ISSUE #57  


- "Rugby Training for Anyone: Strength, Size, & Speed"
- "Pre-hydrating Athletes for Optimal Performance"


This program came to fruition while working with the McMaster Men's & Women's Rugby teams, however it can be applied to almost all individuals in a much broader scope. In fact, it is useful across the board to all athletes seeking more strength, muscle mass, or explosiveness. Male or female, if you are looking for a 6-week program that balances effective exercises and adequate rest & recovery, then this program can be easily customized to fit almost any training goal. Look back to ISSUE #1 to help you adjust the training parameters to meet any specific outcome.

Prior to launching full bore into training one should always consider individual injuries and physical weaknesses, nutritional habits and limits, and body composition status. So although this is a great program for a variety of fitness goals, the program should not be the same for any two people.

For example, consider training partners with the identical goal of gaining muscle mass...a brief check into the injury history of each would likely expose quite different profiles and therefore each individual would require diverse warm-up protocols and rehabilitation exercises. Thus, while the core workout should be effective for most people, one must also take into account their individual considerations that an "email program" can't address. Strength Coach Ian King wisely addresses this by incorporating a period of stability training prior to hypertrophy or strength training.

 In brief, for athletes seeking mass and strength, the early off-season program schedule should arrange for 3 days of resistance work per week and limit conditioning to 1-2 sessions (see Conditioning outline below). If the goal is fat loss and increased energy expenditure or if conditioning needs a severe upgrade, then 3 days of resistance training and 3-4 conditioning sessions are warranted. Three days of resistance training is sufficient, but for those that insist, you can incorporate a "personal" 4th day per week if desired.

For athletes seeking explosiveness, the early focus of the program is to develop the proper technique in the Hang Clean (see ISSUES #29 & 30 for a 6 week program to learning the Olympic lifts) and to enhance the power in the vertical jump. Advanced athletes and those with a solid base of strength training can move to the more advanced plyometric training program (offered up on the optional day).

The base program allows for a solid 6 weeks of training that should elevate strength by up to 40% per lift in beginners. With the variety of exercises provided, constantly changing the given exercises may allow you to use this base program for a second or third 6 week program to round out your off-season training and allow you an effective transition into pre-season training (where athletes should incorporate more sport-specific explosive training and conditioning). After a couple of cycles on this type of basic program, a bodybuilder may consider adding isolation training for the arms, as outlined in ISSUE #47.

In the second 6-week phase you should also be adding 2 workouts that contain a combination of speed and agility training. At least 2 days of conditioning (and up to 4 depending on the metabolic demands of your sport) should be performed to transfer your strength into strength-endurance capacity. Advance beyond the Hang clean to the Power Clean (one the best athlete development exercises possible for mass use) and incorporate more speed-agility-plyometrics workouts (see ISSUES #22 & #47).

Why is this off-season program so effective at building strength for rugby, hockey, football, wrestling and other similar sports? First and foremost the resistance-training schedule is outlined according to the 3 basic needs of athletes in these sports: Leg Strength, Pushing Strength, and Pulling Capacity.

Athletes need leg strength for speed and other explosive movements, as well as to anchor themselves with a base of support. Next pushing strength is key. For athletes in tackling and contact sports, the push-off of first contact is a brief and extremely forceful occurrence, and requires maximal strength, not strength endurance. Finally, pulling capacity is trained. In contrast to pushing strength, most pulling efforts in sport are slightly prolonged (such as a tackle takedown) and are not brief in nature. Therefore athletes should aim to increase pulling capacity and strength simultaneously.

Consider that the number of repetitions per set is quite possibly the greatest determining factor of various workouts. For example, it is traditionally believed that the 8-10 suggested rep range is the optimal prescription for muscle hypertrophy. However, for trainee's seeking maximal absolute strength, a course of lower repetitions per set would be more applicable. In contrast, individuals seeking a better body composition would be recommended to aim for 12 or more repetitions per set with shorter rest intervals between sets.

Seek out more information for your optimal rep range that is required to meet your goals. Also remember the theory of diminishing returns (4 sets are not twice as good as 2 sets); so exercise caution when adding volume to your training program, especially if you are susceptible to overuse injuries.

These are the standard guidelines for the first 6 weeks of an off-season strength program for power sport athletes (and will be suggested to the athletes at McMaster University):

- 1-4 sets x 8-10 repetitions (*plus warm-up sets).

- Rest 2 minutes between sets.

- Tempo = 2 - 0 - 1 (*except for Hang Clean and Vertical Jump)

- Choose 1 exercise per box (Each box is signified by a letter).

