Playing & Training

Physical Strength Building – Upper Body

Man performs pull up on bar

The big hit is a big thing in rugby – think of the unforgettable impact (literally) that the legendary Jonah Lomu made on the 1995 Rugby World Cup. So you are going to have to bulk up your upper body to dish out and absorb those heavy hits without getting yourself injured. Make a list of upper-body exercises – and stick to it through thick and thin, or rather, thin to thick!

Pulling up trees

First on your list of upper-body exercises comes the classic pull-up, which you can do in the gym, on the monkey bars at the park or at home on a bar in a doorway. This is another classic of the rugby upper-body workout for building up your strength and bulk.

It is imperative that you get the full range of movement as you do them. Grab the pull-up bar with your palms forwards. Hang with your arms fully extended and then pull up until your neck is parallel with the bar, with your legs hanging still throughout (you can add weight if needed). Lower yourself down gently. The pull-up will give you the warm-up you need for the heavier bench-press and dumbbell work later in your upper-body strength workout. Don’t fly through your set of pull-ups as you’ll end up pulling up in pain. Try six sets of six adding a weighted vest if it is too easy. Concentrate on power out of the extended phase into the pull-up.

Starting on the bench

Your rugby upper-body workout should include the ever-reliable bench press. There is no better exercise for giving you the power you need in the tackle, the scrum and ruck. The bench press really works on your pectorals and triceps as well as your shoulders.

Keep your feet flat on the floor and your back flat on the bench, and squeeze in your glutes. Made sure that your eyes are aligned with the barbell and then slowly, fully extend your arms upwards, using your chest muscles. Bring the bar down gently in line with your chest so it rests on it slightly. Use your abdominals as much as possible and try to achieve five sets of six at a weight of barbell that leaves you grunting. Make sure you pace yourself through the sets and do not bounce the bar on your chest. This can increase the chances of injury and also diffuses the tension in your chest that you have worked so hard to gain.

We’re jammin’

The jammer press – where you power up one end of your barbell with the other resting in a corner of the gym floor– it is a brilliant upper-body gym exercise for giving you the strength in your chest, shoulders and triceps to perform the perfect hand-off on the pitch. It’s vital to bend your knees and power up using your glutes and whole body. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and start at a low weight, as this is an explosive upward movement through your whole body. Unlike the pull-ups with which you started your rugby upper-body workout, you should aim for speed in four sets of six reps.

On a lighter note

Finish your rugby upper-body workout with twelve reps of two less-heavy exercises – the Olympic ring press-up and the barbell supine row. Both will still improve your chest, shoulders and triceps, but will slightly cool you off at the end of your upper-body rugby workout. For the former, you’ll need a box and Olympic rings or TRX handles.

With your feet on the box, set about a metre behind the Olympic rings/TRX handles, gently lower yourself into a press-up before holding your position for two breaths and extending your arms again. For the barbell supine row, you’ll need a lightly loaded barbell, which you’ll hold with your palms out, a shoulder-width apart on the bar. Bend your knees slightly before tilting your upper body forward 45 degrees. Pull the barbell into your body, with your elbows back, before holding at the top. Go back to your starting position.

All throughout your upper-body rugby workout, it is vital that you ask someone to ‘spot’ you if you are intent upon adding weight to your barbell. Start off gently, and soon you will have the upper-body strength to make and take big hits.

What’s next?

Now that you have your exercises ready for your upper-body, follow on with lower-body exercises to complete your strength building. You can also read more into compound exercises like these 5 types of squat, that have the benefit of training multiple muscle groups in one exercise.



Writer and expert