This year I had a brand new group in for pre-season. I wanted to take this chance to outline how in just the off-season they got to be the bigger, stronger and faster than they had ever been before.

I don’t work with anymore than 5 people at a time because I feel that I then can’t give everyone enough attention. If I can’t make sure everyone is technically proficient in a lift someone is going to get hurt and if that happens I’m shit at my job. Due to these guys other commitments (and the fact that I’m stacked out busy in the gym) I could only see each group for 2 sessions a week. Not ideal but it ended up working out great.

Before anybody starts out on a program in my gym we always talk about what we want to achieve then go through a testing process which is dependant on what results we’re looking to achieve. For the fist part of the pre-season these I was looking for one thing pure strength!

Here’s why:

From strength comes speed,

From strength comes size,

From strength comes the confidence to step up.

The second part was for when they started pre season club training (you might have done this? It generally involves a lot of pointless running and not much to do with anything rugby related). This part was where the smart stuff happened but we’ll talk about that later.

So the testing was really basic. 1 rep maxes on Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Every time we tested we turned the gym into a mini-powerlifting meet. Got all the groups in at 1 time and lifted as hard as we could.

I’m not going to go through everyone’s results in these tests but I’ll give you a sample from just one group (these are all in kilos).

Pre-season Training Before Part 1.

Player

Bench

Deadlift

Squat

Piers

110

130

95

Naro

130

180

125

Rory

100

140

85

Steve

40

120

45

You can see there are guys who have an okay strength level and guys who are below that.

It’s no problem because here are the results for the same guys after we finished the strength development stage (part 1) of the program.

Pre-season Training After Part 1.

Player

Bench

Deadlift

Squat

Piers

130

185

160

Naro

150

210

180

Rory

115

180

150

Steve

65

170 (this was ugly)

130

These numbers look a lot better right! There is still a few which I think could need a lot of work but if we look at it in terms of increases in strength you can see what how well these guys did.

Pre-season Training After % Increase

Player

Bench

Deadlift

Squat

Piers

18.00%

42.00%

73.00%

Naro

15.00%

16.00%

44.00%

Rory

15.00%

28.50%

76.00%

Steve

62.50%

41.66%

188.00%*

* this looks likes like a typo I know but that was his actual increase! I wish I could say that I got Steve 188% stronger but what I really did was just clear up some mobility issues which meant he could actually get to a legal squat depth.

Pretty sweet right? Some excellent increases for just a few weeks training.

Here’s how they did, and you can do, it:

First thing is in the beginning few times they were in the gym the weak-points in all their lifts were identified. This let me know what the areas were that had been holding them back.

To use a couple of the above guys as an example

Piers had a really weak lower back and failed to really use his glutes. On top of that he had awful hip mobility and due to an injury pretty much zero ankle mobility.

Steve was pretty much just broken, he’s a golf pro and years of hitting a golf ball has fucked him up in all sorts of ways (on a side note he’s added 20 metres to his drive since the pre-seaon started!)

If you bring up someone’s weak points then all you are left with is strong right?

So if that was Step 1: Identify your weak points (this could be anything from muscular or technical issues through to not having the right mindset)

The next stage is this:

Step 2: Build your weak points

This was done in different ways for different guys. The thing that tied all the guys together was the worked to an extremely high volume each session, sometimes over 100 reps on a single exercise. One of the guys did 100+ glute ham raises twice a week for the whole time and he cut a whole second off his 50m sprint time. Just goes to show how much a weak point can hold you back.

Step 3: Lift heavy!

testing

In this phase our goal was to be as strong as possible. This means lifting heavy and I mean really heavy. We worked to an lower body max effort in one session of the week and an upper body max in the other.

There is a whole bunch of research on the affects of lifting maximal and near maximal weight on an athlete over time. It’s safe to say that it’s not good to do the same lift above 90% for more than 3 weeks in a row. Knowing this meant that you had to cycle the max effort lifts every 3 weeks or so. Never more sometimes less dependant on how you’re responding to the work.

I’m lucky enough to be in a gym with great equipment so we cycled between 3 or 4 different bars, bands, chains, squat and deadlift styles for lower body, bench, strict prss, log press, Swiss bar press etc for upper body. In a nutshell the only lift these guys repeated was the lifts we were testing (got to practice what you want to be good at). But don’t feel you have to go to those extremes switching between front squats, high and low bar back squats, deficit, snatch grip, anderson, sumo and conventional deadlifts , rack pulls is more than enough choices for the lower body. You get the idea for the upper body as well.

