Training, Professional Rugby And Mental Health | Pro Rugby Player Greg Bateman

mental health and training

The Athlete Tribe sat down with Greg Bateman to talk about all things training, rugby and performance. Greg has played prop at London Welsh, Exeter Cheifs, Leicester Tigers and is currently at Newport Dragons.

Having played for different clubs, how has your physical development changed?


I think the various clubs always have a different focus. So, at Exeter, the focus while I was there – from a cardio point of view – was on a central cardio hit, well, not hit, but they were doing lots of hypoxic swimming in pre-season or things to increase your lung and heart capacity. In contrast, at Leicester, it’s always been about the peripheral strength, so getting your capillary build up in your legs, so your legs are more tolerant to the running loads, etcetera.

Personally, I feel like a mixture of the two is probably most helpful. So you need to be able to do both. Our pre-season this year we had more minute on, 20-seconds off for the first two weeks to have that central hit to the system and then we sort of tapered that off into the higher interval shorter time stuff – and higher intensity I guess as well. But I think here they polarise our conditioning, so you either do your minute on, your 90-seconds on, with the short rests, or it’s a 12-second high intensity with your 3-minute rests. We don’t see many of those hybrid sessions where you might do a little bit of both. I think the consensus is you don’t hit those systems as effectively if you try to do both.

How has your training changed during your professional career?


“Mine has developed and adapted. The large reason for that will be that I’m dictated by the programming at the club. I’m quite lucky with the trainer I have – he has an understanding of the things I like to do and the things I don’t want to do that are either good or bad for my body. I think, particularly in my earlier career, I had a big focus on Olympic Lifting and was very keen on that and found that an excellent transfer into my game. I’ve had to push to have in my programmes for myself as I think the argument is that not enough players are technically good enough, so they couldn’t ever get what they needed to out of it if you know what I mean? But for those of us who are technically competent in Olympic Lifting, it’s massively beneficial to rugby. So I would say that’s been a big change, but I think the other two major changes have been, 1. how the game has changed, and 2. how, as I’ve aged, my body has changed. My upper body mobility has always been poor, lower body mobility excellent. But, as I’ve picked up injuries, or had shoulder operations, that’s changed what I’ve been able to do, or it’s taken 3-months out of my training, so I’ve had to change things up as I’ve gone forward. I can’t bench press anymore because it’s too much posterior loading on my labrums, so I dumbbell press, for example. So, I think the effect of a professional career in rugby and what that has on your body naturally changes your programme in a different way. Also, I think the game has changed quite a lot. I think it’s gone towards a more set-piece, collision focused game now compared to when you and I worked in the Premiership together eight years ago. It was a bit more open and movement-based. Now, being bigger and stronger is more valuable than being as mobile, so I think there’s probably been a shift towards more that style of training anyway.”

What is your current training?


“It’s interesting because we’ve actually just changed our week. We used to do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off. Thursday, Friday team run, play on Saturday and rest Sunday. We’ve now changed to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off, Friday team run, play Saturday. A lot of the reasoning behind that is to try and frontload the week, so you’re fresher for the weekend, which I personally prefer. Because that Thursday session is almost like your last team-on-team session, it’s still fairly intense, but you’re only 48 hours out from a game. But in terms of how that week is structured now, Monday will be reviews, meetings, a big leg session on a Monday. The afternoon is often just a walkthrough and a light jog of what our plays are for the weekend. So, it’s like an install day. Tuesday, we’ll have a unit session in the morning maybe with weights, maybe not, depending on the times, with your unit presentations and meetings and stuff. And then the afternoon is that walk through a session that you did yesterday but more intense. So, your first 3 phases at a decent speed, but you’re not having as much pressure from the opposition, so you’re just getting the reps in. Then Wednesday moves through into like a competitive day, so we might do some power or something before we go out, but it’s just one rugby session where you run those plays past the first 3 phases with live opposition against you, so you’ve had three days to build into it. Whereas on the previous week of Monday Tuesday – you know, you might walk through something on a Monday, but then you’re doing it flat stick on a Tuesday, and you’re not really had the chance to install. And then you have a day off, you can’t really help it, but mentally you might not be in the same space on that Thursday. You don’t remember it quite as well, or whatever, and then you almost have to learn it all again but at maximum speed and intensity on Thursday.”

