RugbyWarfare Talks To Leeds Carnegie Prop Ben Hooper

When and how did you get started with rugby?

I started playing rugby aged 9 at my local club Crediton RFC. My brother played there and my uncle coached so it was natural route for me.

What keeps you motivated?

I always want to get better; I’ve never come off a pitch feeling like I’ve had the perfect game. There are always things I want to work on. If I ever feel there isn’t then I think it will be time to hang up my boots!

What’s your training routine?

The strength and conditioning coaches at Yorkshire Carnegie are top drawer. We go through different gym cycles throughout the year covering hypertrophy, strength and then power. We all have individually written training programs that are personalized for our needs. As a tight-head prop I’ll always have a lot of exercises that cover my legs, glutes, core and back.

If you had to choose one exercise per body part, what would they be and why?

For legs & glutes I like to do trap-bar deadlift. It hits all the major muscle groups and you can stack the weight on!

For back you can’t really get much better than a good old-fashioned chin up. Make sure your form is right though – none of these crossfit muscle ups. Once you’re proficient with your own body weight treat it like any other exercise and drop the reps but load the weight.

For chest I like to do dumbbell floor press, my shoulders have been through the walls so this is pretty much all I can manage these days.

What’s your typical daily diet like? Does it change in the pre-season compared to in-season?

My diet doesn’t really change much from pre-season to in-season but does vary depending on how hard the days have been. I weigh about 112kg so eat around 3000 calories on a normal day and up to 4200 on a heavy training day. I eat a pretty balanced diet of carbs, fats and protein but avoid anything processed and try to limit my consumption of wheat based carbs and sugar.  I use the ‘my fitness pal’ app to track what I’ve eaten. I aim for 90-110g of fat, 350-400g carbohydrates and 200-220g of protein. It’s a lot to get in!

Read: The perfect pre-match meal

Do you use supplements? If so, what and why?

I do use supplements but only for what I can’t naturally get in my diet. I take glucosamine & omega 3 fish oil supplements in the morning along with a vitamin d. Because my protein requirement is so high I take protein after gym sessions and heavy rugby sessions. I find it quite hard to gain lean muscle mass so take creatine and BCAA’s to help with that.

Read: Why you should take creatine

Favourite supplement?

We’re very fortunate and get our supplements provided by the club. If I was to buy my own I’d look for a good all rounder. It’s worth remembering that the body needs carbohydrates to process protein and build muscle so unless you’re eating straight away get some carbs in your shake. Something like Sci-mx Omni-mx would be my go to.

What’s your pre-match music?

To me pre match prep is all about getting yourself in the right frame of mind. To some guys that means bouncing off the walls listening to music. I play my best relaxed so I’m happy to sit around having a chat & reading the program. The music doesn’t make much difference to me.

What’s your preparation like before a game?

I always have the same meal before a game. It’s chicken breasts, sweet potatoes & green veg. It’s the same as we get given if we’re at a hotel on an away trip & I like to keep things consistent. For hydration I just try to drink on thirst, your body is a great indicator of what it needs. I also have a hydration tablet pre game to make sure I have enough electrolytes in my body to stave off cramp. If you don’t have any then a dioralyte will do.

Our team talks vary depending on the opposition but the main point is always the same, do the basics well and everything else will take care of itself. We generally have a quick meeting when we arrive at the ground and then have time for an individual warm up before our unit meetings and the team warm up. I go out and do a few stretches and then do a few bits of scrummaging technique with one of the other props.

Best moment in your rugby career?

I’m lucky to have played in semi-finals and finals since I’ve been playing professionally and have been involved with some great teams so there are a few I could choose from. However I think the best moments aren’t always on the pitch. Rugby players are still rugby players and rugby clubs are still rugby clubs! The camaraderie and banter in the changing rooms is outstanding & the end of season do’s are spectacular. 

Most challenging match you have played in?

I think one of my first games as a professional is still up there with the most challenging. I was playing for Rotherham against Bristol down at the Memorial ground. I had just finished uni and started my career and I was up against guys with international caps. When we went out onto the pitch we were great by a very vocal 8000 strong Bristol crowd. That was a steep learning curve but I came out of it having given a good account of myself.

Have you had any low points in your career? If so, how did you overcome it/them?

I came off the bench for Leeds against London Welsh in the semi-final a few years ago. We’d had the British and Irish cup semi final the week before and I’d been rested and there was a gap week before that. I hadn’t played for about 3 weeks by the time I got on. I got absolutely smashed in the scrum which put the team under massive pressure. It was tough to take on the chin but because it was a two-legged semi final we had them the next week as well. I worked with the coaches to correct what I’d done wrong and we had a good scrummage session in the week. By the time the game came round I was ready and knew what I had to do. That’s the best thing about rugby, there is always next week to put it right.

Any final tips and advice for anyone looking to improve their rugby performance?

If you’re still young and at School then just keep playing as many sports as you can. Cricket, tennis, basketball, swimming etc all have highly transferable attributes for rugby. If you’ve made the decision to concentrate on rugby then keep working hard. I like the quote by Kevin Durant “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work”. I’ve never been the most gifted rugby player but I’m happy to put the graft in.

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