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Rugby Workout to Get Back in Shape for the Pack

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In This Series

  • Rugby Workout to Get Back in Shape for the Pack
  • Workout 2

Minimum effort, maximum results. That’s the dream combo when it comes to working out, especially if you’re battling waning enthusiasm for getting a sweat on and those healthy New Year resolutions are a distant, taunting memory. This plan, used by the England rugby league squad to cut fat and build lean muscle in a short pre-season window, delivers on both counts.

“In each 45-minute session you’ll get through a high number of reps and cycle between muscle-stimulating heavy lifts and pulse-quickening light bodyweight drills,” says performance coach Brendan Chaplin, who created these two streamlined workouts. “So long as you’re strict on keeping your rest periods short, body fat will have nowhere to hide.” In total these sessions will eat up less than 1% of your week – freeing up more time to convince your boss that you should apply a similar low-effort, big-results balance to your day job.

How it Works

“To build lean muscle, first you need to break it down,” says Chaplin. “This plan uses a high volume of exercises, time under tension and reps to failure that’ll stress your muscle fibres and tissue enough that they’ll have no option but to grow back stronger.”


There’s an easy option and a slightly harder one. The first is to do these two workouts once a week. The second is to do three workouts, in a 1-2-1 then 2-1-2 format, week by week. Either way, keep increasing the weight you lift or the number of reps to keep your body challenged, your muscles growing and body fat plummeting.

Tri-Sets Explained

In these workouts you perform moves A, B and C back to back with minimal rest between them. Each move works a different muscle group, so it can rest while your respiratory system is still being taxed to keep you burning calories.

Density Sets Explained

Density sets are high-rep, low-rest barrages that’ll stimulate a huge amount of muscle building and fat burning. Pick a timeframe and do as many reps as you can, resting as little as possible. Try them with anything from press-ups to goblet squats – one of our favourites is to do as many back squats with your bodyweight on the bar as you can in three minutes. But prepare for the lactic acid to burn and the DOMS to be savage. Some light exercise (the same moves with a very light weight) the next day will speed up recovery.

Workout 1

Pack on strength and size with these action-packed exercises

1A Dumbbell bench press

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Sets 4 Reps 6-8

Lie on a flat bench, holding dumbbells with an overhand grip either side of your chest. Drive your feet hard into the floor and press the weights straight up, then lower them slowly to the start position.

1B One-arm row

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Sets 4 Reps 6-8 each side

Support your knee on the bench and plant the other leg wide for balance. Keeping a natural arch in your back and your core braced, lift the weight to the side of your chest, making sure your elbow is tucked in. Pause and return slowly. Complete all reps on one side, then the other.

1C Lying leg raise

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Sets 4 Reps 12 Rest 60 seconds

Lie on your back, holding the bench firmly with your hands. Keeping your legs together and straight, raise them, contracting your core to lift your lower back slightly off the bench. From here, keep your core engaged and lower your legs slowly until they’re just off the bench.

2A Pull-over

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Sets 3 Reps 8

Lie on your back holding the dumbbells together above you. Keeping your core engaged and arms straight, lower the weights beyond your head until you feel a stretch in your chest, then return to the start.

2B Eccentric biceps curl

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Sets 3 Reps 12

Hold dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing forwards. Curl the weights up to your chest, using momentum if needed. The weights should be slightly heavier than you would use for strict-form reps. Squeeze your biceps hard, then lower them slowly, taking five seconds to reach the starting position.

2C Reverse lunge

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Sets 3 Reps 8 each side Rest 60 seconds

Holding dumbbells in each hand, take a big step backwards. Make sure you’re balanced, then lower your back knee until it’s just off the floor. Keep your back upright and your front knee in line with your front foot. Return to the start and keep alternating legs.

Finisher: Density set

Do as many rounds as possible in five minutes

3A Spider-Man press-up

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Reps 5 each side  

Start in the top of a press-up position. Bend your arms to lower your chest until it’s just off the floor and, as you do, bring one knee out towards your elbow, then return to the start. Alternate sides.

3B Dumbbell lunge and reach

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Reps 5 each side

Stand holding dumbbells by your sides. Keeping your arms straight throughout, take a big step forwards into a lunge and touch the dumbbells to the floor just ahead of your front foot. Powerfully drive back up with your front leg to return to the start.

3C Barbell overhead lunge

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Reps 5 each side

Hold a light barbell overhead with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your glutes and core engaged so your torso is solid, then lunge forwards. Alternate sides. Always be sure to find your balance as you plant your foot before dropping into the lunge.

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix (opens in new tab). Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.