For the fourth blog of our Lockdown Squad series we chat to David ‘Jacko’ Jackson. Jacko was a professional rugby player for 14 years before his career was cut short due to a head injury. Fortunately for us, Jacko made lemonade out of those lemons and became a UKSCA Accredited Strength & Conditioning coach before going on to co-found the School of Calisthenics with his mate Tim Stevenson. He has worked with top athletes including Paralympians, and is a certified Performance Enhancement and Corrective Exercise Specialist. All that aside, Jacko can do some crazy impressive things with his body including human flags. If you don’t know what this is – Google it right now! 

Jacko will be leading our fourth Zoom workout for our Lockdown Squad on Sunday 7th February and this time it’ll be focused on breathing and movement and mobility, with a focus on core and neck strengthening for rugby. Sign up for our 2021 Lockdown Squad here to keep fit, strong, happy and healthy in time for the return to rugby later in the year.  

 

 

Tell us about your own rugby career and how you ended up co-founding the School of Calisthenics?  

I started rugby at the age of six at Nottingham and worked my way up through the age groups. I played over 300 professional games for Nottingham in the Championship. I had a head injury in 2013 which ended my rugby career and so I retrained as a strength and conditioning coach which is where I met my now business partner and mate Tim Stevenson. I had experimented with calisthenics as a different way of training using body weight, rather than machines and weights and from there I co-founded the School of Calisthenics with Tim. I went from not being able to do anything, to doing handstands and human flags and we wanted to show other people how they could achieve that too. 

 

 

We understand you made the decision to retire from rugby due to concussion. Can you tell us about that and how that’s influenced what you do now?

I’d had a series of serious head injuries. The first was when I was 16 and I got taken to hospital. I had 10 or more serious concussions throughout my career. They progressively got worse, taking less impact to cause them, and taking me longer to recover. Every time I got knocked out was worse than the last.

The final head injury I actually ended up having a seizure on the pitch. We were just playing touch rugby as part of the warm up and it was an innocuous collision between me and someone else on my team. It took me a year after that to be able to run without symptoms like headaches and nausea. It was a long time to get back to my normal self. When you’re used to being able to play a game of rugby every week and that’s taken away, at the start you’re a little bit lost. Even when I did get back to training regularly, I had nothing to train for, no purpose and no goal. Training just to get ripped didn’t really resonate with me. But learning how to do a human flag for example, that excited and motivated me. It was learning what I could do with my body, rather than  focusing on how it looked that got me.

 

 

Can you explain why it’s so important that we condition our bodies correctly for playing contact sport?

For a contact sport it’s even more imperative that we condition the body effectively for what we’re going to encounter on the field. The beauty of rugby is that it’s an uncontrolled environment, that’s part of the excitement; but that also means you don’t know what you’re going to do or what your opposition is going to do. You can get into compromised positions and if you body’s not ready then that’s ultimately when you’re likely to get injured. Conditioning is about injury prevention more than anything. To give ourselves the best possible chance to keep playing and enjoying the game.

 

Would you say that’s even more important for women and girls due to the differences in our physiques?

There are obvious skeletal and physiological differences between men and women and those are going to be important. For example, women have more joint and ligament laxity and that changes at different stages of the hormone cycle. Understanding that is important. Wider hips also mean women have more of an angle that makes them more susceptible to ACL injury for example due to the way the knees are aligned in relation to the hips. Ensuring you have good ankle, knee and hip stability is so important to protect yourself.

 

 


Mobility is traditionally something that’s often been neglected in training regimes. Would you say that’s changing and why do you think that is?
 

People are understanding that behind any athlete, no matter how strong, fast or dynamic they are, there is always a good quality of movement and they have good control of their body. Whatever sport it is, they will always have beautiful movement. They’ll be mobile and they will be flexible. That’s the foundation of world class athletes. 

 

How often should we be working on our mobility and what are some simple exercises we can incorporate into our training and pre/post games? 

 Something you can do to work on it without even thinking is finding ways throughout your day to be in different positions, rather than sitting in a chair. For example, can you sit on the floor to watch tele, rather than the sofa? Can you sit with your legs crossed and knees down? Rather than being in one common position where you get accustomed to it and everything tightens up. In terms of training, it should form part of your warm-ups to prepare your body for the session you’re about to do. If it’s running, or rugby, you need to be mobilising the ankles, knees and hips to prepare. For an upper body session make sure the shoulders, elbows and wrists are mobilised. For a contact session you’ll be focusing on preparing your whole body.

