Rugby Training for Weight Loss

When it comes to training for fat loss the first thing we need to do is set the scene of what actually causes us to lose weight. 

When we talk about weight loss, what we really mean is losing body fat. 

This is an important difference for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we want to make sure that our training (and nutrition, but we’ll come back to that another time) is set up to help us maintain and even grow muscle, whilst maximising our energy expenditure to create an ‘energy deficit’ so that our body has to tap into its body fat stores and make us lose fat. 

Secondly, as it is entirely possible to lose fat and build muscle at the same time, although scale weight is one measure of fat loss success, it is not the only measurement we can or should take. Depending on the training and dietary approach, someone's starting point in terms of muscle and fat mass and of course those pesky genetics then we can get quite sizable shifts in body composition whilst maintaining a relatively stable body weight. 

This means that it is wise to take a few different measurements as well as weight, alongside progress pictures to ensure that you are on the right track and not to panic if we don’t see any changes. 

How should we aim to lose weight? 

Fat loss can be done rapidly or slowly governed entirely by how active we are and how much energy we consume from food. Each has their own advantages, rapid fat loss comes with bigger and more rapidly visible changes but also the negative effects of lower energy levels, the potential for increased hunger and negative effect on mood and even sleepiness. 

Slower fat loss has the advantage of an increased likelihood of preserving or growing muscle, less hunger and overall stress and better performance. But it does require being super consistent for longer periods with both training and nutrition. 

Professionally, this decision is guided on an individual basis when working with athletes and may incorporate different levels of ‘aggression’ depending on the time of season, starting point and the overall lifestyle of the athlete and how well they choose foods that help to support performance, recovery, health and control hunger. 

Therefore, when it comes to training to lose fat mass we want to combine methods that ensure we are building or at least maintaining muscle mass and where possible maximising calorie expenditure. 

Quite often training for strength/muscle mass doesn’t have the highest amount of energy expenditure compared to endurance type activity (whether slow and steady or interval style training). 

How do we train for fat loss? 

So here we have a couple of decisions we can make. Either split our training into strength workouts and ‘pure’ endurance components (running, cycling etc) and/or use some sort of hybrid circuit training with weights working the muscles (more muscular endurance than pure strength) but also get our heart and lungs working pretty hard. 

Training for muscle growth can occur with repetition ranges of around 5-30 repetitions. The benefit of lower rep, heavier training is that there is an increased development of pure strength. The advantage of the higher rep training is that overall training volume and energy expenditure is likely to be higher and there are some muscular endurance benefits. The important thing here is that whatever rep-range we choose (or anywhere in between) we have to be pretty close to muscular failure during each set to maximise muscle growth and in theory retention. 

Doing a 30 rep set of squats or deadlifts to muscular failure is no fun at all, and it could even be someone who fails because of other forms of fatigue before true muscular failure. Therefore, when programming for muscle growth and retention and including the big compound lifts, the pragmatic choice would be to keep these in the lower-mid rep ranges (5-15) and combine these with some more dynamic and functional movements to ramp up the overall training volume and energy output, for example sled pushes and pulls, throws and slams battle ropes and kettle bell work. 

NOTE: There is some ‘interference’ between strength and endurance training in terms of maximising the results from both e.g. trying to develop endurance and strength simultaneously is possible, but if this is your goal, then separating strength from endurance training is usually a good idea. But again, a lot depends on the type of training sessions, how long they last and how much fatigue they create… in any case that goes beyond the scope of this article, so for those who are concerned purely with fat loss and want some performance improvement there is no need to worry about this too much. 

The importance of non-exercise activity:

Arguably, the most important component to maximise our energy expenditure is not the few hours a week that we spend training, but our general day to day ‘non-exercise activity’. This NEAT component of our metabolism is often overlooked but can have a pretty big impact on maximising weight loss despite being low impact in terms of effort. 

The problem for many people is that they devalue the small things; daily walks, walking to work, walking the dog, more active leisure times, taking breaks throughout the day to have a little stroll. 

These can have a big impact on energy expenditure and encourage increased rates of fat loss or at least mean that expenditure is high enough that we can have a bit more food whilst still losing weight which has the advantage of more opportunity to get all our essential nutrients in the diet. 

Here we have outlined a training program that is designed for 3 days a week that combines strength training to preserve muscle mass and ‘functional’ circuits to really maximise session expenditure and build some muscular endurance…. All of these components will also have some carry over to rugby performance. 

FInally, it is important to remember that nutrition still plays an essential role in causing fat loss and maintaining as much performance as possible, which we have covered here (link to article on supplements and weight loss). 


Session 1:

Exercise

Reps/Duration

Sets

Rest

Deadlift

5-6

3

120s

Pull Ups

8-10

3

90s

Bent Over Row

15-20

3

60s3

Low Pulley Row

20-30

3

60s

Battle Ropes

30-60s

5

60s


Session 2:

Exercise

Reps/Duration

Sets

Rest

Squats

5-6

3

120s

Leg Press

8-10

3

90s

Goblet Squats

15-20

3

60s

Hamstring Curls

20-30

3

60s

Prowler Push

30-60s

5

60s


Session 3:

Exercise

Reps/Duration

Sets

Rest

Barbell Overhead Press

5-6

3

120s

Dumbbell Bench Press

8-10

3

90s

Press-Ups

15-20

3

60s

Alternate Dumbbell Shoulder Press

20-30

3

60s

Ball Slams

30-60s

5

60s

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