New Zealand is extremely good at rugby. Over the last 120 years, the men’s team, commonly known as the All Blacks, has played 19 different countries in international competition. Twelve of those countries have never beaten New Zealand. And the Kiwis are the only side to have more wins than losses against every single opponent.
Outsiders may be familiar with the team’s famed haka, a traditional Māori dance, which they perform before every game. But the team is far more than a novelty act; it’s a well-oiled machine. Rugby is the country’s national sport for a reason. And to make (and stay on) the national team, the players follow a highly specific regimen.
Here in the early stages of the Rugby World Cup 2023 (which runs from now until the end of October), New Zealand is looking to topple the likes of powerhouses like Ireland, South Africa and host nation France, in order to secure its fourth all-time trophy, and first since 2015. Powered by their legendary strength training program, they’ve got a real shot.
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The “All Blacks” Training Program
According to the All Blacks Performance Coach Dr. Nic Gill (who’s also an associate professor in human performance at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand) the team subscribes to the “Big Rocks” philosophy. Basically: any effective and sustainable fitness foundation should be built upon boulders, not pebbles. The team focuses on mastering the basics — strength, mobility, flexibility, nutrition, mental health — instead of throwing random darts at the board and hoping something sticks.
With that frame of mind, the All Blacks’ “training secrets” are actually surprisingly simple:
- Compound lifts: These are big guys playing a contact sport. They need to emphasize heavy push and pull movements that recruit multiple joints. Think squats, deadlifts, bench press, etc.
- Core work: Planks, exercises with medicine balls, V-sits, barbell rollouts — it’s all critical for strength and stability in the midsection, and often makes other moves easier.
- Bodyweight circuits: We know Hemsworth is a huge fan. The All Blacks like to mix short bursts on the bike with strength training (pulls and presses) and mat work (like bear crawls).
- Bear crawls: Speaking of bear crawls, this team loves them. This is a common combat exercise, which steals elements from wrestling. It demands full range of motion from the shoulders and hips, plus a tight core. This move has an obvious impact on explosiveness in the scrum.
- One leg at a time: Formally known as “single-limb work.” Think weighted squats and step-ups to make sure there aren’t any imbalances in the body. (These can form when one leg is taking more of the load in a traditional exercise.)
- Yoga: Big guys do yoga, too. Plus two sessions of soft tissue work a day.
- Spinning: Wattbikes make sure these guys (who, again, are huge) can get serious cardio in without impacting their joints.
- An open mind: Gill maintains that the brains behind that All Blacks brawn are always receptive to new ideas in fitness — they’re just not going to build the base around trends or fad diets.
There you have it. If you challenged someone at the gym to start training for “rugby shape,” they might never make it past that very first bullet point. But the excellence going down on the other side of the world doesn’t come from a scattershot strength training regimen. It’s a patient and holistic attack. Whether you tackle men for a living every weekend or not, it could help you achieve a happier, healthier life, too. Catch the All Blacks this Friday as they take on the young Italians.