Tackling is a vital component of rugby league and is a skill that takes many years to master so that you can complete at an NRL level.

We asked NRL Strength Coach for the Canberra Raiders, Leigh Woodbridge for his expert tips for improving your rugby league tackling skills in the gym.

Without going into the on field skill coaching side of things below Leigh outlines some of the crucial elements that you need to train while in the gym that will help you improve your tackling skills in rugby league.

Rugby League Training Program: How to improve your Tackling skills in the Gym

Rugby League Training Program #1 Getting Mobile

Rugby League Training Program #1 Become Mobile

Tackling in rugby league places a large amount of stress on the body and often this stress is coming from different angles.   A rugby league player’s body is often placed in awkward positions with joints being pushed to their limits for their range of motion. It is imperative that players have great mobility at the ankles, hips and thoracic spine.

Rugby League Training Program #2 Become Stable & Strong

Rugby League Training Program #2 Become stable and strong

Following on from the first point, when a rugby league player’s body is placed in an extreme range of motion the joint involved needs to be able to withstand the force being applied to it.   Again rugby league players need a training program that works on strength at all their joints and more specifically trying to increase muscle strength under length.

Rugby League Training Program #3 Increase Leg Strength

Rugby League Training Program #3 Increase leg strength

Rugby League tackling involves the absorption of force from another player and then being able to overpower that player and complete the tackle. NRL players need to be extremely strong through their legs to achieve this. One of the best exercises to include in your rugby league training program to improve lower body strength is the squat – whether it is a back squat, front squat or box squat, Canberra Raider’s players will perform one of these 3 lifts on a rotational cycle throughout the whole rugby league season with variations in loadings to maximise strength gains so that they can be strong in collisions when they have to tackle. For a basic squat program Leigh likes to follow a 5 sets of 5 reps training session with gradual increases in load as he finds this works well for basic strength progression in a rugby league training program.

Rugby League Training Program #3 Increase Shoulder Strength & Stability

Rugby League Training Program #4 Increase shoulder strength and stability

Following on from point 3 once a rugby league player has the lower body strength and power to absorb the tackle and transfer this into making a tackle then you need to make sure their shoulder joint is strong and stable so that it can also withstand the force involved. This means including exercises in your rugby league training program that work on the shoulder rotator cuff muscles to make them strong along with working on scapula posture.  Exercises that Leigh focuses on with the Canberra Raiders are band pull aparts for reps of 30-40, theraband external rotations for reps of 20 and wall scapula slides for reps of 10, typically Canberra Raiders players will perform this for 2-3 sets as a Prehab type training program.

Rugby League Training Program #3 Increase neck strength

Rugby League Training Program #5 Increase neck strength

It is very important that rugby league players have strong thick necks again to minimise the risk of concussions occurring, all Canberra Raiders players are now taught to get their heads in tight to the ball runner and as a result neck strength is vital. Exercises that Leigh uses with the Canberra Raiders include isometric bracing against a strength band for 30-60sec, wrestlers bridges, weighted neck flexion in supine for reps of 15-20 and neck extensions in prone for reps for 15-20 x 2 sets.


Rugby League Training Program #3 Core Rotational Strength & Stability

Rugby League Training Program #6 Core Rotational strength and stability

Again due to the large forces involved in making tackles, rugby league players need to be both strong and stable throughout their core. As part of their rugby league training program, the Canberra Raiders do a lot of work on machines like the dominator and landmine rotations to improve core rotational strength while also doing a lot of unilateral lifting, farmers’ carries and strength band isometric holds to improve rotational stability.

Rugby League Training Program 2

Rugby League Training Program #3 Combat Training

Rugby League Training Program #7 Combat Training

Finally, it is very physically taxing to make tackle after tackle in the NRL, as a result rugby league players will train specific combat sessions for 1-2 times per week. This involves dedicated wrestling and grappling sessions along with technique work and circuit style sessions which incorporate both high intensity cardio work with game specific tackling, wrestling and grappling work.

Post training in the gym, Canberra Raiders players consume Vitalstrength Whey Low Carb Protein or Vitalstrength Pro-Muscle Advanced Protein (depending on their body composition goals) along with Vitalstrength L-Glutamine and BCAAs to help repair and grow muscle.