Training habits that got Max Hendrie an American Football contract

Max Hendrie, from rugby to American Football.

Fitness First member and Sydney-based rugby player Max Hendrie has just won a contract with the University of Hawaii to play American Football. Since only athletes with exceptional strength, mobility and speed get that kind of chance (see Jarryd Hayne) we asked his trainer, Susy Natal, to list the top 10 things she and Max did to get there.

1. He has initiative and persistence

In order to be your best, you cannot rely solely on having a coach or trainer on your back all the time. Max got in touch for training and always kept me updated with any relevant information that I needed to know regarding his progress. I didn’t have to badger him because he was so driven. He had a goal and was unrelenting in his persistence.

2. Makes his trainer constantly research

Working with such an advanced athlete forced me to continuously learn – he kept improving in some places and hitting the wall in others, and I needed to offer a new solution whenever this happened. There was never a time with Max when training progress stood still.

3. Checks in regularly

We kept in constant communication. To just speak during our training was not enough so whenever he was in the gym training alone I would check in on how he was feeling and what he was working on. Max thrives on giving constant feeback on where he’s at. In the earlier stages when the goal felt so distant I felt it was also important to monitor his headspace, but he never lost focus. Ever.

4. Treats recovery as critical to his progress

Athletes have a tendency to become engrossed in what they are doing and can easily overtrain. Doing too much can be just as problematic as not doing enough, as overtraining can lead to fatigue, regression of strength and even injury. Max was constantly aware of the importance of recovery from his hard training and enthusiastically followed my recovery plans. He was always open to the latest thinking in training and didn’t act as if he knew it all already.

5. Focused on soft tissue release and recovery

I always ensured that Max was foam rolling, using a massage ball and booked in an occasional massage. Tight hips meant he did need some stretching too, which was quite the challenge for me given he is six foot four!

6. Trained for joint stabilisation

This not only assisted with the rehabilitation process, but will help prevent further injury. Max needed to work on his scapular retraction, and particularly activating his lower traps. Neck strengthening was important to help stay safe during collisions while playing gridiron.

7. His cues can be read by the trainer

Even when someone can perform an exercise well, an observant trainer can spot where form will slip with fatigue. I watched and found cues to best help Max perform optimally. For one person “shoulders back” may not achieve the desired result, but rather “proud chest” may help with shoulder retraction. A third person may benefit more from a tactile cue between the shoulder blades.

8. Communicates his quirks

Everyone has a movement that they struggle with or hate doing, and these are usually the movements that most need work. I kept an eye on the frequency and the precision with which Max was performing all movements. He consistently worked through his full training program and kept me posted regarding points of struggle.

9. Does sport-specific skill drills

Being strong is of course very important, but Max also needs to run very fast and be able to quickly change directions and dodge and tackle opponents so he performed lots of drills which related to American Football.

10. Appreciates trainer who leads by example

I train like an athlete and sometimes train with my athletes. HIIT sessions with a group of big guys like Maxwho are nearly a decade younger than you will definitely keep you on your toes!

Max Hendrie and his new University of Hawaii team colours.


Susy Natal sat down with Max to discuss is training history and goals…

Susy Natal
Susy Natal
Q: Have you always trained like an athlete?
A: I grew up playing sport – from little athletics to surf lifesaving, and started training when I was fifteen. The old-school body builders were my first heroes, but my idea of a good physique changed when I started playing rugby for Scot’s College. My training quickly shifted in focus towards complementing my sport. I played in the under 16s but a neck injury and torn hip flexor had me out for a season. This led to a year of pure training, which helped me come back stronger and opened up more doors.
Q: What is your big dream?
A: To play in the NFL on the defensive end – you need to be big, strong and fast and you wreak havoc on the field. I am not violent, but I have a passionate aggression about sport. There is something very primal about it but there is also great comradery.
Q: How did you get into gridiron?
A: I am so impressed by the athleticism of gridiron players – they are the most well-rounded athletes by my standards. They are big guys, but some can sprint like Olympic athletes, while others are as strong as power lifters, and all maintain their agility while colliding with each other repeatedly. I have played for the University of Sydney, and upon expressing my interest in playing college football they put me through a combine test and provided me with a University of Hawaii graduate contact. The university contacted me when they received my combine results and it all took off from there.
Q. What do you like most about gridiron?
A: I love the speed of the game and how present you need to be in order to play. All players need to be aware of what is going on at all times – as soon as the ball is snapped everyone is going 110% nonstop. We all have a specific job and it is a highly strategic game so no one can afford to ease off.
Q: What are the greatest obstacles that you have had to overcome so far?
A: The application process from Australia was very difficult – so many emails were sent, colleges applied to and coaches contacted just to be able to make it this far. Also as you know, I had some old injuries that I had previously been less concerned about but which suddenly needed to be rehabbed properly to ensure that I am at my best.
Q: How do you find training in Fitness First gyms as an athlete?
A: Since the refurbishments I really enjoy training at Fitness First – I have platforms, cages, prowlers, ropes and other conditioning equipment available that allows variety and is useful if you want to be functional and athletic and to train for a particular sport.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone with similar goals?
A: Decide what you actually want, and then take the necessary steps to get there. It will not happen in one leap so chip away at it until it is done. Always build the foundations first and take care of yourself.