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Training for Rugby & Bodybuilding - Is This Possible?

Rugby and bodybuilding are two of the most physically demanding activities on the planet. Both disciplines require extreme dedication in training and nutrition. Therefore, training and nutritional methods for both should be an exact replica of each other, right? Not necessarily! Although there are a number of similarities in the methods, it can be argued that there are fundamental differences between the two.

Exercises for Bodybuilding vs Rugby / Rep Ranges?

Bodybuilding type training does have a place in a rugby player’s preparation, but it is usually only for a specific period, generally during the off-season when there is time to spend on this relatively high volume, split routine type training, in order for players to increase their muscle mass. So what is the difference between bodybuilding and training for strength and conditioning, as in the case of a typical rugby player? Bodybuilding involves breaking down a muscle, this is usually done by performing reps in the 6-12 range and working the muscle to exhaustion. Typically bodybuilders aim for a “burn” and a “pump” in the muscle, and they will use forced reps and negatives. A strength training programme is based around performing heavy weights and low repetitions. Training to failure is a bodybuilding technique, whereas in contrast to a strength and conditioning program, none of the sets should be taken to failure. Bodybuilders strive hard to really exhaust their muscles, so they need to keep rest to a minimum. In a rugby strength training and conditioning program, you want maximum nerve impulses sent to the muscle each and every rep. In order to insure that really strong impulses are generated, 3-5 minutes between each set should be used for rest.

Intensity Bodybuilding vs Rugby

This introduces the concept of training hard as popularised by bodybuilders versus training as a percentage of One Rep Max (1RM). In rugby training, it is appropriate to be working in a range of 60-80% of the athlete’s 1RM when training for hypertrophy, which can push up to around 75-90%. On rare occasions it could go up to a full 1RM, although the value of doing so is debatable for rugby players. The extra stress imposed on the central nervous system - and increased risk of injury pushing maximal weights - makes this approach frowned upon by most strength and conditioning coaches.

Frequency

The frequency of training for rugby players is often dictated by injuries and fatigue during the season, with no more than two weight training sessions per week being realistic. During the pre-season when power and speed is a priority the rugby player's training split will allow for up to three weight training sessions a week. A serious bodybuilder could train for 5 days a week, using 2 rest days. Rugby players also need to integrate their leg training days in particular with the rest of their training requirements.

Rugby vs Bodybuilding Nutrition

A rugby player's nutrition needs are not the same as those of a bodybuilder. A rugby player has higher energy needs; therefore higher carbohydrate diets are employed, except for maybe the off-season when losing body fat may be a concern. Otherwise carbohydrate intake should be kept high with an emphasis on low GI carbs - except for the post workout when fast acting carbs are required. Training for rugby requires more simple sugars for recovery and energy. Protein and fats should be at similar intakes to a typical bodybuilder - fats reasonably low, and accompanied by the intake of essential fatty acids and unsaturated fats.

Recovery For Bodybuilders & Rugby Players

Since a strength training programme isn’t breaking down the muscles, anyone training for rugby should experience very little soreness the days after your workout. Since the muscles don’t need to repair themselves, you can work each muscle group more often than if you following a bodybuilding routine. Sports massage, ice water immersion, saunas, and physiotherapy are typically used to regenerate a rugby player’s body. A common ailment of a bodybuilder is to experience Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) a few days after a grueling workout. Nutrients to combat this phenomenon consist of BCAA’s, Vitamin C, and Glutamine.

Jenkins, D. & Reaburn, P. (2000). Protocols for the physiological assessment of rugby union players. In Gore, C. J. (Ed.). Physiological tests for elite athletes (p. 327-333). United States of America: Human Kinetics.
Cunniffe, B., Proctor, W., Baker, J.S., & Davie, B. (2009). An evaluation of the physiological demands of elite rugby union using global positioning system tracking software. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 23(4), July 2009, pp 1195-1203.
Giebing, J., Frohlich, M., Preuss, P. 2005. Current results of strength training research. Cuvillier Verlag: Gottingen.Harris, G.R., Stone, M.H., O’Bryant, H.S., Proulx, C.M. & Johnson, R.L. (2000). Unpublished.Kraemer, William J.; Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.Medvedev, A.S., V.I. Rodionov, V.N. Rogozyzn, and A.E. Gulyants. Training content of weightlifters in the preparatory period. Soviet Sports Rev. 17:90–93. 1982.
Sisco, P. 2000. Iron mans ultimate guide to building muscle mass. Contemporary Books: USA

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