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Friday May 27, 2016

Rugby Training Mistakes: Specificity - Not Training For Your Position

Rugby Training Mistakes: Specificity - Not Training For Your Position

In this new series of articles, Rugbydump Academy’s TJ Jankowski runs us through some common mistakes players make when they are training. Today we look at one component of specificity, and how each position requires different work.

As a rugby player you know that you need to be strong, you also know that you’re going to need to be powerful and solid in contact and you know that you need some level of speed to get to where you need to be.

You also need to have a built yourself up in training so that you’re best equipped to avoid injury, and to hopefully last 80 minutes keeping up with an intense game.

These are all general components of a rugby training programme. They are pretty much standard and will feature in every player’s training. But you’ve probably worked out by reading the title that it’s not enough – there comes a point where we need to start getting specific.

One huge debate about England’s World Cup disaster was the decision to play Sam Burgess at centre. Many argued that his physical qualities would be better served as a back row.

Imagine if Lancaster had taken it further and played Anthony Watson at Prop? And then Joe Marler in the back three?

England would have performed much worse right? Why is this? It’s because these players have specific characteristics that make them useful to the team at that position.

Well, in order to get better at these specific characteristics it makes sense that we need to train them.

Each position has some very unique aspects. This is not to say that wingers cant work on getting stronger, or locks cant work on getting faster. However it’s probably going to be waste of valuable training time for a centre to work on scrummage strength, or a front row to work on sprints long, open-field sprints.

Let’s look at each position and examine 1 unique principle that they should consider.


As much as they might tell as they exaggerate their 1 try they got from a 2m flob over the line, props have very little need for open field speed and running.

What they will need to focus on, us their upper bodies, particularly their strength in the unique position of a scrum. As much as old-school playstation games would make you believe, no ruck or maul requires the same demands on the neck and shoulders as the front row of a scrum.

Working to develop through in the whole shoulder girdle is going to help you not feel completely beat up the next day, but also help you dominate your opposite number.


In today’s rugby world, hookers are pretty much always a hybrid between back-rows and props, some are closer to one than the other but for the most part they are a hybrid.

A hooker’s performance however is often judged by his line-out success, a movement which comes from a strong core. This needs to remain solid throughout the game to keep the throwing consistent, accurate and effortless.

Developing a strong, dynamic core can help you focus on the rest of your game knowing that hitting your lineouts is sorted.


I’m going to approach a lock’s uniqueness in a different way. If you’re a lock, you’re tall – there shouldn’t be questions about this. Now you shouldn’t be satisfied with just hitting rucks, you need to do more – look at modern-day locks, they are all dynamic players with ball in hand and on defense.

This dynamism doesn’t come easily to taller people, it’s just physics. A keen look at power can transform a lock from some a gangly guy that is only useful in the lineout into an attacking and defensive weapon!


If you play in the back row you know that you need the widest set of physical demands in a rugby game. Sharing many characteristics of both the backs and the forwards, back rows need to have it all.

Unfortunately that doesn’t mean actually doing it all – you need to find the perfect balance of all qualities. The challenge of this is doing enough work to ensure progression, without doing too much and causing burnout (something for a later article).

Taking time to decided what your weaknesses are and working on them is important, but don’t neglect your current strengths!


Obviously a scrum half needs to be extremely efficient with their passing, that goes without saying. A quality scrum half also threatens around the ruck, this is a quality that can really be improved with smart training.

The speed and agility in such a short space is important, but the capacity to remain a threat from the first ruck into minute 80 is essential. Work on getting fast feet and you’ll continually threaten the defence, which in-turn will give you more time to get away good ball.


Contrary to what some fly halves appear to look like (not naming names), these guys need to be among the fittest on the pitch – the influence a fly half has on a game is second-to-none.

Having high work capacity is not only going to get these guys in the right place, but is also going to help them make their best decisions for the team when times are tough.


Like back rows, centres need a combination of a number of positional characteristics. These guys need to be as comfortable in the open field as they are in small space collision, this needs to be done all over the pitch. Again, there needs to be a unique blend of work, this time featuring more speed due to the opportunities that occur to these guys on a pitch.

Pick which component you think is going to really push your game to the next level and go for it.


As rugby has evolved so have wingers and full backs, these guys need to be capable of evading and making tackles using their physical strength now. However whilst it’s important not to be scrawny, no other position has the opportunities like these guys do to leave your opponent eating your dust.

Speed kills and you should always remember that in your training. Work on short speed to get away from the defender as well as top-end speed to make sure they don’t catch you!


As said earlier, each player has general needs that must be met – these are crucial to developing yourself as a player. From there, looking at what you need to do individually is the next step.

Playing position is one of the key parts of this, both with working on your unique things, but also with putting things that you don’t really need to the wayside. Next week we’ll look at more things that you need to look at to make your training unique.

COMMENT BELOW – Let me know what YOU do to keep your training specific to your position!

