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Jonny Wilkinson: Defying The Test Of Time

So at the weekend we saw the re-emergence of England’s forgotten rugby world cup hero Johnny Wilkinson. Putting in a match winning performance for Toulon over Saracens in the Heineken cup semi-final and showing the current incumbent of the English centre, youthful Owen Farrell, that he’s still got it! This performance even sparked cries for his call up to the British Lion’s squad.

This should not be surprising, for Johnny is a consummate professional and is known for his extreme dedication to his craft. The reason Mr Wilkinson is still able to put in match winning performances is due to his meticulous training regimen. Putting in the work in the gym enables him to turn back the years and show us glimpses of the young Johnny. This is somewhat due to the fact that weight training and exercise can reverse the aging process!

YES…. you did read that correctly!!

The aging process can be slowed down and reversed with the right training. Many conditions that are seen as part of the aging process, such as osteopenia, osteoporosis and sarcopenia, can be improved with the proper training.


Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density (BMS) is lower than normal and increases the brittleness of bones, making them weaker and more likely to break. It is considered by many doctors to be a precursor to osteoporosis, a disease of bones that leads to an increased risk of fracture. Osteopenia is more likely to affect post-menopausal women as a result of the loss of oestrogen. It can also be exacerbated by lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, excess consumption of alcohol or smoking.

How do we fight it?

By stimulation of bone growth…..we need force to elicit growth, Minimal essential strain (MES) refers to the necessary amount of force/stress required for new bone formation. This stress is required to signal the osteoblasts (bone builders) to begin this transformation. MES is thought to be 10% of the breaking force needed to fracture the bone. Stimulus below MES, i.e low force, will result in no bone growth.

Training programs can be designed to stimulate BMS. New forces in varying angles of stress will stimulate greater bone adaptation. Compound exercises (consisting of multi joint, structural loading and varying force vectors) will promote oestrogenic stimuli (factors that stimulate new bone formation). To maximise the benefits, loading should be progressive and high (Above MES) for the body to adapt in a positive manner regarding new bone formation.

Examples of good exercises to include in your training would be:
Upper Body exercises; Military presses, bench presses, Bent over rows, and chin ups. Lower body exercises; squats, lunges, dead lifts (and its variations), and calf raises.


Sarcopenia (from the Greek meaning “poverty of flesh”) is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass, and strength associated with aging. Sarcopenia is characterized first by a muscle atrophy (a decrease in the size of the muscle), along with a reduction in muscle tissue “quality,” caused by such factors as replacement of muscle fibres with fat, an increase in fibrosis (formation of excess connective tissue), changes in muscle metabolism, oxidative stress, and degeneration of the neuromuscular junction. Combined, these changes lead to progressive loss of muscle function and frailty.

How do we fight it?

Research has shown that muscle atrophy can be attested to lack of use. Certain high force muscle fibres that never get used in today’s mostly sedentary lifestyle begin to switch off and degenerate. To prevent and overcome this loss of high force muscle fibres we need to start using them. This may involve some kind of body re-education through corrective exercise, teaching dormant muscles to activate. Mainly however we need to produce some high force movements. This can involve strength exercises using high load, such as squats and deadlifts, and/or power exercises at high speed, such as sprinting and plyometrics.

Recent research has also shown that with age our ability to make gains and adapt to training does not diminish, meaning that we are likely to get just as strong, lean or fast at the age of 50 as we are at the age of 25. The major difference being most of us start from a better base at a younger age, having done more sport and spent less time sitting at a desk in our first 25 years compared to our second 25 years. Some problems associated with aging are more to do with changes in lifestyle and exercise habits than actual chronological phases.

So in a nutshell….

Lifting heavy and moving fast stops you ever getting old (almost)

Harry is a fully accredited strength and conditioning coach from the UKSCA. This led him to work as a strength and conditioning coach at the University of East London with elite sportsmen; including national level gymnasts, Paralympians, GB track and field athletes, county cricket players, BBL basketball players and professional footballers.
Harry is now undertaking a PhD, ‘An investigation into the effect of long term use of acute recovery strategies post training on performance and adaptation to training’, at Cardiff Metropolitan University under the guidance of Dr. Jeremy Moody (UKSCA Chairman) and Dr. Gregory Haff (Edith Cowan University).
Harry has the experience and expertise to help you become a great fitness professional.
“My philosophy is simple, whether you are training for a sport, or just to cope better with the demands of everyday life – the movement patterns are the same: Push, Pull, Squat, Lunge, Bend, Twist – Focus on these movements and you’ll do okay”

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