Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Ruben Wiki: Fighting fit like a Warrior

Rachel Grunwell chats to Ruben Wiki about his philosophy on fitness — and about a fitness plan he has designed for Living readers, which will be published over the next six weeks.

Ruben Wiki in the Warriors gym, where he runs a fitness programme for the wives and partners of Warriors players. Photo / Getty Images
Ruben Wiki in the Warriors gym, where he runs a fitness programme for the wives and partners of Warriors players. Photo / Getty Images

Meeting rugby league legend Ruben Wiki is a nerve-racking proposition. He is now a strength and conditioning coach for the Vodafone Warriors, but he used to be nicknamed Jake the Muss - because of his muscle-man physique. But the former player who was known for his formidable power on the paddock turns out to be 96kg of sweetness. He is a true family man ­- I've not met a man who talks so much about his wife and he's all sweet smiles and pearly-white gnashers. He's no scary tough guy.

We even connect over sharing the same birthday and a love of half-marathons. My best time is faster by a minute, but he vows he'll smash that next run. Just don't ask me to pass a rugby ball.

But then again, Wiki is only sweet because I'm not an opposition player and not a member of the Warriors who has to answer for any lapse in training. Thank God. He makes those men repeat hard-core training drills as punishment if they're not quick enough.

Wiki's fitness plan for readers is not too tough or scary, either. The toughest thing is taking it on and committing to it.

He hopes readers of all ages and fitness abilities will give it a go and he promises a big reward for participants: "You will feel good when you work out, feel energised, like a little kid!"

When I meet Wiki in the Warriors' gym headquarters at Mt Smart Stadium, one of the first things I rib him about is a saying within the Warriors ranks that I've heard called "Wiki Love", named after him, of course. The words are painted on a vibrant mural on a wall in the gym.

"What does it mean?" I ask. "Let's just say ... love hurts," says Wiki, with a cheeky chuckle and an enormous grin.

What he means is your muscles have to hurt a bit in training so you can feel the "love" of having a fitter and healthier body. He came up with the saying when training the Warriors.

"It kind of fitted when I was dishing out the pain - they enjoy that love," he quips.

Rugby League star Ruben Wiki gives Kelly Friend and Anna Bensemann boxing tips at Mt Smart Stadium gym. Photo / Doug Sherring

All the players know those words well and know what he expects during training: to push themselves to pain pumping heavy weights and thrashing boxing bags. So every time they sweat here, they are reminded of these words.

Wiki says he pushes the Warriors to the limits and to fatigue - pushing past the pain barrier or "that mental part", to get results during training sessions - but not as far as the "pass-out stage". It's so they are strong and fast and can "go into warfare" like gladiators in games.

Wiki jokes that readers will get a little "Wiki Love" from his six-week training plan. There will be tough challenges, but he promises the fitness plan is designed "for the average Joe and Jane", not just Warriors' fans.

You don't need a lot of fancy equipment. It's mostly using your own body weight, or what you have around home or at the park. You can feel free to improvise. So there's no excuse for not sticking to the programme.

The programme will generally give the legs a good work out - because they're the biggest muscles and used the most - as well as arms and the core. Wiki generally does his legs first and works his way up. So expect things like burpees - a thrust-move starting and ending in a stand position, with a drop to the ground and kicking back the feet in between - sit-ups, push-ups and running. If a full push-up is too difficult just work at your own level - perhaps from your knees, instead. If you are just starting out, you could push your arms against a wall while standing up.

He'll throw in a few exercises he puts his burly Warriors boys through, too - but at an achievable level. For instance, the Warriors do a lot of explosive up and down exercises to imitate getting off the ground quickly after being tackled. They "train like they play".

Readers might be asked to do some of these sorts of exercises, but running rather than sprinting.

"I've got to give readers a little bit of a taste of what our guys go through," says Wiki, adding he thinks girls might just blitz the guys on some agility moves.

Wiki wants readers to do each week's plan three times a week to get real results. So that's just 18 sessions throughout six weeks. Do a walk, run or swim weekly, too, where possible.

One big tip about getting fit, he says, is to also consider your food. This is a big part of the training equation. He says weight comes down to "90 per cent nutrition and 10 per cent exercise".

The Warriors are drilled about eating the right "fuel". Stay away from processed food. Next time you're at the supermarket, avoid food from the middle aisles, instead opt for food from the outer areas such as fruit, vegetables and meats, which are generally positioned around the walls of the store.

Wiki also recommends not eating too much bread or other carbs such as pasta and potatoes. Once a week, allow yourself a cheat meal - not a cheat day.

On this note, I ask what his weakness is and he confesses he has the following occasional treat with his kids at the movies: a choc-pop icecream dunked into buttery popcorn with M&Ms sprinkled over the top. He has the odd "glass of red with the wife" and enjoys kava with the boys after big games, to relax and bond with the team. This is why he's also called the Kava King, by the way.

But mostly, Wiki's lifestyle is active and healthy - "I've got to look after the body," says the 41-year-old.

Wiki is now training the Warriors as well as helping their wives and partners keep fit. Photo / Doug Sherring

At the weekends, Wiki's leisure time is largely spent with his 12-year-old daughter, who loves swimming, and 15-year-old son, who plays rugby for Auckland Grammar. They're often at pools, the eastern beaches, or out walking or running.

He doesn't think he's special doing this. He reckons all parents have the responsibility of encouraging their kids to be active and get out into the fresh air. He says the best way to encourage children is to be a fit and healthy role model yourself.

These days Wiki works out for about an hour six days a week in his garage at home - usually after dinner with his wife, Santa, who really knows how to take a tough workout.

"She was military police in the army before I met her. So the discipline's there and it's carried through," he says.

He also loves running and doing events like half-marathons and Tough Mudder.

The latter was completed with clients of Wiki Workz, the fitness company he runs with Santa, which has a saying: "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Wiki credits Santa as "the brawn and brains" behind their business.

Wiki loves challenging himself with goals and recommends readers do, too. He once did a reverse bear crawl up Dunedin's steepest street for "fun", but these days it's events like half-marathons.

He hopes readers reach the end goal of his six-week fitness plan - and that they have fun doing it with others. His advice: "Do it with a buddy or your kids. Do not do it alone - then you're accountable to each other."

Playing against the Parramatta Eels in 2008. Photo / NZPA

A stellar career

Aucklander Ruben Wiki played professional rugby league for 16 years, with 312 appearances in the NRL. His NRL points scorecard is 288 (72 tries). Over a 12-year period, he set a world record of 55 tests for the Kiwis. He was with the Canberra Raiders from 1993-2004 and the Vodafone Warriors from 2005-08, when he retired. He has been a winger/centre/backrow/prop - and also the Kiwi Captain for 18 tests from 2003-06. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2007 for services to rugby league.

Look for the first week's exercises in Living's Wellbeing section next week.

- Herald on Sunday

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