As rugby seasons around the world swing into off-season mode, it is timely to look at what each player needs to focus on during the off-season to improve their chances for the coming season.

I have three key areas that I consider for each player on my roster:

  1. Mechanical: Size & Strength
  2. Neural: Speed & Power
  3. Metabolic: Fitness

Initially, the player has to decide how many days a week they can commit to a gym program. The two standard options are a three-day or a four-day program. However, there are many different ways that week plans can be structured. This article will present a few of my favorite programming variations to achieve the desired outcome.

Since I am a firm believer in the conjugate approach to gym programming, I will ask the player what their priorities are in their training and from that design the program accordingly to meet those needs.

RECENT: The Combined Seasonal Training Chart

If you have read any of my previous articles, you will know that I am a fan of simplicity. I tend to the “big rocks” approach to ensure that the major movements are fully utilized. I use the compound movements and steer clear of isolation movements. If players require added upper body-specific hypertrophy, I move them into my CARE program or additional armour plating accessory workouts.

Mechanical Program

The mechanical program I recommend is based around four key movements and a loaded carry:

  • Squat (knee dominant) choose a unilateral movement if the next movement is bilateral
  • Hinge (hip dominant) choose a unilateral movement if the previous movement was bilateral
  • Upper Body Push (horizontal or vertical plane)
  • Upper Body Pull (horizontal or vertical plane)
  • Loaded Carry

Mechanical Program Example

Example A (Straight Sets)Example B (+ Contrasts)Example C (Hybrid)
Hang CleanTrap Bar Jump Shrugs + MB Scoop TossPower Snatch
Jump SquatBanded Step-Ups + Single Leg Box JumpsBand Box Squat
Rotational JammerChain Bench Press + Clap Push-UpsIncline Bench Press
Single-Arm Overhead Carry Combination Carry (Suitcase + Waiter's)Bench Row
Zercher Carry

Metabolic Program

The metabolic program I recommend is based around a circuit as the priority and then two additional strength movements. This can be rotated each workout to ensure the entire body is trained. Additional to these movements is a loaded carry as a finishing movement:


Hinge & Upper Body Push or 1 x Squat & Upper Body Pull

Loaded Carry

Metabolic Program Example

Example AExample B
Otago CircuitBeastly Circuit
Trap Bar Deadlift Elevated Split Squat
Military PressWeighted Chins
Zercher CarryFarmer's Walk

All programs conclude with a specific CARE program for each player’s training age, injury history, and position needs.

Sets & Reps for Different Training Aspects

When you organize your week plan around three or four training days, you need to prioritize your workouts based on your specific needs analysis.

Metabolic Focus


This is a balanced training week but with an increase in metabolic stimuli.

Neural should be trained when you are fully recovered and fresh, so either as the first workout for the week or after a day off in the programmed week plan.

Neural Focus


Mechanical Focus


For your information, this is also a balanced approach using just the two priorities.

There are many ways to program weight training sessions into your weekly plan. The key here is to optimize recovery between sessions so the full adaption that you are training for occurs. I have included a complete off-season plan for players who want to prioritize speed, size, and strength. This program will operate in four-week cycles. It can be used for one, two, or even three cycles, changing the exercises each cycle for optimal effect and to relieve training monotony and for neural freshness. The program does not include any metabolic running due to the needs of the players this was originally written for. In this case, they actually can condition quite quickly and they need speed and size as the main outcomes. The processes of programming should always focus on the outcome priority.

Off-Season Week Plan — Priorities are Speed, Size, & Strength








Metabolic 2 Circuits

Beastly + Otago (odd number weeks)

T Rex + BW Circuit (even number weeks)

Sets & Reps for Different Training Aspects

Loaded Carry Distances (Thibaudeau)

Ashley Jones has just completed his 30th pre-season in professional sport, working across three professional sports on four continents. Ashley currently plies his trade in Major League Rugby (MLR) with the Houston Sabercats as their Head of Performance.

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