"170kg Bench Press" - Fitness Guru Aled Walters Pushing England to Springbok Strengths - Ruck

“170kg Bench Press” – Fitness Guru Aled Walters Pushing England to Springbok Strengths

For England to tackle every obstacle on the road to victory, every player in the squad must have the best possible conditioning from within the camp. It is fair to say that few have a better resume than England’s strength and conditioning coach Aled Walters, who has been putting the players through their paces for the 2024 Six Nations.

Having previously held a similar role with the Springboks, Walters kept South Africa firing fit on their road to their 2019 Rugby World Cup glory. Having been apart of the ‘Boks for the best part of two years, Walters understands the qualities that have made South Africa the best side in the world. The all-conquering and hard-hitting bruisers, Walters recognised England lock George Martin to hold similar traits, and believes that Leicester Tigers man could have slotted in to gold and green in another lifetime.

Steve Borthwick, Director of Rugby of Leicester Tigers speak to Aled Walters, Head of Physical Performance of Leicester Tigers during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Semi Final Match between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on 11 June. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I actually mentioned when I started at Leicester a few years ago, I said to Steve (Borthwick), George (Martin) reminded me a lot of Pieter-Steph du Toit. Just athletically, very gifted.  George has put a fair bit of weight on now. So I don’t think the similarities are probably as good but yeah. He’s George could slot in I think with the South African boys quite quickly, he enjoys the physical nature, he enjoys the physical part of it doesn’t he.”

Walters then highlighted how Martin is amongst the most athletically impressive players at Pennyhill Park, with his talents on full display during England’s gruelling watt bike sessions. The intense exercise sees the England players motivate each other, to hit new personal bests in the gym. Walters discussed how his former Leicester Tigers teammates are fiercely competitive when it comes to the bikes.

George Martin of England (Leicester Tigers) skips the tackle of Zach Mercer of England (Montpellier HŽrault Rugby) during the an England Rugby Training session at the Brighton College, Sussex on the 19th June 2023 – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“I don’t mind people knowing about this. So Ollie Chessum’s a bit of weapon on the watt bike. George Martin wasn’t happy about this, but Ches’ average power is 520 (watts) for three minutes. And on a second one 471 (watts), So he was top of the tree.”

“So historically, those two (Chessum and George Martin) have always been pretty close on the bike.” 

“We don’t do a great deal on the Watt Bikes. We used them last week in York as a change in stimulus. But the biggest thing is that if the players realise they are getting better and if they realise whatever system we use in attack or defence or in the kicking game that they are able to do it more efficiently you get better buy in. If they believe they are adapting well to that, there is no need to push.

Ollie Chessum of England before the Summer International match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on August 26, 2023 in London, England. ( Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK )

“For anyone who has played, the worst thing is when the coach throws something at you and you think ‘How does this make my performance better?’ The transfer of training into games is all we are interested in. It is an eight-week block where we try and push transfer as much as we can so we don’t waste time on anything we don’t think is going to have the greatest effect on the game.”

Walters predominantly trains with the backs, with Tom Tombleson taking the reins in putting the forward pack through their paces. Walters has a keen eye for players hitting their top speed, and has been delighted at the break-taking pace that the new England wings have displayed in their first Six Nations campaign.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“There are a few. Manny for example. In the Test match on Saturday, he ran the fastest he has run with us in the campaign and did the greatest volume of high tempo running. Every marker he was ticking off. You know when someone is going into a game fresh and energised if they are able to do all of that in one game.

“Granted, it was his first start but guys like himself and Tommy Freeman are putting up big numbers. I am not obsessed with GPS but when you look at it you go, ‘That was a big game and they are able to put out those kind of metrics, that is impressive. I work predominantly with the forwards and Tom Tombleson with the backs.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He (Feyi-Waboso) was comfortably over 10 metres per second. I don’t know when he did it. I don’t know if you remember early on, Ellis Genge when he scrambles across in defence. When you are seeing guys hit top speed in defence you know they are really working for each other. Ellis and a lot of the boys are hitting big speeds on the way back. Will Stuart scrambling in training. We see it all the time it is becoming common place.”

As Walters presented, it’s not just the explosive backs that have been racking up impressive on-field stats in this year’s Championship. Walters continued to discuss the forwards, with the likes of the Saracens contingency impressing in the gym. All-round test match animal Ben Earl has been pushing some ‘special numbers’ in Walters eyes, as the players look to strike a physical peak in time for tomorrow’s French finale.

