The Grand Unified Theory where all forces (strong nuclear, electromagnetic, weak nuclear and gravitational) are merged into one single force is a Holy Grail of the physics community. My less grand unification is attempting to combine the training elements of the four forces (Olympic lifting, powerlifting, strongman, and bodybuilding) into one single training program to optimize force and power development.

The role of the strength and conditioning coach is to get the players strong and powerful so that the head coach can teach them how he wants them to play the game, so said Rusty Jones the head of S&C for the Buffalo Bills during Marv Levy’s tenure as head coach. This unification plan is an amalgam of the Westside training philosophies of Louie Simmons, Olympic style lifting, strongman training and bodybuilding, using a combination of both traditional periodization theory and conjugate training preparation.

I believe that each of the weight training forces lend themselves ideally to a prioritization system throughout the year. I do not believe that you should drop off one aspect of your training completely and agree with the concurrent system style that you train all variables at the one time.

RECENT: Using The Body Composition Action Chart for Athlete Programming

So to this end may I offer you a year round system to touch all bases and satisfy all needs. There may be some debate as to percentages and I think that is a healthy debate, but I will state my position and then you can decide from there what you consider relevant to you.

elitefts equipment

Post Season (4–6 Weeks)

I believe that you require only about two weeks of time away from the physical training elements of the game, so after this time you can jump straight back into the physical training aspects of the game, but leave the rugby side of the preparation for at least 4–6 weeks to ensure you are mentally fresh to start the next campaign.

My breakdown of this phase would be as follows:

Lower Body: Circuits such as the Beastly circuit can be done two days a week before any of the upper body workouts

Upper Body Hypertrophy (Bodybuilding Style): Combining two major movements and an arm movement traditional push/pull split, or body parts training the choice is yours, at this time of the year.

Any specific prehab/rehab program you are currently performing can be completed in the warm up before training or you could do the following upper body warm up for 1–2 sets of 12 reps each movement.

Perform in a circuit fashion as a warm up before other weight training sessions:

  1. DB Lateral Raise — Small bend only at elbow joint slow controlled raise to side, make sure that elbow is always above wrist throughout the movement.
  2. Arnold Press — Palms facing shoulders at start slowly rotate as you push up to finish with palms facing out.
  3. Capital Y’s, T’s and I’s — on high bench pull bench
  4. Cuban Press — Five count, snatch grip, shrug, upright row, external rotation, internal rotation, down
  5. Over Head Shrugs — Snatch grip, make sure you elevate and depress the scapula fully through range on each rep
  6. Weight Plate Front Raise — Scapula controlled, slight bend at elbow raise the plate till over your head pause and return to the starting position
  7. DB Empty Can Raises — 45 degrees with thumb turned down the entire way
  8. T Bench Internal/External Rotation (Bar) — Make sure right angles at both shoulder and elbow joints, go slowly through range and pause for good stretch on each rep
  9. Straight Arm Rhomboid Shrugs with DB’s — On the high bench pull bench, try not to bend arms, keep straight for the full range
  10. KB Renegade Row — Make sure you keep the movement slow and controlled, with a pause each rep at the top

Upper Body Training Program Options


Option 1

  • Standing Military Press, 6 x 2–6 reps
  • Snatch Grip Upright Upright Row, 4 x 8–12 reps
  • DB Lateral Raises, 2 x 15–20 rep

Option 2

  • Handstand Push-Ups with feet against wall, 4 x maximal reps to failure
  • Rollover Bradford Press, 4 x 6–8 reps
  • 3-Way DB Raise, 4 x 6 – 8


Option 1

  • Incline DB Bench Press, 4-6 reps, failure, then decrease angle, triple drop style start at 45 degrees, then 30 degrees, then 15 degrees. No rest between drops other than changing the angle of the bench. One minute rest between sets. Four sets.
  • Close Grip Bench Press, 4 x 6-10

Option 2

  • Incline Bench Press, 6 x 2–6 reps
  • DB Flat Bench, 4 x 8–12

Upper Back

Option 1

  • Bent-Over Row, 4 x 4-6
  • Yates Row, 4 x 6-8
  • Shrugs, 4 x 6–8

Option 2

  • Weighted Chins, 6 x 2–6 reps
  • Seated Row,  4 x 8–12 reps
  • 50 Pull-Ups, in as few sets as possible with 30 seconds rest between sets and each set taken to positive failure


Option 1

  • Matrix Barbell Curl (five full, five top half, five bottom half, five full), superset with
  • Triceps Death — Close grip bench press, I like using the football bar for this. Five reps each. Three-board then two-board then 1-board and then no board.

