This week I was lucky enough to speak to one of rugby’s most World renowned Strength & Conditioning Coaches – Ashley Jones. His most recent role has been head S&C coach to Edinburgh and Scotland Rugby having previously worked with the All Blacks and Wallabies.
I’m sure you'll all agree it is a privilege to be able to pick the brains of somebody of Ashley’s calibre. Exclusive to E4R readers, Ashley talks grassroots rugby, training advice and the pending Lions tour.
Firstly how did you become involved in Rugby? Did you play yourself, and if so for which amateur club and do you still have affiliations with them?
My father took my brother and I to a sign-up day with the Dee Why Lions, a suburb in Northern Sydney, when I was 8 years old. I was big for my age and loved the contact so took to the game very quickly. I went on to represent my region Warringah through all age group levels and colts. Unfortunately, I haven't stayed in contact due to the amount of travelling I have done since those days but my first job as an S & C coach was back with the mighty Warringah Rats in 1986.
Have you always had a passion for fitness? Is that what got you where you are today?
Yes I have, I was never a very skilled player but started weight training at 14 and loved to run so I think I had an advantage over everyone since I took to the fitness early and have never really left it. When I had a few injuries and had to finish playing, I decided to try and be a fitness coach within the sport I loved, which is now my career. I started out as a Phys Ed. Teacher since it was the only option to follow if I wanted to pursue fitness.
What are the key physical requirements to being a successful rugby player?
First and foremost: aerobic fitness. No matter what the science says, because rugby is an intermittent, high intensity sport, the ability to recover is still governed by your aerobic system, plus I am a firm believer that the final 20 minutes of a match showcases the fitness coaches work and fitter teams tend to win games. Overall strength too. Not body-builder like strength, but more power lifter or farmer/labourer strength.
Is it possible for amateur players to train like professionals? What tips would you give to grassroots players in terms of their training and what should be their main focus?
Certainly, there is a saying, I forget what wise person said it first but, “no man is an amateur, when it comes to physical conditioning.” Try fartlek or cross country running, three days a week, for a minimum of 30 minutes and three full body strength workouts for the summer period; these will do the trick very well. In the gym you should choose one exercise from each of these categories:
Lower Body Pushing – squatting variations, step ups, lunges
Lower Body Pulling - deadlift variations, Olympic variations, pull throughs, back extensions
Upper Body Pushing – Bench Press variation, shoulder press, incline pressing
Upper Body Pulling – Rows, chins, pulldowns
Core – ½ Turkish Get Up, Windmills, rollouts, full body twist, weighted twists (all accessible via the internet)
You can do some arms to finish with if you eat all your beans first.
I am huge fan of your famous ‘beastly circuits’ – can you provide the E4R readers with 1 of your toughest most sickening circuits to try?!
HaHa! I just borrowed that from the internet and changed a few things. It’s called Beastly since it’s the number of the beast 666; 6 exercises, 6 reps on each and 6 sets.
The one I use the most is:
- Hang Clean
- Push Press
- Front Squat
- Romanian Dead Lift
- Bent Row
Follow this with a 2km on the Watt Bike or 750m on Concept II rower as fast as you can with no rest,
One piece of advice: Start with an empty bar (you will thank me later) and the best I have seen used is 80kg, I usually have 50kg or 60kg for most and best time for that is 28 minutes.
Your top 5 exercises for a rugby player?
- Trap Bar Dead Lift
- Push Press
- Pendlay Row
- Weighted Chin Up
- Single Leg Sprinter’s Squat
This took me the longest time of all your questions to answer! It’s a very hard task to have to limit my selection to only five exercises.
In terms of the professional game, you have previously worked for many southern hemisphere clubs, and most recently you have been working in Scotland. How do the fitness levels and physical abilities differ between the 2 hemispheres?
Surprisingly, they are very similar, although I still think the North is fixated by strength and size. The number of teams in the North using skill games has increased exponentially over the last few years. For me this is a key component of the Southern conditioning and skills under fatigue are stressed heavily. However, I still have to say that skill is the biggest leveller and this is introduced and pushed much earlier in the South.
How do you think the Lions will do in this year’s tour? Where will it be won and lost?
I knew this question had to be coming at some stage. I was involved with the AB’s fitness staff when the Lions toured NZ in 2005, the season of the Perfect 10, and a few other players who have become legends of the game. I think it will be the toughest schedule ever undertaken by a Lion’s team. I'll be at training with the Crusaders as an observer for some sessions leading into the game in Christchurch on June 10, I cannot wait,
In my opinon, the All Blacks will win the series because the skill level of their forward pack will allow them to link seamlessly with a back line that appear to have no weaknesses. The Backs also have the ability to bring on a tactical substitution in any position that would probably have started in the Lion’s 15.
Finally, Lions head of S&C Paul Stridgeon has stated that his squad need to be 10% fitter than on their last tour of Australia in 2013 as he believes the All Blacks will be a much more physical, faster team - what’s your opinion on this?
He is one of the best in the business, so he is probably on the money with that comment. He does not have much time to achieve that goal. It's a great honour for him to be the Lion’s S & Coach once again and I wish him well.
In your past 20 years in professional sport; who is...
Biggest bencher, biggest squatter, biggest deadlift, fastest, fittest?
Not really been a big part of my programming, it is more of what we can transfer best from the gym to the field to make them better rugby players, but since you ask:
Bench Press: John Walsh from memory 200kg
Squatter: Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Kev Bryce all above 280kg
Dead Lift: Alasdair Dickinson 300kg
Speed 10m: Alex Northam 1.54
Fittest: Any of the quartet of Whitelock brothers, and that man McCaw
Thanks for speaking exclusively to our readers Ashley. It’s been an honour.
Good luck with your next chosen pathway.
Andrew, no thank you for sending through such interesting questions for me to consider and hopefully provides information for your readers that they maybe able to use to further their own career’s in our wonderful sport, always a pleasure and a privilege to assist.