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Ask Dave: Bodyweight Training for Rugby

“hey dave,

I just wanted to ask you if you had any ideas on bodyweight exercises specific to rugby. I train twice a week at rugby but have no access to weights or equipment outside of my training time. Would be awesome if you could help thanks man! Liam”

Hi Liam, Thanks for the question.

First, there are no exercises that are specific to any sport other than the sport itself. We use exercises to develop attributes that make us better able to perform the sport. With that in mind, we need to think about the needs of a rugby player.

Now if this was private consultation I’d quiz you on your individual wants and needs. Usually I half listen to your wants and wait until you get round to telling about the things you really suck at. This is where program design starts.

My training philosophy is and has always been to figure out the weaknesses and hammer them into strengths. If we keep doing this, always reassessing, always looking to see what is our weakest link and then bringing that up, we should end up with a truly well rounded and well prepared athlete. of course I add in a few “wants” just to stop keep you interested…… Now back to the question.

A rugby player needs:

Strength, Power, Agility, Speed, Quickness, Resilience the ability to recover quickly.

The order these fall in will vary according to position. There aren’t too many super agile prop forwards or massively powerful fly half’s, but everyone has a finger in every pie. So what bodyweight drills will help tick of these boxes?


Unilateral Drills such as 1 Arm Push Ups and Single leg Squat variations. A sample bodyweight only strength session may look like this:

  1. 1A: 1 Arm Push Up x 3-5 L/R

  2. 1B: Pull Up x 3-5 perform 3-5 rounds with 1 min breaks between 1A & 1B. A backpack stuffed with books will add weight to the pull up whereas simply elevating the feet will increase resistance in the push up.

  3. 2A: Pistol Squat x 3-5L/R

  4. 2B: knee jump x 3-5 perform 3-5 rounds with 1 min breaks between exercises. Pistols may be performed to a box/step/coffee table if full range is too much.

Power: Plyometric and Jump training, such as broad jumps, knee jumps, plyo push ups.

Reps here should be kept low, personally I stick to 3 or 4 reps on plyo’s with plenty of rest between sets. The goal is to get more bounce, more height and this takes rest. Plyo’s must come first in the workout. Jump training doesn;t rely on the stretch loading cycle and are generally done from a dead start. These can go from 1-5 reps in a set.

Agility: Burpees, Deck Squats, Sit Throughs, Bear Crawls, Spiderman Crawls, Depending on how you wish to structure your training I’d do a double whammy and put these into a conditioning circuit.

Speed: Sprints. Find a hill, sprint up it for 20seconds, walk back down. Rinse and repeat.

Quickness: Agility Runs, just mark out a few plays with rocks/t-shirts or whatever is handy and away you go. Now, if your Rugby coach has you doing these you can skip these in your conditioning. Otherwise it’s a good idea to either schedule a session just for these and hill sprints, or add them to the end of a strength session as a conditioning finisher. Remember, you are trying to build skills here, so each round should be as explosive as possible.

Resilience: Higher rep training helps hold the body together, as does some core specialisation. I like guys to finish strength workouts with high rep sets of push ups or squats. Not only are these great conditioning but they also help keep the body running right. There are other ways of achieving this, with bodyweight circuits on the clock. This is also a great time to add in animal drills that develop coordinated movement.

Recovery Time: Circuits and interval training are key here. As a rule of thumb, set up work to rest intervals of 2:1. Eg 30 seconds work, 15 seconds rest. Make it as close to match conditions as possible, so short intense bursts of effort, some static work (like plank or bridge holds) some explosive work.

The next question then is how to structure all this?

Click Here to begin Training like a Combat Athlete

In the WMD manual, which is my now infamous Boot Camp program, I split the week into three training sessions each with a specific focus: Mondays – Strength, often opening with Plyometrics before hitting up a full body strength set. Wednesdays – Cardio, alternating between callisthenic drills and sprinting for time. Fridays – High Intensity Circuits to develop recovery time.

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