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MUSCLE & FITNESS - July 2011
Mike Clegg - The Patriarch of POWER
Muscle & Fitness - Mike Clegg The Patriarch Of PowerMuscle & Fitness - Mike Clegg The Patriarch Of Power
Individual training programmes belonging to Manchester United players from the Premier League winning side of 2000/01 hang from the wall of Olympic Sports Gym in Ashton-Under-Lyne. Each programme is titled ‘Power Development for Football’ and shows the training routine followed by a particular player under the guidance of Mike Clegg, the gym owner, who devised the workouts during his first season as a coach at Old Trafford.

The documents hang alongside other Clegg family memorabilia, such as old photographs and newspaper and magazine cuttings that have turned the wall into a giant scrapbook of the family’s remarkable sporting achievements. But the training programmes stand out firstly because of the insight they provide into the gym routines of well-known footballers and secondly because of the extent to which they reveal the game has changed. Roy Keane’s programme shows that he weighed 160 pounds and stood 5’101/2” (presumably nobody argued when he insisted on the extra half inch being included). He could do five chin-ups, 25 dips and bench press 67.5 kg for one rep and 40 kg for 15 reps. It notes that he had boxed at the age of 14, had four fights and that he experienced lower back problems. But then comes the most telling line: ‘has not done weights before’. The same line appears on Ryan Giggs’ sheet. It’s also there on Dwight Yorke’s, and many others. Giggs is still playing but these sheets, which have yet to yellow with age, seem to belong to a bygone football era when dumbbells and barbells played no role in a footballer’s life.

Today, weight training and sports nutrition are common at most football clubs. It’s impossible to quantify the impact of modern training methods but when you compare what the players were doing then and now, and consider the speed and intensity of the game today, you begin to get an inkling into the value of the work of men and women like Mike, who work away from the spotlight. Muscle & Fitness has been doing a series of articles about backroom heroes—the unsung fitness experts that create the conditions for elite athlete’s success—and wanted to meet Mike as part of that. We also wanted to interview him in his capacity as the head of Britain’s most powerful family, as we described the Cleggs last month when we detailed their amazing sporting accomplishments which range from breaking dozens of British weightlifting records to playing for Manchester United to competing at strongman contests.

Having spent more than a decade working with the likes of David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney on a daily basis, Mike gets quite a few interview requests. He normally declines but he agreed to talk to us about his training methods and his own unlikely transformation from guitar player to Old Trafford fitness, power, and speed guru. One of the first things you notice about Mike is his energy. He is 53-yearsold but he seems to walk, talk and think on fast forward. Sentences torpedo into each other and merely keeping up with him as he moves from floor to floor in his gym takes effort. His vitality is a great advert for his methods. Mike wants to clear something up before the interview begins.

The Manchester United website describes him as ‘United’s strength and conditioning coach since early 2000’. Strength and conditioning, or ‘S&C’ as it is commonly known, has become a bit of a buzz phrase lately. Every club seems to have one. But Mike doesn’t think it accurately reflects what he does. He prefers the description ‘power development’ coach. It’s an unusual term but it neatly sums up what he is all about—power. Mike is passionate about power and talks about it all of the time and believes it is the key component for success in most sporting endeavours. Weightlifting and football may not seem to have much in common but power, which is derived from strength and speed, is fundamental to both. “My philosophy is about running fast and jumping fast. Olympic lifting is the best way to achieve power.”
Mike’s five grown-up kids are testaments to his beliefs. He taught all of them to lift properly soon after they could walk and all but one went on to win at least an age-group British weightlifting title. The only one that didn’t played first team football for Manchester United. Mike didn’t achieve any comparable sporting success but he clearly has a talent for helping young athletes realise their potential.

Remarkably, it remained latent for the early part of his life. Mike didn’t touch a weight until his 20s and had no interest in fitness. “I was the biggest wimp you have ever seen. I weighed about six-and-a-half stone when I turned 18 and had no muscle whatsoever.” As a young man he played guitar in a band on the northern club scene. One day he saw a photo of himself “My arm was skinnier than my guitar string, so I decided I had to do something about it.” He joined a gym and within three months noticed a difference. He started taking it more seriously, began getting coaching qualifications in a variety of sports and in 1983 opened Olympic Sports Gym on the site of a large former cotton mill.

The name derived not from his excitement about the forthcoming 1984 Los Angeles Olympics or out of admiration for Daley Thompson’s moustache but for the absolute passion he had acquired for Olympic weightlifting. Weightlifting is one of the classic Olympic sports but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. It consists of two lifts: snatch and clean and jerk. Contrary to popular belief it isn’t about brute strength: the range of motion of the lifts means they have to be performed much faster and more ballistically than other types of lifting so they require speed, agility and technique as well. In short, they make you powerful.

Mike’s youngest son Shaun, who has a realistic chance of representing Britain in weightlifting at next year’s London Olympics, is a classic example. He has a sturdy set of legs but he isn’t particularly heavy or huge. He can, however, hoist well over 100 kg above his head at the age of 17. He can also leap a good five feet off the floor from a standing start. That requires power. It is these qualities that make Olympic lifts, and derivates of them, so valuable for other sports. Squats, snatches, jerks and the like won’t make you big and bulky but they will make you agile and extremely powerful. These attributes helped two of Mike’s football-loving sons – Mike junior and Steven – get signed by no less a club than Manchester United. Mike went on to play for the first team, although his appearances were limited due to the fact that he was competing for a place with the legendary Gary Neville. Younger brother Steven represented the reserves. “They weren’t the most technically skilful players but they were very powerful,” says Mike senior.

