What Are The Best Leg Exercises For Rugby?

Rugby players are famous for their big powerful legs. They use their strong legs to sprint when carrying the ball and driving through their opponents when tackling or cleaning out. Rugby players perform specialised training exercises to build and develop their legs so they can easily break tackles and deliver huge hits on the pitch. It is time to break down exactly what leg exercises you need to be performing if you want to take your rugby leg strength to a new level. 

Why Do Rugby Players Need Strong Legs?

Rugby is a running intensive game. Rugby players need strong legs to handle the 20 + times they are expected to sprint and the 5km + they will run each match. Rugby athletes need powerful legs to break through tackles and to drive through to complete tackles and cleanout at the breakdown.

Try to complete a tackle on a number 8 sprinting towards or cleanout  a pesky blindside flanker who has set himself up at the breakdown without using your legs. You are going to fail miserably. The initial contact is only half of the equation when tackling or cleaning out. After you make that first hit you need to follow through by engaging your legs and running through your opponent.

There is a direct correlation between your ability to effectively use leg drive and the strength of a rugby player’s legs. Who would you rather be tackled by player A who can squat 200kg for 5 reps or player B who can only squat 150kg for 3 reps. Player A is going to have the power to send you flying back towards your own try line.

Leg drive isn’t just critical when you are tackling or cleaning out it is also incredibly important when running with the ball. Like tackling you don’t just stop running after you make contact with defenders. No, you keep pumping your legs and you run through the line in hopes of making a line break and at worst driving across the advantage line. 

The stronger a rugby player’s legs are the more powerful their leg drive will be which will turn them into a more powerful ball runner and tackler. 

What are the best leg exercises for rugby?

The best leg exercises for rugby players that will have sprinting past your opposition and breaking tackles at will are:

  1. Back Squat
  2. Barbell Jumps
  3. Front Squat
  4. Cossack Squat

Back Squat

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

The back squat should be a staple for all rugby players. Have you seen the legs of powerlifters and olympic weightlifters? They perform the squat regularly and they have extremely muscular and powerful legs. If you can get your legs anywhere near as strong as their legs you will see your performance on the rugby field sky rocket.

The back squat has the ability to make rugby players and stronger tacklers.

McBride et al. (2009) studied the max back squat and sprint times of 17 elite high school football players. On average the athletes were 1.78m tall, weighed 85.9kg and could squat 166.5kg. The athletes squat records were compared to their sprint times over 5, 10, and 40 metres.

Football athletes with a squat bodyweight ratio above 2.10 were much quicker over 10 and 40 yards compared to players who had squat bodyweight ratios below 1.9

Speranza et al. (2016) tested the max bench press, squat and tackling power of Twenty-four elite rugby players. The rugby athletes undertook an 8 week of strength programming which was incorporated into their preseason training before their weightlifting and tackling results were retested. 

The rugby players significantly increased their bench press and squat maxes after completing a successful strength training regime. The improvement in squat performance correlated the strongest with tackling (r = 0.60; p < 0.01).

The rugby athletes with the highest improvement in squat performance also recorded the highest improvement in tackling performance. Interestingly, improvements in bench press did not result in improved tackling performance.

If you want stronger legs that can make you faster and turn yourself into a more powerful tackler on the rugby field then you need to perform the back squat.

 Here Is A Video Demonstrating The Back Squat

Barbell Jumps

Barbell jumps are one of the most effective exercises to improve sprint speed and jumping ability. If you want to get faster on the rugby field or improve your ability to leap for a high ball or win possession during a lineout then you need to be performing barbell jumps.

This exercise is particularly popular with track and field and basketball athletes who are looking to bolster their vertical leaping ability. Coaches have found this exercise has the most carry over to vertical jumping performance.

To perform a barbell jump, unrack a barbell on your back and assume a squat position or the position you feel most comfortable jumping in. Then perform a half or quarter squat, pause in this position, then explode by driving off the ground and jump as high in the air as possible. You should start off with a very light weight and focus on generating large amounts of force production.

Here Is A Video Demonstrating Barbell Jumps

Front Squat

Front squats are great for rugby players because they will not only build you some hulk like legs but they will also grow your back and give you an iron core. Front squats are a great overall exercise and if you could only choose one leg exercise this would be our pick.

The key when front squatting is to maintain as upright a position as possible. To achieve this position you will have to have strong abs and back. By keeping upright you fully engage your quads and this will cause them to experience hypergrowth.

Another great thing about the front squat is because they are significantly harder than the traditional back squat you don’t need to use as much weight which reduces your risk of injury.

Here Is A Video Demonstrating The Front Squat

Cossack Squat

Cossack squats are not a very widely practiced leg movement. They have started to become a bit more popular following the surge in kettlebell practitioners as these are a common kettlebell movement.

Cossack squats are great at building your hamstrings and particularly your hips. These parts of your legs are often neglected by other strength exercises. When performing cossack squats there is no hiding if you have weak hips or hamstrings they will be exposed.

As the hamstrings and hips are so important when sprinting and play a big role in how fast an athlete is, rugby players need to be performing cossack squats.

Here Is A Video Demonstrating The Cossack Squat


If you want to be a top rugby player then you need strong legs. Strong legs help rugby players sprint quickly around the pitch, make line breaks, run over the advantage line and complete effective cleanouts and tackles.

To develop powerful legs for rugby you need to compliment your rugby training with effective leg focused exercises. The best leg exercises which will increase your leg strength and turn you into a tackling machine and line breaking phenom are back squats, cossack squats, barbell jumps and front squats.

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