Johnny O'Connor: Patience the key to reaching your weights and conditioning goals
We’re all in a rush to achieve our weights and conditioning goals, but taking a step back is often the best route to success, writes Johnny O’Connor.
Like anything else, everyone wants to reach a destination as quickly as possible and whether the goal is short or long-term, sometimes we don’t have the patience to achieve it.
The need for patience came to mind for me this week when I jumped on the scales after coming back from holidays and realised that I was actually below my optimum weight.
Many moons ago, I would have reacted terribly to such news and immediately organised a crazy week of training and ate an unbelievable amount of food to try and make up the difference. I’d be in such a rush that I’d end up over training and probably putting on some useless weight as a result.
Sometimes we all get caught out with impatience and no matter how experienced you may think you are, you have to remember that it happens to everyone. When you’re setting goals, whether its weights or conditioning, you have to be patient and I’m lucky that I took it on board early on in my career.
What convinced me of the need for patience was a training routine I got into with an overseas player who signed for Connacht years ago, a New Zealander called Shane McDonald. At the time I was playing for my club Corinthians and would have been mad into going to the gym, thinking that the more I could do the better.
He kind of took me under his wing in terms of training and broke down our sessions into small pieces, focussing on the big compound lifts. I still have the little blue diary I used to keep at the time, where I’d record all the lifts we did; squats, bench presses, dead lifts, military presses and some subsidiary exercises as well.
I do feel sorry for the guys who train by running themselves into the ground because they’re wasting their time.
The problem with a lot of people is if they see someone else lift heavy they want to lift as heavy as them and lift as heavy as they can as fast as they can. When I trained with Shane, we dropped completely back. I can’t remember exactly but I think for bench pressing, for example, we started off at 70kg and would do four reps of five lifts and would add 2.5 – 5 kg every week.
After 12 weeks, I was able to bench 140kg for a one rep max which at the time for me was a major improvement and far better than what I would have been able to do before. I added something like 30 or 40kg to my squat and my dead lift as well and it was all because we were patient and were content to gradually reach our goals.
Three months might be too long for some people but it was perfect for me and the technique has lasted a lifetime because I’ve managed to consistently maintain and improve my level over the years. It wasn’t too full-on either, I used to be in the gym twice, maybe three times a week and you’d be in and out in a fairly short space of time.
The focus was on quality rather than quantity, focussing on the big lifts and maybe finishing up with some high rep stuff, but the sessions were nice and quick as well as being effective.
Take a step back
The lesson I learned from it was to never mind what someone else is doing. Hold back, take your time and see where you are in three or four months compared to the next guy. You need to be realistic and know where your starting point is; you may not be as advanced as you think you are. Be honest, take your time, step back and steady your progress.
I’ve mentioned the highly regarded strength coach Jason Feruggia a few times in this column and he’s always on about holding one rep in reserve and it’s something I’d completely agree with, it’s all about steady progressions.
People often seem to want to follow body building programmes; if you want to be a body builder, be a body builder, but if you compare a body builder to a sprinter, they are nearly the same size and yet the sprinter is obviously going to be able to move quicker. I find that people following body building programmes to improve their sporting performance is just ridiculous.
Like your weightlifting goals, it’s also important to have patience for your conditioning goals. You have to pick where you want to go, scale back how you’re going to get there and do it in chunks. Really good results take a lot of time, but if you break it down into a series of short-term goals, you’ll get there in the end and it won’t seem as long.
Start off slow and keep adding and adding to your regime as you go along. It’s a process known as chunking and it’s applicable to all walks of life. If you’re learning to play the guitar for example, you start off with a few basic chords, master how to play them first and then gradually pick up new things as you go along and master them before moving onto the next stage.
Flogging yourself is a waste of time
You watch lads train by literally running themselves to a standstill, but you have to be realistic about it – how many times do you see two players on a pitch barely able to put one foot in front of another because they’re so tired? By doing that, they’re not being realistic to the demands of the game itself.
I have a lot of friends that do triathlons, which are proving very popular and are a great way to get out and get fit, but some people approach training the wrong way altogether. Some people feel they need to be doing a triathlon a week to prepare themselves for the actual event when they should be gradually building up to the distance they will be covering.
You don’t want to be the guy that runs a crazy amount of miles per week, because all that mileage and that volume adds up whereas if you build up to it you’ll have the same efficiency but less volume and will probably run a better race in the end.
I do feel sorry for the guys who train by running themselves into the ground because they’re wasting their time. I see them myself sometimes when I do a bit of training in Dangan in NUIG, but thankfully people’s mentalities are beginning to change.
You have to know to train smarter because any fool is able to flog themselves into the ground. Sometimes you have to push the boundaries a little but hardly being able to walk is hardly beneficial. At the bottom of the column, I’ve included a recommended conditioning programme for beginners that I find works far better than running yourself into the ground.
Patience is a virtue and it often takes perseverance to be able to stick with something for a long time. To get what you want to achieve you have to stick to your own expectations and not give a shit what anyone else thinks. It’s a long road to most goals, but you’ll get there in the end if you persevere and just be patient.
Conditioning training recommendation for beginners (based on five-week cycle):
Set 1: 10 seconds per run; 25 seconds rest in between each run
Set 2: 15 seconds per run; 40 seconds rest between each run
Set 3: 25 seconds per run; 50 seconds between each run
Rest for 1 minute 30 seconds between sets
Here’s what you should be aiming for on a week by week basis, adding three reps per week until you reach Set 3.
Week 1: 6 runs of Set 1
Week 2: 6 runs of Set 1 and 3 runs of Set 2
Week 3: 6 runs of Set 1 and 6 runs of Set 2
Week 4: 6 runs of Set 1, 6 runs of Set 2, 3 runs of Set 3
Week 5: 6 runs of Set 1, 6 runs of Set 2, 6 runs of Set 3
All of the runs are pretty much a sprint, so go for it.
Johnny O'Connor plays professional rugby with Connacht. He has previously played for London Wasps and has made 12 appearances for Ireland. He is also a certified strength and conditioning coach. Johnny regularly posts articles from top strength and conditioning coaches around the world on his Twitter page. Click here to follow Johnny on Twitter.