Ben Earl of England celebrates after winning during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“Ben Earl has posted pretty special numbers throughout the campaign, what he is doing on the gym, what he is doing on the field Theo Dan. Dan Cole. We are seeing it from the group. When you have a hunger and think what you are doing is the right thing for your performance on the pitch, your appetite is greater. Chandler Cunningham-South, those kind of guys, we have seen the really apply themselves.

“Tom Tombleson has been here for a long time so he knows what impressive figures are. I can compare them to figures we saw with South Africa a few years ago and we are in a good place at the moment.”

Ben Earl of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Turning the scope to focus on Earl, Walters shared how the despite picking up a Player of the Match medal in the win over Ireland, Earl wasn’t happy with his defensive effort. The Saracen is constantly looking to take his game to new levels, with his perfectionist approach driving his efforts on the pitch and in the gym.

“He has great footwork as well. When he stepped (Caelan) Doris at the weekend, that ability to work laterally and then punch forward immediately is something he has got. In training he is training those qualities all the time. In the gym, him and Theo Dan have got a good battle going on at the moment. A battle of the smaller forwards. Those two boys are in excess of 170kg on the bench press.

Try Celebrations for Ben Earl of England as he goes over for a try despite the tackle of Cameron Winnett of Wales during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“I think he (Ben Earl) can get a lot better. He was happy with his performance in attack at the weekend but disappointed with his performance in defence. So his ceiling is way off. Ben is striving to become one of those players on the world stage, I remember the term ‘superior discontent’, that is what Ben has. He is desperate to improve and get better and his leadership skills are coming through as well. It will be good to watch how he progresses.

“He doesn’t look like he’s going to settle for anything. And it’s healthy. What he’s doing then is making others realise that they need to set the same kind of goals. I don’t think you’ll ever get 35 players, who are all aspiring to be, whatever, whatever he is aspiring to be. But he drags a few through with him now, anyway, I have no doubt about that. No, he’s been special.”

Louis Rees-Zammit of Wales is tackled by Alex Dombrandt of England during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

England have recently incorporated a high-octane blitz defence, that was an effective method of nullifying the Ireland attack at Twickenham. England fans had seen glimpses of this new method throughout the campaign, yet the teething issues were clear as England came unstuck against Scotland and most noteably Duhan van der Merwe’s searching runs.

The new system really came into it’s own against Ireland, and presented some high-impact moments that lifted the Twickenham faithful to their feet. Newly appointed defence coach Felix Jones has certainly taken the grip of the Red Rose armaments, who have since taken to the system with confidence as a collective.”

Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 8 March 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“We’re still quite young into it.” Walters said. “We’re still in the infancy of it. So Felix has led this defence now for seven weeks, so some are still getting used to it. We’re not keen on conceding more offside penalties, because we need to work back as much as it is getting off the line as well.

“So, I don’t think it’s been as big a demand as maybe they expected because we’ve got quite an athletic team now. The way I think Felix has coached it as well, they understand why, they need to get back into a good starting position to get back off the line again, and and do as he’s asked them to do.”

Richard Wigglesworth, Attack Coach of England and Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Turning the scope towards tomorrow opponents, and there is no hiding how France have an immense forward pack at their disposal. With a scrum tipping the scales at nearly a tonne of mass, Les Bleus could field a colossal eight-man group with the plan of bulldozing over England. However, Walters too has an impressive arsenal of heavy carriers to throw at France, including the likes of Chandler-Cunningham South and Alex Coles.

“There is a lot of it that comes naturally. Look at someone like Chandler Cunningham-South naturally and the work he has done with London Irish and Harlequins and he is an extremely powerful guy. I would imagine he walked through the doors at a young age with an ability to do those things.

Chandler Cunningham-South of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“Is it trainable? 100 per cent. There are a lot of players in the group, the likes of Alex Coles, they are young guys but they are developing all the time. Doing great work with their clubs, does it make it easier, yep. I used to use the analogy that it is easier to chip away at an iceberg than put layers on an ice cube, definitely. Having big physical strong forwards makes life easier but we are not lacking for size and athleticism, definitely not.”

“That is something we are always going to try and improve. Footwork, our ability to attack and our ability to defend. We have to keep on developing everything now. No way are we a complete article now, I am sure everyone would agree with that. But we have to be clear on where and what needs to be developed.

“That is something we are going to strive on our handling, footwork, evasive skills, all of those things. It is up to the coaches then and they are doing a pretty good job on selecting well.