How A Training Diary (literally) Saved My Neck…

Ok, so the title may be a little misleading in the hopes of getting your attention, but there is an element of accuracy to it and a great sentiment behind it. So let me explain…

During my professional rugby career, I was required to train hard and often. My weekdays were mainly spent doing speed work on the track, strength training in the gym, or skill work on the field.

It was the norm that we used training diaries or journals to log the results of the activities prescribed by our Athletic Trainer, especially from our weight training program.

I found using a diary both helpful and a hindrance, and my commitment to writing down my performance after each exercise was inconsistent. While it was handy having previous scores written down as a reminder of where I was and a what to improve upon, I didn’t always remember to keep track, or on some occasions bring my diary to the gym at all!

The obvious benefits of using a training diary became apparent to me when I broke my neck playing rugby. After a successful surgery, I faced a long, hard road to recovery, and little did I know that the humble training diary would become my best friend during this difficult period.

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Stepping Stones

When the fusion of my fractured C4/C5 vertebrae was strong enough, it was time to embark on my neck rehabilitation. I suffered extensive nerve damage to my right arm also, which now resembled that of a 6 year old child due to the muscle atrophy which had occurred.

Despite the risks and my new infantile physique, I was determined to play rugby again. At 32 years old however, I knew that I would have to cross my ‘t’s and dot my ‘i’s if I was to return to the field while I was still young enough to perform.

So I made myself a training diary, which included a “Goals” section in the back of the book, and the first thing I wrote in the diary was my long term goal – “MAKE STARTING TEAM FOR FIRST GAME OF NEXT SEASON”. That gave me 9 months.

I would then set a series of shorter range goals as stepping stones to the Long term goal. This was important not only as an indicator of whether I was on the right track, but makes the long term goal seem less overwhelming. If you’re climbing a mountain, it can be too daunting and discouraging to keep looking at the summit, so setting your sights on each base camp will seem more achievable and hence more motivating.

looking-up-at-the-mountain

Keeping your discipline

When trains become derailed it can have disastrous consequences. This was my mindset when it came to sticking to my rehab program. The programs that my neck specialist and Strength and Conditioning Coach gave me were the train tracks which were laid down for me, and my training diary would ensure that I stayed on the tracks, otherwise my life was in danger if I attempted to take the field again with an under-strengthened neck, shoulder and arm.

This sentiment helped me remain disciplined and focused. Disciplined to remember my diary. Disciplined to stick to my program and write down my scores. Disciplined to review my performance and assess the achievement of my short term goals.

When you write down your performance in a training diary, you now become accountable to yourself, and the numbers don’t lie. The great US Olympic track sprinter Michael Johnson says in his book Slaying The Dragon that he ensures he doesn’t “blur the edges” of his training program. If it says do 10 reps, you must do 10 reps, not 9.

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Listen to your body through your diary

Just as it is important to be strict and work hard to achieve your goals, it is equally important to be aware of any signs of overtraining, and take measures to prevent any illness or injury as a result.

Your training diary can provide valuable information about any plateaus in performances, which are prime indicators that overtraining may be occurring, in which case a reassessment of the training program may be necessary.

In my training diary, I also include a scale of how I am feeling before and after training, and be sure to make a comment of things like muscle soreness, lack of energy, quality of sleep etc. which can all be valuable indicators that I need to back off.

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What kind of diary?

Your diary can be as simple or elaborate, as large or small as you want. A simple blank notebook is better than nothing. I recommend however using a diary that has a clearly set out format making it easier to write down info and clearer to read and compare when you review sessions.

Some people don’t mind having a large and bulky all-in-one folder with compartments in which programs and other information can be kept. Others prefer a more discreet pocket sized version which more easily transported and less obnoxious. Bear in mind though that these can easily be misplaced, so I tend to go for something in the middle.

To ensure that I get in and out of the gym in a timely fashion, I like to fill in as much of the session as possible in my diary before the workout, especially if I am transferring info from a separate training program.

There are some good training diary apps out there too which obviously negate the need for pen which is desirable. I recommend JEFIT Workout and Fitlist apps.

