In the first of our Lockdown Squad blog series we chat to England Red Roses and Harlequins star scrum-half, Leanne Riley. Leanne is one of our awesome Advisory Board members and will be leading a strength & conditioning session on Zoom for our Lockdown Squad on Sunday 17th January. 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.
Leanne first started her international rugby career playing sevens, and was part of the England team that lifted the Challenge Cup Sevens crown in Hong Kong in 2012. Her test debut in the 15-a-side format came in 2013 against South Africa but it wasn’t until the 2018 Women’s Six Nations when Leanne dotted down for her first international try. Leanne took up rugby at the age of 10 at Park Hill Primary School in her home city of Coventry, where she also juggled time as a talented netballer where she represented Warwickshire. She won the Women’s Premiership in 2017 with Aylesford Bulls Ladies before the club was taken over by Harlequins at the start of the Tyrrells Premier 15s for the 2017/18 season. In January 2019, Leanne was awarded a full-time England contract, and featured in four of England’s games as they won the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam. To cap off her campaign, Leanne was named in the Red Roses Super Series squad in June 2019. Leanne featured in all 2019 autumn tests and three 2020 Women’s Six Nations matches.
Can you take us through your weekly training schedule at the moment?
It is massively changing. As it stands the past couple of weeks I have been training at Harlequins on a Monday and a Thursday, with England on a Tuesday and Wednesday, with the hope of playing on a Saturday. However our last couple of games have been cancelled so I’ve gone for a run of some sort.
Have you had to improvise your training during lockdown, if so how?
Absolutely. As I said it has been changing by the hour. I’ve been looking from a bigger perspective rather than a day to day. At the end of the week if I have a good mixture of weights, conditioning, and rugby I’m happy.
When did you first start following a proper strength & conditioning programme and what was it like to start?
I started S&C at college, so 16. It was daunting at first as some girls in my group had clearly already done a bit before college and I was fresh out of school but I loved it! I was lucky enough to have a really good coach that stripped everything back, wasn’t weight focused but completely technique and range focused. It’s what you need to do at the start.
For girls aspiring to play elite rugby like you, what do you recommend when it comes to strength & conditioning? At what age do you think it becomes important?
I think from an injury prevention stance and knowing the girls games from coaching at grassroots it is beneficial to start as early as possible. The jump from U13 to U15 girl’s rugby can be huge for some, especially the smaller ones (that was always me!). If you have great awareness of your body during these changes you’ll benefit later on for sure.
Do you have a favourite workout or exercise? A favourite muscle group to train?
It took a long time but I actually love training upper body. As females a lot of us are naturally stronger and develop quicker in the lower body, and it takes a while for the arms/back to catch up – but I love it now!
Do you like to train alone or with team mates/ a gym buddy?
100% with other people.
Do you have a favourite training partner?
Not necessarily. I do enjoy working with Jess Breach as I like to think I challenge her well and can see her off-pitch developments.
Have you noticed your body shape change since following a rugby-specific strength & conditioning programme? How does it make you feel and what would you say to girls conscious of their appearance?
My body has changed a lot over the seasons, but I think this is more down to training age and experience. When playing rugby I am completely comfortable. I train in the gym to be successful on the pitch – simple. Have I ever been conscious of how I look? Yes. Has it ever gone away? Not completely. I feel I can’t wear certain clothes styles because it makes me look big and muscly. But I ask myself, would I change the way I looked if I had the opportunity? The honest answer.. absolutely not. My body has enabled me to play the way I play and I continue to challenge it. I look forward to seeing where we will be in the coming years.
How do you stay motivated to exercise during lockdown and what are your tips for those who aren’t able to continue playing or training as a team right now?
Motivation is something I have always had – I guess I am quite lucky in that sense. But ‘surrounding’ yourself with positive people massively helps. From a training aspect if you’re like me and prefer to be with people then get on zoom, but also make sure you don’t stress about training. Balancing your life around work/school, training and personal time for you is SO important and the key to consistency.
Why is it so important to maintain your fitness and conditioning during lockdown, even when we don’t know when rugby will return to normal?
I think let’s take rugby out of this for a moment and imagine life without any exercise? It’s just not natural to us as players, and I’m sure people reading will relate to this. It will look different of course – the world isn’t the same anymore. But for your own sanity, your mental health, your feel-good factor – keep active and keep moving! Linking back to rugby, you will be in a much better place going back into the game we all love if you’ve managed to keep yourself appropriately conditioned away from the game. Your confidence will be much higher, your body will adapt quicker and you will be much happier!
How much of a role does nutrition play in your training regime?
Nutrition is important. Food is fuel. Fuel to get you through the tough workouts you’re doing, fuel to help your body recover to enable you to go again. Without this you’ll feel tired, fatigue quicker, won’t be able to find your limits accurately, muscles will be sorer for longer etc. Food is just as important as the training itself.