6 learning lessons

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I wish someone taught this to me when I was 15

I remember being 15 years old stepping into the gym for the first time and smelling that gym smell of air conditioning and sweat. I didn’t know what I was doing, all I knew is if I trained hard I would get strong and I could get bigger, which would help me be a better rugby player right?

I thought if I squat, bench and deadlift heavier I would be abetter athlete, because that’s what everyone tells me to do right? I also thought If I got some nice arms it would intimidate everyone and attract the girls. Who knows if that one worked?


What I thought at 15 wasn’t exactly right and I’m sharing the lessons I’ve learnt to help others not make the same mistakes.


Lessons I’ve learnt


1. Lean muscle mass

For most positions on the rugby field weight to power ratio is essential, besides the front row. In my experience a lot of rugby players could do with dropping some excess body fat and replacing it with lean muscle tissue. This would allow them to be faster, stronger and less prone to injury.


One problem I see kids face is coaches want their players to be bigger, faster and fitter all at the same time and as fast as possible. This is what happened to me I was a small kid and everyone told me I needed to bulk up and I bulked up! I ate everything I could that people told me to eat including; protein shakes with high carbohydrates, McDonalds, meat pies and whatever else you can think of. End result, I would’ve played better rugby before I started working out because I became heavy slow and injured.


What I would do differently

I would’ve looked at the bigger picture, instead of wanting everything now, I would have built a solid base and I would’ve thought, okay instead of putting on 20kgs in a year I’ll aim to put that on over 5 years so by the time I am 20 I will be 91kgs of lean muscle, I will be faster and more resilient.


This means that my nutrition would’ve been a lot better, if only I knew then what I know now on how to put lean muscle mass on. I would have looked to have great vitality. Meaning in short, I would look to be as healthy as possible, eating as natural foods as possible to help increase natural testosterone to increase recovery.


Putting on lean muscle mass won’t be a linear line going gradually up, you will have more of a zig zag effect where muscle goes on and you have a rest or holidays and it will go down, but what should happen is it will gradually continue to climb.



2. When to stop and rest

We are told this all the time, to get into the daily grind and not to rest. If you’ve had a bad night sleep you’re supposed to work out, just do it anyway! This has held me back a lot, I have so much drive to keep on pushing, I would work out anyway and just grind it out. Whenever I did that, it might be so I got mentally stronger but physically it didn’t, it put me in a deeper hole I had to try and recover from.


There are many talented people that do just need to get out there and put some work in but there are also a lot of people and kids like me who need to realise when to not work out and just rest, when to call the set over, when to not put up the weight, when to have a week off and just relax.

Tips to help this

● After a training block of 8-12 weeks or at the end of the season take a week off, you will get more muscle growth
● When doing your strength training, if your form of the exercise starts getting sloppy, end the exercise. If putting more weight on means your form changes for the worse, don’t put more weight on.
● If you’ve had a terrible sleep, maybe it’s not the best time to work out, rather work on something else like sauna or meditation.


3. Sleep

I never prioritised sleep growing up, I would play video games until late and would get up early every morning. I wish I prioritised sleep more because maybe I would have been a better student, rugby player, son and brother.

It’s very obvious now how important sleep is for recovery and performance but still we take it for granted and think we can actually get more done with less sleep.

I am collecting data of my current sleeping habits and sleep cycles which I am excited to post in a few months time after my conditions change. I will be able to show what helps me get deep sleep and REM sleep. I use an Oura ring every night to record my quality of sleep, which has shown me in general I’m not a great sleeper, I feel like I get great sleep, but maybe that’s just because I don’t know what true consistent great sleep feels like?


What I would do differently

● Stop eating 3 hours before bed
● Sleep in pitch black
● Stop playing video games which stimulate the nervous system
● Prioritise getting more sleep with quality


4. Structural balance, programming and range of motion

Programming won’t apply to everyone but it will apply to majority of kids and other rugby players hitting the gym and just doing any old ‘bro’ workout they can find. I made that mistake as a young kid being told I needed a big bench press and not how I should go about achieving it! I planned to fail because I didn’t have a plan besides get on the bench press.

This leads me to my next point for any young athlete their first year in the gym or doing strength training should be about building a very strong base of muscles and achieving structural balance. Structural balance is when all of your muscles are as strong in front as they’re behind the body. When a joint is stable because all the muscles around it are equally strong, the body will allow great ranges of motion through the joint and allow the body to deliver more power through those muscles. An example would be the gaining hamstring strength in knee flexion will allow the body to use the quadriceps to extend the knee faster as the body knows the hamstrings can stop the knee from extending too far which is the hamstring eccentric role.


I remember the days when I got told you need to have a heavy squat, so I did just that I did the heaviest squats possible, lots of low bar powerlifting style back squats. I must have barely hit parallel back when I was younger. My weights were going up, but I did not get faster from this nor did I see large improvements on the field. I found my best results when I started exercising a weightlifting style back squat. Knees had to go way over my toes which demanded more dorsiflexion of the ankle and more strength of the lower parts of the quadriceps. Interestingly enough to my joints feel stronger than ever because the muscles are strong in the full range of motion.


What I would do differently

● Get a program to follow to keep continually getting better
● Make structural balance and full range of motion a priority first, these two will go together to reduce chances of injury and increase power from all angles. Then once the base is built you can play around with different ranges of motion and load.


5. Meditation

I taught myself meditation not because I felt stressed but I realised I was stressed and there were times in my life when I was younger where I could have used some of the tools I have now to help me in these stressful situations. It’s my goal to help many young people become better rugby players but that means better people and I believe having some quiet time to yourself is essential for that.


What I would do differently

● Learn to breathe through my nose
● Learn to use the diaphragm
● Box breath – 4 seconds in, 4 second hold, 4 second out, 4 second hold very easy
● HUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM that’s my favourite and very relaxing
● Piston breathing to pick myself up
● Wim Hoff breathing and a cold shower to start the day


6. Envy – Gratitude

This applies to everyone but this one I found especially hard as I am super competitive. To become aware of when you’re envious is a powerful tool. I wasn’t unhappy but sometimes I would get pissed off seeing other people hit PRs close to mine if not better than mine. Do you know that moment when you see your rival going for your position and you don’t want them to do as well as you? Everyone has had that right… not just me? It is okay, we are homo sapiens, we are envious animals. Just become aware when you are coming from that mindset and rather than hate on the person or yourself for doing it, try finding one thing to be grateful for in that situation. If someone is getting close to my PR that’s great for them, I am now really happy for them, I’ll worry about my own training.


I bring this up because in order to become a better rugby player you want to be able to work on all areas of your life too. If there is something else in your life not going well, I know it will hold back your performance.


That is six of my great mistakes growing up and training for rugby, I put this up in hope to inspire others to not make my mistakes. I will continue to push the boundaries and make mistakes or have a failure, the only difference is I won’t let that stop me. I’ll learn from it and keep going after my goals and dreams. I hope you do too!