Option 2

  • Barbell Curl superset with Close Grip Bench Press, 4 x 6-10
  • DB Incline Curl superset with Lying Triceps Extension, 4 x 8–12
  • Preacher Curl superset with Rope Pushdown, 4 x 8-12

Option 3

  • Standing DB Twist Curl, superset with Lying DB Rolling Extension, 4 x 8–12
  • Seated DB Hammer Curls superset with DB Tate Presses, 4 x 8–12
  • Reverse Curls with Thick bar superset with Dips

Pre-Season (4–10 weeks depending on competition, four workouts per week)

Workout 1

Program A

  • Snatch Warm-Up Complex — Power Snatch/Split Snatch(R)/Split Snatch (L)/Squat Snatch/Overhead Squat
  • Squat or Power Snatch — Work up to max, then back down to 80% and hit 3 x 3
  • Snatch Pulls, 3 x 3
  • Snatch Grip Deadlifts, 3 x 5
  • Farmer’s Walk, 4 x 25 meters

Alternate weeks.

Program B

  • Clean Warm-Up Complex— Power Clean/Split Clean (R)/Split Clean (L)/Squat Clean/Front Squat
  • Squat or Power Clean — Work up to max, then back down to 80% and hit 3 x 3
  • Clean Pulls, 3 x 3
  • Clean grip Deadlifts, 3 x 5
  • Stone Lift and Carry, 4 x 25 meters

Workout 2

  • Overhead Pressing Warm-Up Complex — Military Press/Push Press/Push Jerk/Split Jerk (can use a steel log)
  • Rack Jerk — 5 x progressively heavier singles then back off to 80% and do 3 x 3 push press
  • Steep Incline DB Press 30’s method superset with Weighted Chins — Choose a weight you can get six reps with and rest only 30 seconds between sets until you have completed a total of 30 reps (Hypertrophy group only)
  • Incline or Flat Bench Press superset with Pendlay Row — Three week strength loading cycle (Strength group only)

Workout 3

  • Squat Clean and Front Squat Doubles or Front Squat and Split Jerk Doubles — Build up to a heavy but not max double
  • Maximal Force Exercise — Front squat, back squat, box squat, deadlift, three-week strength cycle
  • Hinge Movement Exercise — Tyre flip, Romanian deadlift, good morning, three-week strength cycle
  • Single Leg superset with Hamstring Specific — Bulgarian sprinter’s squat superset with split-stance RDL

Workout 4 (Upper Body Focus or Circuit)

  • Primary Push exercise superset with Primary Pull exercise,  three-week strength cycle
  • Secondary Push exercise superset with Secondary Pull exercise, three-week size cycle

If you are doing a circuit finish with the primary push superset pull.

Beastly Circuit or Strongman Circuit (60 seconds work, 30 seconds rest or Tabata 10 x 20/10) — Steel Log Clean/Sledge Hammer Tyre Hits/Tyre Flip/Stone Lift to Shoulders/Sled Pull/Sled Drag/Farmer’s Walk/Yoke Walk/Stone Carry/Prowler Push

In-Season Programming

I believe in a degree of freedom in programming, which is linked to the training age of the player to determine in consultation with the S&C coach as to what program and how much freedom they have to design what the player does, to choose exercises, set and reps, and style of performance. This is tailored following a monthly interview and modified following each game as to how the player is feeling, whether they are selected in the squad for the following game, if starting the game or on the bench, or non-selected. This will determine the number of sessions in the week and what the content of those sessions will be.

The usual groupings I put in place are a speed-based group, strength priority, and finally, size priority. Also, some players will be doing a circuit similar to rep-season, either a Beastly or a strongman as a regular component to work on general fitness and strength endurance throughout the year.

