The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Rugby

The gym will always play a pivotal role in optimising an athlete’s performance. Rugby is no different. Due to the nature of the sport, the requirement for athletes to be bigger, stronger, faster and more robust likely exceeds that of most others. As a Strength and Conditioning coach, I can’t emphasise just how important the work off the field is when improving your performance on the field. Look at any high-level club in the world and it’s pretty much guaranteed that their gym-game is strong.

Does that mean that everything has to be done with weights in the gym? Definitely not. I’ll start by stating that I’m not denying the importance of weight training for Rugby. It really should be the meat and potatoes of one’s training program. Despite this, weight training should be supplemented with other training methods to facilitate optimal performance – something that weight training on its own may not be able to address.

In addition to this, what happens when players don’t have access to a gym? Or when they need to fit in an impromptu session but don’t have access to weights? Is the answer to not train at all? No – we improvise.

A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to training.

Let’s look at training outside of the conventional barbell/dumbbell approach.

At the end of the day, athletes need to do the best with what they have at hand. There are a lot of teams out there that don’t have access to all the equipment needed for optimal performance. That doesn’t mean we can’t use our imagination to create improvised sessions that improve our performance. One training method that is always available is bodyweight training. Using your own bodyweight as resistance has been practised effectively and successfully for centuries, for good reason – it works. The weight of one’s body can be pretty substantial (especially a rugby player) so it makes a great training tool that can be easily used to increase just about all fitness variables.

Want to put this bodyweight plan into action? Enter now for your chance to take on Dylan Hartley in the Ultimate Canterbury RAF Challenge.

Find out more here.

Below are my Top 5 favourite bodyweight exercises to help improve your performance.



One of the most underrated exercises I can think of. When performed properly, the pushup is a great exercise to strengthen the chest, shoulders and triceps, not to mention a great core exercise. Perfect for rugby players of all positions, but particularly for forwards looking for all the upper body strength they can get.


One of my favourite exercises for improving upper body strength in athletes. Let’s be honest, they’re hard. Very hard. You may need to start off with someone helping you do a few, but practice enough and you will master them. Chin ups (underhand) are generally easier than pullups (wider, overhand) but you should mix it up between them. Start off by trying to do around 5-10 per day. Just find something to hang off safely and then pull yourself up – it’s as easy as that.


Jumps work fantastically well to improve jump height (obviously) but have also been shown to improve sprint speed. Jumps can be done in different ways – jumping from a stationary position (box jump) as well as plyometric activities such as depth jumps (where you step off a box then immediately jump onto another one). Be careful with jumps to start, as they are a highly stressful activity for joints (especially the knee). As such, start off with jumps onto softer surfaces (like long jumps on grass) and build up to depth jumps onto plyo boxes.



If you think you can truly sprint all-out for 45-60 seconds….. you’re probably wrong.

This goes without saying – sprinting and running are two very different things. Running is a great activity that gets the quads and lungs working. But sprinting will significantly work the glutes, hamstrings and core to a much higher level than running alone. Sprinting should be done in high intensity, short duration bouts. So if you think you can truly sprint all-out for 45-60 seconds….. you’re probably wrong. Try some absolute 100% effort sprints for around 10 seconds per rep. Make sure you have plenty of rest after to ensure a full recovery, otherwise you’ll see the effort (and effectiveness) of subsequent sprints diminish.


Bodyweight squats tend to be a little easy (load wise) but split squats (where you elevate your rear leg) are a much more difficult animal to master. Not only do you put most of your bodyweight through one leg, but you have to deal with the balance and coordination to stay stable enough to complete each rep. These are great for increasing your control, and can be manipulated so many different ways subject to your preference.



Using your own bodyweight as resistance has been practiced effectively and successfully for centuries, for good reason – it works.

So that’s my Top 5 list of bodyweight exercises. But what about adding some equipment, that we can get a hold of pretty easily, to improve performance outside of our gym workouts? Adding some unusual equipment can make training not only challenging but fun and enjoyable as well. Here are some examples of some non-gym equipment that you can use outdoors.




How can you use these implements/methods in your training?” I hear you ask. Well, a little creativity goes a long way. All you need is a little space and some imagination. Below are a few examples of each style of training for you to try out.






As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our take of The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Rugby in the comments below. If you manage to try out any of the workout circuits above, let us know how you get on!


Bodyweight Training for Rugby
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Bodyweight Training for Rugby
Discussion around the best bodyweight exercises specifically for rugby players. 3 prescribed bodyweight/minimal equipment workouts specifically for rugby players.
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