Foundry Director Graeme Marsh was recently asked to put together his top tips for training in-season by the excellent rugby resource website FindRugbyNow. For the original article, please go to and please find a copy of this article syndicated below.
I was recently asked by a new member at our East London training centre, Foundry:east, to take a look at his current training programme, which he had downloaded from the internet.
I was curious as it was the very definition of high volume with over 30 sets of work per workout, but ever the diplomat I asked, “How are you getting on with this?”. He replied, “Man, it is wiping me out. I can’t do anything after it and I’m knackered before the game even starts”.
It wasn’t that it was necessarily a bad training programme. In fact, if he had been a 22-year-old bodybuilder on anabolic steroids looking to add serious mass, then he probably would have seen some good progress on it.
What it did, however, was illustrate perfectly how you need to adjust training programmes during the season to reflect the demands that field training, games, and life in general can have on the body.
- Do less to get more: It is unrealistic to expect to be able to sustain a high-volume programme during the competitive season. Game and practice time will make recovery from long, high volume training sessions near on impossible for all but the most hormonally blessed players. The actual amount of work needed to develop strength and power is lower than many think, but the intensity is key.
- Put your effort where it brings the best returns: To develop or maintain strength concentrate on the intensity of your lifts. The bulk of your time should be spent on movements that target the high-threshold motor units (key for strength and speed) and recruit the most muscle. To do this incorporate a mixture of plyometric movements (jumps, bounds etc), olympic style movements (clean pulls, Snatch pulls etc) with high-intensity loads in the big lifts (below 6 reps per set) as the mainstay of your training. Game and training time should keep pre-season fitness, but if not, keep CV work low in volume and energy system specific.
- Let your recovery dictate your training: If you had a hard game, took a lot of hits and played a full 80 minutes then you may need longer recovery before hitting the weights. Similarly if you only had a run out for the last 15 minutes then you may be able to hit the gym monday morning feeling fresh. Be flexible in your week to week planning and adjust what you do to match your ability from week to week. If you feel tired and beat up, take a sauna and then stretch, you’ll feel the benefit and come back fitter and stronger. Too many guys are emotionally attached to their training and determined to keep lifting like a full-time bodybuilder through the competitive season.
- Listen to your body and watch for signs of overtraining: Too much work with inadequate recovery will eventually lead to overtraining, which can take a long time to fully recover from. If you start to see weights going down from week to week, every weight (even the empty bar) starts to feel heavy, if sleep is poor and you wake up feeling heavy and tired after a full 8 hours, and you feel performance during the games suffering then you need to check that your training isn’t contributing to this. Don’t be afraid to build recovery weeks in to your training, so few people actually do this for fear of suddenly getting weaker or smaller, where the opposite is more likely to happen as the body gets time to rest and adapt.
- Keep things simple: The aim of your gym session is not to try to spend a load of time and effort on pointless ‘sport-specific’ exercises that are currently popular in the fitness media. Wobbling about on Bosu balls or doing the latest ‘functional’ craze is merely a waste of time that could be spent actually getting stronger or stretching and recovering from the weekend’s game. Stick to the fundamental movements of deadlifting, squats, presses, pulls, and rows and you won’t go far wrong.
- Put recovery methods in your training: Stretching is practically impossible to do too much of, but it is the most neglected aspect of most people’s training. A lack of adequate flexibility will lead to increased risk of injury, muscle imbalances, and a lack of any real progress in training. Being big and strong is pointless if your hips are so tight that your speed is impacted negatively and your lower back exposed to increased injury risk. The current trend is to only stretch after having done the rest of your training, but this means that stretching is generally done poorly, with minimal focus and therefore negligible results. Ideally dedicate separate time to stretching work as it can be done anywhere, but if time is an issue (which for most it is) we tend to do it first.
- Work with a trainer who knows their stuff: If you can then invest in some time with a professional coach who understands how to design training programmes for you that will address the above points. It isn’t rocket science, in fact it is largely common sense. Having a good coach will give you accountability, external feedback, guidance on correct technique, and someone who can monitor your training performance allowing you to concentrate on simply training hard and recovering effectively. Our team at Foundry:east specialise in working with active busy professionals on this, you can find out more at www.foundryfit.co.uk.
Many factors can impact on finding the right routine that works best for you. These include: age, nutrition, sleep, stress, work, relationships, hormonal status, training age, playing position, level of competition, etc. All of these factors can all have an influence and should be considered when designing a training plan.
