself in during a game! Farmers walks, tyre flips, sandbags and keg toss are good places to start. Really good option for front five players.

5 Essential Strongman Exercises For Rugby

Kettlebell Workouts

Kettlebells, if used correctly, build a strong grip, back and core something that will really help your fitness and rugby performance. They are also an excellent teaching tool to learn how to hip hinge properly. Their other benefit is that they are pretty mobile and portable so you can get a fitness session in anywhere or just have a couple at home if you can’t make it to the gym.

Rugby Kettlebell Workout

Medball Conditioning

Medballs are great for building total body fitness for rugby. There are tons of exercises you can use which challenge the body differently to other exercises. Full body explosive exercises repeated with short rest periods is a great way to get fitter and build explosive power and rotational core strength. They also challenge hand eye coordination as a bonus too!

Alactic Capacity Workouts

These are an awesome tool for building the fitness required to repeat high intensity efforts for 80 minutes. They involve short explosive efforts (less than 10s) followed by short rest periods but not too short that you can’t maintain intensity. These are often over looked in rugby players fitness training. Rugby fitness sessions can easily turn into a slog; which doesn’t improve the ability to repeat the high intensity work desired for optimal rugby performance. Think of these workouts as repeated speed with explosive full body lifts!

Wrestling Workouts

Rugby players in both league and union have been known to work with wrestling coaches frequently. Wrestling has excellent carryover to the contact elements of rugby, mental toughness and is pretty tough on the cardiovascular system too! Wrestling is a great addition to other rugby fitness sessions to spike the heart rate and increase the physicality of the workout.

Combined Methods Fitness Training:

There’s no point having good levels of running fitness but gassing out in the scrum or at the breakdown. Likewise you can’t dominate the physical collisions but fatigue after 20 minutes. That’s why you need to use a combination of fitness training methods to prepare you for both. Here are our favourite combined rugby fitness training methods.

Renegade Machine Makers

Rugby Fitness Workout – Renegade Machine Maker

Our machine maker workouts have been developed over years of working in pro rugby trying to figure out a formula for the most effective fitness session for rugby players. The session consists of a combination of full body explosive lifts, upper body strength exercises, lower body strength exercises and to top it all off a high intensity conditioning blast. We believe the machine maker is the best bang for your buck fitness training method for rugby!

For More Workout Ideas Checkout The Rugby Renegade WOD Bible

CrossFit WODs

CrossFit gets a bad wrap form other sports but you can’t knock it if you want a tough total body fitness workout! There are a few things that make crossfit wods a good fit for rugby fitness training. They use explosive exercises, they’re competitive, they’re time dependant, to name a few! You can easily manipulate them to train the energy system you need too. The variety used by crossfit is often criticised but the random chaos we call rugby needs a variety of stimulus to prepare you for the game and prevent injuries.

Prowler & Running/Sprints

rugby workoutThis is a great way to simulate the physical collisions of a game and the intermittent running nature combined. Essentially you combine high intensity shuttles or repeated speed training with explosive prowler sprints. There are tons of ways to do it depending on your needs too. For instance a prop might load the prowler up with really heavy weight perform a 10-15s prowler push and then perform some shuttles. This is a great way to simulate a scrum or maul followed by a long phase of play.

The Best Exercise For Rugby – You’re Not Doing!

Rugby Specific Fitness Training:

Some specific rugby fitness drills are criticised for being so specific that they fail to stimulate the general adaptations desired to improve fitness. This doesn’t mean you should disregard them however. The challenge is to manipulate them so they simulate game demands and develop the desired fitness attributes.

Conditioning Games

Conditioning games are probably the best “bang for your buck” fitness training approach for rugby. The will increase your game specific fitness as well as challenge acceleration, speed, agility, skill, decision-making and tons more! Plus they are heaps of fun and can make getting fitter much more bearable than just running for running’s sake. They aren’t perfect though as the fitness demands depend on the game rules, number of players, pitch size, duration etc. For instance a smaller pitch will challenge change of direction more and larger pitches will lead top greater high speed running emphasis.

Contact Conditioning

These type of fitness sessions are often some of the toughest rugby players will perform. Most players dread seeing the tackle shields out for training!! They are tough but they are also vital to prepare you for the collisions experienced in a match. Usually these sessions include multiple tackles of various technique, breakdown work and often interspersed with short shuttles and down and ups. This type of conditioning is especially important for forwards.

Off Feet/Cross Training Fitness Training 

Off feet or cross training although not rugby specific provides a number of benefits making them notable additions to your rugby fitness regime. You can’t always run so they are great at keeping overuse injuries at bay and when recovering from injury and can’t run. Below are some of our favourite rugby fitness cross training methods and links to some great sessions!


Engine Building

Rowing For Rugby

6 (More) Rowing Sessions for Rugby


Top 5 WattBike Sessions For Rugby

Assault Bike


7 Insane Assault Bike Workouts


swimming for rugby 

Swimming For Rugby – Not Just A Recovery Session!


Periodization of Rugby Fitness Training

As I hope we have made clear, each fitness training method has different purposes and challenges different energy systems. At some point you will have to use each but there are many ways you can arrange your fitness training. Unfortunately trying to do everything at once is a recipe for disaster so you need to be smart and periodize your training for best results. Here are some common types of periodization to give you some ideas of how to setup a fitness plan that will help you get fitter for rugby:

Traditional Periodization

A basic way to organise your rugby fitness training is to start with a high volume of low intensity general work then over time progress to a lower volume of specific high intensity work.

rugby fitness training get fitter for rugby

An example might be starting with a high volume of shuttles then progressing to conditioning games, and finally shorter games interspersed with wrestling and/or contact work.

Block Periodization

The theory behind block periodization is that you can’t adapt to multiple different training stimuli. For instance it is very hard to build muscle mass and increase your speed at the same time, or at least one will not get developed to it’s maximum. Block periodization picks 1-2 fitness qualities that can be developed concurrently (at the same time) and focuses on them solely for the duration of a training block (usually 3-6 weeks). Once good levels of the desired fitness attributes have been achieved you move to another block focusing on something else which builds from the previous block. Here is an example of a typical Block Periodization model for rugby:

Block ABlock BBlock C
Maximum StrengthExplosive StrengthSpeed
Aerobic PowerAnaerobic CapacityAnaerobic Power

Reverse Periodization

Reverse periodization is so named because it is basically the opposite approach to the traditional model. The idea is that there is no point building endurance at a low level where it isn’t specific to the intensity seen in a game. In this way we build speed and power and then increase your ability to repeat those high intensity outputs. The goal being that you have increased you performance level and the ability to maintain it for the duration of a game.

An example of this model would be to start with speed training for 4 weeks, then begin conditioned games for really short durations but encouraging high intensity effort and slowly over time increase the duration of the games. All the time ensuring that intensity remains high.

High-Low Periodization for Rugby

Which type of periodization you use depends on you and your fitness level but it is important to understand that you can’t improve everything at once and you need to organise your training properly to improve your fitness and peak for competition.

Wrap Up

Hopefully we’ve given you more than enough information to take your rugby fitness training to the next level. Make sure you find what fitness qualities need to be improved and then program accordingly. Don’t forget to reassess and modify as needed. If you apply just half of this information to your training you are certain to get fitter for rugby!

If you want the hard work done for you and a program designed to improve rugby performance and decrease injuries then join Team Renegade now…

Recommended Posts