I used to hate training, and it showed! It was a real struggle for me to get fit when I was younger and basically that was all down to poor lifestyle choices, lack of guidance and education. I always thought my genetic make up was faulty in some way or that I was predisposed to carry extra body fat or that my lung capacity wasn’t the same as others. I went to bed late, woke up late, ate whatever I wanted and drank at least one bottle of carbonated beverage a day. No wonder I struggled. I’d land to 10am training without breakfast, straight out of the scratcher and have a helping of 3-4 slices of Nutella on toast after with a bottle of Lucozade. My body was crying out for routine, but what it got was random bursts of training between many injuries, no strength training of any type and an anything goes diet. I was getting by on my skills, which isn’t ideal for consistent performance. Finally, the penny dropped, and I took ownership.
This is a journey of self-discovery, of learning, of exploration and sometimes experimentation. Most importantly, this is your journey so do what is right for you. It is unique to every individual, but the key is to know yourself, what drives you and motivates you. Build a skill-set around your training, make it easy to commit to training and have a routine. In no particular order I have listed some of my tips and learnings over the years.
Find a community that supports your goals. Surround yourself with positive people and those that want to live the same way as you do. You’ll find these people in sports clubs, gyms and gym classes. If you go to the bar you’ll find a drinking buddy, so look in the right places! Having a training partner makes it easier to train, harder to opt out and you will get more out of yourself. We are a social species that thrive in the company of others. Most are also very competitive, whether they realise it or not! Put a group of humans in a room and they’ll subconsciously start to rank each-other and figure out where they fit in. I have trained with guys that are stronger athletes than I am. It has always got the best out of me and improved me. Don’t be intimidated by it, seek the challenge and find a way to close the gap!
Nutrition is a lifelong struggle for me! I love food and I have an insatiable appetite. Again, routine is important here but the key skill to good diet is educating yourself on the basics. A qualified nutritionist will help you maximise your results and elevate you to a different level. For most people, it’s about just being healthy and not necessarily performance nutrition. My personal tricks for keeping lean off season are to keep a 3-meal routine and keep treats and snacks to a minimum. I have some rules to keep myself in check, the best is that a poor meal choice must always be followed by a good meal choice. An example for me that would be making sure I have a wholesome dinner with vegetables or salad if I had a sandwich & fries for lunch. If I ate a sandwich for lunch every day my body fat would be over 20%! Likewise, I may have some pancakes on the weekend but would follow up with a salad for lunch and if I had pizza for dinner then the following mornings breakfast would be bacon and eggs or smoked salmon. Alcohol also loosens my judgement, so I have a rule that I don’t drink alcohol 2 days in a row. You can find yourself in a rut if you are having a glass of wine or bottle of beer once a day throughout the winter! This doesn’t count for special occasions of course.
On the supplement side I have found a small number of supplements useful for training. Creatine and Beta-Alanine are a must for me during the season. I use Magnesium for sleeping after late hard sessions and Collagen repair for injuries. I take vitamin D during the long dark winters as we can’t get enough through the sun’s rays. Pre competition I take caffeine through coffee or chewing gum and Dioralyte in my water to help hydrate/rehydrate. You should consult your doc or dietitian before supplementing your diet, these work for me and are safe for me to use personally. The rest of my required nutrients I get through my diet. I am not a big fan of protein shakes so I get my protein from fish, eggs, cottage cheese, red meat and poultry. I also don’t eat much of the so-called healthy protein bars. I’d rather have the real deal if I was to have a treat and try keep it to a minimum.
This was an important building block for me. It was the first part of training that I managed to make routine. I trained at the same time 3 days a week every week. I had the same training partner that I met at the gym and we would do our personalised programs that we got from a qualified instructor. If you are beginning in the gym, it can be daunting, so I suggest getting guided through by a pro with a personalised program. You’ll feel like you fit in a lot quicker. Most people feel awkward in the gym or going to a gym for the first time so don’t worry. Strength training will help you age well and keep your bone density, so it is never too late to learn how to lift. I’m heading into my 30’s, and over the past year I have hit personal bests in every part of my training. I have gotten stronger and faster. My speed is something I never thought I could improve but I have done so, several times over the last year. It’s very encouraging to see good results so it is wise to keep a training diary recording your personal bests in all the different areas. If you have a set back or injury then you also have a base line or data on where you’d like to get back to.
