Kev Toonen, Author at 98 Gym
Check out our latest article - A Soldier’s Story of Willpower and Grit →
Trainer Image
Kev Toonen


  • Strength and Conditioning Coach for SOCOM
  • 18 Years Military Experience
  • Diploma Exercise Science
  • Powerlifting Coach
  • Founder of Strengthelite


Kevin is a strength and conditioning coach with ten years direct experience coaching athletes, soldiers and coaches alike. With over fifteen years serving in the Australian Military, five of which were managing a high performance program, Kevin’s skills and experience are rooted in training with purpose, to achieve the mental toughness to never quit – to always find a way.

He currently sits on the board for the Tactical Strength & Conditioning Association in Australia and has presented to Police, Military and S&C coaches across the country. He is also the founder of Strength Elite.

Kevin believes in humility and the pursuit of excellence. His training is science-based and he is happy to work with anyone who possesses the grit and determination to improve themselves, get uncomfortable, knowing that nothing worth having ever came easy.

Name – Pekahou Cowan 

Age – 33

Pro Rugby Player since 2006 

NZ born to Maori and Cookisland parents I grew up in Wellington and went to a bilingual school where I would speak, read and write in Maori (native language of nz) My Maori side(Mum) is based in Porirua home of my iwi(tribe) Ngati Toa, famously Known as the tribe responsible for the haka know as Kamate used by the all blacks even to this day. It’s probably fair to say that rugby is in my blood. 

My name is not something you hear every day either however it is a name I am honoured to carry. It was the name of the brother of the great Te Rauparaha who was chief and creator of the Kamate haka. Pekahou was handed down to my grandfather and to me. 

Unfortunately I don’t know a lot about my Cook Island side as my dad did not think it was important to learn , especially since I was in NZ learning and growing up there. After my parents separated I lived with my dad and he decided to move to Australia in 2000. I grew up in Mona Vale on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and completed the remainder of my schooling at Narrabeen Sports High School. From there I signed a full time professional rugby contract and have been doing this ever since. 


Proud husband and father of 3 

132 Super Rugby Caps (western force)

10 test caps for The Wallabies 

1 Barbarians cap 

Currently playing/coaching in Japan while also doing my teaching degree through Curtain University. 

Pek Cowan IG 

Pekahou Cowan FB fan page 

What does a normal day look like for you?

Normal training day consists of training in the morning (gym) 1-1.5 hours then plan for team field session at night. Head in 2 hours before training to get treatment and physically prep for the field session. Field session is a standard 1.5-2 hours skills, contact, and unit work with forwards.

Non training days start the same with gym in the am , then Japanese class at for 1.5 hours , lunch, once back I begin to chip away at my uni degree. Being in japan means there is a lot of down time so keeping myself busy with something constructive to do it really important to me I do like to keep busy most days.

Who or what has had the biggest impact on your career?

The who would definitely be my Dad. His support in anything I wanted to do never wavered. I played a lot of different sports as a kid from Softball, Basketball, Golf, Rugby League, Rugby Union and no matter what I played he was always there. Through out my playing career he would always be the person I would wait to hear from because his opinion mattered most, I could always depend that he would be open honest and supportive regardless of if I played well or not. His advice always served me well and he was a mammoth part of developing my values as a person, and set the standard of what kind of man I wanted to be. 

The “what” would definitely be knowing a large part of who I am and where I come from. There is a lot to be said about that. Knowing and being connected to my Maori culture has always empowered me and guided me. It’s the mana (spirit) that has always driven me to try and be the best in whatever it is that I do because I feel I have the responsibility to represent not only me and my family but my culture and my people.

What drives you to keep pushing the limits in your physical and mental game?

I have always loved to compete, it’s what really drives me. I was the youngest in my family growing up and my cousins were all older so I was always having to compete with bigger and older kids my whole life. I like to test myself and I guess that has just been apart of me since I was young. I am not one to really verbalize things however I am a big believer that actions speak louder then words. Having competed for so long I guess the art of what I do and the authenticity of my position is a driving force to keep pushing my body to its limits. I do a lot of training alone so mentally it’s really challenging because it’s really easy to ask yourself why am I doing this ? No one really cares if you do or don’t which is actually very true, but the expectation i set for myself on the field drives me to do what needs to be done in order to achieve that. It might sound strange but I can deal with loosing, I have lost a lot through out my playing career, but what would really bother me would be losing or worse yet, letting down my team, not because of my skill set but because of my work ethic off of the pitch.

What in your words makes a good person/human?

