IMAGE: NSW Waratahs using STING Boxing equipment in the 2016 Pre-Season

by JUSTIN WILSON, Fit Fusion PT & Former NZ Rugby Union Player

I often get asked how intensive my training used to be during my years as a professional athlete. For 7 years I was coached by NZ Rugby 7's Guru, Gordon (Titich) Tietjens, who is famous for his grueling training sessions and strict player rules around everything from fitness and speed, to punctuality and diet (he’s also one of professional sport’s most successful coaches, with 12 World Series Titles under his belt).   Yes, Titch’s coaching style was (and still is) tough – but he gets results. What I learned under him, and throughout my playing career, is there are a few key elements that are crucial to every top level player’s training schedule if they want to take to the field every week and get results.  However, many of these can be incorporated into anyone’s training schedule to some degree if they want to train with a similar level of intensity.

1. Attitude In my opinion it all starts and ends with attitude. Attitude determines how hard you are willing to push to reach the goals you set for yourself, how many hits you can take before you bow out and how hard you are willing to train when no one else is around. With the right attitude many more things are possible.

2. Sport / Movement Specific Training Every sport has a movement pattern that is unique and it is important to train your body to get more efficient in this movement pattern. For example, if rugby is your chosen sport then you need to have an extremely strong core, explosive power, speed if you play in the back and raw strength if you play up front. There is no point in a rugby player training the same way a soccer player would…the results wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective when it came time to take the field and they had to put their sport-specific skills into play. Don’t forget your smaller stabilizing muscles - stay on top of the finer muscles that hold everything together and incorporate these pre-hab based exercises into every gym routine. 


3. Diet. Fuelling your body correctly is of course one of the most important things you can do as an athlete.  While professional athletes have access to dieticians who monitor everything that goes into their mouth, it goes without saying that they do not have diets high in processed, sugary or salt-laden foods. Instead eating foods with sufficient amounts of protein, carbohydrates and good fats that will fuel their body as needed. Protein rich meals following training sessions are essential for helping to build and repair muscle, while fresh vegetables and fruits, meat and dairy provide nourishment and important vitamins and minerals from natural sources.

4. Periodisation There are many ways you can change up your training and this needs to be done in order to keep your body guessing and continuing to making gains.  This goes for both strength and cardiovascular training. “Periodising” your training is the key; instead of doing the same routine over and over, month after month, change your training program at regular intervals to keep your body working harder, while still giving it adequate rest. For example, you can alter your strength-training program by adjusting the following variables:

  • The number of repetitions per set, or the number of sets of each exercise
  • The amount of resistance used
  • The rest period between sets exercises or training sessions
  • The order of the exercises, or the types of exercises
  • The speed at which you complete each exercise
  • Include a session of AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) with structured exercise planning.

  5. Recovery There are many ways to recover after a game or training session these days, varying from ice baths, protein shakes, remedial massage and compression clothing. You need to find what works for you and go with it. But remember to keep your body guessing and don’t let it get too comfortable; every now and again throw in something a little different.   Knowing how important these key elements are to your training is one thing, but making sure they are all part of your weekly training schedule is another.  Use a diary or planner to schedule each in, as required and in advance. Know when you can load up with weights and when you need to taper off, ensure there is variety and scheduled days off.  



Justin Wilson FitFusion

Justin began his professional rugby career at age 18 where he went on to play for NZ’s top provincial and national teams. His most notable sporting achievement is playing for the New Zealand Rugby 7's squad for seven years. Justin is a qualified Personal Trainer & Level 2 Coach where his experience as a Professional athlete has greatly influenced his style of training.

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