Resistance training for maximum strength

Strength is the ability to produce force, and the more force to overcome or resist in a game, the more important strength becomes to performance in that sport (Joyce and Lewindon, 2014). Rugby is a game with very large forces being applied constantly throughout the game hence strength and development of maximal strength is a key training aspect.

Tackling, scrummaging, sprinting, etc., all involve very high forces being applied and the stronger a player is, the more able they are to create these high forces and gain advantage on the pitch. Higher upper-body maximal strength measures (Pull-up and Bench Press) have been shown to be associated with more minutes played in international women’s sevens rugby (Goodale et al, 2016). International sevens players were also seen to have greater upper-body maximum strength (Bench Press and Pull-up) than their provincial counterparts (Ross et al, 2015). Strength levels have been related to speed, agility and even injury prevention. Both lower and upper-body strength are needed as the game of rugby requires high levels of upper and lower-body force to execute various game-based skills.

Training for maximal strength will cause the players to adapt their nervous systems and muscular systems in order to increase the amount of force they can produce (Bompa and Haff, 2009). Nerve signals are sent to the muscles which tell them to contract. With maximal strength training, the speed and synchronisation of these nerve signals improves as the players progress through their resistance training. This leads to an increased ability of the muscle to produce force (Bompa and Haff, 2009). The muscular adaptation to increase strength in response to resistance training is mainly hypertrophy of the muscles.

While hypertrophy training will also improve strength levels to an extent the weights lifted are generally lower than the loads needed to improve maximal strength.

Some guidelines for maximal strength training are:

  • Weight lifted should be 80-100% of the maximum weight the player could lift in that exercise
  • 1-5 repetitions per set
  • 2-5 sets per exercise
  • 2-3 minutes of rest between sets
  • Use bigger multi-joint exercises like the squat, bench press and deadlift