Humility I believe is a big one. Being able to to be personable with people is something I feel contribute to a good person. Genuine conversation, eye contact and respect while caring for others, someone with good values who can lead from the front as well as show vulnerability in times of need.

What in your mind are two or three things you would do consistently to keep your conditioning (strength, endurance, lifting etc) up… things you think are important?

Consistency in my training is a massive one. After many years playing I have actually found for me personally, I can’t just take a week or 2 off and then get back in to things. I have to be doing constant work to keep my body going. As a minimum If I am in season or not, I have to do at least 2 running/conditioning sessions specific to my and my position as well as consistently developing strength and mobility, targeting no less the 4 weights sessions a week. The important thing with all this is that I tailor my work to my craft. There is no point me being able to run a marathon, when I am expected to hit bodies and scrum for a living. However I am required to do explosive repeat efforts, and shift big bodies while having a capacity to run and execute catch pass skill while commuting in a game or training. so these skills and components  are incorporated in to my programs where possible.

What is your favourite quote?

It’s not about where you start, but where you finish that matters.

I love this quote because I see it as a metaphor for life. Some start 10 steps ahead some start 10 steps behind but don’t expect that is where you have to stay or deserve to be, YOU choose where you FINISH.

What in your mind are two or three things you consistently do to keep your conditioning/strength etc?

How and why physical prep important to me is pretty simple, doing what I do requires a physical fitness, resilience, and discipline to be able to continuously play and train year in year out. Physical preparation has impacted my life in a huge way. It’s part of who I am. It’s a part of my everyday and I have learned to enjoy it for all of its benefits. Physical , mental , social , and emotional.

Best advice you’ve been given?

Don’t expect anything, be prepared to work for what you want. Even when you don’t want to.

What occupies your time when you are not training or playing?

Completing my teaching degree. 

In this video we run through the idea of training for your sport vs playing your sport… what do we mean? You don’t play a Rugby game everyday to get better at Rugby, you do an analysis of your performance, your strengths and weakness and from there reverse engineer how you get better. By better, this could mean more speed, stronger, more powerful, better endurance, increase a skill in a certain aspect of your sport… the list goes on. So whether you are a Rugby player, Crossfitter, Cyclist or Swimmer the rules are the same, you need to train the areas that need improvement so you can enhance your game day performance.

Train Hard, Train Smart. 

Sleep is on of these subjects that everyone knows a little about, but seldom do I see this knowledge ever put into practice. I’ll also discuss some very relevant tips on sleep that you probably don’t know about.

Did you know you can die quicker from lack of sleep than you can from lack of water? It feels like that, and all of us have at some stage felt what a real lack of sleep does, walking around looking like you are functioning but inside you struggle to form a thought. Here is what happens to your body and brain as you decrease your sleep;

  • Decrease alertness (missing 1-2 hours will have an impact)
  • Memory – a lack of sleep will affect how you process and remember basic information
  • Stress – It will make you feel moody and you will more likely move toward a conflict state of mind
  • Exercise – You find it hard to participate or to even exercise which in turn will have a effect on your mood all over again
  • Accidents – Driving tired has accounted for numerous accidents and fatalities. Your ability to react

The above problems are only on short term sleep, if you continue to operate without the proper amount of sleep you will start to see more long term problems and sometimes serious health problems. Sleep deprivation can trigger, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and in chronic cases, heart attack and or strokes! Focused enough?

Did you also know that a lack of sleep can affect your appearance? It can lead to premature wrinkling, dark circles under your eyes…it also tends to increase the stress hormone cortisol within the body, thus making recovery harder.

So what do we do? Of course there is a time and a place for lack of sleep, Military, LEO, shift workers and new parents know this all to well. However we can minimize the blow to the body and mind with these simple steps.

  • Naps – a 30 min nap can reverse the impact of a bad nights sleep.
  • Drink more – when you are fatigued you get dehydrated, the more water you drink the more awake you feel.
  • Exercise – training boosts adrenaline levels, speeds up metabolism and will improve the way you feel.
  • Go outside – sunlight helps you battle the sleepiness, increases your vitamin D and B levels. It will improve you mood, improve you immune system and help you focus.
  • Social media/LED lights – take all the phones, computers out of your room. Artificial light will interrupt your sleep, it will interrupt your circadian rhythm, which is how your body regulates so many of the important systems within the body. Black out your room and you will sleep better!
  • And track your sleep patterns – record your sleep everyday, self monitoring can keep you aware of how much you have or haven’t got. And will allow you to make better choices based around this knowledge.

In the end the more you know about it the better informed decisions you can make day to day on how and what you do. Make some simple changes when and if your sleep patterns are being disrupted and you’ll come out the other end of it all a much more productive person!