Tom Bliss, 23, has shifted his career from a leading pro rugby player to one of the brightest new VPTs to arrive at the new Gymbox Farringdon. He shares with us the importance of adding mobility to one's training schedule to prevent injury, and how his love for and experience of playing rugby has given him the tools to open new doors in his sports and fitness career.
Hi Tom! Tell us about your weekly videos,
It all started a few months ago, for a variety of reasons. I wanted to publish consistent weekly content for anyone to view, and directly benefit from. For your standard gym-goer mobility work is an extremely underrated and undervalued tool. I wanted to deliver clear content which was easily understandable, and which could not only demonstrate the array of benefits, but to also encourage people to have a go! Secondly, I was sick and tired of seeing motivational quotes on so called ‘fitness’ Instagram accounts!
VIDEO 1: Cook Squat
Fair enough! Can you explain exactly what mobility is, for those who aren ’t sure?
Mobility of the joints, flexibility of the muscles. In simple terms, flexibility refers to the length of the muscle, whereas mobility refers to how freely a joint can move through its full range of motion (ROM). In more complicated terms, joint mobility is defined as the degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues. Therefore, undergoing regular mobility drills will increase this movement or range of motion.
VIDEO 2: Active Thoracic Spine Mobilisation
What kind of movements are you demonstrating in these videos? What made you want to post these?
So far I've focused on drills aimed at releasing tight hips, back and shoulders. For the majority of people the 9-5 involves sitting at a desk tapping away at a keypad. This leads to an extremely tight thoracic spine and upper back. The result? Rounded shoulders and very poor posture. My goal is to make people move freely again. Too many gym goers ‘load dysfunction’, i.e. hit the weights before they have suitable range in that plane of motion. This only leads to a sticking point or injury. Address mobility first, and guaranteed you'll achieve your best results to date.
You spent 18 months playing with the London Wasps, tell us about that.
I graduated from Loughborough University in 2014 and signed a contract at Wasps in the summer. I had a fantastic time at the club and was fortunate enough to play for the first team five times, until a serious groin injury cut my first season short.
What made you want to get into playing rugby?
I picked up rugby from the age of 5, when my dad took me to our local rugby club Cobham RFC. Now, 18 years later, I'm head coach of the U14’s! I was absolutely hooked from the beginning, and being one of the ‘big’ guys in the early days certainly helped! I love everything out the sport – the teamwork required to put out a performance, the match day buzz, the mates I've made for life. Everything about it makes it the best game in the world.
What were the high points during your rugby career?
There are several high points! Winning the U17 National cup with Cobham is one, and being captain of my schools 1st XV Epsom College in 2011 were awesome moments in my early career. More recently, making my Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup debuts for Wasps in 2014, and earning my first cap for the USA Eagles last year.
VIDEO 3: Deep Ape Reach
It is clearly a rough game, as you have been injured several times, tell us what happened.
I’ve had every injury under the sun! From breaks to strains to concussions I’ve had them all. I had a couple of very serious ones at Loughborough University, one of which was a snapped clavicle (collar bone) playing BUCS rugby for the university, which kept me out for three months. I’ve had several bouts of ‘osteitis pubis’ in my right groin, which is basically an inflammation of the pubic bone which restricts you from doing any running and exercise. The first time kept me out for six months, and second time round at Wasps kept me out for seven months. Last summer when I was playing for San Diego, I was knocked out cold for two minutes on the pitch, which was an extremely scary experience. I suffered two further concussions several months later. As they were all inflicted in such a short space of time the doctor advised I stopped playing rugby, and any contact sport for the time being.
Has playing rugby at this level been worth the injuries?
Unfortunately, as rugby is an extremely physical contact sport, injuries are bound to happen. This doesn't detract from what a fantastic game it is. I’ve been lucky to gain so much from it. Of course, when the injuries first happen it's extremely hard to handle, but you always bounce back stronger, which makes it all worthwhile in the end.
What inspired you to specialise in mobility?
Through my experience of playing professional rugby for several years, and suffering many injuries, I've learned the importance of being mobile, as well as strong. I learnt and mastered a range of mobility exercises every time I underwent a rehabilitation program. The more I used these exercises the faster I benefited from them, and the quicker I was able to return to play.
What have been the silver linings from enduring, and recovering from, so many injuries?
I'm a firm believer in things happening for a reason. When one avenue shuts, another opens. That new avenue was a chance to really crack on with my personal training and coaching, and turn it from a part-time hobby into a full-time occupation. Several months after my last concussion a chance arose to join the brand new Gymbox Farringdon as one of platinum VPTs, so naturally I jumped at the chance!
We're chuffed to have you on board. How's it been going so far?
It's been exciting and challenging! As with any new environment you just have to throw yourself into it, be friendly and welcoming, put in the hours, and work extremely hard. I feel comfortable in my new surroundings and have some great clients on board. The new Farringdon gym is phenomenal! It's one big playground, and a PT's heaven when it comes to writing programs and session plans. I absolutely love training and working there. The live DJs certainly create a buzz too!
VIDEO 4: Overhead Squat
In what ways can learning about and improving mobility complement peoples already existing training schedules?
I’ve touched on ‘loading dysfunction’. It's all to easy to ignore your own dysfunctions because it's easy to get away with, up until a point. To clarify, a dysfunction in someone's physique. For example, it could be rounded shoulders which inhibit full range of motion in the bench press. Address this mobility issue in your shoulders, and, in line with your existing strength training schedule, you’ll see your bench press figures soar.
In what ways can you expertise as a pro rugby player be applied to your new career as a PT?
Having been involved in numerous high performance environments I have an appreciation of what it takes to perform at the top level. With a strong depth of knowledge on training regimes, nutritional requirements and psychological applications, it's awesome to be able to apply this to personal training, and see clients directly benefit from it.
Follow Tom and watch his mobility videos on Instagram.