How Do Rugby Players Get Big Legs?

Rugby players are famous for having big powerful legs. They use these hulking legs to go on rampaging runs, make powerful tackles and drive over the ball to secure possession. We know rugby players have muscular legs but how exactly do they grow and develop them?

Rugby players get big legs through a combination of the stress of rugby (tackling, sprinting, cleaning out), leg focused weight training (squats, barbell jumps, deadlifts, lunges) and genetics. Rugby players tend to be mesomorphic meaning they are naturally more muscular than the average person and can build muscle more easily.  

Does Rugby Make Your Legs Muscular?

Rugby does make your legs muscular as sprinting and tackling cause significant leg development. Players will sprint on average 30 times a match over an average distance of 20m and make an average of 9 tackles a match.

Have you seen sprinters’ legs? Sprinters are known for having ridiculously muscular legs. As sprinting is a major part of rugby it is no wonder then that rugby players have big legs as well. During a rugby match players will sprint for over a total of 600m, typically made up of 30 different sprints.

Sprinting like weight training results in hypertrophy as you when you are driving forcefully off the ground you are damaging your muscle fibres which in response to the heavy resistance rebuild bigger and stronger. 

Curtis Taylor, University of Oregon’s sprinting coach said, “sprinting does build muscle, particularly in the quads, glutes, calves and hamstring area, because these are the prime movers in sprinting”.

Rugby players don’t just sprint they also spend large portions of the match jogging and running quickly. Players will quickly run on average 75 times a match with each run lasting 20m. Players are also constantly stopping and starting and changing speeds. It has been recorded that in a match a player will change speeds 750 times.

This extra running may not be as anabolic as sprinting but it still does develop and build leg muscles particularly the constant stop starting motion as players need to drive off the ground creating resistance, leading to hypertrophy.

The other major cause of leg development among rugby players is tackling. During a tackle a player will push hard off the ground to make initial contact with his opponent then continue driving forward with legs to finish the tackle. Tackling places an enormous amount of stress on the legs as not only are players facing resistance from the rugby pitch when they are driving off the ground they are also being resisted by their opposition who is doing everything to avoid being tackled.

As players are making on average 9 tackles a game and hundreds of tackles per week at training you can start to see why so many of your favourite rugby characters have herculean legs.

Do Rugby Players Squat?

Rugby players squat and perform other leg focused weightlifting exercises to develop bigger and more muscular legs. They then use these newly developed legs to increase their tackling power and their sprinting speed.   

2015 Rugby World Cup, Ireland Rugby Squad Training, St George’s Park, Burton-upon-Trent, England 22/9/2015 Ireland’s Nathan White during today’s gym session Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Squatting is a very popular exercise among rugby players. Squatting is one of the most effective exercises to build leg muscles and has one of the highest carryovers to rugby. Squatting has been shown to increase sprinting speed and increase tackling power.

Rugby players will vary the types of squats they do, the weight and amount of reps. Barbell back squats are the most popular form of squats, in recent years front squatting has also become very popular. When focusing on building muscle players will perform 8-12 reps per set with 60%-70% of their max. When footy players are building strength they will perform 1-5 reps per set with 80%-95% of their max.

Rugby players will push the weight and intensity of their squat sessions during the off-season. This is when they will really push their bodies hard to develop new strength and muscle. During the season they will still squat but the goal will be muscle and strength maintenance rather than new development. The body can not handle a full rugby schedule and gruelling weightlifting sessions at the same time. If players attempted to squat heavy during the season they would be left fatigued during their matches.

Squats are not the only exercise rugby players perform to grow their legs. 

Here Is A List Of Popular Leg Building Exercises Among Rugby Player:

Power Cleans – Power cleans are a variation of the Olympic weightlifting exercise clean, instead of catching the bar in a squat position you bring the bar to your chest, to perform a power clean get into a deadlift position but lower your hips and squat down a little more, pull the bar to your lower thigh, accelerate the bar, as the bar gets to your upper thigh extend your body upwards (you should end up on your toes, pull the bar to your chest, dip slightly underneath and catch the bar, power cleans are create for develop power in your hips which you need if you want to be a powerful ball runner

Power Snatch – Like a power clean a power snatch is a variation of the Olympic weightlifting exercise snatch, to perform a power snatch get into a snatch deadlift position and then once the bar gets to your upper thigh perform the same motion as you would with a power clean and snap your hips upwards and extend your body as tall as possible, these are great building very powerful hips which will make tacklers bounce off you like you were made of stone

Deadlift – Deadlifts are very popular among rugby players, they are a great all round exercise that can develop your back, arms and legs, start off light and make sure you are keeping a straight back and engaged core throughout the movement

Snatch Deadlift – A variation of the deadlift which engages the quads much more than a conventional deadlift, to perform a snatch deadlift you take a wide grip and squat much lower than a deadlift stance, you need to flare your knees out so you can get low while still maintaining an upright position, as you pull the bar towards your knees you need to push backwards so the bar can travel past your knees without banging into them, thrust your hips into the bar to powerfully finish the deadlift once the bar gets to your lower thigh, these are greeting for adding mass to your quads

Barbell Jumps – Use 30%-40% of your best back squat, unrack the bar with like a typical back squat, perform a very shallow squat, pause, then explode up like a typical jump, perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps, these are great for building jumping power and explosiveness

Are Rugby Players Naturally Muscular?

Rugby players are naturally more muscular than the average man. Studies have shown that rugby players are more mesomorphic than the average population meaning they have broad shoulders, higher levels of muscle than fat and can easily gain muscle.

Somatotypes are a way to classify body types. Mesomorphs are one of these types and are characterised by their high levels of muscle, lower levels of fat, ease in which they can develop muscles, broad shoulders and strength.

Studies have shown that a typical rugby player is highly mesomorphic, much more than the average population. Bennett (2013) studied Thirty-Five male collegiate rugby players and found that all players were mesomorphic however there were differences in the type of mesomorphy based on the player’s position. 

Front rowers were found to be mesomorph-endomorphs which are characterized by large amounts of muscle but also large amounts of fat and very broad hips and thick ankles and wrists. 

Locks, outside backs, and midfield backs were classified as balanced mesomorphs. The backrow and half backs were found to be endomorphic-mesomorphs which are characterized by slightly less muscles than mesomorphs but lower levels of body fat and smaller joints. Endomorphic-mesomorphs have the fitness model look with ripped popping muscles that give you the Greek God look.


All that sprinting and tackling results in rugby players having big legs. Players further grow their legs by performing leg focused weight lifting exercises such as squats. It also doesn’t hurt that many footy players have been blessed with great genetics and are naturally muscular.

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