However, I like to keep it old school with a paper booklet and pen for a few reasons, but mainly to limit the use of my phone and temptation to be distracted by apps, texts and emails which can deter the quality of my workout. So unless you’re a doctor on call or an Instagram influencer, leave the phone in the car and grab your training journal and pen to optimize the quality of your session.  Where can you find a good diary you ask? You can order the very diary I used for my neck injury rehab and still use myself and give to my clients today. Just click the link below to order.

diary example for blog post

Tribute To A Rugby Legend

The Rugby World is mourning the loss of its original global superstar. Jonah Lomu launched into sporting stardom as a fresh faced 19 year old at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. But this came as no surprise for the many who had the privilege of witnessing, or even facing him on the field leading up to his record breaking world cup debut. As a 15 year old I was a witness, then as a 16 year old I was an opponent. On both occasions Lomu was representing New Zealand schools against the Australian Schools. I remember sitting high in the stands of the Sydney Football Stadium thinking that the New Zealand number 8 was impossibly larger than anyone else on the field, like a man amongst, literally schoolboys. He backed his size up with a barnstorming performance that night, which had tongues wagging at the prospect of a future world rugby sensation. The problem for me was, Jonah Lomu was still young enough to play another year of schoolboy rugby, and while it was a huge honor and privilege to be selected to represent Australia at schoolboy level to play New Zealand, I was faced with the daunting task of facing New Zealand’s newest prodigy…a 120kg prodigy at that!

That match against NZ Schools in Roterua in 1993 is now a bit of a blur, but I do recall certain moments vividly. Like my first tackle of the game, which involved Jonah Lomu picking the ball up from the back of the scrum and running straight at me to test me out. It wasn’t so much a tackle but rather him tripping on my flailing arms and legs as he steamrolled me like helpless roadkill. It was a tough day at the office for me, but with team mates like Joe Roff, Ben Tune and Mat Rogers, we put up a good fight. We were no match however for Lomu and his buddies, which included Carlos Spencer,  Christian Cullen, Anton Oliver, the list goes on…

The incredible thing about this junior giant, was that he was not only extremely large and strong, but he was fast. He had two options when approaching a defender – either run over the top of you, or run around you. This was most evident when Jonah was selected for the NZ sevens team to play in the 7s World Cup in Hong Kong, leaving dozens of would-be tacklers in his wake, and millions of rugby fans excited about the arrival of a sporting phenomenon onto the senior International stage.

Jonah 7s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was actually playing sevens where I would potentially meet Jonah again on the field. In 1998 Rugby 7s was introduced as a Commonwealth Games sport, and the Kiwis went to great lengths to secure the inaugural Gold medal, selecting the likes of Lomu, Christian Cullen, Joeli Vidiri, Eric Rush etc. etc.

I was lucky enough to be selected for the Australian team for those Games, with David Campese as our captain. And while ‘Campo’ was a rugby legend in his own right, he wasn’t exactly Jonah Lomu. The impact of Jonah’s inclusion in the NZ team was evident at a tournament charity function where all the teams submitted a jersey signed by the whole team to be auctioned off. Jonah’s All Black 7s team jersey sold for over 10 times that of the next highest sold.

NZ gold at Comm Games

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Unfortunately and fortunately, we never met the Kiwis that tournament, which would have been in the final had we snuck past the Waisale Serevi and his flying Fijians in the Semi Final. Instead, NZ took the Gold and we had to settle for a satisfying Bronze medal.

During the Commonwealth Games, my team mates Richard Graham, Tyron Mandrusiak and myself toured around the Athlete’s Village interviewing various athletes from different nations and sport, as a fun memento of our experience at the games. I caught up with Jonah to ask him a few questions about his experience, and the video below has only been for private viewing, until now…

During my Super rugby career with the Waratahs, Jonah, who played for the Hurricanes and the Chiefs, and I were passing ships in the night as a result of injuries on both sides. Again, not necessarily a bad thing!

Fast forward to 2005, and I signed a deal with the Cardiff Blues, and there had been speculation that a certain Jonah Lomu was also to join the club. This came as a surprise to everybody, particularly as he had already retired from rugby due to health issues involving Jonah undergoing 2 years of dialysis and a full kidney transplant.

But the rumors were true, and sure enough, Jonah was now my team mate. It was surreal for virtually all of us on the team, even players like Martyn Williams who had nearly 100 test caps under his belt for Wales, and played against Jonah already a handful of times.

me and jonah cardiff

Yet this was a man who was on another level. Jonah had etched himself into rugby history as a true global superstar. Even though his presence was unmistakeable when he turned up at his first training session, his aura had been softened somewhat by the fact that he was far from his peak health and fitness. He seemed almost human.

As a result, he didn’t make the immediate impact everybody was anticipating, with the Cardiff Arms Park experiencing sell out crowds with fans eager just to get a glimpse of the big man in action on their own soil.

But being the true champion and professional that he is, Jonah fought his way back against the odds with hard work and determination, improving his fitness and playing levels to shades of those we had seen when he was at his dominant best, only to break his ankle in the penultimate game of the season against Scottish Border Reivers.

