Rugby’s Welsh war­rior

As Wales strive to re­claim the Six Na­tions cham­pi­onship, their fly­ing winger Ge­orge North talks to MF about the tough train­ing – both phys­i­cal and men­tal – and in­no­va­tive nu­tri­tion that have made him one of the stars of world rugby

Men's Fitness - - Contents -

Wales, Lions and Northamp­ton Saints winger Ge­orge North on how you can per­form at a higher level

Power, speed and men­tal steel are all match­win­ning tools in the bruis­ing arena of mod­ern rugby, and Wales rugby star Ge­orge North has fused all three into a dev­as­tat­ing com­bi­na­tion. The bull­doz­ing winger is a 1.93m,105kg ti­tan who can bench 160kg and squat 255kg, but he unites that brute force with jet-heeled speed (run­ning 40m in un­der 5sec) and an ice-cold men­tal­ity that frees him to per­form un­der in­tense pres­sure.

North has 27 tries in 65 ap­pear­ances for Wales, mak­ing him the fourth most suc­cess­ful try-scorer in the na­tion’s his­tory - and he’s still only 24. But his size, pace and psy­che are the re­sult of hard work, smart nu­tri­tion, sci­en­tific con­di­tion­ing and men­tal train­ing, not ge­netic luck.

“I’m not nat­u­rally this big. I’ve had to work hard in the gym and be re­ally strict with my nu­tri­tion to keep the mass on and main­tain my speed,” says North, who has packed on 26kg of mus­cle since turn­ing pro. “Even now I fluc­tu­ate in size but I work hard to stay on weight. Putting weight on is dif­fi­cult but when you have to carry it for 80 min­utes each Satur­day and through hard train­ing ses­sions you need to get re­ally fo­cused on train­ing and nu­tri­tion.”

As the 2017 RBS Six Na­tions hots up, with Wales aim­ing to go one bet­ter than their sec­ond­place fin­ish in 2016, North dis­cusses his blue­print for phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­na­tion.

How does your gym train­ing change through­out the year?

It’s about know­ing where you are and where you want to go. By where you are, I mean iden­ti­fy­ing where you are at phys­i­cally, and how much train­ing load you are used to. By where you are go­ing, I mean what your goal is. For a guy on the street, that might be work­ing for a sum­mer body, whereas for ath­letes that goal changes through­out the year. Pre-sea­son is about get­ting big­ger. Mid-sea­son is about main­tain­ing it. Then at the end of the sea­son we need to re­cover and adapt for when the ground is harder and we need to be quicker.

How bru­tal is pre-sea­son train­ing?

For rugby play­ers, pre-sea­son is re­ally a devil. It is some­thing we have to go through to pre­pare for the bat­tle on its way. It’s an en­joy­able but hard time. You’re try­ing to get your size and mass and lungs ready for the sea­son ahead but it is a tough old one to get through.

What gym train­ing pro­to­cols work best for you?

What works best for me is over­load and re­peata­bil­ity work, so mak­ing sure I can main­tain high-in­ten­sity ef­forts re­peat­edly. That means I have to go hard and just keep go­ing hard, with lots of rep­e­ti­tions and not much rest. In the gym I am a big fan of com­pound lifts like back squats and Bul­gar­ian split squats. If you are not used to them you get un­be­liev­able DOMS but they are re­ally ef­fi­cient.

The Wales squad has some in­no­va­tive sports sci­ence sup­port. What’s the main les­son you’ve learned from the back­room staff?

I am not sure how much I am al­lowed to say of this! But with Wales the bit I have found most ben­e­fi­cial is the con­cept of

train­ing specif­i­cally. So rather than the old days of go­ing to the base line and run­ning un­til some­one says “stop”, we iden­tify what each po­si­tion has to do and try to repli­cate that in our con­di­tion­ing. So rather than me do­ing short, sharp blocks - like a for­ward repli­cat­ing mak­ing a hit, get­ting up from a ruck and run­ning to the next ruck – I will fo­cus on high-speed me­tres cov­ered and mak­ing re­peated ef­forts at faster than 7.3m per sec­ond, as that is the speed I work at con­sis­tently. Get­ting your mus­cles to adapt to that ex­po­sure of high-speed run­ning is pretty hor­ri­ble.

What is the hard­est con­di­tion­ing ses­sion you do?

Wat­tbikes are al­ways the hor­ri­ble one. I am a fan but not a fan, if that makes sense. We also have a ses­sion called 30-15s which is hor­ri­ble. You run for 30 sec­onds, stop for 15 sec­onds, then keep on go­ing un­til you can’t run any more. We also have what we call a “run­way” – it’s a vari­a­tion on that kind of hor­ri­ble con­di­tion­ing with lots of high-speed run­ning and not much rest. They are my three worst, most hor­ri­ble ones.

De­spite the smart sci­ence, do you still en­joy old-school train­ing drills?

Rugby is not a sport like row­ing where the move­ments are very spe­cific. We need a bag of tricks and we need to be good at most things. So a lot of our train­ing is about mov­ing weight around ef­fi­ciently, with things like sled drags, tugs of war and tackle bag slams. We’re try­ing to move the weight as quickly as we can be­cause those ac­tions repli­cate the dif­fer­ent things we have to do on the field.

How do you sharpen up your speed?

