Playing with the big boys
April 15, 2011
Training with Andy Powell isn't to be taken lightly © Getty Images
My entire body was screaming for mercy as I silently picked up the sack for a final clean and press. Last one. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted England and Wasps centre Riki Flutey approaching, 'come on mate, two more reps, finish it off'.
And you do. (I can't imagine what kind of a motivation kick it would be to have Martin Johnson raging at you, simultaneously instilling both fear and inspiration)
But there is a payback. As the whistle went on our final round of circuits at the Wasps training ground, the last drops of adrenaline drained away and my muscles were left drowning in fiery lactic acid.
This was not how I had imagined my training session with Wasps. What about the sunny afternoon of light touch rugby, flicking miss-passes out to Flutey, calling Andy Powell on crash balls and generally pretending to be a proper rugby player?
This was of course far closer to reality. We'd been invited along to Wasps' training ground in West London to take part in a Gatorade sweat testing challenge to demonstrate some of the latest science of elite performance. And did they make us sweat.
The afternoon had began promisingly as I stood in the sun next to the pitches and watched on as Dave Walder led Flutey and his fellow Wasps backs in a session overseen by Shaun Edwards, while thuds and clangs of heavy weights hitting the ground came from the gym inside the clubhouse.
But any illusions of a leisurely few hours were swiftly shattered when Tom from the PR company gave us the instructions for the afternoon. "So we're going to need a urine sample first," he said. Urine test? Surely nothing good has ever started with a urine test.
"Then we'll weigh you and put you in the capable hands of Wasps' strength and conditioning coach Huw Davies," he added.
We turned to see the Wasps fitness coach hulking tractor tyres into position with drill-sergeant precision on a running track next to the pitch. This was a man whose day job was to push international rugby players beyond their limits. He would have no troubles in crushing the spirits of a bunch of out-of-shape journalists.
It was going to be a session to endure as much as enjoy. What a time to let my fitness lapse so far. After a trip to the toilets with our designated pots and the weigh-in, Dr Stavros Kavouras, one of Gatorade's top sports scientists, fitted us with sweat patches on the forehead and forearm, and hooked us up to heart rate monitors. He was interested in our electrolyte and hydration levels during exercise.
Then it was out in to the sunshine and the agony. Following some simple dynamic stretches, Huw took us through one of the circuits that makes up a regular work out for the Wasps squad. It was straight out of an episode of the World's Strongest Man competition, complete with the farmers walk, the tug of war, clean and press and tyre flips. No doubt there is a double-decker bus around the corner to be pulled when Simon Shaw and Powell are in the mood for a real challenge.
"The great thing about this is the harder you push the harder it hurts," the coach said. In hindsight, this should have been taken as a warning rather than a challenge. By the end the pain was intense: burning muscles, scorching lungs and a splitting headache. But there was little time for recovery as it was on to sets of 30-second shuttle runs across the pitch. As we moaned and groaned our way to the end, we sensed that it was the lightest session the coach had ever presided over.
By the time it came to backs drills, I was in a bit of a daze - which is the excuse I am sticking with for sluggish footwork and sloppy passing. In contrast to the rest of us, the Wasps guys were hot-stepping all over the place and fizzing miss-passes into the target net opposite with ease.
The intense hour-long session finished with some forwards drills: unsurprisingly crash bags aren't very cushioning when there is a 6' 4", 114kg Welsh international back-rower standing behind it. We delivered our second samples, weighed in and scratched a signature on some kind of disclaimer form. By now touch rugby was the last thing on my mind.
A good 20 minutes later I was sitting by the pitch side, still trying to catch my breath - that and my heart rate were the only things to have shown any kind of pace all afternoon - and fighting cramp at every twitch, ahead of my interview Powell.
Dr Kavouras walked over. "Your test results will be ready in the next couple of days," he said. I think we both knew that the results were already in, and I didn't need any sophisticated data or scientific testing to tell me I was appallingly out of shape.
London Wasps RFC is one of a series of Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs working with Gatorade to encourage players of all levels to stay ahead of the game and improve their performance. ESPNscrum were put through their paces with a series of rugby coaching drills and offered hydration and sweat testing by a Gatorade Sports Science Institute scientist to highlight the effects of intensive training on the body. Gatorade is the official hydration partner of the Aviva Premiership.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.