Aspell and Varndell share the spoils in fitness face-off
It's not often you find a professional jockey and rugby player training under the same roof but Dr George Wilson, a leading sports scientist, decided to face Premiership rugby's leading try scorer Tom Varndell against back-to-back Grand National winner Leighton Aspell in a recent study at Liverpool Moores University to see who would come out trumps in a fitness assessment.
The athletes completed four physically demanding challenges which tested their aerobic fitness, power and isometric strength. The tests included a VO2 Max test, a vertical power jump, a plank and a wall squat and the results, which may surprise many, were two a piece.
Dr Wilson has worked extensively with jockeys, helping them improve their performance through targeted diet and fitness plans.
He said: "We looked at a comparison of a rugby player and a jockey to see how they match up in their performance over a series of physical tests. However despite the physical difference between them, some of the tests were closer than you would expect.
"Leighton is an excellent example of the 'jockey athlete' and I'd encourage other jockeys to take a leaf out of his book, as there would not be many who could match his level of fitness and conditioning."
Leighton Aspell, who won back-to-back Grand Nationals in 2014 and 2015, said: "I'd say that my general fitness levels were above average based on the amount of exercise I do. I ride horses every day and if I am not I will head to gym or go running.
"I was really pleased with the results and I thought it was a really interesting exercise to compare the abilities from two different sports – Tom is certainly a tough competitor."
Tom Varndell, who became the record Premiership Rugby try scorer in January 2017, said: "We're in the middle of the season at the moment, we have one day off a week from training and my fitness is closely monitored by the club.
"However Leighton is incredibly fit and it took all my competitive nature to keep with him on some of the tests. I am a big fan of horseracing and this has given me a renewed appreciation for how tough and resilient the riders are."