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Dublin: -3 °C Tuesday 20 March, 2018

How to get the most out of the gym when playing team sports

David Last offers his best advice for your GAA, rugby or soccer gym programme.

Team ball sports require a particular type of training.
Team ball sports require a particular type of training.

THROUGHOUT MY CAREER as a personal trainer I have had the opportunity to coach many athletes and many teams. 10 years ago I was on the other side of the fence plying my trade as an athlete, so its nice to see both sides of the coin.

At present I coach and train both GAA and rugby teams along with a handful of athletes on a one-on-one basis. Most players and teams that train with me initially come in thinking they need a ‘sports-specific’ gym programme for their sport. My answer to this is always the same; while I would recommend specific training areas for certain sportspeople, you need to be assessed correctly while also being able to master the basics.

With that in mind, there are two things I really want to hammer home:

1. If you want to become a better GAA/rugby/soccer player then you MUST train for your sport first. If it’s a game of skill you MUST put the work in on the training pitch.

2. The reason for hitting the gym is to bulletproof your body so you reduce injuries, improve movement and performance and to give you more confidence on the pitch.

All the gym sessions in the world will not make you a better player in your sport without training for it. However, over the last number of years we really have seen a huge shift in what goes on behind the scenes such as gym sessions, recovery, right down to how to improve your mental/mindset fitness; these are all the extra small percentages that do really count.

So today I want to cover some recommendations to incorporate and take into consideration for your GAA/rugby/soccer gym training programme.

1. Mobility work/assessment

The first step before undertaking any programme is to get an assessment done and figure out which areas need the most attention. Most athletes I work with initially have never done any specific assessment. If you don’t have access to a half-decent coach who is going to assess you, then watch this video and check out a basic mobility test.

These are the most common areas that are generally weak: a loss of range and extremely tight shoulders, ankles, hamstrings and hip flexors along with weak and inactive glutes.


Ideally you should spend some time in the gym, particularly around your warm-ups, working on tight areas and to mobilise the primary joints to function better as a human body, let alone in a given sport.

How often?

I recommend a 10-20 minute flow daily. Ideally it is something I would suggest putting into my warm-up or cool-down or even just pick a 15 minute slot in your day where you can do some floor work.

What should it look like?

Below is a team going through an eight-minute warm-up flow that generally works on some mobility work mostly and lots of glut activation work. You can find a lot of those movements here in our warm-up video.

Source: David Last

2. The training itself

Strength, speed, power and agility are some of the areas that will fall into this bracket. The timing of your season is going to be quite important for when you train for a particular goal. Alongside that, the typical layout of your week should match and work around the main event, your game day.

Lets talk strength

If you are looking to get stronger for your sport then you need to be working with exercises that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.


Generally speaking, you should be working on a strength programme during the off-season. Ideally I would work off a 20-40 minute strength session after a 10-15 minute structured warm-up.

How often?

Work off a 4-8 week off-season plan while testing and retesting where you are at.

What should it look like?

Big compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing, and pulling are something you really should have locked down.

Below are just some of the benchmarks and drills I would aim to work towards:

  • 10 full chin up
  • 20 full push up
  • 1.5 BW squat 1rm
  • 2 BW deadlift 1rm
  • 2 minute front plank hold
  • 1.2-1.4 BW bench press 1rm
  • Ability to perform a pistol squat
  • Good focus on posterior chain work. Drills like glute ham raises (GHRs) along with other exercises like Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), bridges and x-band walks are all areas I would suggest to have locked down in your program.

Here is a few players from a rugby team I train working on some GHRs. Posterior chain work is vital for any athlete and the exercise they are doing below is something I suggest for you to program in.If you want to know how the correct way of doing this exercise then go watch this GHR video tutorial.

Source: David Last

3. Speed, power and agility

Rugby and GAA all involve a lot of acceleration and deceleration, but many gym programmes don’t reflect the two patterns. Strength work is important for your programme, but speed, power and agility work needs to be dialled in at a certain point of your season too.


Ideally you need to prioritise a time in the week when you are at your freshest, particularly when working on developing power and speed. It could be done after a strength cycle in the off-season and it’s always good to be working on it throughout the season too.

As for agility drills I feel this is something you can easily tie into a session any time of the year. Specific sports-based drills are a good idea here, so even bringing in a ball would be ideal.

How often?

Most games will fall on your weekend, so perhaps the middle of the week is okay for a speed and power session. As for agility work, once its really nothing too taxing I am confident saying it could be really programmed any time.

What should it look like?

Here are five ways to increase your power for the field-based athlete

As for some agility work, here is a client of mine who is a rugby player working on some ladder work with a rugby ball in hand, as we practice some footwork, reaction and change of direction work.

Source: David Last

3. Putting the plan together

It’s all well and good knowing some of the information now, but when and where do you incorporate certain areas? I came across this template that really is quite simple and easy to understand. This can be something to work off if you don’t have a clue where to start.

Looking to build muscle – 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

Develop Strength – 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps

Develop Power – 3-4 sets of 1-3 reps focusing on speed of the bar

If your pre-season gym training is say, 12 weeks long, you can look at planning it like this:

  • 4 Weeks of Hypertrophy (8-12 reps)
  • 4 Weeks of Strength (3-5 reps)
  • 4 Weeks of Power (1-3 reps) while still maintaining strength work

Add in conditioning work where you feel you’re lagging behind to make sure you don’t feel like a sack of spuds come the first training session back.

5. Final say

Have a big emphasis on improving your mobility first, if you start loading weight on top of a dysfunctional movement patterns, then you’re asking for trouble.

The gym alone cannot make you a better player, however, it can help you build on certain elements that carry over to your sport once done effectively.

Your recovery is just as important. Adequate fuel, rest and recovery is just as important as a good heavy strength cycle, if not more important.

It is never one size fits all. It is extremely time-consuming to look after a team the right way. Different players do need certain tweaks and changes. If you are unsure what you need, my best advice is to source a trainer who knows what you need.

David Last is a personal trainer based in Dublin. For more information, you can follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. Or you can send him a direct message here.

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