An Interview with James Adams - a Strength and Conditioning Coach at X Compete, Newmarket
James Adams reemphasises that he’s not a personal trainer but a Strength and Conditioning Coach. After five years of experience gained through higher education, James, 29, is aptly based at X-Compete gym in Newmarket, the beating heart of this country’s racing community. His online coaching and programming span all over the world, reaching South Africa, New Zealand, Japan and USA and he has over seven years of experience coaching athletes of all abilities.
Having worked beneath ‘some of the best coaches around’ to learn his trade, James can now call some of the most talented jockeys and work riders his clients. James is assisting these jockeys to improve their strength and fitness and, therefore, their performance and results. In fact, he strives to help riders in every equestrian discipline, not just racing, including professionals in eventing and dressage.
At heart, James is a sportsman, pushing the boundaries with his extreme running and having played rugby at a semi-professional level. He lives just outside Newmarket with his two Romanian rescue dogs Foxy and Frodo, and he has a girlfriend, Charlotte Drakeley.
Have you ever ridden a racehorse? I have never ridden a racehorse but my family are all into horseracing. My Great Granddad, Neville Crump, trained the winner of the Grand National a few times. My other half is a dressage rider and my Dad is an ex-apprentice jockey so racing and horses has always been in the family.
Do you go racing? I go racing in the UAE more than in England. I prefer the racing over there and personally for me, I prefer the crowds. However, I did go to Royal Ascot this year.
Favourite racecourse: Abu Dhabi. I'm not a hustle and bustle person so I like the chill over there.
How did you get into coaching? I've done an Honours degree in Strength And Conditioning Coaching at Hartpury University and a Master’s at Coventry University, and then I came back to Newmarket. I wanted to coach people in racing and equestrian sports due to the fact that I feel there's a lot of change that needs to be done there. Like, people needed to start training in different ways in relation to conditioning, rehab, nutrition etc so I wanted to target that market, and people are buying into it.
What jockeys do you work with? To name a few: Holly Doyle, Tom Marquand, Ray Dawson and Keiran Shoemark. I work with jockeys from abroad like Antonio Fresu and alongside amateur and apprentices who are coming up through the ranks as well.
What is the best part of your job? It's essentially helping athletes strive and achieve, and get stronger, fitter and recover harder. Their success gives me a lot of joy; that I’m a part of their journey.
What is the importance of strength and fitness work for jockey? It's very important if you're trying to gain every percentage you can, which is the main aim. Essentially, I can give them an extra 10% when they're on the horse. However, as we know there are a lot of factors in sport and technical difficulties, especially where a horse is involved. Fitness isn't the be-all and end-all, I may shoot myself in the foot by saying it – there's always some amazing athletes who don't train and some amazing jockeys who don't train but if you're looking at every single percent in getting better, then it's something you don't want to miss.
Describe a ‘typical’ jockey’s workout: That all depends on who they are and what they got on in the day ahead. For example, if someone has a lot of rides in the day, it'll be a bit of movement prep and ballistic and explosive work to start, like a primer, then strength work but without making them tired. It’s a lot of biometric stuff and getting them ready to go, whilst being ever conscious about weight, stretching and to get a bit of a sweat out of them to lose a couple of pounds.
How is diet important for jockeys? I'm not a nutritionist so I don't advise on nutrition too much but I'm mindful of it due to the weights jockeys have to make. Female jockeys always have the upper hand because they could have more calories. However, with male jockeys, it's very low intake and food is a touchy subject as, due to the low weights, they don't consume a lot of food or drink.
Do you coach a jump jockey differently to a Flat jockey? A jump jockey’s endurance is different – they've got to keep going for a little bit longer time. With the jump lads especially, weight is not as much as an issue compared to on the Flat so you can get away with doing a higher volume in the gym with the weights.
How does a jockey’s fitness differ to that of a dressage rider? Compared to a dressage rider, a jockey is a little bit different. Jockeys require more strength and muscle endurance – you're looking at a lot more core work and they need to be good at bracing. For dressage, essentially, you're looking at wanting to be like a duck, like you're working very hard without looking like you’re doing a lot; that’s the aim of the game and how you score good points whereas with a jockey, it's aggressive, a bit more fast and with explosive movements.
How has jockeys’ fitness changed over the years? It’s getting better but there's still a lot of improvement to go. I've been in a lot of elite sports like tennis, youth sports, football and rugby etc and I can see how racing still has to come on a long way.
Yet, the lads and girls are getting on board a lot more now and hopefully we can keep changing. It has to come from the bottom so it's all about getting the young ones involved. I coach people up from 11 years old, the pony racers, by getting them doing a lot of lessons. Overall, fitness will then only improve over the next ten years.
How do you train the kids for pony races? Youth sport is my ball game from university – working with GB Tennis and in high schools with the Talent Athlete programmes. It’s a lot of promoting good habits, such as landing mechanics, body weight, strength as well as making it fun, which means lots of games and making it specific. Building these foundations from an early age is really important.
Do you think fitness will keep evolving? Fitness has backdated itself a bit, which is good because it went through a stage where it wasn't worth anything. The foundations of fitness won't really change but in going backwards, new ideas and new movements will. So, it's going in the right direction as long as people don't get caught up in all the garbage on Instagram and stuff like that.
Other hobbies: Starting on 25th August, I ran the length of Great Britain: 1400 kilometres in fourteen days so training for that was my hobby for many months. In the past, I played rugby at a high level at the Hartpury Academy and had a couple of games for Wasps A League.
*Many thanks to Old Gold Racing for the help in securing this interview. They published it first in their fabulous newsletter Racing Weekly. To sign up, go to https://mailchi.mp/2f6ba62d6182/racing-weekly-lead-capture