The results of this review support the use of exercise as a weight loss intervention, particularly when combined with dietary change. Exercise is associated with improved cardiovascular disease risk factors even if no weight is lost.
The study’s authors go on to discuss some interesting theories and findings. One finding in particular was that those Non-compensators (those who tended not to increase energy intake in response to energy expenditure) tended to be heavier and fatter at the outset compared to the compensators (those who lost less weight than expected and tended to increase energy intake). One theory being that when exercise threatens lean mass (as it does in those only carrying a few extra pounds…) it drives the need to increase energy intake more than in those with an abundance of excess calories in body fat.
While this notion is an appealing explanation I am not sure it is only the mechanism behind this, although it does make intuitive sense. We do also know that in some people there is a tendency to ‘reward’ exercise by being less active throughout the rest of the day, which can reduce potential weight loss results. This reward mentality does seem prevalent and is a strong driver for the argument that psychology is a prime factor in obesity. Studies looking at eating behaviour, such as those by Jane Ogden at Surrey University have shown how certain environments and situations can influence eating, often unrelated to our actual hunger. Simply eating in front of the television has been demonstrated to increase overeating irrespective of actual reported hunger levels.
Only 19% of interventionist studies report an increase in energy intake after exercise; 65% show no change and 16% show a decrease in appetite. Of the correlational studies, approximately half show no relationship between energy expenditure and intake. These data indicate a rather loose coupling between energy expenditure and intake. A common sense view is that exercise is futile as a form of weight control because the energy deficit drives a compensatory increase in food intake. However, evidence shows that this is not generally true.
There probably isn’t a personal training company or studio in London that hasn’t already written about interval training and cardiovascular training for fat loss. That drum has already been soundly beaten, although there is all too often a bit too much spurious information out there disguised as science that is distorting exercise prescription.
In this blog post Foundry Director Graeme Marsh looks at a recent study on interval training for fat loss in men and gives us his views on the topic.
So, it’s over to Graeme…
Here is an interesting little study from the Dean of research into High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Stephen Boutcher and his colleagues from the University of New South Wales. Boutcher has produced some fairly convincing evidence over recent years that has shown the overall superiority of HIIT over the more conventional methods of ‘cardio for fat loss’ and its led to a vilification of steady state exercise within the industry. His latest paper, published in the Journal of Obesity this summer is unsurprisingly no different.
- Over 12 weeks subjects lost a total of 2kg of fat training 3 x week for 20 minutes per session (not including a 5 minute warm up and cool down). 8 second sprints were performed at 80-90% of maximum heart rate with a 12 second recovery bout in between.
- Reductions in body fat came from both fat under the skin and that around organs, showing a positive impact on cardiovascular disease risk factors. There was also a significant reduction in waist circumference.
- There was an increase in fat free mass over the course of the study and improvements in aerobic fitness alongside the reductions in fat mass.
- These results were achieved without any changes to dietary habits.
- Interval training is psychologically tougher. It requires a high level of motivation, despite the shorter duration, the intensity must be high for it to be effective.
- The leaner you are, the less effective this method seems to be for losing fat. This to me suggests that lean people may well already be adapted to this style of training. However, it’s benefits for stimulating muscle mass retention during dieting should not be ignored.
- Long duration cardio such as jogging or cycling for 40-60 minutes offers poor return for fat loss and may also stimulate appetite (although this seems to vary a lot between individuals). It is best used either for those who require it for specific endurance sports or used as recovery and/or recreation.
- Instead of simply ‘burning calories’ HIIT seems to work more through stimulating hormonal changes in the body that favour increased fat oxidation.
- Overall HIIT offers a more efficient solution to improving body composition, CV risk factors, and aerobic fitness than conventional steady state methods.
Throughout a decade of working as a personal trainer I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of my clients make some drastic changes in their lives and in turn their appearance. Jakob is one such story.
Not everyone comes to start training looking for a total life change, some just want a bit more motivation or information on how to train a bit better, but Jakob had reached a stage in life where things had to change. Of course, many transformations that appear on the internet happen over comparatively short periods of time, it makes them seem remarkable and emotive and often alludes to some sort of secret formula or system behind the scenes although there rarely (if ever) is. The disappointing truth is that the age old principles of hard work, dedication, persistence, commitment, and desire all win over any particular training system or supplement (more on that later). So, this isn’t so much a transformation rather than a journey, and one that has been incredibly hard to summarise. Plenty is left out even though I’ve tried to be as candid and honest as possible.
