5/3/1 For Rugby

5/3/1 is one of the most famous strength training programs which was invented by American powerlifter Jim Wendler. As 5/3/1 is one of the most frequent Google search results when rugby players are looking for a DIY strength program many wonder if it is suitable for their needs. In this article we will breakdown what exactly 5/3/1 is and how rugby players can use it to build strength and ramp up their rugby playing abilities.

Is 5/3/1 Good For Rugby Players?

5/3/1 is not ideal for rugby players. 4 days a week is too much volume for in season rugby players who will typically only lift 2 times a week. The program only focuses on powerlifting movements and building maximal strength while rugby players need to develop speed and explosiveness which is best trained using VBT, plyometrics and jump training.

What is 5/3/1?

The purpose of 5/3/1 is to build maximal strength in the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Military Press. It follows a 4 week cycle made of  3 weeks of linear progression followed by a 1 week deload. This is an example of a typical rep and set structure over a 4 week cycle.

 Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4
Set 1x5 Reps @ 65% 1RMx3 reps @ 70% 1RMx5 reps @ 75% 1RMx5 reps @ 40% 1RM
Set 2x5 reps @ 75% 1RMx3 reps @ 80% 1RMx3 reps @ 85% 1RMx5 reps @ 50% 1RM
Set 3x5+ reps @ 85% 1RMx3+ reps @ 90% 1RMx1+ reps @ 95% 1RMx5 reps @ 60% 1RM

The name 5/3/1 comes from the pattern of the reps performed by the athlete over the 3 week linear progression. The athlete starts by performing 5 reps at 85% of their max in week 1 then 3 reps at 90% of their max in week 2 before finally topping out 1 rep at 95% in week 3. In every top set athletes also have the option of going for a max amount of reps and setting a new PR.

Wendler designed 5/3/1 to give athletes an easy to follow program that allows them to perform high amounts of quality reps and consistently increase their strength over a prolonged period of time without stagnating or overstressing their bodies.

In 5/3/1 Wendler says the routine should be performed 4 days a week with each workout focusing on one of the 4 lifts (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press and Military Press). Wendler also recommends a number of assistance lifts which can boost your strength gains.

What are 5/3/1’s Limitations for Rugby Players?

The limitations of 5/3/1 for rugby players is the amount of training sessions. Rugby players lift weights 2 times during the season and 3 times during the offseason. The focus on bench press and military press which have limited carryover to rugby. The lack of speed training which is important for rugby players when sprinting, tackling, kicking and jumping.

4 Weekly Sessions Is Too Much

4 sessions a week of powerlifting training is perfectly fine if that is your only training for the week or you are playing a bit of light recreational sport alongside it.

However, if you are a serious rugby player who trains rugby at least 2 days a week and playing a game once a week it is way too much volume. You are going to be fatigued, place yourself at increased risk of injury and your performance on the rugby pitch will suffer.

Rugby players will typically lift weights 3 times a week during the off season and only 2 times a week during the season. You do not want to be lifting weights 4 times a week and playing a full season of rugby.

Lack Of Speed Training

5/3/1 is all about building maximal strength and uses powerlifting movements to achieve this. While maximal strength is important on the rugby field speed and explosiveness is even more important and this program does not train it.

To build explosiveness rugby players should be performing exercises such as barbell jumps, power cleans, bounding broad jumps, tuck jumps and velocity based squat training.

5/3/1 For Rugby Example Programme

Here is an example of the 5/3/1 strength programme which has been adjusted to better suit the needs of rugby players. You will see the number of training sessions have been reduced, power training has been added and exercises with higher carryover to rugby have been introduced.

Session 1 (Monday/Tuesday)

A1: Back Squat, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

A2: Tuck Jumps, 6X4

B: Power Clean, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

C1: Bounding Broad Jumps, 6X4

C2: Bent Over Rows, 3X8

Session 2 (Thursday)

A: Barbell Jumps, 6X4

B1: Push Press, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

B2: Pull Ups x Max

C1: Deadlift, training loads selected based on velocity measurement, reps and sets based on 5/3/1 Protocol

C2: Bicep Curls, 3X12


5/3/1 is not ideal for rugby players but with a reduction in training volume, alteration in terms of exercise selection and the introduction of power focused exercises it can be a simple and effective way to make rugby players faster and stronger. Try out our modified 5/3/1 method and let us know if you see any rugby performance improvements.

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