The Biggest Rugby Off Season Mistakes!

The off season is all about laying the foundation from which a successful rugby season can be built upon. During the off season rugby players can take advantage of more free time and a fresh body to improve their strength levels, body composition, speed and overall athleticism.

If you are a rugby player who is not getting bigger, stronger and faster in the off season you are likely making some crucial mistakes. In this article we will highlight some of the common off season mistakes rugby players make which limit their gains and hurt their performance on the pitch.

What is the best rugby off season training plan?

The best rugby off season training plan is one that focuses on general athletic training. It should include 3 days of strength/power training, focusing on squat, deadlift, bench, power clean, jump training, 1 day of running for fitness (beep test, bronco test), 1 day of speed running ( 3 cone drill, 10m, 20m, 40m sprints).

Prioritising Specific Training

Athletic program design 101 says that the further away an athlete is from competition the more general training and less specific training should be conducted. Too many rugby athletes attempt to work on specific skills. However, what your body and brain actually require is a break from rugby training. 

The off season should be used to develop your general athletic abilities. Your general training should be focused on increasing your strength, speed, agility, power and mobility. This is the time you want to be hitting the weight room, performing sprinting and jumping workouts and even the odd yoga session.   

Then when the pre-season starts you take these improved general athletic abilities and you start learning to use them effectively on the rugby field by increasing your rugby specific training.

Training Like a Bodybuilder

Building muscle is an important part of rugby due to its relationship to maximal strength. A bigger muscle is nearly always a stronger muscle. If rugby players want to increase their strength, putting on size is an effective way to achieve this. However, training like a bodybuilder is the wrong way to go about it.

The problem with bodybuilding training for rugby players is the lack of speed work, too many accessories exercises and not enough high percentage work on the big compound movements.

If you want to build muscle, while also increasing strength and explosiveness in the rugby off season focus on performing high quality reps in the 70% to 80% range on the big 3 lifts (squat, deadlift, bench), add some explosive work (jump training/plyometrics, power cleans, barbell jumps) and a few accessory exercises.

Not Recovering From Injuries

Rugby and injuries are match made in heaven. A rugby player has 95% of suffering an injury if they have played 2 or more seasons. The off season is the perfect time to give your body a chance to heal and to actively address mobility and structural issues that are increasing your risk of injury.

Do not perform exercises that exacerbate current niggling injuries. Instead perform movements which actually help your body heal. If a rugby player is struggling with tendonitis they should be doing eccentrics and isometrics.

Sprained your ankle on the rugby pitch? Then do balance and hopping drills. Even if you are injury free rugby players need to continually work on their flexibility and mobility. The off season is the perfect opportunity to injury proof your body for the upcoming rugby season.

Training At Too High Intensity

Again this is breaking athletic programming 101. After the completion of competition athletes should take a short break from athletic training followed by a gradual and easy return to athletic training where intensity is slowly increased over time.

Too many rugby players finish the season, have a few days off and then immediately start training as if they are attempting to regain peak condition. This style of training places rugby players at increased chance of injury, ruins their work capacity when the season starts and limits the sustainable gains made in the off season.

When starting your rugby off season take it easy. Start by training 2 to 3 days a week. In the weight room focus on performing high quality reps with low to medium percentages (60% to 75%). On the track keeping sprinting intensities below 70%. During the the early stages of a rugby off season the focus should be on quality of movement, feeling good and preparing your body for higher intensity work in the coming weeks.

Not Setting Goals

Failure to plan, plan to fail. A successful rugby off season must be made up of goals. From these goals you can then reverse engineer a training program which is going to help you achieve your goals.

For example if your goal is to increase your squat by 15kg then your training program better include a good amount of squatting or maybe you want to shave some time off your 40m sprint again you better be including some track sessions into your rugby off season plan.

By setting goals rugby players have something to work towards which can help them stay focused and disciplined. Goals can be a source of motivation and satisfaction when they are achieved. 

Goals also help rugby players plan effective off seasons. If you have no goal you will end up just rocking up to the gym randomly selecting weights and exercises and then wonder why you haven’t made any improvements after training for 2 to 3 months. 

No Break

Athletes need a break after competition, particularly rugby players who are involved in months and months of ongoing grueling matches. If you want your body to heal and be highly responsive when you start your off season then you need to take 2 weeks off from training.

This doesn’t mean you need to completely stop training. During these 2 weeks of break keep things light and fun and to a couple of sessions a week with each session lasting a maximum of an hour.

A workout during a break could be a 2km medium intensity run followed by 3 sets of pull ups, push ups, body weight squats and finish with some ab exercises and static stretching.


If you are a rugby player looking to make some serious strength, speed, power, agility and mobility gains this off season then avoid making the mistakes mentioned above and incorporate some of the tips we have shared. Let us know how it goes!

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