What Are The Best Upper Body Exercises For Rugby?

Rugby players known for their powerful and muscular physiques. With the average player now weighing 100kg at 6ft 1 you better be hitting the weight room hard if you want to kill it on the rugby pitch.

We all know rugby players need big legs so they can sprint around the field but having a well balanced muscular body is equally important when tackling or running into contact. We will show you the ideal upper body exercises to help you build the powerful body you need to compete on the rugby field.

Why Is Upper Body Strength Important In Rugby?

Upper body strength is important in rugby because it will allow you to absorb and break your opponent’s attempted tackle and gain more metres. You also need a strong upper body to make tackles as you use your shoulder to hit and then your arms to wrap up your opponent’s legs.

When you are running the ball into contact you are often going to be hit hard by your opponent’s shoulder. Their shoulder will often hit you anywhere from your lower ribs right about your shoulder area.

If you have a weak upper body the force that the tackler unleashes on you will cause you to go flying backwards, losing metres for your side and giving the opposition a great opportunity to force a turnover either by a knock on or driving over the breakdown.

If instead you have a muscular and powerful upper body not only will you be able to absorb the impact of the tackle but you give yourself a great chance of breaking the tackle and running across the advantage line, gaining valuable metres for your team.

Upper body strength is also extremely important when tackling during a rugby match. When you tackle a player your initial contact will be made with your shoulder. If you have weak shoulders your initial hit will not be powerful enough to stop the forward momentum of the ball runner and they will continue charging up the field. 

In contrast, if you have very strong shoulders your hit will be capable of not only stopping the ball runner dead in his tracks but could also drive him backwards. 

If your shoulders are weak you place yourself at greater risk of injury and can suffer a broken shoulder, collarbone or a dislocation.

The shoulders aren’t the only part of the upper body which is involved in tackling, the arms alo play a vital role. After making contact with your shoulder you then want to wrap your arms around the ball runner’s legs and squeeze them together.

This requires explosive strength to squeeze the legs close together and then a great deal of static strength to keep them pinched together so the player can’t break free.

If you want to be a strong ball runner and a dominant tackler on the rugby field you better have a lot of upper body strength.

What Are The Best Upper Body Exercises For Rugby?

The best upper body exercises for rugby which will give you bulging biceps, a barrel like chest and a back as wide as a barn door are:

  1. Deadlift 
  2. Bent Over Row
  3. Weighted Dips
  4. Pull Ups
  5. Strict Press


The deadlift is the father of all upper body exercises. To build a strong upper body you need a big thick back. Deadlifts are the number 1 exercise to quickly pack on back size.

The deadlift is so effective at building size because it recruits so many muscles which means you can load up the bar with lots of weight and really stress your entire back. This stress causes the body to go into building mode and start generating new muscle all over your back

Now being able to use so much weight is a double edged sword. Yes, it will cause rapid muscle growth but it also places you at increased risk of injury. However, if you perform a proper warm-up, keep your back straight throughout the movement and make sensible load choices you regularly perform the movement with little risk of injury.

Deadlifts will help rugby players build huge backs, particularly lower back. A strong back will help you transfer maximal power when running into contact and making tackles. It will also reduce your risk of injury by preventing your back from rounding and helping you maintain a nice strong flat back. 

If you want to maintain a straight lower back and bump of would be tacklers and increase the amount of big hits you are making on the rugby field then load up some plates, put some chalk on your hands and get deadlifting.

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform a deadlift

Bent Over Row

The back is the foundation of the upper body and bent over rows are one of the best back building exercises for rugby players. While the deadlift recruits the legs, bent over rows only recruit your back muscles. You also don’t need to stack the weight bar like for deadlifts, making rows a safer movement.

Bent over rows add slabs of meat onto your back, especially on your upper back. If you want to be able to smash opposition players on the rugby field with your newly developed rugby muscles then start bent over rowing today!

To perform a bent over row deadlift the bar to your knee height, then bend over the bar until your chest is in line with it, pull the bar towards your groin by pulling your shoulders back and driving your elbows backwards.

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform a bent over row

Weighted Dips

Rugby players need strong arms and a well built chest. Rugby players use their arms and chest to finish tackles when they wrap them around the player’s legs they are tackling and then squeeze them together to ensure he can’t escape and falls to the ground.

The squeezing motion recruits both chest and arm muscles and requires both explosive strength during the squeezing phase and static strength in the holding of the squeeze phase.

A great exercise to build your chest and arms at the same time is the weighted dip. Dips place an enormous amount of stress on your triceps and lower chest, which forces your muscles to grow at a rapid pace. 

When performing dips you should start off with just bodyweight. Once you can do 3 to 4 sets of 20 + comfortably it is time to supercharge your arm and chest gains and add some weight.

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform weighted dips

Pull Ups

Athletes from all sorts of sports such as football players, boxers, wrestlers and rugby players have been performing pull ups for years. If athletes from a variety of sports have successfully used pull ups to build their backs then its effectiveness is obvious.

Pull ups will cause your lats and upper back to explode. It is not always easy to find exercises that specifically target the lats and upper back but the pull up is one of those few exercises.

Start off doing your pull ups with just body weight. After you can smash out 3 to 4 sets of 15 in a single session it is time to strap some weight onto yourself. Once you start adding weight you should experience tremendous growth in your lats and upper back.

On the rugby field keeping a straight back or suffering from upper back rounding can be the difference between making a dominant tackle or being bounced off and eating a face full of grass. To ensure rugby players keep a nice straight back when tackling all athletes need to be performing pull ups.  

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform a pull up

Strict Press

Big powerful boulder shoulders are incredibly important for rugby players. Rugby players’ shoulders cop an awful amount of abuse throughout a match. You need strong shoulders to run through contact when running with the ball and to hit and drive your opposition to the ground when tackling.

The strict press is the king of shoulder exercises. The strict press will have your shoulders growing so wide you will have to walk sideways through doors.

The strict press is very difficult to perform. Many seasoned weightlifters are shocked at how weak they are on this movement when they first add it to their regime. A bodyweight strict press is an impressive feat.

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform a strict press

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