During one of the Level 2 Strength & Conditioning courses, Ben Cross and I started chatting about the his training. Known as a 'Hard Man' as a player, Ben had some interesting perspectives on his training, what he did then and what he would do now.
Ben, first up, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.
Thanks propelperform for the opportunity to write and express my thoughts and, more importantly, giving athletes the benefit of my hindsight.
Tell us a bit about your playing history?
I was fortunate enough to have had an 11-year career as a professional rugby league player debuting at the age of 24, playing for six professional clubs: Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm, Newcastle knights in the NRL and Leeds Rhino’s, Wigan Warrior’s and Widnes Viking’s in the European Super League.
I also achieve representative honours with Country Origin 2007-08, NSW State of Origin 2008, Prime Ministers XIII 2008 and the Australia Kangaroos preliminary World Cup Squad.
In 2007 I won a NRL premiership with the Melbourne Storm.
And what are you doing now?
I am currently a personal trainer, assistant coach of the Newcastle Knights NSW cup side, Owner and operator of Ben Cross Lifestyle Fitness and Rugby league coach at Hunter Sports High School Gateshead.
In all these new roles I have taken on since my retirement I try to pass on my own experience speaking from personal accounts of my personal training and conditioning I implemented on myself.
I was coached by some of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the game of rugby league: Tim Rogers, Carl Jennings, Alex Corvo, Mark Bicton (UK), Lee Clark, Clive Brewer (UK).
Give us some insight to your early days in training.
Starting off at Canberra in 2003, being selected from an open trial, I believed volume, volume and more volume was the answer for me to succeed as a rugby league player.
I was trying to catch up and desperate for success, given my age at the time (24).
I mean volume in all senses: I ran, lifted weights, ran, lifted more weights and ran some more all the completing the team’s training too.
With you new qualifications in mind, how have your perspectives have changed?
Now with the knowledge gained through my studies of Strength and Conditioning, I would have focused on Quality and strength training.
I have realised now, the stronger the athlete the better the athlete.
I was at a stage in my career where I would purposely live within 5 kilometres from training so as to be able to run to training for the day and possibly run or ride my bike home after.
I now realise how detrimental that volume of training was to my anaerobic and strength gains.
As my knowledge grew and understanding of energy systems and muscle structure I definitely started to change my training habits, but looking back now possibly a bit late in my career to have a permanent affect.
HIIT training and strength/power training became a major priority within the season and my off season training protocols as my knowledge grew, gaining the anaerobic and aerobic conditioning more suited to rugby league.
You seem to have embraced the CrossFit scene. What are your thoughts on that?
My introduction to CrossFit came too late; in fact it wasn’t until after I retired I went to my first ever CrossFit WOD at CrossFit Newcastle thanks to Darren Coughlan.
For all its detractors and negative views, I wish I had access to this type of training/exercising when I was playing especially in the off-season and pre-season.
With its conditioning effect, muscle endurance and strength concept that Darren has developed I feel I would have really benefitted.
In fact, a lot of Rugby League clubs use a similar training philosophy in their circuit training.
Any advice for the athletes out there?
Firstly, understand your sport, understand the energy systems dominant in your sport and position, recognise muscle fibre adaptations required for strength, power and hypertrophy in your given sport.
Secondly, do your research, ask your coaches lots of questions, question them on why they’re doing this and that, because the more you know the more you understand the reasoning behind the theories, the more you’ll be able to apply the science, the more you’ll benefit. .
Ben Cross is a former State of Origin rugby league player who has embraced the world of coaching and personal training. Check out his business here.