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Rugby Prop Offseason Training


After a long time away from Rugby, I recently started playing again as a prop forward (previously was a back). Fall season has ended and we have about 8 weeks before spring pre-season training begins. Since I am new to training as a forward, and especially a prop, I would appreciate any feedback, advice, or other nuggets of wisdom.

I am 32, 6' tall, roughly 230-235 lbs, and play loosehead (No. 1) for those that are familiar with the front row. I am currently working on raising my calories (following pn) and would like to get to about 250ish in 2008.

For my lifting I am looking at 4 days per week right now. 2 days with an upper/lower split at about 8 reps/set and the other 2 days full body focused on O-lifts and combos. Sound reasonable?

I have been looking at the neck harness over at elitefts: http://www.flexcart.com/members/elitefts/default.asp?m=PD&cid=139&pid=1941 but have never done anything direct for the neck. Any have experience with this or another harness they would recommend?

Any other training advice for front row? I previously played as a back, but am loving being a prop.


If you're loose you don't really have to worry too much about hurting your neck, although it wouldn't hurt. Other than that, in my experience, deadlifts are the single best exercise for rugby. It would also benefit you to really work hard on building up your traps/shoulders/biceps as those are the muscles that take the brunt of the impact when tackling and rucking. I'm sure you did your share of hitting when you played as a back, but as a packrat, or fatty as we are often referred to, you'll be getting into some serious mashing.

Don't forget to do dynamic leg exercises along with conditioning, obviously.


While hurting the neck may not be a concern for loose head, a strong neck can be a huge advantage. If you're opposite a big fat tight head and can get lower than him you can bury your head in his sternum, and drive up into him. It's pretty damn uncomfortable.

In my experience, good mornings are as good, if not better, than deadlifts for scrum strength. Also, lots of shoulder, low back, and rotational core stuff will really help you to support that loose shoulder in the scrums. If you're lifting in lineouts, the power clean and press is really helpful.

Lastly, if you're moving from the back line to the pack, and trying to put on weight, keep up on your conditioning. I like doing stuff like fartleks and intervals, or Dan John's Litvinov sprints (which are a great way to make yourself want to die). Mixing up hard, heavy work with running and sprinting is a pretty good way to get used to what you'll be doing in matches (although you might want to wait until pre-season for that kind of work).


I would like to get to the point where my strength and technique permit this. Its something I plan to work with our coaches on in the spring. Thus far I have mainly just focused on a good bind with the hooker and driving through once we engage. I do lift at the lineouts damn near every time and definitely see the value in working cleans and overhead pressing. I think my love for squats has also helped.

In terms of the O-lifts, do you feel the power variants the way to go or does it matter for my purposes? What about starting from a hang versus the floor?

I was planning on leaving the interval work for the preseason, but what are your thoughts on 20-30 min sessions of steady state work? I know it seems counter intuitive to be considering steady state while trying to get bigger and stronger, but I don't feel like I can neglect aerobic work completely.


I used Westside for Skinny Bastards last offseason and it worked very well. I added more conditioning to it in order to stay in shape. Go to defrancostraining.com and read all about it.


It's a lot more technique than strength. I've destroyed guys much bigger than me by having better technique, but I've also gotten my ass handed to me by a couple of much smaller, but older and way more experienced guys. The best thing you can really do is just talk to other props and learn the tricks of the trade (the "dark arts" as they're called).

I generally go for the power variants. For one, I don't have access to a real oly platform so I like to stick with lighter weights. But also, I'm not really using them for strength gains so much as speed and power. I go heavy, but I really focus on getting the weight from the floor to the rack or overhead as fast as possible.

As far as floor vs. hang goes, the explosive lift from the floor translates really well to rugby. Think about body position when rucking and securing ball, or even tackling. Get low, back straight, head up, and explode up into your opponent. Only real difference is that in the gym you're on your heels, on the pitch you're on your toes.

The hang clean and press, on the other hand, is very similar to lineout lifting. Actually, it's probably more like a power snatch from the hang, depends how fat your second rowers are.

