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Why Strength And Conditioning Matters

ABC 11 (4)

Hi my name is Noel Flynn and I am a Strength and Conditioning Coach. What is that you may ask? It sounds like something to do with bodybuilding right? Wrong! So before I explain a bit about what Strength and Conditioning is or S&C like it is becoming known for short, I will give a bit of detail about WHY I got into the field of S&C. I have always been sports mad. I played soccer for Hillcrest, ran with Lucan Harriers, swam in Stewarts and played hurling with Lucan Sarsfields but my main sport to this day is Gaelic Football which I continue to play at Intermediate Level with Lucan Sarsfields. So sport has always been a huge influence in the life of myself and my family. As a kid I was playing or competing in some sport pretty much every single day. Sport was the be all and end all really and I gave huge commitment to it, especially the Gaelic and gradually the other sports fell by the wayside. I really recommend kids trying a number of sports as there is something to be gained from all of them but that topic is for another day.

I was quite a good footballer as a teenager and was on the Dublin U-15 and U-16 teams and strength and fitness training was gradually becoming more common and I was tall and very skinny so I was really pushing myself to improve my strength and fitness. I would run a few miles every day, I would do 100 press ups and 100 sit ups every day. I was devastated when I got dropped from the Dublin Minor team and what didn’t help was that I was told I was one of the most skilful players but that I just was not strong enough. At the same time I was starting to train with the club’s senior team and actually made my debut a month before my 17th birthday. The manager told me that I would have a huge future in the team and to go and put on a stone in weight over the winter months.

Of course I took the challenge on. My dad brought me to get my first set of dumbbells from Argos, my mam was buying me weight gaining supplements in Tesco and I started dedicating my spare time to putting on muscle…and I did and fairly rapidly too. I am still to this day a slim guy but I went from around 11 stone to 13 stone in the space of a year or so and my strength levels increased. I could bench, I could do press ups, dumbbell flies, bicep curls, shoulder press and sit ups….all of the beach body exercises that I was seeing on magazines and obviously the muscles and body parts that you can see changes yourself in the mirror. Basically there was no structure, no balance, no legitimate reason as to why I was doing these exercises but I was building muscle and knew no better so I thought all this was great. I was doing all this in a day and age where the pitch fitness sessions consisted of countless laps of the pitch and sprints up and down hills and all of this for a growing teenager.

I then received a GAA Scholarship to NUI Maynooth along with Bernard Brogan of Dublin and Mick Foley of Kildare so despite everything I was still playing well and at a really high level. When I got to Maynooth and entered the dressing room there were county players from all over the country and again I felt like the skinny guy, I was lean, I had a six pack but I was skinny compared to these guys so the gym obsession continued along with the gruelling running which had now doubled because I was doing it with club and college. Gradually I started picking up hamstring injuries, they were always tight, my back was always sore and I had neck pain and of course the social life was also high on the list of priorities so recovery was non-existent but I was young and didn’t know any better. In time I could not string four or five games together without getting injured while I was always depressed with the back pain. Physios would just rub the hamstring and give you a few stretches, the chiropractor would give my back a crack which would give short term relief but I knew I could not continue like this, I was 21 and in the same shape as a 70 year old woman with osteoporosis and handing over money to physiotherapists and chiropractors on an almost weekly basis. I started reading religiously about injuries and exercise and had previously taken my GAA foundation level coaching course, so I decided to go and do the Level 1 course. There was a bit about strength training on that and I continued to read into this area….and more and more info was starting to come on stream about strength and conditioning and core strength and flexibility. I loved reading about it and trying to apply it in practice. I was also studying to be a teacher…I had always wanted to be a PE teacher but I had not received the points in my Leaving Cert (maybe if I studied instead of going training 😉 ) so I was always looking to see was there a way I could add a PE type qualification to my CV and then Setanta College started and its courses were in Strength and Conditioning so I decided to take the gamble and enrol. The lecturers were top class especially Dr Liam Hennessy who was the director of fitness for the Irish Rugby team. I told him of my problems and he went through a movement screen with me. Basically I was tight everywhere, tight quads, tight hips, tight chest and shoulders, poor posture and had no stability or control over my body whatsoever even though my body looked like it was in good shape…it was in fact a mess. Liam gave me corrective exercises and stretches to do to loosen the tight muscles and strengthen the weak ones and I dedicated myself to doing them and soon the back pain started to ease and the injuries started to clear up. I loved studying the S&C as well so really applied myself to it and I graduated with Distinction. I had also impressed the tutors while doing the course and was also a teacher so I got offered a job lecturing with Setanta College. I continued to educate myself as I always needed to be up to date in order to live up to the standards expected of the role, constantly investing in workshops and seminars and nutrition courses etc. I had also being training teams during all of this time including a senior county hurling team for one winter pre-season, which was an eye opener. Their training programme was shocking, lacked professionalism and was in fact dangerous and I was selected as one of the coaches to help implement it. I helped out with this programme for a couple of months but I had nothing to do with selecting the exercises or the sets and reps and I thought to myself that the programme I had the Lucan camogie team on was better….it was simple, it was basic but it was based on their current status, it was getting them fitter and stronger for their sport and it was keeping them from picking up any muscle tissue injuries. While it is great to be able to say I helped train a senior county hurling team…it was not training that I would stand over myself so I walked away from it. Up until now I have always found it difficult to commit to coaching as I was playing senior football myself and as any player at this level will know, that requires huge commitment, and it is also hard knowing more than the guy training you.

Strength and Conditioning has taught me that people and athletes all have different strengths and weaknesses and that people need to be able to move well in order to perform well. People need to be mobile and stable in their joints and muscles before they go about loading their bodies in whatever form whether that be somebody planning on running a 10km or marathon to a GAA player or a golfer. In order to perform to the best of your ability you should first be screened to see if there are any potential injury risks to performing your sport that can be rectified with a good S&C regime. Once your body has the ability to move well you can go about increasing all the other factors that contribute to performing at the highest level. We only have to look at the top athletes in various sports now to see the levels of performance that can be achieved with a sensible planned regime suitable to their bodies and their needs for their sport. Look at Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and the Champions League winning Real Madrid team, the German World Cup winning team, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke as well as the winning GAA teams. All of these have cited strength and conditioning as a major factor on the physical changes which have ultimately increased their performances as well as their appearances.

I recently opened my own gym called Athletic Body Coaching or ABC Gym for short where I use my strength and conditioning expertise along with my own experiences as a gym goer and an athlete to bring the latest methods of training used by the previously mentioned athletes and sports stars. In ABC Gym I train people like Athletes in order to look, feel, move and perform like an Athlete. So before you start a training regime just think is it a short term fix or is there a long term goal or philosophy in mind. There are so many myths out there regarding different training methods, like weights make you slow or endurance athletes should not lift weights because they will put on muscle or women who lift weights will become bulky. I will aim to dispel different myths going forward and show how any person or athlete can improve their health, lifestyle, physique or sporting performance with a modern strength & conditioning, athletic development training programme like used in ABC Gym. If you want further information you can ring me on 0872366394 or like the Facebook page  or keep an eye out for the upcoming website www.abcgym.ie

Yours in Sport,

Noel

Image courtesy of ABC Gym

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