USA and England are among six national sevens teams set to train at Phil Greening's cutting-edge gym and compete in a tournament at Chester RUFC on 6-7 October
World sevens stars heading to Chester
A fitness training facility in Chester will next week play host to some of the world’s best sevens players. Phil Greening has invited the national teams of USA, England, Ireland, Spain, France and Germany to train and compete in the Cheshire city.
The former England hooker runs The Athlete Factory, which is set in the grounds of Chester RUFC. The sevens players will use the gym’s state-of-the-art facilities and take part in a tournament on the Hare Lane club’s pitches on 6-7 October.
Greening, who also helps coach USA Sevens, said: “These are the teams that play on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens circuit. We’ll have Olympians, World Cup medalists and men like the world’s fastest rugby player in Carlin Isles, World Sevens Player of the Year Perry Baker, World Series leading try-scorer Dan Norton and many more.
“The teams will make use of our world-class facilities, including our cryotherapy chamber, and also engage with local schools to promote sport and exercise to children.”
The tournament is open to the public, with free admission. Each team plays three 20-minute games a day, with rounds of games starting at 10am, 1pm and 4pm.
Greening won 24 England caps from 1996-2001 and might have become a Test Lion in 2001 but for a tour-ending injury. His path towards becoming a professional fitness trainer was spearheaded by Craig White and Paul Stridgeon at Wasps, and later he briefly oversaw the Scotland Sevens programme.
“In Scotland I had to do everything – the nutrition, the sports performance, I did various courses on that – and that kick-started everything really. More of my coaching career ignited and it’s been a passion ever since,” he says.
As is often the case, there was an element of chance to how Greening came to set up a gym in Cheshire. His wife’s parents are from the area, so on a visit he googled to find the nearest rugby club and, finding it was Chester, went along. He got chatting and discovered the club was looking to put a new gym in. Greening eventually leased some land and built his facility from scratch.
“It’s been a long road. It opened in February,” says Greening, 42. “Elite sport we do in a certain way. Why can’t everyone else train like an elite athlete? It’s really the knowledge and the programming that gets results.
“When you sign up to a normal gym, you basically just get keys to the door. There’s no support, there’s no programming, there’s nothing. So basically, and this is what we’re going to do with every facility we open, is everyone gets a programme on a training app and everything they do – nutrition, the lot – is tracked.
“Everyone who comes here gets support, like with pro rugby teams. In pro teams the boys get looked after and there’s no reason why it can’t be done like that for Joe Public.
“Our gym is designed in an elite way; there isn’t another facility like it in the UK. That’s the difference, and we’re trying to bring that sort of knowledge and the way you train, more functional training, exactly what you do with teams. Because the human body only works in one way and unfortunately you’ve got to train. There’s no magic wand you can wave.”
Greening’s team of experts include Craig White, one of rugby’s most renowned high-performance coaches; Ryan Gibney, who worked with Warrington Wolves and as high-performance manager for Georgia; and Andrew Wood, whose diverse experiences include preparing Azerbaijan’s Olympic wrestlers in Rio.
“The big thing we’re doing that no one else does in gyms is youth fitness,” says Greening. “We’re dedicating a session a day to 11- to 18-year-olds, to get them moving and into the right programme. In the States they start as young as eight. We have one coach between three people, so you’re always monitored, always supported. The youth stuff is big and we really want to push that because no one’s doing that in the UK.
“And being based at a rugby club we’ve got 12 pitches at our disposal, so we can have camps for schools and training camps for teams.”
“We want to push youth fitness. In the States they start as young as eight”
After retiring because of a foot injury in 2005, Greening lived in Singapore for three years, working for Standard Chartered bank. He returned to the UK and coached London Welsh and London Scottish as well as Scotland Sevens, before landing a job with USA Sevens where he works alongside Mike Friday. As a high-performance coordinator, he spends about half of his year in the States.
He’s passionate about improving the fitness of every type of person, elite or otherwise.
“We have a huge range of customers. We have a lot of academy fitness guys, such as hockey, netball, cricket and rugby, people from all the clubs in the area, and then demographically it ranges from mums who do a class after dropping off their kids at school to Gareth Evans, an Olympian powerlifter who did his six weeks pre-Commonwealth Games with us.
“We’ve got a couple of professional footballers to some very overweight dads. It’s for anyone who’s serious about their health, fitness or sport.
“The app is game-changing because people join gyms and just get left alone. They see Kim Kardashian do something the night before or they do six days a week and they never lose weight, because they don’t know what they’re doing. Show them the app, that’s the game-changer.”
Greening still follows Wasps and goes to most of England home games. “I’ve been down to training a few times, I’ve spoken to Eddie (Jones) and a lot of his coaching staff. So yeah, I keep quite close to that.
“Eddie’s record of 20-odd wins on the bounce speaks volumes. It’s interesting, I’m quite close to some of the Kiwi boys and they think it (recent defeats) couldn’t be any better for England ahead of the World Cup. They see England as a big threat because they know things will change. We won’t be complacent. It’s good timing for us. I think Eddie will shake things up.”
And his take on the hooker berth? “I like Jamie George, I like Dylan Hartley. I don’t see much else, that’s the problem. If you could mould them together you’d have a great hooker. The way Dylan is solid to start with and then bring George (on), with how he plays, it’s nice having competition, it’s what it’s all about.
“Those two need to keep fighting it out because it’s crucial that people don’t get comfortable. You might mix it up a bit (in terms of who starts) but keeping them competitive is good for both of them. If we can get that in most positions we’re in a very good place.”
Greening adds: “I think the world of Eddie, I think he’s got everything right. His attention to detail and the way he conducts himself with the team is fantastic. Even when they were winning (every game) he would say some people didn’t play that well, he’d always put that little doubt in players’ minds. Is he talking about me? They don’t know and I think that’s brilliant. Keep them on their toes, he’s brilliant at that.”
For more information about The Athlete Factory, call 01244 261368 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.