Making the upgrade: rugby

The Upgrader – Niall Moody

In a perfect world there would be no such thing as injuries. But in this one – and especially in rugby union – they’re hard to avoid, and they play havoc with a training programme. They’ve certainly jeopardised amateur rugby player Niall Moody’s ability to play the sport he loves.

‘I’ve played rugby all my life at a decent level but a series of injuries to my knee and shoulder have got in the way,’ says 34-year-old Niall, who’s teamed up with Saracens S&C coach Andy Edwards to get back in shape. ‘Now I want to have one really big year. I’ve got to be as fit as I’ve ever been.’

Six weeks into his #Upgrade programme and Niall is on the right track, with Edwards providing solutions to the problems that had previously blocked his path. The initial focus has been on improving his range of motion using mobility drills to open up his hips and improving his lower-body strength with unilateral exercises such as Bulgarian split squats rather than typical back squats that Niall struggled with (see the box ‘Training Day’ opposite).

Niall trains four times a week, dividing his sessions between lower and upper body, plus two running workouts – including a tough 15 x 150m on-the-minute sprints session – to prepare him for the demands of a match.

Issues in his diet also had to be overcome. After years of trying to out-train social beers and stress-induced snacking, Niall has made some small sacrifices that will help him achieve his goal. ‘‘I’ve swapped Guinness for lime and soda – occasionally mixed with vodka! – and by eating cleaner, more regularly, I don’t find the need to grab quick fixes like chocolate.’

The hard work, dedication and improved diet (see the box ‘On The Menu’ opposite) are pushing Niall towards the shape of the pros Edwards works with at Saracens. ‘He’s doing really well,’ says the coach. ‘He has the plan to follow, but ultimately it’s down to his own commitment. Before his routine wasn’t rigid enough, but now he’s got the structure he needed – he should hit the season running.’


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On The Menu

Alcohol is out and healthy diet is in, explains performance nutritionist Dr Críonna Tobin

‘Before taking on this challenge, Niall’s diet was quite good,’ says Tobin. ‘He ate a lot of highly nutritious food, such as salmon, sweet potatoes and avocados. But he liked a couple of beers after work and at the weekend, which would negatively affect his fitness. When your goal is to reduce body weight and increase your performance capacity there’s no room for alcohol. It fills you with empty calories while leeching nutrients and energy from your body.

‘Niall’s diet was also low in energy for the amount of training he needed to get through, so he started taking Optimum Nutrition Creatine after every session to help him handle the demands of high-intensity exercise. He’s also taking Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy to boost his performance for his most taxing workouts. To support his immune system he’s taking Optimum Nutrition fish oil and multivitamins, and he also takes Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey with breakfast and after every workout to give him the foundations of protein to maintain and replenish his muscles.’

Training Day

Niall Moody’s workouts focus on building rugby-specific strength and power. Here’s his typical lower body day

Activation circuit


Moody begins each workout with dynamic stretches, glute activation drills using resistance bands and overhead squats using an unloaded bar to ready his body for the movement patterns needed in the rest of his workout.

Bulgarian split squat 


Stand with your rear foot placed on a bench behind you, holding dumbbells in each hand. Lower into a single-leg squat, keeping your chest facing forwards, then drive back up.

Explosive barbell jump squat


Set a bar in the rack at a height that means your knees are at 90° when taking it. Take the bar and drive up powerfully, forcing your hips forwards to jump off the floor.

Single-leg Romanian deadlift


Stand on one leg holding a bar with both hands. Hinge forwards at the hips to lower the bar to just below knee height, stretching your raised leg out behind you. Reverse the move to return to the start.

Prowler push


Get your body low to the floor and hold the prowler with both hands, arms straight. Drive through the balls of your feet to push the prowler forwards.

Best of the rest

Niall’s fellow Upgraders are making similar strides


(Image credit: Unknown)

Fitness modelling

Matt Botwright Matt’s coach Shaun Stafford has stripped back his training and it’s quickly becoming clear that this approach is helping him towards his dream of becoming a fitness model. Following an efficient, rigid structure in each session means he’s flying through his workouts in record time and already noticed reductions in body fat that are making his muscles more defined.


(Image credit: Unknown)

Beach body

Ben Marum Ben’s training has had a radical overhaul. Reducing rest periods to 30 seconds, targeting his weakest muscle groups first and using a two-up, two-down tempo have all shocked his muscles to help get him off training plateaus. To give his muscles the ingredients to grow while they’re trying to recover from each session, Ben’s increased his daily meals from four to six to hit his new 3,100-calorie target.


(Image credit: Unknown)


Alistair McGovern Alistair’s coach Andy Edwards spotted that a limited range of movement was holding him back. With this fixed, Alistair’s smashing his bests for Olympic lifts, and taking BCAAs during workouts lets him recover faster to sustain a busy training programme worthy of four-time CrossFit Games champ Rich Froning.

Coach Staff

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