Best Treadmill Exercises for Rugby Training

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Exercise specificity – the key to program design success

In rugby training, the law of specificity underpins all successful program design. Specificity simply means that your fitness will improve based on the type of training you do. Because of this law, ruggers should do most of their sprinting and running outdoors, preferably on a rugby pitch. After all, that’s what you are training to improve.

However, inclement weather, lack of access to training facilities, and insufficient time may mean that you can’t get outside to train as often as you want to. You could use an exercise bike for your training, or hop on a cross trainer or stepper, but these exercise modalities are not really specific enough to improve your rugby running abilities.

Yes, they’ll make you fitter, but they won’t do much for your speed or running technique. Conditioning developed using a cross trainer/stepper/rower etc. may not transfer very well to the rugby pitch because it lacks the necessary specificity.

While still not as specific as outdoor running and sprinting, training on a treadmill is an acceptable choice when you can’t get outdoors.

Remember: recovery is as important as training so make sure you cover all your recovery nutritional bases with Ruck Recovery (Pro).

Treadmill training considerations

Before you give up on training outdoors, it’s important to understand that treadmill training is a pale imitation of “real” running and sprinting. There are some significant differences between treadmill and outdoor running which mean that it’s an acceptable occasional alternative that can be used to supplement outdoor training but should not be viewed as a replacement.

  1. Most treadmills don’t go fast enough for sprint training
  2. Treadmills don’t allow you to train for changes in direction
  3. Treadmills pull your feet beneath you while the ground does not. This changes your running biomechanics and the muscles involved
  4. Running on a treadmill encourages a heel-toe action while most running in rugby is on the forefoot
  5. Running on a treadmill encourages a short stride length which may lead to a short stride length when you return to outdoor running – specificity again
  6. There is no wind resistance to overcome when you run on a treadmill. Set incline to 1% to replicate running outdoors more closely

Of course, it’s not all bad news. Treadmills provide a forgiving surface on which to run, are flat so they are good for when you are coming back from an ankle injury, allow you to be very prescriptive with the speed and duration of your workouts, and provide you with the means to monitor and record your performance. Also, as you probably do a lot of your training at a gym, they are convenient to use.

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Treadmill exercises and workouts for rugby

Don’t just hop on a treadmill and trot along mindlessly like most gym goers tend to do. That really is a waste of your time. Instead, and with rugby specificity always in mind, make sure your training is purposeful and designed to improve your on-pitch performance.

Here are six effective rugby-specific treadmill workouts to try.

1. 5km time trial

5km/3.1 miles is a good distance for treadmill training. It’s long enough that you’ll get a good cardiovascular workout, but not so long you’ll get bored. Treat this training session as a race and see how fast you can complete the distance. Strive to beat your previous best the next time you repeat this workout. You should finish this workout feeling like you gave it your all; if you could have gone much further or faster, you were not working hard enough.

2. Sprint/squats pyramid

This workout will develop muscular endurance, aerobic fitness, and anaerobic fitness too. Storm through the following as fast as you can.

  1. Run 100 meters
  2. Do 10 bodyweight squats
  3. Run 200 meters
  4. Do 20 bodyweight squats
  5. Run 300 meters
  6. Do 30 bodyweight squats
  7. Run 400 meters
  8. Do 40 bodyweight squats
  9. Run 500 meters
  10. Do 50 bodyweight squats

You can stop your workout at this point or, if you still have gas left in the tank, work your way back up the pyramid.

3. 4 x 400 meters

 Most treadmills don’t go fast enough for you to do true sprint training. However, you should be able to do sprint endurance work. 400 meters is the perfect distance for this. Running 400 meters as fast as you can will improve anaerobic fitness, while having at least a small beneficial impact on your speed.

For this workout, run four reps of 400 meters, going every third minute. The faster you run, the longer you’ll have to recover until your next effort. If it takes you 55 seconds to run 400 meters, you have two minutes and five seconds before you go again. If you take 90 seconds to cover the distance, you only get 90 seconds rest. This workout takes just less than 12 minutes which makes it a great way to finish a gym-based strength workout.

4. Dead treadmill intervals

In rugby, you rarely have the luxury of running unopposed. Often, you’ll have to power your way through lines of opposing players intent on bringing you down. You can replicate opposed running by turning off the treadmill and pushing the belt around using muscle power.

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Switch the treadmill off at the electricity supply. Stand on the belt and place your hands on the handrails. Lean forwards and then drive hard with your legs to push the belt around. It will be hard at first but gets a little easier as you gain momentum.

Workouts to try include:

  • 30 seconds work/60 seconds rest, ten sets
  • 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest, eight sets (Tabatas)
  • 10 seconds work/20 seconds rest, eight sets (Reverse Tabatas)

Facing forward will work your hamstrings and glutes. You can also turn around and face backward to work your quads and hip flexors. In many ways, this is a lot like sled training.

The manager of your gym may worry that using a treadmill this way will damage it – it won’t. It’s no different to using an exercise bike that’s been turned off. Still, you WILL raise a few eyebrows with this type of workout but that’s the price of training for rugby in a commercial gym!

5. Fartlek

Fartlek is a funny work that means speed play in Swedish. For this workout simply decided on how long you want to train for, e.g. 30 minutes, and then run at a variety of speeds for a variety of durations using a variety of inclines until the time is up. In case you missed it, the theme of this workout is variety!

All this variation should partially mirror the different running durations and intensities of rugby. Change speeds and incline settings as randomly as possible.

6. Speed pyramid

This workout is short, sweet, and a great way to improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Simply start at an easy pace, increasing speed every minute for three minutes. Slow things down a little for one minute, and then speed things up again. Continue this “three steps forward, one step back” pattern until you are unable to go any faster. For example:

  1. 7 mph
  2. 8 mph
  3. 9 mph
  4. 8 mph
  5. 9 mph
  6. 10 mph
  7. 9 mph
  8. 10 mph
  9. 11 mph
  10. 10 mph
  11. 11 mph
  12. 12 mph
  13. 11 mph
  14. 12 mph
  15. 13 mph
  16. 12 mph
  17. 13 mph
  18. 14 mph – enough!

If you can do more than 20 minutes, start your next workout at a slightly faster speed.

Strategic use of a treadmill can help you develop rugby-specific fitness providing that it is supplemental to plenty of outdoor running. Say no to boring, mindless, and unproductive treadmill workouts and, instead, try one of these tried and tested rugby running training sessions.