 

 

 

Do you recommend any equipment to perform mobility exercises? What’s the difference between stretching and mobility?  

It’s not a necessity. I would first of all get very good at using your body and gravity as the basis, before you look at investing in equipment. There are certainly things like foam rollers and massage balls which can be good to take it further. 

Stretching is more of a passive, lengthening of a certain muscle or joint. Mobility is a combination of having that lengthening, but having stability and control to move in and out of those positions, rather than being passively sat there. Flexibility doesn’t require strength, but mobility does. 

 

Do you recommend mobility apps or do you have something better at SoC? 

We’ve got a movement and mobility masterclass you can find on the School of Calisthenics website which is a great start. Just go to schoolofcalisthenics.com 

 

What about breath work, can you explain that for us and why we should look into it? 

Breathing is like your heart beat. It’s going on in the background regardless of whether you think about it or not. We take around 20,000 – 25,000 breaths a day. If you’re breathing poorly that is having an effect on how you feel, how you move, how you manage stress, how fit you are and your cardiovascular output. Muscles are working to cause you to breathe and because muscles are involved, it’s ultimately a movement pattern which we can take control of. This improves how we utilise oxygen, to make us fitter, improve the way we move, improve our mobility by reducing tightness, make us feel better mentally and help us to manage stress by impacting on our nervous system. If we can change from being in the sympathetic, that’s the fight or flight response, to being in the parasympathetic, the rest and digest, then that helps us to feel much calmer, lowers heart rate and those stress hormones.

 

 

How is nasal breathing different to mouth breathing?

Nasal breathing is connected to the diaphragm –  your main breathing muscle. When we breathe through the nose, we’re creating deeper breaths, better circulation and transport of oxygen to the cells. We can train for longer, recover faster and feel better. Mouth breathing is linked to upper chest breathing, shallower breaths, less efficient exchange of CO2, meaning you have to breathe more often. You get tightness in your chest and neck, and you’re in that sympathetic stress mode. Even if you aren’t stressed, you start feeling stressed and it’s a cycle. Nasal breathing is more calming, functional and creates good spinal movement.

 

How is breath work beneficial to our rugby?

One area of breath work can be breath-holding where we get used to holding our breath, creating adaptations within the body to cope with higher levels of CO2 and lower levels of oxygen. This creates a similar effect to altitude training, producing more red blood cells and more efficient use of oxygen within the blood stream. Ultimately on the rugby field that means you can deal with lactic acid build up better, you’re less fatigued, you can run faster for longer and recover quicker.

 

What are your top tips for improving the way we breathe, particularly during sport and exercise?

 

      1. Be aware of how you’re breathing. Are you breathing from your nose or mouth?. Can you feel your diaphragm (two lower ribs), or your upper chest moving when you breathe? 
      2. Try to breath in and out through your nose as much as possible, even at rest and when you’re sleeping. 
      3. To aid recovery, try to slow down your breathing in and out of your nose. This is hard because it goes against your natural instinct to breath faster when you’re out of breath, but if you can master it, you will notice the difference.

 

Are you a fan of women’s rugby and do you have a favourite team in the Premier 15s?  

I love watching the women play and think they’re great athletes. They work just as hard as the men and play exciting rugby. I’ve played against the Wasps women before; they did a training session with us at Nottingham. For that reason I’d have to say I’m a Wasps fan. 

 

Where do you see women’s rugby going in the next 5-10 years?  

I just see it growing. My wife used to play football and it’s been great to see women’s sport as a whole, two big sports getting recognition and exposure and getting support from mainstream media. To be shown and showcased on big platforms is great for the sport and the more that happens the more support it’ll get. We’ve got to continue getting it in front of people so they’re aware of it and show them the quality of it. When it grows, the support base also grows and  that has an impact on the entire game so that can only be a good thing. 

 

 

Join Jacko on Sunday 7th February for a special Lockdown Squad Session over Zoom. Please note, this one is suitable for all the family.

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