The program schedule:


  Bench press
  Flat DB press
  Hammer "Jammer" (Commercial device from Hammer Strength Systems available at McMaster University)
  Standing DB Shoulder press


  Hammer Incline press (Commercial device from Hammer Strength)
  Incline DB press
  Close-grip decline bench press
  Close-grip flat bench press

  Hammer ab crunch (Commercial device from Hammer Strength)
  Ball ab crunch
  Cable ab crunch (kneeling OR standing)
  Hanging leg raise

  Ball twist crunch
  Cable twist crunch (kneeling OR standing)

  Low-back extension
  Back extension machine



Hang clean (3-6 reps)      EXPLOSIVE TEMPO
Vertical Jumps (6 reps)      EXPLOSIVE TEMPO

  Leg press
  Lunge (hold DB in hands)

  Hamstring "leg" curl
  Reverse Lunge (hold DB in hands)



A - (use pulldowns for warm-up)
  *Wide-grip pull-up
  *Close-grip pullup
  *Any pulldown (if Pull-ups are too advanced)

  Narrow-grip row
  Hammer row
  Wide-grip seated row

  Hammer ab crunch
  Ball ab crunch
  Cable ab crunch (kneeling OR standing)
  Hanging leg raise

  Ball twist crunch
  Cable twist crunch (kneeling OR standing)

  Low-back extension



  *Any shoulder press
  *Cable lateral raise

  *Wide-grip upright row
  *Any shoulder shrug

  Neck extension/flexion


      : 2 Speed and 2 agility drills x 5 repetitions of each.

            (REST 1-2 MIN BETWEEN REPS)

      : 1-3 sets of 6 wide-stance long jumps

      : 1-2 sets of 6 single-leg hops

      : 1-3 sets of 8 tuck jumps

      : 1-2 sets of 8 alternate-leg bounds (each leg)

CONDITIONING - Anaerobic fitness (Sport-specific endurance)

: 1-4x's per week

      : Warm-up! & Stretch! (10-20 minutes)

      : Intervals

- 10-20 seconds of maximal effort

- active rest for 1-2 minutes

- repeat 5 times

- Progress to 30s x 1 min active rest x 6.

- Maintain the intensity from workload to workload.

A sample training program for week 1:

- warm-up

- 10 second sprints at maximal workload that can be maintained

      - 3 to 6 repetitions

- 90 to 120 seconds rest between each

   (rest long enough to return to same intensity as previous interval)

Each week, add to the length of the interval, but keep that intensity high. This will help to add endurance to your power, as opposed to trying in futility to add power to endurance. This has been taught by Coach Ian King in the past and should lead to greater athletic performance!



Look to ISSUE #1 and other back issues for all the nutritional information that will help you improve your athletic performance during training and competition.


Just as a car needs oil, the body needs water. Research has shown that as little as a 2% decrease in hydration status can impair performance. It may take the form of impaired force production, decreased endurance, or even reduced mental concentration. Thus it is clearly evident that athletes and bodybuilders need to take all possible steps to remain hydrated. But what about "drinking in cold weather practice conditions?" asked high-school softball coach Howard Morton.

That is a very good question. While softball players will not suffer from the extreme dehydration that occurs in endurance-type sports, any dehydration can lead to a loss of performance. Coach Morton is wise to address these concerns, and all athletes should understand that sweating and loss of fluids do occur in the cold as well. Hopefully these tips will help...

A) - All athletes should "Pre"-hydrate. Drink lots of fluids throughout the day before practice, training, or competition. Everyone should drink lots of water, but on practice and game days, even more should be consumed.

B) - During cold weather, drinking an ice-cold beverage is difficult. But drinking warm water is even more difficult. So as for a warm, palatable drink that could be consumed during an event, the best thing a coach could suggest is a non-caffeinated, low-cal "iced tea" flavored drink. This provides the fluids, but without caffeine or without supplying a concentrated amount of sugar. You should keep sugar concentration to about 6-8% to prevent stomach upset, i.e.) that found in Gatorade-type beverages. Any commercial "light" flavored drink mix crystal type of product should help to make warmer beverages more tolerable than plain warm water.

C) - You may want to have players weigh themselves before and after games and practices (especially during warm-weather tournament play). For every pound lost during a practice, have them drink 2 cups of fluids post-exercise (as any weight lost in exercise is only fluids). Don't let athletes come to believe that fluid restriction is an effective weight loss tool! Remember that proper hydration maintains your optimal level of performance!


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