Jakob is a true “hard-gaining ectomorph”, a definition that gets used rather casually these days to describe almost anyone untrained and not grossly overweight. The fact is that true hard-gainers simply cannot gain muscle like Casey Viator in the infamous Colorado experiment. If they could, the term ‘hard-gainer’ wouldn’t be very apt. Our very own Sarah Lindsay recently worked with a similar hard gaining ectomorph in Mens’ Health journalist Ed Reeves. Ed faced many of the same challenges as Jakob: food became a chore, gaining mass was a lot harder than losing weight, and intense training sessions could leave his previously untrained body struggling to recover.
Pictures don’t tell half the story
Before and after photos don’t tell you a whole lot. Sure you get to see two points in time side by side, but so much valuable information is missing. Age, training age, training experience, hormonal/anabolic status, work and life stress, training frequency, sleep, nutrition, and many other variables mean that in the ‘real world’ it is a lot more complex than how many sets or reps you did or what programme/diet you followed. In Jakob’s case we had to compete with a job where he often got up for work at 4.30 a.m and spent most of the day on his feet walking; basically hours of long slow duration cardio, the weapon of choice for the body-builder looking to lean out. His job meant that eating alone became a serious challenge, not to mention the effect it was having on sleep and recovery.
Typical of a true ectomorph Jakob was relatively lean when he started, coming in at 17% bodyfat, within the ‘normal’ range for a male. However, he had the kind of diet that makes a trainer visibly wince when they look at the food diary, full of sugary drinks and snack food. He also had two habits synonymous with not gaining muscle from before the days of research studies guiding training habits: smoking and soda consumption. If we were to succeed, both of these had to go. Over time our biggest challenge remained getting enough food, 4000Kcal a day was our target but it proved tough and on occasion impossible. It started to become a chore and required the need for liquid nutrition to bump up the calorie quota. Protein shakes can be a great supplement, but I am sure that they tend to cause bloating and body fat gain when used in large amounts.
By trying to clean up the diet (clearing out the high amounts of processed food and sugar) we made it harder. Protein and fat are a lot harder to over eat than simple sugars; they also tend to require more digestive effort and deeper pockets. However, there was no way Jakob was getting into shape on Cola, cigarettes, and chocolate bars so they had to go. This took considerable effort as the addictive nature of nicotine, sugar, and caffeine, make it tough work to swap out for broccoli, quinoa, and chicken. However, two years later taking it one step at a time, we have got rid of the cigarettes and sodas and made a big old dent in the chocolate consumption. We found a very effective approach was to blend periods of high calorie eating with a ‘recovery’ week where he could relax about getting enough food and concentrate on just living.
As far as supplements go, it has been a case of keeping it simple enough to stick to. Essential fats, zinc, magnesium, BCAA’s and cycling of various herbals aimed at improving sleep and anabolism. Nothing complex. Nothing illicit.
Training variables are often given pride of place in discussions on training effectiveness. However, not a lot has really changed in this world since Doug Hepburn first pressed 500lbs. Age old principles of progressive overload and good recovery are as valid now as they were then, although less attention tends to be given to recovery with many of the lower volume approaches being marginalised. Australian Ian King, responsible for innovating and refining many modern training methods, has stated that he believes the influence of anabolic steroids to have been a major contributor in how modern training programmes are created. These training programmes are often high in volume and can challenge the recovery ability of those not set-up for body-building. The ‘average’ man now is battling many catabolic stresses and needs to ensure that training doesn’t simply become another of those; training volume seems to be the key factor in this equation.
Over the two years we experimented with several approaches, but the fact is that so many other variables confounded things that we still can’t be sure what programming approach produced the absolute best outcome, if any did. My gut instinct is that keeping total work sets relatively low, times under tension high, and using (sparingly) techniques such as 21′s, 1 1/4 reps, and giant sets, was most effective. Going to failure was essential but not on a week in, week out basis.
And, just to fly in the face of the latest trend in functional training, we much preferred the use of bodypart split training with a healthy spattering of isolation work concentrating (after having established decent base levels of strength in all major movements) on areas that would favour the ectomorph build, trying to add width at the shoulders and thickness to the back. It was a lot of fun. Too many of these training methods have been rejected by the modern influences on the personal training industry. They simply aren’t cool enough. As an aside from this, we found that focusing on a particular area to develop was a better motivator than simply concentrating on weight gain, which often wasn’t reflective of the changes in size and shape.