What do your current recovery methods look like?

“We have facilities there, so we have two purpose-built ice baths, hot tubs and stuff to make contrasts. You can get as much massage, almost, as you want. I personally find massage is beneficial for me, but I think it is probably positioned specifically because it’s a collision-based position that I’m in, so I often find that massage is the most helpful for me. I have a sauna at home, so I use my infrared sauna for recovery, and I don’t contrast at home. I prefer heat to be cold, but during the training week, I’ll use the icebaths and stuff if they’re there. I think having the dogs at home is particularly helpful because, like you used to say to us when we were at London Welsh together, having active recovery on our days off is important. Getting out for a good hours dog walk is good for the soul, the mind, and the body too. To have a good walk and a flush for an hour, I think, has been helpful. That’s how I direct my recovery, to be honest.”

What do your current recovery methods look like?


“So, I would say it’s generally on a Monday and Tuesday evening, and then I might have one on say a Wednesday or a Thursday. Probably only 3 per week. But, I have them in the evenings when I’m at home. I find it’s helpful for my sleep as well. Because it’s so cold outside at the moment, I’ll give it a good warm-up before I’m in there and sit in there for a good 40 minutes, either with my iPad or a book or something and chill out. But it’s not linked to a session thing; it’s more as and when I need it. I definitely try and get in it 2 or 3 times per week.”

Do you have anything particular you do to aid your sleep?


“Yeah, so I did use CBD for a fairly long period of time, but that was really out the back of a poor patch of mental health for a couple of years where I really struggled with my sleep, and it had a poor knock-on effect on my training, diet and lifestyle as a result of poor sleep. I find that probably the best thing for my sleep is having a solid plan for my week and planning exactly what I’m doing and where, so I don’t get to bed and think I need to be doing something for uni work, or doing something for the business or whatever. If I get all my mental ducks in a row, that helps me get to bedtime tired enough. We train sufficiently and burn enough physical energy; it’s often mental energy that stops me from sleeping. So, for me, it’s about controlling those mental ducks and lining them up for good sleep. I haven’t worked out yet whether napping or not helps me. I know it sounds a bit weird, but sometimes when I nap I’ll have a great sleep because I need that little 20, 40-minute catnap when I get home from training. Often when I don’t nap, I’m almost overtired when going to bed and I can’t get off. So, I think to have those little power naps, particularly after the big days – your Tuesdays, your Wednesdays, is terrific because it just takes the edge off that real fatigue that you’ve got at that time. And also then I can be active and mentally alert enough in the afternoon to rewind my mind down. But I think if I nap too late or nap on days when I haven’t done enough to earn it, it can often be robbing Peter to pay Paul in the evening if that makes sense? So that’s something I’m still learning – whether it helps me or not. But, with what I’ve just said there, on that Wednesday session, for example, we’re home by 12.30/1 o’clock, so you can have a 45-minute nap, and that’s not going to take anything out when going to bed at 10 o’clock.”

What are the mental challenges you face as a rugby player?


