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You want to know how much Pierre Spies can bench press? Sorry, that’s not how we work.
In the gym or off field, we develop our players to become mechanically efficient athletes. It’s not about ‘I do biceps, I do triceps’. We train movements instead.
Have you ever seen a two-year-old child sit down on its haunches? It’s the perfect squat. It’s mechanically beautiful, and the core stability at work there is amazing. That’s what I want to see in my players. We want our athletes to do those kinds of movements. So the aim is not necessarily the load of the exercise. I’ll teach him how to squat – and not necessarily to see if he can squat 300kg. That’s not where the emphasis lies.
We want our athletes to move as athletes. Can you touch your toes? When you’re working a hanging leg raiser, can you get his toes up to the bar – and not hanging into straps, but like a gymnast would?
If you’re playing rugby, then play rugby. If you’re a scrumhalf, do scrumhalf work. And be specific. That means doing repeated passing and drills, from the floor, running around something and picking up the ball, mimicking the patterns you run in the game, and the movements you make in the game.
Don’t confuse athletic training with bodybuilding. Bodybuilding negates strength and athletic development. We’ve moved totally away from that.
Do you want to look muscular, or do you want to be strong? I see that daily. We have youngsters who’ll come in being muscle-bound, but they don’t have the ability to move. A young guy came in at the beginning of the year. This kid looked like freak show, but he couldn’t do one full pull-up. From a dead hang, bringing his chest up to the bar, he couldn’t do one rep. Where’s the functionality?
Have you ever seen a bodybuilder jogging? They’ve lost the ability to move like an athlete.
Being an athlete means being flexible. And I’m talking about the kind of flexibility a martial artist would have. Can you lunge from side to side with an upright body? Most people can’t. They don’t have the ability to go from one side to another while keeping their heel on the ground and getting their bum onto that heel.
People have the wrong perception of Pierre Spies. They’ll talk him up as being this 120kg athlete. Firstly, he’s a 106kg athlete. During pre-season Pierre did a hanging pull-up with a 60kg weight between his legs. He got four or five good, solid reps out. Think about that: his 106kg, plus a 60kg weight, that’s 166kg of pull-ups.
Kettlebells? Yes, we use them. But the same principle is applied: I’ll teach our athletes how to move with a kettlebell, and not simply make him train with a kettlebell. I want the perfect swing, and not necessarily just, “Okay, do a swing.” The swing action is a fluid motion out of the hip. The upper body must be held a certain way, the lats must be active, the hip must move backwards as you swing down. And as you come up, can you stack your body? Can you contract your glutes, contract your core, contract your abductors, contract your lat?
Want to try a kettlebell move? Here’s one: the Turkish Get Up. From a lying position, holding the weight vertically, you have to stand up with that weight, maintaining the vertical angle of that weight, and keeping your arm vertical.
We train principles and we train movements. We don’t just take a couple of exercises, and put together in a couple of reps. As a trainer, it all comes down to: can I make him move better? I want our players to marry the gracefulness and the mobility of a gymnast with the ultimate strength of a strongman. Those two extremes pulled into one.
My advice? Stop doing dynamic exercises and explosive exercises. It sounds odd, but we have a saying here at the Bulls: if you want to be good at something, then do that. We see examples of this in our daily lives, but we don’t use them. Take a guy who’s a bricklayer: now I can’t build a half-metre, but he’ll build a 10-metre wall in no time at all. The same principle applies to training. If you want to be good at jumping, do jumping exercises. If you want to be good at Olympic lifts, do Olympic lifts.
We use the sport of Olympic lifts. Clean and jerks, snatches, barbell jerks, dumbbell jerks… We use them to improve our explosive power, because rugby is an explosive-based sport. What we want to see, is what we term a triple exension: that’s the ability to generate as much force as possible out of your hip, knee and ankle at the same time.
People ask me: ‘when do you train your chest, when do you train your shoulders’. We never do that. What we do is, we train the upper body on a vertical plane, doing pushing exercises or pulling exercises, or we’ll train upper body on a horizontal plane doing pushing and pulling. On a horizontal plane, pushing exercises will be your bench presses. But I won’t have that session be only about bench presses and chest exercises. It will never be like that. At the end of the day, I have to train them athletically to be able to move. Yes, you want to be strong, but you can’t become muscle-bound.
Walk into a fitness facility, and what do you see? Machines. They’ve taken away functionality. They’ve taken away movement. If you want to be good at sitting in machines, go sit in a machine. If you want to be good at moving around, then do that.
Bjorn Basson does a box jump of 160cm. That’s from standing, jumping onto a 1.6m box. We’ve got the records up on the wall here: Pierre jumped 150cm. And Wiehan’s 86kg while Pierre is 106kg. There’s a 20kg difference. Do they sit on machines? No. Do they do the sort of activity that will develop their ability to jump high? Absolutely.