The Clegg brothers’ fitness levels didn’t go unnoticed at the club. The coaches began wondering if Mike senior could work similar magic on the other players and one day, when he was working in the gym the phone rang. “It was Brian Kidd, who was the assistant manager at the time,” recalls Mike. “The first thing I thought was that there had been an accident involving my son. But Brian said he was interested in introducing some plyometrics and weights and would I like to come down.” Kidd asked Mike about working with established first team players like Gary Pallister and Peter Schmeichel. “I said the exercises I did were designed for young kids and if I started pounding older players it would kill them.” It wasn’t the answer Brian was looking for and the phone call ended abruptly, with Mike thinking he had blown a once-in-a-lifetime chance to work for Manchester United. But shortly afterwards Kidd left to manage Blackburn Rovers and communication lines with United were restored.

Mike eventually joined United in February 2000 after saying at his interview that he could improve the players by three per cent. “I think they liked the fact that I didn’t make any extravagant claims,” he says. Selling weight training to the players wasn’t straightforward. “It was completely new to most of them,” says Mike. He recalls how during his first season goalkeeper Mark Bosnich stood out because he employed a personal trainer. A personal trainer! Only gym freaks had them. Mike started gently, being careful not to overload the players. “We started with the squat and then moved on to the deadlift. It was about how to stand and bend with a fl at back. Basic stuff.” This evolved into a basic strength workout two or three times a week incorporating things like bench presses, shoulder presses, pull downs, curls, pushdowns and midsection work, doing three sets of ten reps.

Gradually it evolved into more plyometrics-type exercises that promote fast, powerful movements. He soon realised the value of cross training to prevent boredom. For instance, when he discovered Roy Keane had boxed he got him doing pad work. “Boxing became a massive part of what we did.” The youth team players who weren’t so set in their ways did plyometrics, Olympic lifting and boxing from the start.

As they progressed into the first team the culture slowly changed. Who is the best trainer he has seen at the club? “Cristiano Ronaldo, without a doubt,” Mike shoots back instantly. “He was the ultimate in terms of being dedicated to doing everything possible to give himself success. He used to come to the gym with me every morning, then he would go out and do his football and then when that finished he would go out and practice the most important thing for him—running. He would run with the ball and then run and shoot. In the mornings he would go swimming. He was just outstanding.” Mike stepped down from the first team this season but still trains the youth team. “I said I would do it until the players could beat me in the gym. We’ve got younger guys coming through now like Gabriel Obertan, who is incredibly fit. I’m 53 now and you have to stand down some time.”

His time with the first team at Old Trafford has coincided with one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. It won five league titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups and one Champions League. There were some tough times: he was devastated when the club released his sons and he hardly had a day off. But sometimes he still can’t believe how big an adventure it has been. “The highlight was always the tours. I would always end up wondering how I got in this position. When you are in New York with a police escort and the streets closed you just think ‘wow’.” He enjoys a quieter life now. “I have Fridays and every other Sunday off and I don’t go to matches. I’m not a big football fan but I am interested in athletes.” He wants to continue nurturing young talent and schooling it in his tried and tested ways. “The Clegg philosophy is about lifting weights fast. Jump high and jump long but always fast. It’s all about speed.”

He’s a big believer in a balanced lifestyle. “You need vitamins and minerals. Sleep is massively important. I always have a siesta in the afternoon. In my opinion sleep is part if your diet.” As for diet, he says footballer should eat four meals a day, “porridge, vegetables, salad, meat and fish are all good.” He and son Steven are now developing a new kind of workout that combines brain and body. Never one to stand still, Mike has met Professor Jocelyn Faubert at Montreal University to listen to his ideas about brain training, which he thinks will be the next big thing in sports fitness. “Power can be mental as well as physical,” says Mike. He gives the example of Paul Scholes—not athletically the best but a fantastic player who seems to see things quicker.

Before we left Olympic Sports Gym Mike gave us a sneak preview of a workout he and Steven are developing to develop mind and body. Mike’s mantra is, “The Brain is the Seed of Speed”. Look out for more details of that soon in Muscle & Fitness. We think you’ll find it fascinating. M&F

Mike Clegg on
Cristiano Ronaldo “The best all-round trainer during my time at the club. Cristiano was the ultimate in terms of being dedicated to doing everything possible to give himself success.”

Ryan Giggs “He understood from early on how and when to put his work in and looked after himself mentally, physically and spiritually. Ryan would try everything and then discuss what worked for him. He used to do stretching routines and realised he needed something more so he did yoga. I believe that Ryan Giggs is the wisest man in football. There is in fact a lot more to being a famous footballer that has gone the real distance, than just training. Ryan Giggs is the real deal when it comes to the whole that football encompasses.”

David Beckham “I had three years with David and he liked the boxing. He was not massively into training but did enough to make sure he had a good physique.”

Sir Alex Ferguson “I was the one person who could make Sir Alex train. I told him about the benefits and said ‘you will have a bloody heart attack if you don’t look after yourself’. He loved the boxing and is a great guy.”

Wayne Rooney “He didn’t particularly like the gym but he liked boxing and he liked hitting me! Wayne can certainly pack a punch.”

Rio Ferdinand “An exceptionally good trainer when it came to gym work and doing extra.”

Mick Clegg Muscle & Fitness Interview

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