For the vast majority, the rugby season has now come to an end. This is an opportune time to release the structure I use to program off-season training for rugby players I coach. Most importantly, my system uses a conjugate approach with a weekly plan that is split into the three key categories we want to improve: 

  1. Neural (Speed and Power Development)
  2. Mechanical (Hypertrophy and Strength Development)
  3. Metabolic (Energy Systems Work)

Additionally outlined in Table 1 is a weekly plan, where all players will train both the Neural and Mechanical elements and then have options regarding hypertrophy training (“Armour Plating”), energy systems work (“Fitness/Fat Loss”), and off-feet fitness. The main program is Monday to Friday, with an optional training day on Saturday for players who need extra conditioning work. On this day, which I have often referred to as my Special Victims Unit (SVU), a variety of methods will be employed, from a fartlek cross-country run-through to circuits.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursday FridaySaturday
SpeedConditioningRestoration & RecoverySpeedConditioningConditioning/Restoration
FCM lower bodyFCM upper bodyHurdle mobilityFCM lower bodyFCM upper bodyRecovery
Mechanical lower bodyMechanical Upper bodyDynamic movementsMechanical lower bodyMechanical Upper body
Armor plating/off-feet fitness/circuitArmor plating/off-feet fitness/circuitstretching, foam rolling & massageArmor plating/off-feet fitness/circuitArmor plating/off-feet fitness/circuit
CARE x5 lower bodyCARE x5 upper bodyHydrotherapyCARE x5 lower bodyCARE x5 upper body
Table 1 – An overview of the weekly structure for my off-season conjugate rugby program.

Now we are going to go into more detail about exactly what is involved within each section of the program.

Off-Season Conjugate Program – Neural Work

Speed sessions should always be performed in a rested state, hence why they are performed first on Monday and then Thursday after a recovery day on Wednesday. Many years ago, I had an assistant, Luke Thornley, whom I wanted to lead the speed sessions. So, I tasked him with discovering as much as possible about what other teams were doing with their speed training.

Upon his return, he reported that every team was doing something different with regard to drills, plyometrics, and running. However, the one thing common across the board was that every team had their players running at maximal velocity for around 400-600 meters each week. Per the law of specificity, you do not get fast by running slowly. With our training, I focus primarily on acceleration, which is the most important trainable attribute in a speed program. However, I will always include maximal velocity work per Luke’s research. He provided me with a spreadsheet of options, which I still call upon today, even 15 years on.

The French Contrast Method

The French Contrast Method (FCM) is the best method to “surf” the force-velocity curve within one session. This is achieved by including aspects of maximal force, strength-speed, speed-strength, plyometrics, and ballistic movements for a similar movement pattern in a circuit-style format. Table 2 (see below) lists various examples of French Contrast training sessions I use with my rugby players. I instruct them to mix and match by selecting within the options I have put together, so long as they select from an A, B, C, and D in that sequence of movements to maintain the integrity of the session.

VerticalHorizontalKnee DominantHip Dominant
French Contrast Method 11A: Push Press
1B: Kneeling MB Push
1C: Landmine Split Jerk
1D: MB Drops
1A: Bench Press
1B: Drop Push Ups
1C: DB Incline Bench Press
1D: Assisted Explosive Push Ups
1A: Back Squat
1B: Box Jumps
1C: Banded Jump Squats
1D: Band-Assisted Vertical Jumps
1A: Deadlift
1B: Repeat Hurdle Jumps
1C: DB Hang Clean
1D: Assisted Long Jumps
French Contrast Method 21A: Military Press
1B: Seated MB Vertical Push
1C: DB Push Press
1D: Assisted Clap Push Ups
1A: Incline Bench Press
1B: Jump Push Ups
1C: Banded Bench Press
1D: Assisted MB Crossover Push Ups
1A: Split Squat
1B: Box Hops
1C: Banded Step Up
1D: Band Assisted Borzov Hops
1A: Hip Thrust
1B: Broad Jumps
1C: Snatch Grip High Pull in Rack
1D: Band Assisted Hops
French Contrast Method 31A: Split Jerk
1B: Feet Elevated Plyo Push Ups
1C: KB Savickas Press
1D: Band Vertical Push
1A: Floor Press
1B: MB Chest Pass
1C: Bench Throws
1D:1/2 Kneeling MB Rotational Put
1A: Zercher Squat
1B: Knees to Feet Jumps for height
1C: Banded Box Squat
1D: Tuck Jumps
1A: Deficit Deadlift
1B: Bench Blasts
1C: Hang Clean 
1D: Ice Skater
French Contrast Method 41A: Log Press
1B: Standing MB Slam
1C: DB Steep Incline Press
1D: Kneeling MB Push
1A: Swiss Bar Bench Press
1B: UB Depth Jumps
1C: Dips
1D: Wheelbarrow Hops
1A: Weight Release Box Squat
1B: Depth Jumps
1C: Banded Step Ups
1D: In Place Hops
1A: Prowler® Push
1B: Knees to Feet Jumps for distance
1C: Band-Assisted Deadlift
1D: Bounds
Table 2 – An overview of the different French Contrast workouts used with rugby players. (MB- Medicine Ball, DB- Dumbbell).

