The best fitness “transfer” of the season

Initial power gains from the gym will soon drop if you don’t adapt your training programmes. So make exercises more specific to give your players the most transferable gains before the season starts.

Ask the average player or coach about what really matters in rugby strength and conditioning and you’ll inevitably get a reply about strength. But that’s wrong. 

Instead, they need to focus on transfer. It’s a phenomenon that describes how well a training exercise improves your performance in a particular sport or sporting action. If you increase your performance in the training exercise and subsequently improve your performance in your sport, congratulations! This exercise is said to have transfer. 

A major problem surrounding transfer is that it’s always changing. In the first three years or so of your training career, everything has transfer. You can do anything in the gym and your body will respond in a massive way, paying dividends on the field. This is why your typical teenager can make outrageous progress even on a shoddy routine of nothing but bench pressesand curls three times per week. 


But the progress will soon slow down after a few months of training. The reason? Your body becomes used to the training and the transfer from those exercises to the field becomes less and less. If you persist with that style of training indefinitely, the transfer to the field would eventually become zero – useless. 

The decline in transfer is a problem all rugby players have to deal with. Sooner or later, the programmewe’re training with will cease to increase power output on the field 

So what should you do when that happens? You need to switch to exercises thatstill have a high degree of transfer to on-field activities. In a nutshellthese are specific exercises and the longer you train,the more specific they need to be to keep improving your match-day performance. 


Here are the criteria that Soviet sports professor Yuri Verkhoshanky determined made an exercise specific:

  • Do the major muscles used match the on-field activity?
  • Is the range of movement the same?
  • Is the type of muscle contraction the same?
  • Is the time available to apply force (the contact time) similar?
  • Is the direction and the amount of force applied similar?
  • Is the speed of movement similar? 

Let’s look at this list and compare a typical gym exercise like the squat and an on-field activity like top-speed sprinting to see the degree of transfer between the two: 

As you can see, there’s not a lot of transfer at all between the squat and sprinting. It’s easy to see that the squat will stop having a beneficial effect on sprintingquite early on in your lifting career.  

Now let’s compare plyometric bounding – click HERE to see what this looks like – and top-speed sprinting.

Bingo! And this is why exercises like the plyometric bound are mainstays in my more experienced athletes programmesthey have a high degree of transfer to on-field activities.

This means players are able to keep improving throughout their career, and not hit the wall like so many others do after only a few years of training when increasing their one-rep max strength in the big lifts has stopped working. 

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