Speed Group Snap Shot


  • Neural Activation Protocol — Hops, jumps, bounds, short sprints


Done as tri-set for five sets total:

  • Primary Power Exercise of Choice — Speed strength orientation, 5 x 3 with 60%
  • Depth Jump — 3 Reps
  • 10-Meter sprint through timing lights

Done as a superset for four sets total:

  • Secondary Power Exercise of Choice — Strength speed orientation, 4 x 4 with 80%
  • Three Hurdle Jumps into a 20-meter prowler push

Primary Peak Force Movement — Usually squat or deadlift, 3 x 2 with 90%

Strength Group Snap Shot


  • Hip Mobility
  • Hurdles — 10 reps forward and backward, 10 reps unders and overs,
  • Lunge Combination — Backward, forward and lateral, 2 x 10 each side


  • Primary Peak Force Movement (Squat): 3 x 2/1 with 90+% contrast superset with 3 x knees-to-feet jumps each set
  • Primary Peak Power Movement: 6 x 3 reps with 70–80% contrast superset with 3 x repeat long jumps each set
  • Secondary Peak Force movement (Hinge): 3 x 2/1 with 90+% contrast superset with 3 x knees-to-feet jumps each set
  • Hamstring Specific Movement: 3 x 6 reps

Size Group Snap Shot

Lower body is either of the above groups. The size program tends to focus on upper body only during the season to ensure the legs are not fatigued leading to potential injury.

  • Primary Upper Body Push supserset with Pull (Strength Focus)
  • Triple Drop Incline DB Pressing Complex  (45 degrees, 30 degrees, 15 degrees, five reps on each) superset with DB One Arm Row, 5 x 10
  • Matrix Biceps superset with Triceps Death, 3 sets

Core Finishing Movements (for all phases of the training year)

As most of you know by now, I am a firm believer that you get a stronger core by lifting as heavy as you can with good form on basic movements. Throw in some strongman exercises and that just about does the trick.

Also delving back into the past, you can come up with some core specific movements which are part of full body movements as well. These are great finishing exercises for your overall workout. They also provide strength challenges of their own to progressively work against.

Exercises like Samson’s Side Bend, the Jeffries Side Bend and Pick Up, and Turkish Get Up are just a few of these. Also by combining movements, you increase the complexity of the movement and get more muscle involvement as well.

I would like to detail two such hybrids that are now mainstays of our finishing movements.

  • Turkish GetUp and Jeffries Side Bend and Pick Up: Start laying flat on your back with a DB or KB extended at arm’s length perpendicular to your body. Also, have a heavier DB or KB positioned to your side. From the start position, rise to standing while keeping the arm holding the KB/DB pointing skywards at all time. Now standing, flex the body laterally to the non-weighted side, keeping the KB/DB arm pointing straight up, and pick up the heavier KB/DB. Flex back to the standing position. Now halfway through, return the heavier KB/DB to the floor and come back to a lying position. Repeat for the other side. One rep each side for five progressively heavier singles does the trick.
  • Suitcase Deadlift + Zercher Lift and Squat: Load an Olympic bar evenly on both ends. Stand alongside the middle of the bar and partially squat down until you can grip the bar. Now keeping your hips square at all times, stand up right, pause, then return the bar slowly under control to the floor. Then immediately squat down and hook both your elbows under the bar. Your back will be rounded, then forcefully extend through the trunk, lifting the bar and standing erect with the bar crooked in the elbows. Pause and reverse the movement, returning the bar to the floor. Then complete a suitcase deadlift with the other side. Again, just one rep of each of the movements for five progressively heavier sets and you’re finished.

My thanks go to the number of people that have helped in the overall development of this program. Those of you who have trained hard and accepted the ideas and put them into practice, to you this is dedicated. As Sir Issac Newton has been quoted as saying, “If I can see for great distance, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

I hope you have found this an interesting read. Again, it is only one man’s thoughts on how to prepare a player for the demands of rugby. In the 20+ years that I have been preparing players for battle, one thing stands out more than any other: there is no one way that is the best. Trial, question, appraise, then re-appraise, and if it works for you then it is good for you, Train hard and make a difference in someone’s life.