When footballers and movies mix, things don’t normally end very well. Sure, we loved Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but we’re not a fan of Stan Collymore’s cameo in Basic Instinct 2.
Sunderland’s Victor Anichebe is the latest player to link up with the film industry, but thankfully he won’t be starring in any gangster films or Sharon Stone thrillers any time soon.
The 28-year-old has been using Tom Cruise’s personal trainer, Nicky Holender, to get in shape before pre-season for the last four years and turned to him again before joining Sunderland this summer.
Holender tells FourFourTwo how he got the striker in tip-top condition...
Nicky, you spent the summer working with Victor Anichebe – how did you two meet?
I think it was just word of mouth. I started working with Victor about four years ago. The first footballer I trained was Stephen Ireland when he was in his final season at Manchester City. I then worked with Salomon Kalou at Chelsea and Victor got in touch with me after that. I think word just spread.
Anichebe was out of contract in the summer – did he train with greater intensity this time around?
I noticed a big difference in his mentality. He was 100% committed to the training. I told him that he was 28 and that he was a handful for defenders when he was fit, but he had to get in the sort of shape that would allow him to run hard for 90 minutes rather than just 75.
He’s a strong, powerful striker; do you think his size has ever been an issue when it comes to lasting for 90 minutes?
Most players are about 160-170 lbs; he’s a legitimate 220-230lb-football player, which means he’s carrying around 50lb more than other players. He is stronger than a lot of American football players I work with. But this also makes it harder for him. If I put a bag of bricks on your back and told you to run around, your body would break down.
Did you work on weight loss in the early part of the summer?
Yes, we started by getting his weight down. He probably lost 7 or 8kg. We worked hard on his eating and cardio fitness. He’d be doing interval runs on a treadmill until he was nearly throwing up. He didn’t have a great range of motion either, so we worked on ensuring he could move functionally to reduce the risk of injury when he was stretching for a ball or changing direction quickly.
How did you maintain his strength while he lost weight?
Ironically, you can train extreme strength without building size. You just need to keep the rep range very low. So, if you keep the rep range at about four reps you don’t really build size on the body. I mixed it up with Victor between that and strength endurance. We tested how many times he could reproduce repetitions. He might do four reps at a high weight and then do 50 bodyweight squats. After 50 reps, your body has been exposed to such endurance that a football game will almost be easy.
Did you combine fitness training with technical work?
Yes. One thing I did was tie him up to a goalpost and put a resistance trainer around his back and get him run to the halfway line and walk back to tire his body out. At that point we’d start doing one-on-one drills and shooting because I wanted him to get used to doing these things when he was tired. I saw that was his weakness. He couldn’t use his power and technical ability later on in matches because he was too tired. Now he’s still running hard in the final 20 minutes of games when other players are tiring.
How do you ensure he stays in this shape during the season?
I give a plan to every player I work with so they can stay in great shape. I think a big problem in football is that players train hard during pre-season, but then they don't do as much gym work when the games start and they get wrapped in cotton wool between games. I’m not a fan of this approach. I think that weakens the player because they haven’t done enough gym work. By the end of the season they’ll be so far away from where they were in pre-season they’ll start breaking down. Once a week, normally on a Tuesday, I want them to work really hard and do a maximum squat or resistance runs, far enough away from a game on a Saturday, to maintain their power and endurance so they stray strong during the season. Stress on the body keeps the body strong.