“My mental challenges are probably unrelated to rugby, but the issue with being a professional sportsman is often the biggest benefit as well. Our social identities are tied to what we do. So, I’m Greg Bateman, I’m a rugby player, but actually, I’m Greg Bateman, and I play rugby are two different things. I know we have differing opinions on this, as in you and me. Still, if rugby is the only thing that I’ve got when times get tough – so that might be a long injury, or, particularly for Leicester Tigers, the last five seasons have been poor – if rugby is the only thing I’ve got then my self-worth and identity is tied along to the result of my rugby team. Personally, I have found having other hats to put on has been really helpful for me. So, having business interests, having hobbies, having a uni course and all this stuff has been beneficial. When rugby has not been going well, I can get home, take that hat off and put my uni hat on and plough myself into some uni work so when I go back to training the next day, I’m going in there with a fresh set of eyes, rather than sat at home stewing on how bad it’s been for the last few days. I personally feel like it’s almost an identity-related thing. Still, I also think that’s forgetting that the very nature of being a professional sportsperson comes with incredibly high pressure anyway. You have a naturally high-pressured job without thinking about results and all the rest of it, and then adding in some life stress. It’s a recipe for disaster if you’re not prepared for it. So, my advice, which again, I know, is potentially different to yours, for our young lads have other legs to your table rather than just having the one leg of being a rugby player. You do your ACL, and you’re out for nine months, and you’re sat there with a complex. That’s a somewhat depressing place to be for anyone. So, I think if you can have other interests that you can control, so they’re not taking away from your rugby. Go and learn a language, go and learn an instrument, whatever it is, particularly for those blocks where you might be injured for an extended period of time. It can actually be an excellent opportunity.”

What about how you mentally prepare for training and games?


“I think training and matches are very different. So, the training I always mentally think about it as getting through technical reps, so I’m technically trying to get my feet and shoulders and whatever into the specific position. I’m not thinking about being violent or being physical, or whatever. Well, you are, but it’s a technical rehearsal of a skill. A tackle is still a skill, and I think that’s not often thought about. It’s kind of thought that tackling and defence are like mentalities, but it’s still executing a skill under extreme pressure. Whereas on a match day, it’s about reminding myself why I’m doing it, why I play rugby. Part of rugby is the physical side of the game, which I enjoy and then it’s about getting into that mental, aggressive state where you want to hit someone as hard as you possibly can, rather than going for a technical rep if you know what I mean? But having done enough technical reps in the week gives you confidence in the skill to execute without thinking ‘I need to get my feet here, my hands here, my shoulders here,’ whatever. I have mental cues, so if it’s a tackle or whatever it might just be hitting, and it will just sort of spike that – you want to enforce that collision and initiate it instead of being reactive. You can’t have one without the other. I can’t just rely on getting to a game and thinking I’m going to get in the space to hit people as hard as I can. What I’ve learnt over my years of training is trying to rip into those contact sessions during the week to give myself confidence for the weekend.”

Please take a look at our blog on how to create more impact during games here.

What are your goals for the next 6 – 12 months?


“I take goal setting very seriously because I think if you just get into the day-to-day, the week-to-week cycle of ‘this is just what I need to get through this week to play this game and move on,’ you can almost lose focus on what you’re doing it for and the purpose behind what you’re trying to do. It’s taken a fair bit of time for me to get to this place with our sport psychologists working it out, almost reverse-engineering. I’ve been thinking about what I want to get out of rugby as a big picture goal, rather than anything specific. The things that I want to get out of rugby are to set myself up, in terms of networking and career opportunities. I want to connect deeply with people past playing rugby and find enjoyment as well. Then, reverse engineering all those things back, this next block to me looks like making sure I meet up with the boys for a few meals or networking or business opportunities. What I’m doing with the beer, what I’m doing with the cafe, what I’m doing with my uni stuff is all keeping that train moving forward. So, goal setting – and that’s like an entirely separate podcast on its own – but it’s something that has genuinely, and I’m not overstating this, changed my life.”

We would like to take the opportunity to thank

Greg, for his time and for answering our questions.

You can watch the full interview on our YouTube Channel.

Or listen via The Athlete Tribe Podcast. 

You can find Greg on IG @bateman_g, or check out his collaboration with Peoples Captain


Please take a look at our new free 14-day programme to keep training over this time here.

Enjoy your training!


Founder And Director.

The Athlete Tribe


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