Team Canterbury

How to Become a Lion: Now You can Put Yourself Through the Lions’ Paces

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“No matter when you start playing rugby or how long you’ve played rugby, you want to be part of the British & Irish Lions”.

Well said, Maro Itoje. For any English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish player, being picked for a British & Irish Lions Tour and pulling on the Lions kit for the first time is well up there with the pinnacle of their careers. And whilst Itoje may have realised that dream at the tender age of 22, it doesn’t always come that quickly. But however and whenever that Lions call comes, it’s usually the culmination of hard work, grit and determination – and of course some talent thrown in there too. And then it’s up to the Lions backroom team to make the best even better.

While us mere mortals can only dream of becoming a Lion we can do our best to put ourselves through our paces to be the best we can be in the spirit of the Lions. So, whether you’re now back playing rugby after lockdown or you just want to boost your training in anticipation of the upcoming Lions Tour of South Africa, here are just a few things you can do to become a Lion in your own right.

Lions tip #1. Choose your training base

“I’m confident that when the squad arrives in June, we will have the environment we need to prepare to meet the Springboks.”

This was Lions coach Warren Gatland speaking about the training base in Jersey which will house the Lions before they fly off to South Africa. For Gatland, it’s all about the facilities, support and environment.

Now flying out to Jersey might be a bit of a stretch for us weekend rugby players, but we can all take inspiration from the need for the right facilities, support and environment. Does your gym give you what you need? Is it time to finally invest in that personal trainer to take your fitness to the next level? Whatever your level, remember facilities, support and environment. Now you’re thinking like a Lion.

Lions tip #2. Know yourself

“Prior to the 2013 tour, I travelled to all of the different nations and I had all of the clubs fill out all of the loads. These players are the top players of those clubs, so the clubs were very forthcoming – they told me the thresholds of the different players, which was really good. I got them to send me schedules, so I knew what schedules the players were used to.”

Let’s listen to former Lions Head of Physical Performance, Adam Beard and his pearls of wisdom from 2013 about how important it was to know the players and tailor the training to each individual. We can all take inspiration from this. Your training regime should be exactly that. Yours. Tailored and bespoke is the way to go Lions style.

Need to improve your core strength? Incorporate front and uneven squats into your training. Ready to get some explosive upper body power? Well, it’s some plyometric press ups for you. Dodgy hamstrings holding back your running game? Deadlifts should help. And to improve your leg strength we’re talking step up with knee drive, split power press, and farmers’ carry.

You can learn more about these exercises on our blog. And when it comes to tailoring your programme? Think back to facilities, support and environment. Even the Lions can’t do it alone.

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Lions tip #3. Change that diet

“One mistake many people make when they begin or extend their fitness regime is to start eating less because they think they’ll lose weight that way. But if you’ve been running, say, 2km a day and then you decide you’re going to double that distance, and at the same time eat much less, then I’m afraid you’re not going to last very long.”

Sound advice there from Ron Maughan, professor of sports and exercise nutrition at Loughborough University and adviser to the Lions in 2017.

Diet and training of course go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. When your training goes up your diet goes up too. So, how much do you need to eat to become a Lion? We’re talking 3,750 calories a day. And what should you be eating?

The Lions avoid processed food like white rice and white pasta and get protein from low-fat sources such as fish, chicken, beans and lentils. But the diet of a Lion isn’t totally spartan. According to Maughan: “Sugar can be a good source of short-term fuel, so judicious consumption can be effective.”

Sugar it is then!

Lions tip #4: Let’s get cold

“Cryotherapy can accelerate your adaptations. If you’re programming it correctly, then you can get pretty quick adaptations.”

Adam Beard again. We’ve all seen the pictures of the cryotherapy chambers and the massive ice baths the Lions plunge into after training sessions. Why not eh?

Lions tip #5: Never stop

“If you just sit on your hands and think that you’re going to maintain throughout the tour, then you’re going to struggle. Getting the smallest dose-response is going to make the biggest difference.”

Our last tip comes from Adam Beard again. And of course as amateur players we have to give ourselves a break as pesky things like work, the kids and our social lives get in the way, but we can all take something from this sentiment. You can train hard, be happy with your level and your performance, but don’t rest on your laurels. If you’re a lion, there’s no time to sit on your hands.

While you and I may never reach the heights of truly becoming a Lion you can pull on your 2021 British Lions rugby shirt and watch the squad announcement on the 6th of May, where we may see plenty of players fulfil their dream of becoming a Lion for the first time this summer. The likes of Tadhg Beirne, Wyn Jones, Tom Curry and Hamish Watson will have their fingers crossed in hope of reaching this particular milestone in South Africa this year – we can’t wait to see who gets the nod.

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Writer and expert