There's two very different schools of thought on this question, depending on what level rugby you're playing. First, for higher levels, sure, slow aerobic conditioning will help build a good base to work from. Won't necessarily translate well to the pitch, but it will help with recovery between bouts of heavy effort and sprints. I usually plan on doing some form of long, slow cardio during the offseason myself, although this year I'm nursing a bad ankle still.

Second school of thought, for the lower level club grades, you're a prop now, not a back. You have to learn how to think differently (more slowly?). Voluntary running? Only if there's another pub down the street who calls last call a few minutes later than the one you were just kicked out of. Just broke through the line at your own 22 with just the fullback to beat and feel like you can probably score? Run sideways until one of the backs catches up (it won't take long) and let them sprint the length of the pitch, it's unbecoming of fat guys. If by some odd twist of fate you find yourself with the ball sprinting for the try line, about to touch it down in glorious fashion... double check for the posts, it's probably the 22 and you're probably about to look foolish.


I resent all of that! :slight_smile:
In our 8 game fall season I had 6 tries and I'm a flanker and a fill in prop. I'm also in better shape than most of our backs. I had at least 1 conversion a game, too. Come to think of it, we only have one fat guy out of all the packers on our side. Quit progressing the stereotype :slight_smile:

BTW Abe, USA Rugby Eagles mens team conditions for 45 minutes before practices on scheduled conditioning days.


ok, right there is your problem. If you were a real prop (and I mean from the get go, not a center who's gotten bigger and slower as he's aged) you'd understand the importance of beer and wings as a part of recovery.

Yeah, me too, they don't have to haul 250 plus pounds around the pitch hitting people all day.

Well apparently despite your flanking ways, you've at least picked up the poor reading comprehension skills of a true prop;) If you go back and read my post you'll notice I said there were two schools of thought. You obviously belong to the former. I actually do too, more or less, however I feel it's important to maintain the stereotype of the fat, lazy, drunken prop. That way when one of us makes it to training on time and sober, everyone's still impressed.

(please note that most of this post, and the end of the previous one, were very tongue in cheek).


I think being fit is more important than being big. I also think being strong and explosive is very important. Technique is needed but without strength you will struggle. Well I guess it depends where and what level you play. The WSFSB program is amazing and you should use it. I put on about 25 lbs of muscle in a six month offseason. That spring I came out and dominated. I unfortunately got hurt but the size, strength, speed, and explosiveness I got out of the program help. Sitting there doing 4 sets of 8 on stuff is worthless. If you want to be strong lift heavy. If you wabnt to be powerful lift powerfully. Conditioning only needs to be done 4-6 weeks before season depending on the person. Why hurt your gains all offseason by conditioning when you dont need to?


WS4SB works great as an off-season programme, but if you are able to olympic lift or power clean well, go for it. I do think that using their remit of heavy and dynamic with a 4 day split is a good one and you could use olympic movements for the dynamic effort day. Remember therre is quite a lot of "heavy lifting" type exercises involved in rugby, especially as a prop, together with the more dynamic exercises, so as was mentioned deadlift, or good mornings are great as are heavy squats. As for neck exercises, the harness is good, and I found static holds helped as well.


Already working the hang clean and press. Its rapidly becoming my favorite lift. I go to a commercial gym that believe it or not has 2 oly platforms and bumper plates so I gotta take full advantage. Now if I could just get our locks to have to their legs knurled...

I think I am leaning towards wanting to build up that base again for the reason you mentioned. The better I can recover the more breakdowns I can get to and the faster I get there. Haven't touched down for a try at the 22 yet, but I have tested the goalpost padding...


i got to ask why your changing position so late into the career? its a whole different set of rules up in pack, especially in the front row.

My adivce would be to develop your neck and shoulder and back muscles. I would consider taking precautionary measures incase of a scrum collapse and work on your shoulders and back as its difficult to target the neck on its own. try single arm push-ups to begin with and a mix up of seated rowing and overhead dumb bell work.

please get your coaches to show you what to do in the case fo a scrum collapse, its imperative for your and your team-mates safety.

i would try and hold onto any speed you ahve form your back days...nothing terrifies the opposition more then a very agile front row...best example is john smit of south africa...wouldnt go into sprints yet...get a very solid and deep base fitness level and it will help to avoid injuries