Rugby is not a game for the shy, retiring or frankly the weak, it is a game of two 40 minute halves which means your cardiovascular system is being tested to the max. It’s also an extremely physical game with little offered in the way of protection. The shirts are usually tight-fitting polyester and shorts are…well, short.
The best way to protect yourself and to make progress is to be fully committed to the physicality of the game – anything half-hearted usually leads to injury.
The beauty of rugby is that it really is a game that doesn’t prejudice against your body size, anyone can play, however, when you have a man of 300lbs running towards you the best form of defense is to have trained like a beast.
Remember, USA Eagles have their first fixture September 20th Vs. Samoa and are grouped in Pool B with the mighty South Africa! They are currently training in Leeds, U.K.
Here are 5 key exercises that can help you become a badass at rugby whether you are 5’7” or 6’7”.
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Trap bar deadlift
Strangely this is still an uncommon sight in many gyms, the trap bar is a fantastic and misunderstood piece of kit. Using a trap bar means you don’t have to lean too far forward over the bar as per the conventional deadlift because you are essentially stood inside the bar which offers a more neutral core position. This can prevent injury or strain to your lower back and if you’re injured you ain’t playing rugby.
The body position using the trap bar shifts more focus of the movement to your quads and away from your lumbar meaning you can generally lift more weight – studies show that powerlifters are able to lift as much as 45lbs more using a trap bar instead of a barbell. And more weight being lifted off the floor means more strength.
Your core is still being targeted which means, abs, glutes, lower and upper back plus your grip strength, biceps, traps and shoulders whilst your body produces more testosterone and growth hormone – all of this gained with better form.
When you are tackling and making runs you want to be smashing your opposition over the gain line, not being knocked backward…this exercise will help you achieve that.
If your local gym or even your home gym hasn’t got a trap bar these can be bought with plates for a fairly limited investment and even performed by itself will see you increase all over strength and size.
Your head and neck are very exposed to the demands of rugby, all players are required to make tackles, ruck and smash your way through the gain line and having a weak neck exposes you to a potentially serious neck and head injury.
Neck extensions can be performed either with a neck harness and weights, elasticated exercise bands or even lying flat on the floor and lifting your upper body using your head.
Plus you will look a fearsome sight with a thick neck!
Dips – preferably weighted
You want and need a good solid upper body, it is your main protection and usually the first point of contact, therefore you want to be strong and able to charge through and brush off the opposition with force, you also want a shovel-like destructive ‘hand off’ to keep defensive players at bay, and what better exercise to smash them off than one that targets the chest and triceps?
Once you’ve been hit by a monster hand off to the face it is extremely difficult to regain composure.
This can be performed at most gyms where there is a dipping station, however, dipping bars that can be bolted into your garage wall are commonly available and cost-effective. If I could only ever do two exercises in my life it would be the trap bar deadlift and weighted dips – they’re that effective!
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Especially key if you’re a forward – the colossal impact and pressures experienced during a scrum are collar bone snapping and spine crushing so you need a good solid set of shoulders to support that thick neck and prevent your shoulders being dislocated.
Shrugs are simple to do with either a trap bar, barbell, dumbells or even some gas cans filled with water or sand. They’re great for your grip strength too for dragging down players to the floor with their shirt. You can read more on how to do them over here.
You may think this a useless accessory exercise only for bodybuilders chasing aesthetics, but you’d be wrong. How many times have you seen a scrum so evenly matched the only way for one team to make just a few inches of ground is by digging in and extending their calves? How many times are players required to jump in the air to compete for the ball? Or sprint like their life depends on it? These are just some of the benefits of having strong calve muscles. Often overlooked but definitely key. You can even use the trap bar to perform raises although I prefer to have the weight of a barbell over my shoulders and perform them in a squat rack.
Calf raises can be performed on a step using bodyweight or holding something heavy…they’re that simple.
Go forth and DESTROY!