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Five Things You Can Learn From Rugby Players

Is your training feeling a little soft? Take a few tips from one of the toughest sports in the world

The Second Annual Collegiate Rugby Championship is taking place from June 4-5. Why should you care? Because there's a lot you can learn from this sport. The players need to be in peak physical condition; these guys push their bodies to the limit every match. Weight training, proper diet, mental toughness and endurance are critical to their success. Jason Suhy, a member of the Ohio State Rugby team, spoke with MF about the training routines his team uses and how what they do can help you take your workout to the next level.

Never Forget Your Cardio
Lots of guys make time to lift, but many skip out on their cardio. Rugby players run as much as soccer players, but they’re bigger and stronger—and they get that way by switching up how far and how fast they run. “Distance runs, 1,000 meter shuttles, partner runs, sprints,” says Suhy, a Buckeye as well as a member of the United States Army. “We do that Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, then we’ll do a conditioning session only on Friday’s.” Those variations keep their bodies guessing, which means they burn fat without sacrificing muscle.

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Always Find Ways to Push Yourself
The most brutal workout faced by rugby players is the beat test. This grueling mark of endurance requires athletes to complete 20-yard sprints to the beat of a metronome. The tempo starts slow, and gradually increases until the athletes are moving at sprint speed, which ensures that each rep will be tougher than the last.

“In theory, a couple people finished them,” says Suhy. “Supposedly David Beckham and some big-time soccer players have finished it, but its vicious.” Remember, it’s important to push yourself in the gym. Crank out a few sprints at the end of your next lift, and try to do more each time. Or set up your progression so you test your maxes every month or two. Giving yourself a goal to beat will help keep you motivated.

Heavy Weights Are a Must
Like all major athletes, rugby players lift heavy. And often. “We do rugby lifts Mondays and Wednesdays,” says Suhy. “But every single guy on this team, because we want to make it, lifts pretty much every day.” And they’re not talking about bicep curls or leg extensions. Big, compound movements that recruit lots of muscle groups and stabilizers will help maximize your strength gains. The players do pyramids for their big exercises, which means they’ll do a set of six reps, then rest, then do a set of five, then rest, all the way down to a single rep set. Then, they’ll work back up. Add weights to the lowest rep sets. Once you hit your final rep, it should be somewhat close to your 1RM.

Pay Attention to Your Diet
Lots of guys try and bulk up and end up pounding pasta and rice, which leaves them looking anything but athletic. Suhy gains weight by eating more fruit, which has carbs that come from natural sugars. “I try to eat four servings of fruit on top of my vegetables and meat,” he says. A few bananas are a better way to pack on the pounds than overdosing on bread.

They’re Tougher Than You
Maybe you’ve heard stories about rugby players and their grotesque injuries. After all, they are playing football without pads. “A guy ran and he dived to try and put the ball down [in the try zone],” says Suhy. “Two Penn State players dived over top of him and they slammed heads and the one dude cracked his skull, knocked him out cold.” So while you’re skipping the gym because it’s raining, these guys are knocking themselves unconscious. Food for thought.

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