While English rugby has endured major upheaval, Ben Foden has quietly established himself as the first choice fullback for Stuart Lancaster’s new-look side. And with England beginning to show promising signs for the future, the 26-year-old told ShortList how he manages to stay at the top of his game.
Do you have Prozone-style briefings in training?
At England’s training HQ we have GPS units put on our backs, so after every session the coaches know how many kilometres we’ve individually covered, the speeds we’ve reached and what percentage of our movement was sprinting, jogging or walking. It’s seen as a good thing in the squad as you can tell if you’re off. The numbers don’t lie.
How do you keep a high stamina?
Now I’m a fullback my new training regime is more speed-based. It’s about being explosive — you’ll only get the ball in your hands 10 or 12 times a game, so you’ve got to make the most of long recovery periods and sprint rapidly to make those runs count.
What’s the most effective exercise for that?
Box squats. They isolate the legs, hamstring and quads, which make them great for giving you sprinting power. It increases muscle and explosiveness.
What’s the strangest training session you’ve had?
We’ve played some weird sports at [Foden’s club side] Northampton. We’ve tried lacrosse in the past, but the oddest one is speed golf. We go to a golf course, take a six iron and sprint off after every ball we hit. Even though we secretly want to scuff it, meaning we run 15 metres instead of 100 metres, I want to get a low score and win the game so invariably end up with a good workout.
Anything you dislike about training?
I hate it when we’re told we’re doing a rowing session in the gym. Being short and stocky isn’t ideal for a rower, and I don’t favour long-distance running either. But you’ve just got to grit your teeth and get on with it.
What’s your regular gym routine?
I stick to the Olympic bars and free weights. You can work all of your body using this equipment. The bench press reaches key areas of your body that need strengthening, while the weights, if done with high impact, build your arms up.
You recently tweeted about Domino’s pizza followed by the hashtag #hopemyconditionersaren’t on Twitter. How strict are they?
[Laughs] They’re pretty strict here at Pennyhill Park [England’s training base], they ensure we eat the right menu and advise us on what to eat in our spare time. Though they do give a bit of leeway on a weekend off.
And where would you end up?
I’m a sucker for Nando’s. The same goes for the rest of the England boys. I like to think that chicken and chips isn’t the unhealthiest of options.
But those bottomless fizzy drinks aren’t very good for you…
I know, fizzy drinks are banned at the training camp. We have water for rehydration and a cherry cordial that we squirt into water for taste. No Coke allowed. If you want to be the best at the sport you play, you have to make sacrifices.
How do you get the most out of your gym session?
Don’t faff around. Some guys go to the gym for hours and only do four exercises when it’s possible to do a good session in 35 minutes. Keep it explosive, so that when you leave, you know your body’s been through something.
What are the toughest things about training for a national team?
That first session back after a holiday is a nightmare. Trying to suck air that’s escaped from your lungs is a reality check after time off on holiday. And when you don’t have a game to aim for, getting up at 6.30am to run up hills, pull sleds, and push yourself to the limits to the point where you’re throwing up on all fours is pretty daunting.
How do you overcome that dread?
You have to be mentally tough. You have to tell yourself that at the end of the session you’ll be knackered, but you will feel a sense of achievement and it will be worth it.
O2 customers can get a free pie and pint this weekend at O2 Blueroom, Twickenham and a free pint in selected pubs; O2ForEngland.co.uk