Jonah Cardiff

Off the field however, I was actually able to get to know the real Jonah behind the celebrity facade. Quiet and humble, good humored and generous. He handled his superstardom with grace, and treated the game and his team mates with the utmost respect.

Jonah X dude and me

He was quite the jokester too. I’ll never forget the time I was in the gym, warming up with some barbell squats. I’d increased the weight to 100kg building up to the serious lifting, when Jonah waltzed over and casually asked “Hey cuz, mind if I do a quick warm up set with you?”

“Of course not mate” I replied, expecting Jonah to crouch under the bar, placing it behind his neck in preparation for some squats. Instead, he proceeded to shoulder press the bar, hoisting it into the air with ease, completely astounding me with his strength, while emasculating me at the same time. “Thanks bro”, he said with a straight face as he walked away to another machine.  I’m still not entirely sure if he was being legit, or if he was joking around with me, but knowing Jonah’s sense of humor, I suspect it was the latter.

That season would be his last as a professional rugby player, after which he stepped seamlessly into his role as ambassador for the sport, and various charity organizations.

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It is with a heavy heart I bid farewell to this extraordinary human, whom I have idolized since the age of 15, and will continue to do so until my last breath.

Jonah, you may no longer be a living legend, but a legend you will forever be. Peace be with you friend, but more importantly, THANK YOU…

How Your Warm Up Can Make Or Break You…

You’d be the surprised how many times I’ve actually been asked, “Do we even need to warm up?”

The short answer, is yes. There are many benefits to warming up before exercise, particularly intense exercise, but the real issue here is what the warm up consists of, and whether it actually helps or hinders our training performance.

Why warm up?

Warming up prepares our cardiovascular, neuromuscular and respiratory systems for physical activity. It also prepares us mentally which is particularly important for sports or activities requiring complex and intense movements.

To go a little deeper, the physiological benefits of warming up include:

• Increased muscle temperature improves muscular elasticity.
• Increased core body temperature increases blood and oxygen flow to working muscles.
• Reduces lactic acid build up.
• Increases speed of nerve impulses.
• Ability of Connective tissue to elongate is enhanced.
• Muscles are able to exert greater power.
• Secretion of synovial fluid is enhanced and therefore lubricants the joints.
• Reduces the risk of injury to muscles and joints.

So we’ve established warming up is not only a good thing, it is important to implement at the start of our workout. But how should you warm up?

Raise the Pulse

Try to select movements which use large muscle groups and are limited in range of motion and impact, eg. An elliptical cross trainer machine in the gym, or even a slow jog if outside. Build up to include movements similar to those you will use in the main session and bring your Heart Rate (HR) to just below the intensity of the main session.

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Mobilize the Joints

It’s common for our ‘normal’ mobility to become restricted, either from sleeping or even our daily activities. To regain this mobility and prepare for intense exercise, start with small movements, and build up to full range of motion. For example, balancing on one leg, then kicking the other leg out straight, gradually increasing the height of the kick with each repetition is a great way to mobilize the hip joint (aka forward leg wings).

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Stretching – Dynamic vs Static

Traditionally, static stretching of muscles has been commonplace in warm ups for activities of both individuals and even sporting teams, to increase flexibility and reduce risk of injury. This involves holding a stretch typically between 15 – 30 seconds.

But in recent years, Static stretching during a warm up has been gradually replaced by dynamic stretching, with scientific studies backing up the suggestion that dynamic stretching better prepares the body for athletic performance, while static stretching can actually impede performance. Recent research has found that static stretches may actually decrease the strength in the stretched muscle for up to an hour. A study conducted in 2007 by Fletcher et al showed that 50m sprint performance was worse when using static stretches beforehand, than that of using a solely dynamic stretching approach.

Dynamic stretching involves the movement of muscles and joints without holding the position for longer than a second, and focuses more on the neuromuscular system of the muscle complex. Rather, it involves repetitive contractions of the agonist muscle to produce quick stretches of the antagonist muscle and thereby very specifically prepares the muscle tissue for active contraction and relaxation, similar to that required for sporting situations.

An example of a dynamic stretch, is repeatedly doing a shallow lunge while twisting the torso toward the leading leg.

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Another benefit of dynamic stretching is that it maintains the increased HR level and core body temp better than static stretching, which has a relaxation effect which ultimately brings the HR down. I like to integrate dynamic stretching with activities which mimic those about to be performed in the session, such as running through different drills on a speed/agility ladder (gradually building the speed and intensity), with dynamic stretches mixed in.

This doesn’t mean that static stretching shouldn’t have a place in your overall health and fitness regime, as it is extremely beneficial when used after exercise the reduce muscle soreness and increase flexibility.