It is the relationships we build with our clients that really make this job fun to do and this one has been one of the best. Jakob’s single-minded determination was inspiring although paired with a steely resolution to bend rather than break to my suggested advice. I have learnt over the years that personal training courses pay little real attention to the actual art of coaching and understanding peoples desire and motivation for change, yet as a coach probably no other skill is more necessary than the ability to change someone’s behaviours. Jakob has become a different person to train, capable now of pushing himself hard to failure and beyond. Our first sessions nearly broke him, the bench on Bishopsgate outside Liverpool Street becoming the post-session refuge; but over time he has developed the confidence and ability to train independently with great success. As a coach, it was about Jakob knowing that I wanted him to succeed as much as he did, perhaps sometimes even more. As the client Jakob bought commitment, respect, and enthusiasm that often lifted me and inspired me to keep trying my best to help him stay positive and focused without being overly narcissistic or obsessive. He was adamant that he still wanted a fun life, drinks with friends, and a training regime that worked with his job.
Despite a few bumps in the road, I think we got there…..
I’ve been training with Foundry Fit’s Graeme Marsh for almost 2 years. I arrived as an underweight, chain smoking, coke drinking fitness-novice on the cusp of a midlife crisis. Initially every training session was pure agony. I had no strength. My body was shaking. At times it felt like torture. But, Graeme, your endless positive energy and utter commitment to my physical and emotional well-being saw me through. My health, lifestyle and confidence have improved no end. You were with me all the way. And for that I’m eternally grateful. Still drinking coke though.
“Pre-Season with the Professionals”
IN ASSOCIATION WITH:
As one of the leading personal training, sports conditioning and rehabilitation facilities in London we have decided to launch a brand new rugby experience enabling everyone to learn from and train with professional rugby players and coaches at an affordable price.
- Find out how fit, strong and fast you are with top end fitness testing.
- Discover top training tips to increase your speed, strength and power with technical weightlifting and powerlifting sessions.
- Learn and try professional conditioning exercises utilising sleds, yolks, farmers walks, chains and equipment you won’t find in ordinary gyms.
- Meet, learn from, and play with legends of the game.
- Experience the challenges and hear the stories from The School of Hard Knocks coaches and participants of the Sky Sports television programme.
- Improve your performance and skill set with the unique training tool Cage Rugby.
- Learn proven injury prevention and recovery techniques to protect yourself and extend your playing career.
- Hear the very latest nutritional advice for performance.
Our first “Pre-season with the Professionals” rugby training day will take place on Saturday 18th August at the new sports performance facility Foundry:east; an elite new training gym, 3G astro pitch and with over 150,000m2 of outdoor space in East London. Attendees of any gender and ability will be trained and treated as professional rugby players under the watchful eyes of our experts, who have performed at the highest level of their respective fields.
- Former British and Irish Lions, England rugby player and Strength Conditioning Coach Andy Titterrell
- Head Coach of England 7s, Ben Ryan
- Head coach of Sky Sports School of Hard Knocks Programme Chris Chudleigh
- England Elite Ladies Player and Physical Preparation Coach Fiona Pocock
- Former Performance Nutritionist for Newcastle Falcons, current Performance Nutritionist for West Ham FC Academy and writer for FindRugbyNow Chris Curtis Chris Curtis
- British Powerlifting Champion Evelyn Stevenson
- Other well known coaches and players from elite rugby, sport and physical preparation tbc.
*A charitable donation from all tickets will go to The School of Hard Knocks Charity.
*Early bird expires 20th July
- Standard ticket –
£95 per ticket (inc VAT)Early bird standard – £85 per ticket (inc VAT)
- Team bookings of 4 or more –
£85 per ticket (inc VAT)Early bird group booking of 4 or more – £75 per ticket (inc VAT)
Two months ago we had a rather noisy knock 0n The Foundry door by a chap with a giant smile and warm introductions. An artist from Israel, it turns out Arik had some fantastic canvases for sale.
It may surprise you to know but myself and Helen Thomas actually have a little art collection (for the purposes of our home insurance it’s a very large art collection with at least 2 original Picassos) so to cut a long story short we ended up buying a really impressive ‘Tour de France” inspired image from Arik.
Having never really set foot in a gym before, it turned out Arik was also interested in health and fitness and was very keen to lose some weight; so after an hour of chatting with triple Olympian Sarah Lindsay about her recent Men’s Health Transformation Arik signed himself up for twice a week Personal Training with Sarah.
Despite his own omission that he has not wholly adhered to his nutritional plan, the results have been extremely impressive with a 5% drop in body fat.
If you want to find out more about training with Sarah please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.