Strength, fitness & recovery for playing rugby

13 Mar 2023 14:27PM by Virgin Active

group exercise at Virgin Active

With the rugby season in full swing, you may find yourself longing to pick up the coveted oval ball. Whether you're a veteran of the game or still look at a scrum in bewilderment, players of all shapes, sizes and abilities should know: strength, fitness and recovery are the pillars of this sport. 

Want to know how your gym routine can help you get the most out of your rugby game? Take a look below…


Weight Training

If you’ve made it to the rugby pitch, you’ll know how it feels to be bulldozed to the ground on a Saturday afternoon. With that in mind, people who play contact sports must practice basic muscle-building principles to remain competitive and prevent injury. The stronger a player’s muscles during high-impact sporting, the quicker their recovery will be. 

Here’s some tips for your weight training:
1. Traditional compound movements such as bench pressing, deadlifts and squats are perfect for supporting your rugby games. These exercises engage large quantities of muscle fibres. Compound movements should be the main focus of your workout to build strength efficiently.  For example, bench presses will help you with your hand-offs, deadlifts will help you in a scrum and squats are great for tackling as you’ll practice driving your weight forward. 

2. Try not to overwork one muscle group and neglect others. Strength training for rugby requires a balanced approach as a game tests every muscle in your body.

3. Reduce your rest periods in your conditioning training and compound lifting to 60 seconds to increase the intensity of your workouts and simulate game conditions. You will have little time to rest between movements in a rugby match. This will test your strength and fitness simultaneously. 

Fancy adding weight training to your routine? Come and join us in Lift Club.



Strength and size are meaningless to a rugby player without excellent cardiovascular fitness. Therefore, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a rugby player's best friend. HIIT is a form of cardio, broken up by rest periods. Rugby players experience brief bouts of sprinting, tackling and rucking, interspersed with breaks in play. HIIT can work better than steady-state cardio (SSC) because it closely simulates the conditions of a rugby match. You’ll be able to increase your lung capacity and improve your ability to sustain high-intensity bouts for more extended periods of time. 

Studies show that HIIT also has the following benefits when compared to SSC:

1. HIIT burns more calories per minute than SSC, making it more time efficient.

2. HIIT training develops your capillary networks, increasing blood flow and decreasing recovery times in the affected muscles.

3. HIIT causes excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This process burns extra calories after you have finished your HIIT session.

Like the sound of HIIT training? Book into our Strength and Conditioning Foundations class to give it a try. Our Athletic Training Lead Nick says "HIIT workouts are a great way to develop the specific areas needed to perform in your rugby games. They improve stamina and muscular endurance all in one."


If recovery is crucial for weightlifters, it’s equally as important for rugby players. 

Rest days are an excellent opportunity to reduce discomfort after a match and speed up recovery. Here are some recovery methods rugby players may find helpful:

1. Why not try a spot of Yoga to unknot your sore muscles? If your legs are sore from squatting or the impact of a nasty tackle, you might feel better after a class. You’ll unwind your muscles while tuning into your body and working on your mindfulness. 

2. Gentle swimming and walking are great ways to ease your body back into moving after a tough workout. Apart from the physical benefits of gentle exercise, getting moving when you feel stiff is an excellent way to avoid those rest-day blues. Come and take a dip in our pool (as if you needed an excuse…)

3. Foam rolling is another great way to reduce the discomfort of contact sport and weight training. A 2015 study found that foam rolling relieves muscle soreness and improves muscular performance, getting you back in the gym after game day.

No matter your level of rugby, following these principles will improve your health, fitness and overall well-being on and off the pitch. Why not give them a try? 

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