“Rugby is one of the most brutal and physically demanding sports in the world,” says Joel Burgess, describing the sport that defined his fitness for years. “It’s similar to the physicality of American Football, but with no rest and no padding.”
From the moment you cross the whitewash, it’s eighty minutes of barely controlled chaos. The tackles are colossal, the carries ferocious and the set pieces brutal.
It’s a sport Joel knows well, having played semi-professionally with Championship side Newbury and subsequently London-based Barnes RFC, where he now runs the club’s strength and conditioning programme.
We recently sat down with Joel to discuss the unique demands rugby places on athletes, what it takes to make it to the top of such an intense sport and how he came to found a personalised nutrition app called Nutrifix.
“The physical demands of rugby are complex,” explains Joel. “All players require a degree of endurance, speed, strength and functional competence. The relative importance of each of these four components will vary according to a player’s position.
“The front five forwards require strength and endurance.”
Think about Joe Marler, Jonny Gray and Alun Wyn Jones. They’re big strong guys who drive the ball forward in attack and grind it to a halt in defence.
They do the hard graft for no recognition and they love every minute of it.
“The back row, half backs and centres require a balance of all four.”
Back row forwards like Justin Tipuric, fly-halves like Owen Farrell and centres like Jonathan Joseph have to be everywhere and do everything.
Fast and strong and agile. They can attack a half gap when they’ve got possession and steal the ball away in defence.
They’re showier, flashier and tend to get the cover story gigs in Men’s Health.
“Then there’s the wingers, who require pure speed.”
When the ball gets out to the wings, only one thing matters: Speed.
Wingers like Bryan Habana and full backs like Stuart Hogg have built careers on slipping through tiny holes in the defensive line and beating the scramble defence.
“However, the one common requirement to become the best rugby player is power, which is made up of speed and strength.”
This point from Joel is probably the most important. Strength and speed alone are no good. Being able to run a ten-second hundred meters is meaningless if you’re getting knocked back five yards every time you carry the ball.
Likewise, being able to deadlift six plates is useless if it takes you thirty seconds to get it off the floor.
Great rugby players have power, the ability to exert maximum force in explosive bursts.
That means going from a standing start to a full sprint in the blink of an eye or dipping the shoulder and blasting through an arm tackle.
In a sport packed with massive gym rats, the powerful player is king.
So, how do you get there? How do you develop a rig that is quick and strong in just the right way.
“Depending on the time of the season, a player’s strength and conditioning will vary greatly,” explains Joel. “As a general guidance, the off-season focus should be on hypertrophy, to increase muscle size, whereas the emphasis would shift to strength and power in pre-season.
“The overall aim of a pre-season programme should be to become bigger, stronger, faster, fitter and more agile, thus preventing injuries.
“This should be well timed to build towards the start of the season and as the season approaches there should be a shift to fitness conditioning, tailored to the more specific elements of the game.”
When the season actually kicks off, your focus changes. It’s not about getting bigger and stronger, it’s about maintaining the size, strength and power you’ve earned in the gym.
“During the season, the focus will be mostly on injury prevention and maintenance of levels of conditioning achieved in the pre-season.”
It was an injury that put an end to Joel’s playing career.
A neck dislocation and two operations dropped the curtain and left Joel standing on the sidelines.
So what came next?
“I wanted to lose the weight that I’d put on to keep my game at its peak,” says Joel. “But found it difficult to stick to any particular regime.
“As a result, I was determined to develop a solution that made healthy eating on the go easy, and didn’t require hours of planning or painstakingly recording the food you ate.
“The result was Nutrifix, an app that works to get to know you and your health goals and then locates meals nearby or suggest recipes tailored to your body’s needs.”
Nutrifix has already signed up thousands of eateries across the country and more recently just pulled in six-figures of investment. It’s probably a name you’ll be hearing more and more of.
Check it out here and let us know what you think.
And in the meantime, why not download a free copy of Joel’s rugby workout and see what it takes to build a pro rugby rig?