We do power en­durance cir­cuit train­ing, which forces you to re­peat high-in­ten­sity ef­forts. For ex­am­ple, you might do a short

sprint, go into some burpees so you have to get on the floor like you would mid-tackle, and then sprint, do a power roll on the floor, get up and sprint again. Ba­si­cally, we’re repli­cat­ing the kind of move­ments we would do on the pitch.

Given the vol­ume of your train­ing, how do you keep it fun?

[Laughs] You don’t! No, we are in a squad en­vi­ron­ment, which re­ally helps. If you are train­ing alone it’s dif­fi­cult to find mo­ti­va­tion, so I can un­der­stand it when guys strug­gle train­ing on their tod. But when I go to the gym I have 25 mates there at the same time, so on days when you’re not feel­ing up for it, there might be 15 other guys who are, so that col­lec­tive mo­ti­va­tion pushes you on. A lot of it is about hav­ing the right mu­sic as well. Some­times you get a shock­ing playlist and think, “What is this!?” but other times you en­joy the mu­sic while you graft. With the Wales guys, Liam Wil­liams fan­cies him­self as a DJ and Jonathan Davies does too. But Jamie Roberts has got par­tic­u­larly poor taste in mu­sic.

In peak con­di­tion you bench 160kg and squat 255kg. Is that the same dur­ing the sea­son?

I’m prob­a­bly not at those weights at the mo­ment as I am main­tain­ing weight. It is tough on the body – we’re get­ting aches and pains and nig­gles through­out the sea­son. Af­ter the au­tumn Tests, some bits were just hang­ing on and I was held to­gether by tape around my shoul­der, so I’m not at those numbers now.

What is the main nu­tri­tion les­son you have learned in the last few years?

In pre-sea­son I try to eat clean but be­cause we’re work­ing hard, burn­ing

“When I go to the gym I have 25 mates there at the same time. That col­lec­tive mo­ti­va­tion pushes you on”

5,000 to 5,500 calo­ries a day, it’s re­ally just about get­ting it all in for re­pair and re­cov­ery. When I’m try­ing hard to main­tain weight, vol­ume is re­ally im­por­tant. When it comes to main­tain­ing mass dur­ing the sea­son, that’s when you have to get clever about how much you are tak­ing in and how much you are burn­ing.

What do you eat be­fore a match?

For a 2.30pm kick-off, know­ing how I burn food and how my carb stores work, I will have a hearty spag bol the night be­fore. It’s got a good source of carbs and pro­tein in there. I will make a big batch so I have some ready for the next day. For break­fast I will have a bagel with av­o­cado, ba­con and scram­bled egg, a pint of wa­ter with elec­trolytes and some fruit and a pro­tein bar as a snack. Then for lunch I will have the rest of last night’s spag bol.

How do you tai­lor your match-day nu­tri­tion to dif­fer­ent kick-offs?

Tim­ing is re­ally im­por­tant. For a 2.30pm kick-off it all falls quite nicely so I can get up, have break­fast, a snack and some lunch and you are ready to go. But with a 5.30pm kick-off or later you have to plan your whole day around eat­ing… which is quite sad re­ally, isn’t it? I need to plan when to have a pro­tein shake or a bar, when to have a lighter meal and when to have a heav­ier meal. I’m con­stantly try­ing to work it out and, hon­estly, it’s hard.

Are you any good in the kitchen?

My culi­nary skills are… what’s a po­lite way of say­ing use­less? I can cook a bit and I am ob­vi­ously not starv­ing but I am very lucky that my girl­friend Becky [James, the Team GB track cy­clist] is an amaz­ing chef and I have learned from her. It is handy as she is an ath­lete as well.

What sup­ple­ments do you take?

For me the sta­ple thing dur­ing the sea­son is im­mune sup­port and joint care. It’s a time of the year when it’s easy to pick up sniffs, coughs and so on so I like to get some im­mune sup­port with vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, as well as omega 3 for my joints. In gen­eral I al­ways get a Pro­max shake in af­ter a big gym ses­sion or rugby ses­sion, in that win­dow for mus­cle re­pair. I take beta-ala­nine [an amino acid that re­duces fa­tigue] af­ter a big se­ries of Wales games too.

Wales are play­ing England and Ire­land at home in the Six Na­tions this year. How do you men­tally pre­pare?

There is al­ways more ex­cite­ment for those matches, but play­ing in big matches isn’t a shock be­cause I prac­tise my prepa­ra­tion in my club games for Northamp­ton. I work on staying fo­cused and re­lax­ing so when the in­ter­na­tional games come along I have had all those feel­ings be­fore, I know what to ex­pect and I’m not shocked. Prac­tis­ing for pres­sure brings an air of nor­mal­ity to it.

How do you re­cover from a bodyscar­ring Six Na­tions bat­tle?

We use cryother­apy which is very ef­fec­tive. Al­though I don’t like to say it in case the con­di­tion­ing coaches read this and make us do more.

Ge­orge North is a Max­imus­cle ath­lete. Max­imus­cle’s new range of raw in­gre­di­ent pow­ders is now avail­able at max­imus­cle.com

“I have to go hard and just keep go­ing hard,” says North, pic­tured play­ing against France in the 2016 Six Na­tions, of his train­ing

North plans his pre-match nu­tri­tion care­fully, par­tic­u­larly for a late kick-off – this tour match in New Zealand in 2016 started at 7.30pm

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