We are lucky and excited to have former Wales & Osprey S&C coach Mark Bennett on this edition of Inner Force.
1) Give us the high speed, nuts and bolts version of your experience in the S&C industry?
I started working as a S and C coach in 1999, which gives me 15 years of experience working with professional athletes. I began my career with Bristol Rugby and in the time since have worked with Llanelli Scarlets, The Celtic Warriors and have been in charge of the WRU academies as well as being in charge of the Welsh National Rugby Team. Most recently I have worked with The Ospreys and have just turned full circle and am going back to work with Bristol next season.
Outside of rugby I have advised/worked with athletes from professional football and rowing as well as being a co-owner/coach at The Ironshed (Port Talbot).
In terms of success my highlights include two grand slams, two triple crowns with Wales, a Premiership rugby final with Bristol and two league titles with the Ospreys.
2) From your years of experience what do you think are the common characteristics of a successful athlete/client?
The best athletes have always been born with ability, in their chosen sport, beyond the man off the street. The very best also have a huge amount of belief in themselves and a competitive edge in everything they do. Those who have been lucky enough to work with that I would consider world class also have fantastic training ethics but an inbuilt realisation that results in the gym are not as important as their performance on the field.
Clients tend to be different – most I work with now want to be strong or lean or fit – all they need worry about is the gym, training and nutrition, no on field performances. This is a little easier to manage as a coach and allows greater training loads and variety for most.
3) What are the big changes you’ve seen in S&C going from starting as a player through to the end of your career to now coaching?
When I was a player weights were not particularly common in the late 80’s early 90’s and rugby was considered an aerobic sport. Training revolved around long runs and 2 hour training sessions twice a week at the club. There was no consensus over training needs and requirements when the spot went professional and a lot of mistakes and errors were made. Mistakes are still being made but I do hope that the general outlook towards the game has changed. Rugby is a collision sport that lasts for 90 minutes or so. As such on the physical front explosive power and muscle mass go a long way to determining the outcomes of games. Explosive players can develop more momentum and kinetic energy into collisions and will likely have better footwork too. The game is a power sport but a power sport that lasts for a considerable time so demands the ability to produce high levels of power but also be able to replenish creatine phosphate via aerobic mechanisms quickly and efficiently.
4) What are your go to on-line resources?
Not too much of a fan of the typical sites that discuss powerlifting routines for athletes and sportsmen. I prefer to read work by Bondarchuk, Verkhoshansky and Charlie Francis. These individuals realise that a good program is not just about improving squat and bench kg – a good program for an athlete will be about training to be the best the can be at their sport. It is about producing a program where the player transfers as much training as possible to the event and not just posts a good powerlifting total. A good squat is a side effect of your training not the outcome you want to generate.
5) What exercises will you most commonly find in your programming?
Squats, squat jumps, power cleans, bench press, dumbbell rows, kettlebell leaps, standing press – nothing out of the ordinary
6) What is your number one industry and also personal development books you have read?
Number one industry – Special strength training manual for coaches (Edition 1) – Vekhoshansky
Not sure I have ever read a personal development book
7) Recovery plays a huge role in professional sport what are your thoughts on this and what do you think is important?
Recovery is vital; it comes from sleep, nutrition and the correct breaks between training sessions as well as having well planed training routines.
It is always important to remember that recovery only takes you to where you were prior to the training session, adaptation takes you beyond this
I am not a believer in ice baths etc – inflammation is a vital part of the training process. Without inflammation adaptation will not occur and gains in strength and fitness will be hindered and slowed. This is well documented in the research. When players or athletes need to be fresh and in peak performance I would suggest that you lower training volumes and try to ensure they eat and sleep more than adequately rather than looking for ways to limit the damage you are causing. It will be too late to alter strength and fitness at this point anyway.
The rider to this would be in periods of condensed games or during periods when recovery between competitions is not likely to occur, it then makes sense to minimise inflammation and attempt to speed up the bodies’ recovery.
8) What has been your light bulb moment this year?
This was not this year but it was my lightbulb moment that has shaped my beliefs
Question -Does an increase in your squat relate to an increase in sports performance?
Answer – It depends how you achieved your increase in squat. If by bodybuilding means – no positive transfer and maybe negative transfer (especially in advanced athletes). If by explosive means then positive transfer will occur
9) Who is the best/ hardest trainer you have worked or played with?
Worked with many who were excellent trainers – many have trained too hard and won’t accept that they are taking away from their weekly performances by doing too much.
In Wales Matthew Morgan and Rhys Webb are both very good trainers, probably the number one I have worked with was Andrew Sheridan.
10) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
11)Most impressive feat of strength you have witnessed (in person)?
I have seen Olympic lifters Clean and Jerk over 200kg which is always impressive, I also saw a lifter Snatch 130kg after a motorbike ride from London to Swansea and a warm up with only a broomstick and no weights at all, which as you can imagine is an unbelievable thing to do.
In terms of rugby there are lots of incidents that stick in my mind but if one thing was to stand out it was spotting Andrew Sheridan on a bench press session and he lifted 180kg for 5 sets of 5 reps – the impressive part was that it appeared he could have bench throw evry single rep.
12) How would you sum up your training philosophy in a sentence?
For rugby more powerful in minute one, more powerful in minute 80.
13) We have seen you have/had used Crossfit style sessions to condition rugby players, what are your thoughts and beliefs on this and have they changed at all.
I have often used circuit-training sessions and have done for a long time. I think when Crossfit became popular it was assumed that each circuit training session was a Crossfit session. This was not and has never been the case. If you take Crossfit’s definition of what they do – there can be no plan, it is almost random (not my definition – Crossfit’s). I have never done this. Every circuit has an outcome and is planned – strength endurance, aerobic power, local muscular endurance etc etc. Circuit training is very specific for rugby if done with the right loads and right exercises. Kipping pull-ups and muscle ups have no part in a rugby players program.
Crossfit is fantastic if done properly and coached well for people who exercise. It is a massive step on from most programs out there. It is not however specific for any professional sport and should be avoided by professional sports people. They need specific programs designed to meet their weakness (in their sport) and these have to be planned and periodised
14) What type of training do you do yourself and why?
Olympic lifting – I love it and am ok at it
I also try to do some fitness 2-3 times a week and join in with circuits at the gym when I can.
15) What does 2014 have in store or you?
Hopefully success at Bristol Rugby and to continue to progress the Ironshed (I hope to get a decent weightlifting club set up there)
16) In a perfect working day answer all the following:
a) Place to Train – Empire Gym Bristol (closed)
b) Team/Athlete to train – Springboks
c) Ideal Training Partner – Rhod Thomas
d) Person to have an hour to learn from – Anatoliy Bondarchuk
e) Place to eat and Recover – all inclusive Maldives
We realise you are incredibly busy so we thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to complete this, we really appreciate it.
Chris & Andrew