Getting Fit for Rugby: Legs and Shoulders

rugby tackle
Notice how much stress a correct tackle puts on the joints of both the tackler and the person being tackled. (Getty Images)

One of the primary drawbacks to playing rugby is the stress it places on your shoulders and knees. A proper rugby tackle – one of the building blocks of the game – requires you to wrap your arms around your opponent and try to put them on the ground.

The most effective way to make this tackle is to wrap your arms around your opponent’s legs (see photo) using one of your shoulders as a battering ram to drive them to the ground.

This technique is the most successful for a number of reasons, not least of which is that no matter how much bigger your opponent is, your shoulders are always going to be broader than their legs.

Depending on the position you play, you might make this tackle a dozen times every match, and you might be subject to this tackle half a dozen times. Multiply that by an eight-to-twelve match season, throw in two or three practices a week, and you get an idea as to how much contact your shoulders and legs will absorb. Other parts of your body will receive a pounding as well, but your shoulders and knees are going to be the most at risk.

That said, this workout will focus on strengthening the muscles around your shoulders and knees, as well as focusing on overall leg strength and fitness.

The Workout

You will need a track, a stopwatch, and a chin-up bar.

Length of Workout: 21 minutes.

  1. Run as fast as you can on the track for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds.

    Purpose: to build overall fitness and get you used to operating at an elevated heart rate for the 30-second bursts you’ll experience while playing rugby.

  1. As many burpees/squat thrusts as possible in 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds.​

    Purpose: to build shoulder, chest, and leg muscles, as well as strengthen the muscles in your hips and midsection, as well as building stamina.

  2. As many pull-ups as possible in 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds.

    Purpose: to build shoulder muscles and general upper body strength.

  1. Repeat steps one, two, and three in order six more times. If you can still do 30 seconds worth of exercises in each step at the end of the workout, add another round of three at the next workout.

If you have access to weights, an alternative to burpees (which, frankly, no one likes doing), are thrusters. Thrusters also seem like a good way to put on a little bulk, as long as you don’t put too much undue stress on your back which, honestly, will take enough of a beating playing rugby.

The Buddy System

You can do these exercises all by your lonesome if you want but here are a few strategies for turning them into exercises the club can do together.

  • Strategy One: Pairs - Find someone about the same size, weight, and condition as yourself. You work while the other person rests, and vice versa (example: you run, she rests and keeps track of time, then she runs while you rest and keep track of time, then you both move to the next step). If the coach wants to use this as a motivational tool by, say, pairing up folks competing for the same position, that’s fine, too.
  • Strategy Two: Groups - Divide the club up into three position-based groups. We would recommend putting props and locks (i.e. numbers 1,2,3,4, and 5), in one group loose forwards and centers (6, 7, 8, 12 and 13), in a second group and halfbacks, wings, and fullbacks (9, 10, 11, 14, and 15) in a third group. Then divide each of these groups in half. Group one does step one, with half running while half rests and then vice versa while group two does burpees and group three does chin ups (granted, you’ll need a lot of chin-up bars for this) in the same “half exercises, half rests” configuration. At the end of one minute, group one moves to step two, group two moves to step three, and group three moves to step one. Keep repeating until each group has done each step seven times.