Build An EXPLOSIVE Rugby League Athlete



Build An EXPLOSIVE Rugby League Athlete

Every weekend the attention of the community is locked on the local rugby league grounds and the incredible feats of athleticism displayed by its participants. Throughout the 90′s, sport specific training was all the rage, the concept was simple – mimic movements that occur within a particular sport in the weights room. Then, by developing your body in this fashion, it will directly result with an improvement in sports-specific performance.

The problem with the sport specific training craze is that the exercises weren’t nearly as effective as training the sport itself. I believe the basic lifts are the best and most efficient ways to develop the human body for athletic success.

Rugby league players must possess power, strength, speed, dynamic flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, and overall athleticism to achieve optimal athletic performance. Maximal Strength using multi directional patterns, in combination with power type qualities are needed to build an explosive rugby league athlete.

Maximal strength is your ability to produce the highest level of force possible, your ability to maintain maximum continuous force decreases at the 10-second mark (1). To optimally enhance maximum strength, the following are recommended: relatively high training intensities in the 1- to 6RM range, allowing full recovery between sets, dividing the daily volume into 2 sessions, a training frequency of 3–5 days a week (4).

Speed + Strength = POWER

Without a solid foundation of strength, adding specific speed work will be of little benefit. Top strength & conditioning coach Eric Cressey suggests a solid foundation of strength equates to:

  1. 1.75x body weight deadlift
  2. 1.5x body weight squat
  3. 1.25x body weight bench press

When it comes to training speed in the context of strength and conditioning there are a number of options: Plyometrics, Medicine Ball Drills and of course our Olympic lifts.


Take note that every athlete has a different level of training experience, needs and requirements, meaning this program should therefore be tailored to suit accordingly.

  • Monday: Flush-out. Dynamic flexibility circuit, band work, pool session.
  • Tuesday: OFF/sport practice/skill practice
  • Wednesday: (AM) Lower body emphasis (PM) Upper body emphasis
  • Thursday: OFF/sport practice/skill practice
  • Friday: (AM) Lower body emphasis (PM) Upper body emphasis
  • Saturday: OFF
  • Sunday: Game Day


Our Pre Lifting Prep/Warm Up

Self myo-facial release techniques prior to a workout can help to decrease muscle density and allow for better warm-up. Use foam rolling for myofascial release, include a dynamic warm up to add range of motion and activate dormant muscles. For mobility, it’s important to focus on exercises that open up the hips and thoracic spine. Also include some stretching for chronically tight areas.

How to Lift

Every time you lift a bar, you must lift as fast as possible. The faster you lift a weight, the more you’re going to activate the nervous system and the high threshold motor units (HTMU). Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself “What the hell are high threshold motor units?”

Your muscle fibers work together in groups or units to perform movements. High threshold motor units are the strongest groups of muscle fibers in the human body, but they’re only used for the most difficult tasks. That means you must push yourself in order to reach the level of intensity needed to recruit these high threshold muscle fibers, and the more you do that, the more you’ll potentiate your body to get a physiological response to build strength. Obviously when the weight gets heavier the bar won’t move as fast, but it’s the intent to always accelerate is what’s important.

You’ll start the lifting sequence using sub-maximal loads (Under 70% 1RM), and slowly increasing the weight by 5-10% 1RM with every set until 85-90% 1RM has been reached, at this point you’ll begin your official work set. Your lifting sequence for the Non power – strength based exercises ONLY should look something like below.

  • 60% 1RM x 6 Repetitions
  • 70% 1RM x 5 Repetitions
  • 80% 1RM x 3 Repetitions
  • 85-90% 1RM x 3-5 Repetitions (1st official work set)
  • 90% 1RM x 3-5 Repetitions (2nd official work set)
  • 95% 1RM x 3-5 Repetitions (3rd official work set)

Order of Exercises/Sets & Reps

The order we select our exercises can have a substantial impact on how our bodies adapt to the training template. We prioritize the most important areas for when the body is fresh and most efficient at learning. Technical or high skill type exercises should always be performed 1st. When we execute a new movement we are creating a sequence of nerve impulses specific to that movement. The more we practice that neurological sequence, the better that brain learns that particular movement pattern.

After our technical work, our speed and/or ballistic work should be performed next. Our non power – strength based exercises should be performed 3rd in this continuum, leaving our assistance or isolation exercises to be performed last. If the exercise doesn’t serve a function, leave it out. Our exercise continuum looks like this:

  1. a) Technical or high skill | Olympic style lifts | 3-4 X 3-5 Repetitions
  2. b) Speed and/or ballistic | Plyometrics |3-5 X 3-5 Repetitions
  3. c) Non power – strength based | Compound movements | 3-6 X 2-6 Repetitions
  4. d) Assistance or isolation | Pre/rehabilitation | 2 X12-15 Repetitions

Rest Periods

Between sets, strength-training coach Christian Thibaudeau says “take only the amount of time you need to give a full effort on the next set and not a second more. And whatever you do, never time rest periods, the pace of the workout is very important for the quality of the session”.

Total Workout Duration

Louie Simmons often cites the research of Angel Spassov, Coach Spassov concluded workouts that lasted over an hour would be of little benefit to his athletes because at the hour mark, Testosterone levels dropped significantly and the production of cortisol INCREASED. Coach Spassov went on to explain that Testosterone levels were at their peak between 20 and 50 minutes after the initiation of exercise (2). This is the primary reason behind shorter, more frequent workouts being more beneficial for athletes.


Warm Up – Self myo-facial release (Foam Roller, Tennis Ball), a dynamic flexibility/mobility circuit followed by some stretching for chronically tight areas like the hip flexors and hamstrings.

Lower Body Emphasis

a) Squat Clean | b) Box Jumps + Med Ball Squat Throws | c1) Squat, c2) Deadlift | Self Selection

Upper Body Emphasis

a) Hang Snatch | b) Plyo Push Up + Med Ball Toss | c1) Bench Press, c2) Push Press | *Circuit Below

Assistance Work – Upper Body

  • Barbell Bent Over Row
  • TRX/Ring/Barbell Invert Row
  • Standing Cable Face Pulls
  • Band Pull Aparts

Program Notes

  • Every time you lift a bar, you must lift as fast as possible.
  • Start every workout with an Olympic lift followed by a plyometric SUPERSET. You only want to “wake up” the nervous system and prepare the muscles for the strength work that follows. So it’s important not to go too heavy and cause fatigue. You also want to be explosive with the movements.
  • Warm up for your strength lifts by using sub-maximal loads (Under 70% 1RM), and slowly increase the weight by 5-10% 1RM with every set, until you reach 85-90% 1RM, at this point you’ll begin your 3 official work sets.
  • There are no rest interval prescriptions for this program. You should attempt the next set as soon as you feel capable of performing the set without a drop-off in performance.
  • Your pre/rehabilitation exercises should be tailored to your specific needs.
  • If the exercise doesn’t feel right or something is off, leave it out. Listen to your body, less sets performed intensely, is far more beneficial than many sets performed poorly.

Rugby league players must possess power, strength, speed, dynamic flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, and overall athleticism. Maximal Strength in combination with power type qualities WILL build an explosive rugby league athlete.

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(1) – Why You Need More Strength by Chad Waterbury

(2) – Program Design 101 by Mike Robertson

(3) – Thibaudeau Talks Training by Nate Green

(4) – Manipulating Resistance Training Program Variables to Optimize Maximum Strength in Men: A Review BENEDICT TAN




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