Functional Hypertrophy for Sports Part 2

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Functional Hypertrophy for Sports Part 2

In our previous article, we discussed some of the differences in physiological adaptation achieved when comparing a well written functional hypertrophy program, to an aesthetically-driven one. In this article, we’ll take that information and use it to write a functional hypertrophy program suitable for a rugby union player in their off-season.

So where do we start?

Well, the first thing we need to consider when writing any program is:


Functional Hypertrophy Part 2 image 1For a resistance training program to be ‘functional’ in nature, our program needs to be specifically suited to that particular sport/activity in order for there to be maximal carry-over of the qualities we develop in the gym, to the activity itself (e.g. a rugby athlete has different needs to a rower).

So step 1 is to analyse to sport itself in order to build an efficient resistance training program for your athlete.


  • Find the dominant movement patterns involved this allows us to prioritise certain exercises for maximum transfer of strength gains.
  • Analyse the duration of common movement patterns As this allows us to tweak rep range/exercise choice so that our time-under-tension is somewhat similar to that of the sport.
  • Consider the common injuries this gives us something to search for in the assessment period, so that we can minimise the likelihood of this happening (E.g. hamstring strains in rugby: Look for imbalances/disorder in gluteal function during hip extension. Also consider flexibility/mobility around the hip and quad:hamstring strength ratio).
  • Find common point of weakness/disorder this allows us to strive for a balanced development of strength between our major muscle groups (known as structural balance).
  • What is the ideal body composition this can help us decide whether your athlete needs to prioritise hypertrophy in lieu of other qualities such as max strength, power, body fat% etc


Functional Hypertrophy Part 2 image 2After analysing the sport itself, we can then do a similar analysis on each individual athlete, testing qualities such as: muscle imbalances, weak points, injury history, work/sports history, personal motivations, overall strength/power levels in comparison to the sports elite etc… I won’t delve into too much detail here, but it gives you an idea of what to look for!

Now, using all the information we’ve collected above, we can start building an individualised program which takes into account both the nature of the sport, as well as the physical development of the athlete.


Lower Body:

Need powerful hip extensors for sprinting, tackling, jumping etc. (Hamstrings most important for sprinting; gluteal activation also important activation for injury prevention and quality firing patterns). Lower body pushing strength is important for same reasons (deep squat, step-up and split squat variations should be utilised for maximal activation of the VMO muscle).

Upper body:

Horizontal push/pull exercises are of key importance for tackling, fending, counterbalancing upper body when sprinting etc. Vertical push pull is important too, but horizontal should be prioritized more-so in late off-season/early pre-season period. (45° Incline press transfers well as it closely replicates the torso angle when sprinting; Pull-up variations are key to upper body development).

Assistance training should involve:

  • Gluteal training, to ensure efficient muscle activation patterns at the hip.
  • Core training, in order to transfer force from lower to upper body effectively as well as maintain good sprint posture.
  • Grip training
  • Upper arm work (to assist in strong pressing/pulling exercises, and fending/passing).
  • Lower trap & rotator cuff training, for overall posture and shoulder health.
  • Planter-flexion and ankle stability work.


Time under tension: Needs to be long enough to force a hypertrophy adaptation, but not too long to lose the transfer of strength from the gym to the field. Estimate: 8-30 seconds.

Rep range: Based upon time under tension. Must also be part of a longer term periodized training plan: 3-9 reps/set.

Rest breaks: Need to be long enough to allow max recovery of CNS, short enough to for structural adaptation of body. Must consider amount of muscle mass involved in movement and total exertion levels.

Number of sets: Need to consider other training outside of the gym (i.e at what point in the off-season etc) so as to not lead to overtraining or injury. Should have an inverse relationship to reps in order to ensure sufficient stimuli for adaptation. More important for primary exercises than assistance exercises, which can have a lower total training volume.

Session breakdown: Numerous options, upper/lower split is my personal preference, but full body is also effective more-so in my opinion for younger/less experienced athletes. I’ve found it better to drift away from bodybuilding-style body-part splits and instead consider movement-splits. Up to 4 sessions per week is adequate.

Ryan Buchanon
Ryan Buchanan is the Owner and Head strength coach at Stronger Athletics, a warehouse-style training facility located in Unanderra, NSW. Ryan’s specialties include working with speed and strength athletes as well as rapid improvements in body composition.



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