Step 4: Lift Fast

This is the counterpoint to the above point if you lift heavy it means you’re lifting a large weight at a relatively slow speed. To lift fast you need to lift a slightly lighter weight (usually between 50 and 65% of your 1 rep max). This means we’re working both ends of the force velocity curve (that just a posh way of saying lifting light things fast and heavy things slow).

The ultimate goal of going to the gym and lifting weights for sport is to increase the amount of force you can produce. Force is the weight multiplied the acceleration. So this means the goal is really to lifting as heavy and as fast as possible.

You can’t lift something heavy quickly without learning how.

You do this be learning how to activate a lot of the muscle in as short a time as possible. I’m going to go too deep into this here. Suffice to say that by lifting lighter weight fast you learn to activate more and more of the muscle at a time and thus the ability to produce more force.

There is a couple more things to be made aware of in this lift fast step.

First, rest time should tend towards being less than 90 seconds usually less than a minute. This is very beneficial, in particular to rugby players because it’ll help you build up a resistance to the lactic acid build up.

Second, lifting fast means lifting as fast as you can. Be as explosive and aggressive in your lifts as you can.

Here’s how you set the program up

Here’s the basic template for the strength phase of this years pre-season work.

Day 1)

  1. Max Effort Lower Body: work up to a daily max weight taking no less than 8 attempts above 90%

  2. Dynamic Effort Upper Body:

    1. Week 1: 50% 1RM 10 sets of 3 reps with 45 seconds rest

    2. Week 2: 55% 1RM 10 sets of 3 reps with 45 seconds rest

    3. Week 3: 60% 1RM 8 sets of 3 reps with 45 seconds rest

    4. Week 4: change lift and start from 50% again

  3. Weak Point Upper body 1: 3 sets totalling 50-100 reps

  4. Weak Point Upper body 2: 3 sets totalling 50-100 reps

  5. Abs – 5 sets of 20 reps of your leg raises or ab roll outs

Day 2)

  1. Max Effort Upper Body: work up to a daily max weight taking no less than 8 attempts above 90%

  2. Dynamic Effort Lower Body:

    1. Week 1: 55% 1RM 12 sets of 2 reps with 60 seconds rest

    2. Week 2: 60% 1RM 12 sets of 2 reps with 60 seconds rest

    3. Week 3: 65% 1RM 10 sets of 2 reps with 60 seconds rest

    4. Week 4: change lift and start from 50% again

  3. Weak Point Lower body 1: 3 sets totalling 50-100 reps

  4. Weak Point Lower body 2: 3 sets totalling 50-100 reps

  5. Abs – 5 sets of 20 reps of your leg raises or ab roll outs

You get a lot of choices in the this program it’s up to you to choose the exercises that work for you. You have to be totally objective when choosing your weak-points (biceps are probably not your weak point).

Bonus bits!

If you’ve looked at the photo’s of my guys who did this program (One of Naro below) you’ll see that they are looking not only a ton bigger but also a ton leaner. This is because I had them doing something else in there own time. A proper ninja way of building highly fatigue resistance strong, big, muscle.

Naro's before and after
Naro’s before and after

I’m going to write something about this soon but for now I’m going to just tell you what to do but not why.

On all your off days do the below:

On each body part in parenthesis I’ve put my suggested exercises:

Shoulders (Lateral Raises or DB overhead Press)

Chest (Cable flys)

Upper Back (Chest Supported Row)

Quads (Leg Extension)

Hamstrings (Leg Curl)

Biceps and triceps (Preacher Curls and Cable Extensions)

Do 1 set of 20 to 25 reps (if you can do more than 25 reps you need to put the weight up if you can’t reach 20 then you need to put the weight down). When you’ve done with the total reps take 5 to 10 breathes do another 5 reps and repeat until you can’t do the extra 5 reps.

The trick here is that the daily volume is quite low but the overall volume in the week is very high this results in massive muscle growth. The only thing is to get the most out of it you have to push yourself as hard as you can.

One of the guys who’s been doing this is now benching 100kg for 25 reps. That’s a pretty big deal.

Next I’ll be talking about the way we moved from the strength phase (stage 1) to the explosive power phase (stage 2).

Catch you then,
Alex