If you have watched a rugby game recently you will have noticed there are some pretty big players running around. They aren’t just tall but they are also heavily muscle bound. To build these strong physiques they will spend hours and hours in the gym throwing around weights. One of rugby players’ favourite exercises is the deadlift.
How much do rugby players deadlift?
Rugby players are expected to deadlift between 2 and 2.5 times their bodyweight. With the average playing weighing 100kg they must be able to deadlift between 200kg to 250kg. Many rugby players are capable of deadlifting much heavier weights such as Andrew Porter and Cian Healy who have both deadlifted over 300kg.
Rugby player strength standards are based on bodyweight and as we know there is significant variance in the weight of players based on their position.
Props being the heaviest players on the field are expected to deadlift in the 240kg to 290kg range. Locks are not far behind and should be able to deadlift 235kg to 285kg. The back row and hookers are expected to be able to deadlift between 230kg and 280kg.
Scrumhalves being the lightest players on the pitch only need to be able to deadlift between 170kg and 210kg to keep the strength coaches from breathing down their necks. The rest of the backline should be able to deadlift 184kg to 230kg.
The backs place a greater emphasis on speed and agility than the forwards but they still need to have ample amounts of strength to handle the contact involved in rugby.
Are Deadlifts Good For Rugby Players?
Deadlifts are good for rugby players as they help them develop their all over body strength (legs, back, arms and core) and they are great for helping players build muscle. However the heavy loads involved in deadlifting place players at risk of injury with back sprains and herniated discs being common.
Deadlifts are a common exercise performed by rugby players, however they are slightly controversial with some strength coaches banning their players from performing them at all while others proclaiming they are the world’s greatest exercise.
I tend to fall in the middle of those two polarising views. I think deadlifts are an effective exercise for rugby players but only up until a certain point where then the risk reward ratio becomes skewed as the potential for injury becomes too high.
There is no doubt that deadlifts will help rugby players build overall general strength. Deadlifts are great at helping rugby players increase their back and leg strength which will help in many aspects of rugby such as tackling, cleaning out, sprinting and scrummaging.
Deadlifts are also great for helping players build muscle. The heavyweight rugby players use while deadlifting stresses the body and causes it to go into a rapid muscle building process in order to handle future stress.
This rapid muscle building process can not be as effectively stimulated by isolation exercises where athletes are not capable of lifting heavyweights.
For example even if you have really strong biceps the amount of weight you can bicep curl is not going to stress your body enough to send it into muscle building overdrive. Whereas a set of 10 reps with 200kg on the deadlift surely will.
Deadlifts are also great for helping rugby players build muscle because they recruit a large number of muscles (back, legs and arms) and are effective at stimulating the largest muscles in a player’s body, back and legs. If you are stimulating your legs and back you are seriously handicapping your ability to put maximal muscle on your frame.
While the deadlift for rugby players has some obvious benefits it has two major downsides. The deadlift is responsible for a lot of back injuries and the more weight you deadlift the more likely you are to injure yourself. Deadlifts have an injury rate of 1 every 1000 hours of training.
The most common injuries include back sprains, strains, tendon avulsions and compartment syndromes. Common chronic deadlift injuries include back tendinopathy and stress injuries to the vertebrae
As rugby players get very strong they are placing themselves at an increased risk of injury while increases in strength and muscle mass are limited as they move closer to their genetic potential.
For example a rugby player is not going to see a significant increase in on field performance by increasing their 300kg deadlift to 330kg, however by chasing such heavy weights they are significantly increasing their chance of straining a muscle in their back or herniating a disc.
As back injuries can be very serious, hard to fix and debilitating once rugby players have reached a certain level of strength they should stop deadlifting and use other exercises.
I do not think there is much benefit in rugby players pushing their deadlifts above 250kg. Lifts above 250kg are too risky for a player’s back and the increase in strength is not going to significantly increase on field performance.
The other downside to deadlifting is the central nervous system fatigue it can cause rugby players. The heavy weight rugby players can deadlift places a lot of stress on the central nervous system. This stress can result in rugby players suffering from prolonged fatigue.
This fatigue can result in decreased appetite and trouble sleeping which can limit players’ ability to build muscle and recover from training. The fatigue can also decrease rugby players’ strength, speed and endurance. This fatigue can have a very negative effect on a rugby player’s performance during a match.
This is why strength coaches need to program the deadlift conservatively for rugby plates and continually monitor their work capacity to ensure that their central nervous system is not becoming overloaded and they are adequately recovering from their strength sessions.
Rugby players regularly deadlift. They are expected to be able to deadlift between 2 to 2.5 times their bodyweight. However, many rugby players are able to deadlift much more than these minimums. The Irish duo of Healy and Porter have deadlifted well in excess of 300kg.
While the deadlift is effective at helping rugby players increase their strength and muscle mass it does have a significant risk of causing back injuries and central nervous system fatigue. To ensure rugby players deadlift effectively their technique must be monitored, they should only deadlift heavy at specific times in their program and their fatigue levels should be regularly checked.