As a competitive, long-distance club runner, having access to the strength and conditioning coach at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London's new fitness centre feels a privilege. For Ruben Tabares has serious sporting heritage: he trained at The Royal Ballet School as a boy; had a career in athletics as a 400-metre hurdler; got professional boxers David Haye and Amir Khan into shape; and helped England footballer John Terry overcome injury. He is also renowned as a celebrity coach for Mickey Rourke, P Diddy, et al.
But Tabares' underlying principles of training apply to everyone, starting with nutritional advice gleaned from years of absorbing scientific studies and testing natural remedies. He waxes lyrical about the need to hydrate with water – and lots of it (two or three litres a day). As I dislike drinking water, he suggests adding goji berries, which with the addition of lemon and honey provides flavour and minerals in one. And as a runner, Tabares says, I should increase my intake of fat – found in, for example, olive oil, coconut oil, butter and oily fish – to build up depleted fat pads (the mass of fat cells within a joint). Here, he draws on his experience as an athlete: when his fat intake went up, his injuries disappeared. I should also regularly intake superfoods bee pollen (high in protein, easy to digest) and maca (a radish-like vegetable, for stamina).
For me, Tabares' USP is his emphasis on injury prevention. I start the one-hour session with a warm-up on a treadmill (a designer model with iPod/iPhone/internet). I warm up quickly as, unlike most gyms, the air con isn't Arctic cool; I find out this is down to Tabares – cold muscles equal injury. After several dynamic stretches such as cross-body leg swings, in which he corrects my foot so that it is flexed 'to give a good nerve stretch', we begin 'adaptation'. This is the process new clients go through to strengthen tendons and ligaments and condition muscles, before moving on to heavier weights. Adaptation might take a couple of months, using light weights or your own body resistance.
I say my goal is to run faster, so for now we concentrate on the lower body, doing only 20 reps rather than the 100 I will build up to. Throughout, Tabares imparts his wisdom: 'Keep the ball of the foot on the step while doing calf raises to prevent plantar fasciitis; Bulgarians (single leg squats) strengthen the hamstrings and vastus medialis, which stabilise the knee…' Requiring only light weights up to 4kg and a resistance band, most of the exercises could be performed at home. Strengthwork, Tabares cites, should be done at least twice a week to create a bigger engine, so I can run faster without changing my technique. Maintaining cadence depends on strength, too. It all makes perfect sense, but that is what Tabares is about: intelligent training, backed up by research and first-hand experience.
At the end of the session, as I leave for a dip in the pool, Tabares heads off to train one of his regular clients – the chart-topping rapper Tinie Tempah. And weeks later, after following his advice, I wipe a minute off my 10k PB.