Just rethink holding those stretches for prolonged periods next time you prepare yourself for that football practice session or early morning triathlon training. Instead, replace it with a good collection of dynamic movements involving all your major body joints and you’ll be better prepared to perform at your best.

 

 

 

When Hitting Something Is A Good Thing…

We live in stressful times, no doubt about it. The emotions and physical effects we experience from stressful situations have evolved exponentially since Neolithic times when stress was simply the body’s natural response to danger. Among the vast family of negative responses to modern day stress, frustration and anger are like ugly step siblings - related to each other and always a bad influence on you.

 

Not releasing stress of this kind can have extremely harmful effects. If suppressed or harbored, these emotions can adversely affect us at a cellular level, causing serious health complications such as organ failure, cancer and heart disease, not to mention a danger to others if a sudden uncontrollable anger outburst results in physical harm to someone nearby. The feeling of wanting to hit something is the most common expression of anger release, so why not do just that and get fit at the same time by integrating it into your workout?!

The most common example combative fitness is boxing. Whether it’s flailing away on a heavy bag, or ducking and weaving some focus pads, boxing inspired training is always a hit (pun intended) when it comes to maximizing motivation levels, while and minimizing stress levels. Kick boxing and other martial arts are also being turned into safe versions of fitness for all shapes and sizes. Women in particular love it, with the added self defense element of boxing giving a sense of power, and more confidence in their daily lives.

So if striking with your hands can produce such benefits, imagine using your whole body to drive a heavy bag to the floor, landing on top in the most dominant fashion, bouncing to your feet and repeating the sequence until your legs are heavy and lunges are burning.

This is Rugby Method...a new system of fitness which contains a combative element, together with various other enjoyable activities inspired by training methods of the increasingly popular sport of rugby.

So next time you are feeling anger, frustration, and in need of a sweat...take it out on the tackle bag at a Rugby Method session. You’ll feel a truckload better, and nobody gets hurt in the process!

Why ‘Functional’ Is The New Black

Summer is not just around the corner, it's standing awkwardly on our front patio, and anybody with the slightest intention of frolicking outside in minimal clothing is looking for the latest method of achieving a body to suit the season. When it comes to working out, there is an overwhelming number of options to send your lunges, muscles and sweat glands into overdrive, especially here in LA.

While the number of gym memberships remain steady, and yoga studios are filling up by the day, it appears that there has also been a rise in the amount of fitness enthusiasts seeking different dimensions to their training, particularly outdoors. More and more people are trying various types of workouts, in hopes of reaching their fitness goals in the most enjoyable and motivating ways possible. This is evident with the emergence of certain apps like Class Pass and Level Sports, which help connect people with a variety of training methods aiming to mix it up.

We are also experiencing an influx in participants of Social Sports such as Flag Football, Beach Volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee to name a few. Organized sports and outdoor group sessions is not only a great way to make new friends and have fun, but is also a excellent way of exercising without it feeling like a chore. The more competitive the games become, the more intense the workouts tend to be and also the demand for athleticism. And so the quest to be more athletic and capable of successfully performing various disciplines is becoming increasingly popular, to the point of even specifically training to prepare for, or to improve at these respective activities.

The desire for people to become more "complete athletes" is apparent with the crossfit boom. Combining weight lifting, with running, bodyweight exercises and plyometrics is not only helping people achieve their fitness goals, but making them feel like more of an athlete, and hence, more competent and powerful in life. Doing more 'functional' exercises at the gym is one way of helping someone become more athletic. For example, many weight training machines are one dimensional, only requiring you to move the resistance through one plane of motion, sometimes only using one joint, such as a leg extension machine. While this might be a great way to bring out the striations in your Rectus Femoris for that upcoming bodybuilding competition, you probably want to do a multi-planar lunge pattern (lunging in front, then to the side and then rotating to lunge diagonally backward) with dumbbells if you want to be better prepared for that weekend flag football match, or just be more athletic in general.

Performing more functional movements not only helps build strength, power and agility to enable us to move more efficiently, but also optimizes injury prevention through enhanced proprioception of joints as we mimic more closely the type of movements we would perform when playing sports or complicated activities.

For the ultimate athletic experience, try performing these more complicated and functional exercises with the added stimulus of catching, passing, or hitting a ball. This now brings into play peripheral vision and hand-eye coordination, which is obviously a big part of most team sports, particularly ball games.

So get with the program this summer and try to incorporate more functional exercises into your workouts. You can still achieve that pool party body you desire while also feeling like an all-conquering athletic badass too!