PLUS: Get Complete Rugby Nutrition FREE

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About TJ Jankowski

TJ Jankowski is a former international rugby player for Poland rugby, who achieved their highest world ranking of 23 whilst he was part of the team.
Never the most talented player, he attributes the majority of his success to the hard work he put in at the gym, kitchen and training paddock.

It was this reward from hard work that led him to become a coach and help other achieve greater success than he could. He prides himself on creating programmes and nutrition that work in the real world, not with robots.

TJ has worked with international rugby players from 4 different continents and we are thrilled to announce that he can help you as part of the Rugbydump Academy


  • drg
    11:41 AM 07/06/2016

    I suppose that's why in any gym you get people of all different shapes and sizes that are great in their own right. I remember looking at a guy who I swear was like a pencil - nothing on his upper body, nothing on his lower body, he was already in the gym before I was, but he stepped on a treadmill and was off and I can only imagine he was there for another few days! Then you get the other guys that are the complete opposite and they're going for purely body building for appearance. Although, SBW has got it both ways, he's pretty stocky, he's ripped and he's evidently extremely fit....

  • tjjankowski
    2:51 PM 04/06/2016

    Agree 100% with what you guys are saying. RE - effective strength. I remember talking to another strength coach who had worked with SBW, he mentioned that his bench was only similar to the average (around140kg off the top of my head). But what he could do with explosively with lighter loads was phenomenal.

  • drg
    9:58 AM 03/06/2016

    I was thinking the likes of SOB too.... Simon Shaw had the frame to be huge, as you said about 1/2p, he's a little one, but with a whole ton of extras on him.

  • 10stonenumber10
    12:25 AM 03/06/2016

    Simon Shaw was fairly injury free, which is why he lasted so long. When he joined Wasps, he didn't do much in the gym, he was too big to lift in the late 90s so he missed a lot of those sorts of ankle/knee/falling injuries. Take Leigh Halfpenny... 10 tons in a 2 ton bag. He is brittle.

  • drg
    9:24 PM 02/06/2016

    Effective strength is also important - so not packing on size just for the sake of it. Also it'd be interesting to see studies on players size and their proneness to injury, especially as you mentioned joint and ligament injuries. It's a catch 22, on one hand you have more support around the joints, however on the other hand you're putting phenomenal forces and extra weight on joints at odd angles.

  • 10stonenumber10
    3:09 AM 02/06/2016

    The science is so simple. Do more of what you want to get better at. Jump to build a bigger jump. Sprint to be a faster sprinter. Scrums to build scrummaging. Dance Dance Revolution for Footwork. Speed depends on movement, there are interesting studies based on foot strike, distance runners strike with the heel, sprinters with the toe. Barefoot running is the most energy efficient and powerful, and 99% relies on a toe strike. Modern running shoes with built arches and heels have been proven to cause more joint and ligament shearing issues, whilst barefoot tends to cause overuse stress within the normal range of movement. Going from heel to toe can take .75 seconds off your 100m in an afternoon. Build the strength after you build the good habit, and you start cooking with napalm.

  • tjjankowski
    5:54 AM 01/06/2016

    Agree with both of what you say, I would say that at the top end there is some forced adaptations that guys need to make. Marler for instance had to put on size in a hurry, this cost him some of his speed - although you could argue that it's just simply the level of competition he's facing now prevents him from showing off his pace. I've recently been studying under a few guys and getting it thrown in my face that a lot of speed on the pitch is about movement, adding 50kg to your squat or deadlift is great, but it might unless you can express that extra strength as power, and specifically as horizontal running speed it becomes somewhat useless

  • drg
    2:04 PM 30/05/2016

    It's actually quite an interesting point 1010. I too have made a transformation in size, of course I'm no pro athlete.... in fact, to call me an amateur athlete is probably an insult too.. but I've packed on size in the form of muscle and indeed fat (I'm bulking honest).... and I can say that recently I've found I've allowed myself to somewhat accept that with size comes 'lumbering' when indeed I am still as nimble as I was before, it just requires more thought... ('why go around when you can attempt to go through?')... however the reality is, if you're naturally fairly nimble - Marler for instance, that is something you should really try and grasp tightly and never let go because it's a formidable attribute. 'Bulk' is something that I feel is focussed on far too much... It's useful but as with one of your previous posts, so is nimbleness and the ability to flick a cheeky offload etc etc.

  • 10stonenumber10
    2:52 PM 28/05/2016

    Strength builds far quicker than size, like your previous article said, people focus too much on form rather than function. I would however say that front rowers should do plenty of speed and acceleration training... every 1/100th of a second quicker is 1% more momentum into the hit, it teaches reaction speed, a high knee lift and powerful drive which is beneficial to all explosive movements as well as the scrum Marler was renowned for his speed as a young'un, but as he bulked for the international stage he lost a step


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