I prescribe a four-week block and have the players use the same movements throughout the four-week block as the loading scheme will undulate. The progression scheme that I have found most effective for this purpose is as follows:

  • Week One: 3 x 5/10                                                                                                             
  • Week Two: 3 x 3/6
  • Week Three: 3 x 4/8
  • Week Four: 3 x 2/4

Here the first figure on the reps side is for the weighted movements (A & C), and the second (higher) number is for the unloaded movements (B & D).

Off-Season Conjugate Program – Mechanical Work

The mechanical elements of the programs focus on improving both strength and size. The sets and reps for this four-week block are as follows (see Table 3). Please note that these refer to the work sets only and that players are once again instructed to stick with the same movements for the full training block.

Sets & Reps

Training Goal
Strength & Bilateral
Size & Unilateral
12 x 6 @ 75+%2 x 12
22 x 4 @ 85+%2 x 8
32 x 5 @ 80+%2 x 10
42 x 2 @ 95+%2 x 4
Table 3 – Set and rep scheme for Mechanical Work.

The selection of the primary movement for the mechanical section of the program will depend on what was performed as part of the French Contrast Method (FCM) section. For example, if a player selected the knee-dominant FCM workout during a lower body workout, they would select a bilateral hip/hinge dominant movement to begin the mechanical lower body program and vice versa (see Table 4).


Lower BodyUpper Body
1 x Bilateral Squat
1 x Bilateral Hinge
1 x Horizontal Bilateral Upper Body Push super-setted with Horizontal Bilateral Pull
1 x Vertical Bilateral Upper Body Push super-setted with Vertical Bilateral Pull
1 x Unilateral Squat or Hinge (Different plane compared to first lower body movement)1 x Unilateral Upper Body Push super-setted with Upper Body Pull (Different plane compared to first upper body movements)
Table 4 – Exercise selection for the mechanical section of the workout.

Next in the program is where the player can select (after input from their coach) what they need to address their main weak point. This will either be hypertrophy work (Armor Plating) or energy systems work (circuits or extra off-feet conditioning). Sets, reps, and methods can vary here, and I am continually updating this list as I come across new ideas. Also, never be scared to ask the athlete for input on what has worked for them.

In Table 5 (below), I list of few of my favorite methods for the “Armor Plating” section of the workout with regard to each body part.

(Pectoral Punishment)
(Big Back Maniac)
(Boulder Shoulders)
(Arm Race)
1a. Front Squat (6)

1b. Reverse Lunge (12)

1c. Goblet Squat (25)
Triple Drop Incline Dumbbell Bench Press (45/30/15)Head Supported Yates Row s/s Landmine Kroc Row1a. Savickas Press (6)
1b. Dips (12)
1c. Band Dumbbell Laterals (21’s)
EZ Barbell Curl s/s
Swiss Bar Close Grip Bench Press
1a. Back Squat (6)

1b. Leg Press (12)

1c. Leg Extension (25)
3-way Standing Cable Flys Complex: Low to High, High to Low,
Horizontal to Floor
1a. Pullovers (6)
1b. Pulldowns to Chest (12)
1c. Straight Arm Pull
Downs (25)
Shoulder Press Ladder on Hammer Press 1 – 10 alternate sidesSeated Dumbbell Hammer Cur s/s Skull Crushers
1a. Romanian Deadlift (6)

1b. Hip Thrust (12)

