Best leg workouts to build strength and speed like a rugby player

Gigantic thighs, cracking calves and the strength to steam-roller your foes

Rugby World Cup best leg workout
(Image credit: Victor Freitas from Pexels)

Despite the mildly irksome time difference, millions have been tuning in to ingest the greatest rugger on the planet, as the drama of the Rugby World Cup unfolds live in Japan. Viewers will have noted that the players have legs like tree trunks, yet are highly mobile and pack explosive power. But what leg workouts can turn you into Kyle Sinkler? Will you have to make every day 'leg day'? In fact never mind the forwards; even relative rugby pipsqueaks such as Owen Farrell have huge legs, on closer inspection.

The modern rugby-playing physique is one that many fitness fanatics lust after, whether they want to be huge like a prop forward or lean and toned like flying winger Jonny May.

The below workout was specifically designed to encourage strength, power and overall conditioning for performance on the field. Oh, and you’ll probably end up with swoon-worthy legs as an additional bonus. 

These guys are seriously strong

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Before you start the Ultimate Legs Day workout

This routine isn’t for the faint-hearted and it is a good idea to ease yourself in to some of these fundamental, but difficult-to-master manoeuvres. If you’re struggling with form on, say, your deadlift or squat, seek out some advice from a local personal trainer or at least watch a few YouTube videos before diving back in. 

There is a risk of lower back injury if you go heavy with the weights and get the form wrong. And you do NOT want a lower back injury.  

Start off light and gradually build up over the coming weeks. Focus your energy on form and engaging all of the muscles key to the exercise in question. Many lower body exercises also require strong abs and a sturdy lower back, so work on those areas if you feel they are lacking strength. Otherwise you could end up with enormous legs and a tiny upper body, which would look very weird indeed.

This workout will smoke your legs, get ready for some DOMS!

(Image credit: Hanson Lu on Unsplash)

A word on nutrition

if you want to build muscle, you will need to eat loads, the right way.

Having some protein and slow release carbs, like porridge oats, in the morning can help you kickstart your metabolism the right way in the morning.

Top up your protein levels as the day progresses, having protein bars or snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Fuel your muscle building process with carbs, ideally from vegetables, which are often high in carbs and protein and low in fat. You can also introduce some variety adding some eggs to the mix.

After the workouts, have a banana or apple as well a high protein snack or shake to help your muscles recover more quickly.

Good nutrition: it's all in the greens

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Ultimate rugby pro leg workout 

Back Squat, Front Squat or Box Squat

3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

Strength in the lower limbs is a must and a squat should be a mainstay in your training programme. There are several different variations of your conventional back squat that you might like to swap in, dependant on aspects such as hip tightness, but the principles behind doing them remain the same; to build strength and leg power.

With regards to a back squat, stand with the bar on your upper back, feet shoulder width apart. Then, lower into a squat position by pushing your knees to the side and moving your hips back. It’s important to get a nice deep squat in and I’d recommend two seconds on the downward phase and one second on the upward phase, pausing slightly at the bottom of the movement.

Top tip: Keep the chest up throughout and don’t let the knees cave in!

Leg Press

3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

The Leg Press won’t be available to everyone, as it’s a fairly specialist and gym-centric piece of kit, but it is another great exercise to get the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes all firing. But it’s important to get your technique spot on. You need to feel comfortable in the seated position, with your feet hip-width apart on the footplate. From there, simply press the footplate with both feet simultaneously, bending your knees to allow the plate to move towards your body. The idea is to reach a 90-degree angle before again straightening your legs.

Top tip: Remember to breathe and don’t lock out your knees during the movement

Deadlifts can build overall strength, not just monster thighs

(Image credit: Getty Images)


3 sets of 5 – 8 reps

The deadlift will act as a slightly more global compound exercise that also targets the majority of the major muscle groups in the legs. By incorporating these into your training programme, you’ll naturally build a strong foundation to support the upper body and therefore develop power.

It’s a tough cookie to master but stand with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart. Then, remembering to keep your back straight, bend down and grip onto the bar with your hands fractionally wider than shoulder width apart. Keeping your head facing forward and your chest up, lift the bar using your legs, driving your hips forward in the process.

Top tip: You need to be explosive during the all-important lift phase, but the downward phase is just as crucial. Mastering the Russian deadlift can really help build up the muscles required, with a reduced risk of injury. 

Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. When he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing. He's also a man who knows his tools, and he's provided much of T3's drills coverage over the years, all without injuring himself.