I have had my fair share of injuries. Like most people my initial reactions to an injury are disappointment, frustration, anger and a helping of self-pity. I try to keep that to the few hours following the injury and then instantly turn to how I can get fit and healthy again. Understanding an injury is very helpful and though most injuries are different, it can be helpful to chat with someone that has had the injury. I’ll generally research the injury as much as I can and dig up a few published papers that study the recovery from the injury. I try to get moving again ASAP and eat spicy homemade curries and anti-inflammatory foods. I’m lucky to live beside the sea which helps a lot, though it is hard to prove the healing capacity of the sea, it definitely helps and at the very least it helps the mind. There are a lot of methods that claim to speed up injuries like shock-therapy, cryotherapy, ultrasound etc. My view on those is if they don’t make it worse, they are worth a try! I always tend to look at the time frame given by the medical team and aim to be back a few weeks earlier than that. It may not always work out, but it gives intense focus on the task and a purpose to the rehabilitation. I know my recovery is good so this is something that is personal to everyone and to avoid a lawsuit I should state you should always listen to the expert medical advice!
Sleep is the second most under-rated part of training/performance! The benefits of regular sleep and a set routine are key to performance. A Stanford basketball study showed improved speed, reaction time, mood and most notably a 9% improvement in shooting accuracy. We go around seeking the newest technological developments to make 1% gains, and here we have something that is available to all, that gives a 10% gain, but most reject it. The problem is that it’s hard, but like all the other blocks, it takes discipline, and it is hard to do. It takes commitment. I tried going to bed at 10pm every night for 2 weeks this year. I managed it but couldn’t keep it going. The data from the health tracker I was wearing was off the charts compared with my data from an 11pm bedtime. My Heart rate variable (HRV) and all stages of sleep vastly improved, particularly REM sleep. The problem is life doesn’t always allow it and when our training re-started, I was often only coming in the door at 10.30pm.
Rest includes walks and other low-level activities. In between training days make sure to have rest days. Your motivation will last longer. My recovery strategy includes massage (a massage gun or masseur) and full body immersion. I like a sea swim or ice baths, not particularly at the time but I’m always glad for it afterwards. I would use 2 black bags full of ice and go for 15-20 minutes in the bath. This helps me get my core temperature down before bed when I have trouble sleeping too.
I love to train and the idea of training hard. The reality is though that when I am in the middle of doing that hard session my body is nearly always shouting stop. You always have thoughts of that is enough and what am I doing this for, I could be doing something far more enjoyable and easier! The only way to get through is positive self-talk, reassure yourself that it’s worth it and tell yourself it is easy, your built for it. Even when your legs want to stop moving and your lungs are screaming stop just tell yourself one foot in front of the other you are nearly done. You are always capable of one more rep. If it takes all day finish what you set out to do, at least you can look yourself in the mirror and not see a quitter that took the easy option. The day will come for all of us when we physically are not able to do the things we can today, so don’t miss your chance and don’t waste a day.
I use an app called Headspace for meditation. You do not realise how difficult it is to clear your mind and not think about anything until you try it. I always feel focussed and re-energised after meditation and do it at least once a week. Visualisation is a key component to competing in flow. It allows the mind to prepare and when competition comes you do things automatically. There is no better feeling that being in flow and visualisation is one way to almost guarantee you’ll be in that space when you need to be.
Paul Geaney is a footballer for Dingle GAA and Kerry GAA senior football team who holds 2 Sigerson cup medals, 3 National League medals, 9 Munster championship medals and 1 All-Ireland medal.