1c. Reverse Hyperextension (25)
Mechanical Advantage Push-ups Complex: Feet Elevated, Normal, Hands ElevatedMechanical Advantage Chins Complex:
Dumbbell Lateral Raises s/s
Bradford Press       
Incline Dumbbell Curls s/s Lying Dumbbell Rolling Extensions
1a. Trap Bar Deficit Deadlift (6)

1b. Back Extension (12)

1c. Banded Good Morning (25)
Mechanical Advantage Dips: Ring Dips, Parallel Bar Dips, Bench Dips1a. Muscle Snatch (6)
1b. Inverted Row (12)
1c. Face Pulls (25)
3-Way Shoulder Raise
1a. Dumbbell Press (6)
1b. Seated Dumbbell Lateral (12) 1c. Cable Bent-over Rear Delt Raise (25)
Dumbbell Twist Curls s/s
Low Incline Tate Presses
Table 5 – Options for the Armor Plating section of the workout categorized by body part (s/s signifies the two movements are a super-set).

Metabolic (Energy Systems Work)

If a player instead needs to focus on their conditioning or improving their body composition, then the Armor Plating work will be replaced with Circuit Training. Here the goal is to improve overall work capacity and increase energy expenditure (especially if the goal is fat loss). Below I have listed some of my favorite circuits to use in this segment of the workout—a more extensive list of variations can be sent to you upon request.

Example Circuits:

Beastly Complex (performed for 6 rounds):

  • Deadlift/Hang Clean/Push Press/Front Squat/Bent Row/RDL, 6 reps on each followed by
  • 2km Watt Bike or 750m Row or 500m Ski Erg

Canterbury (performed for 5 rounds):

  • 50 m Sled Push/DB Hang Clean/Hand Release Pushups/Renegade Row/See Saw Shoulder Press/KB Swing, 5 reps on each on loaded movement

Filthy Five (performed for 5 rounds):

  • Push Press/Band Box Squats/Clean from Blocks/Band Bench Press/Power Tackler/500 m Row

Strongman (performed for 4 rounds):

  • Zercher Carry 25m
  • Waiter’s Walk 25m
  • Log or Axle Bar Clean & Press x 5
  • Suitcase Carry 25m
  • Bear Crawl with weight plate 25m

Off-feet conditioning options will be provided based on the needs of the athlete and also what equipment a player has access to.

Off-Season Conjugate Program – CARE Work

The final component of the program comprises the Core Accessory Rehab Exercises (CARE) movements. This section is important for the long-term health of the athlete. As Louie Simmons said, “You do more prehab so you can avoid rehab.”

There are a plethora of options available to you, but in Table 6 below, I have included some of my most favored and productive to get you started.

CARE Program 2 x 8 - 20 reps, Carries 20-40m, time 30-60 seconds

NeckScapularRotator CuffCore
Band Neck WorkCable face Pull + External RotationIncline Y & T’sBarbell Rollouts
Plate ExtensionTurkish RowWenning SequenceHanging Leg raises
Plate FlexionScap Push UpsDB L RaisePallof Press
Neck PlankChinese Back PlankDB ScarecrowLandmine Twist
Groin/HipsHamstringKneeLoaded Carry
Monster WalksPull ThroughsReverse NordicFarmer’s Walk
Copenhagen PlanksNordicsPoliquin Step UpWaiter’s Walk
Side Plank with Leg RaiseReverse HyperSingle Leg Squat to BoxSuitcase Carry
Goblet Lateral LungeHarrop Hamstring CurlLow Box Step UpsCombination Carries
Table 5 A selection of the drills and movements I use as part of the CARE component of the workout. Regular movements are performed for 2 sets of 8-20 reps, loaded carries are performed for 20-40m, and any timed exercises are performed for 30-60 seconds.
Kettlebell grip trainingSingle Leg Calf-RaiseYoga for Athletes
Bucket of riceSeated Calf Raise
The Towel Pull-upTowel Scrunch
Table 6 Useful tools I found for the more neglected areas of self-care.


I believe this to be the most comprehensive program for an off-season athlete I have ever published. If you follow it as shown, you or your athletes will make progress in all aspects of physical performance, which is what conjugate training is all about.

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Ashley Jones has worked in three professional sports across 30 years and four continents. He was awarded the NSCA's Professional Coach of the Year in 2016. Ashley holds his CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) since 1988 and is an honorary lecturer in the School of Therapeutic Sciences, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, SA.