Nine years ago when Dan Connolly and Paddy Coady set up Phoenix Strength and Conditioning in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, they were entering CrossFit-type competitions. However, their gym now focuses on health, wellness and longevity, as opposed to the competitive side of things.
The term strength and conditioning is well known, with high-performance teams placing a big emphasis on it. With that, team coaching for the GAA as well as school teams has become part of the Phoenix offering but the big change is that “people are realising the importance of it not just for sport but for life in general,” Paddy says.
Educate and motivate
What differentiates Phoenix is that they are an entirely coaching-based facility. It’s not just access to equipment and, in fact, there are no machines that you would associate with a conventional gym.
“It is group fitness classes, all bodyweight or resistance-based training with free weights. It’s coaching, it’s motivation, it’s being under the watchful eye of qualified coaches all of the time. That is important for success but also safety as they are making sure you stay within your ability and are not pushing past what you should be doing,” he explains of their system.
One reason not to use machines is that it becomes very monotonous. The other reason, Paddy says, is: “You work harder when you don’t have machines guiding the weights and you have to stabilise the weights. There’s more engagement, more of your whole body involved in every single movement that you do.”
Everybody’s health goals are different. The first consultation with Paddy is to find out the “why” behind why the person wants to join. He believes that if you can find this out, then there’s more of a chance that the person can be helped to get to where they want to go.
Two thirds of members are female and the average age of the clientele is 38-50 but there are several members in their 60s. People’s goals on joining a gym will differ, but in Phoenix longevity is central.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it. We need to be moving in order for us to live our best lives. As we get older, this means making sure that there’s no muscle wastage, having good strong bones, lessening your chances of having a fall and making sure you have good energy as the stresses of life might catch up on you.”
When it comes to nutrition, Paddy recommends a really simple habit-based approach.
“We don’t give somebody a meal plan and say, ‘Here you go, rock on with that for 28 days and you’ll be fine’, because what do you do on day 29? They will have learned nothing, perhaps lost a little bit of weight but, generally, once people stop doing a programme they put it back on again.”
As a meal plan won’t fit into many lifestyles, Paddy will dive into a person’s lifestyle, work life, stresses, the sleep they are getting, hydration and food.
So what about people with injuries, is strength and conditioning for them?
The Phoenix holistic approach supports tackling each of these one at a time because when people start something new, he says it can be completely overwhelming.
“If you’re trying to change 100 things at once, you will maybe do it for three weeks and then it’s gone out the window. Whereas we like to take a really simple habit-based approach and give you the accountability and support that you need. Everybody’s struggles are different, it could be going off track at the weekends, it could be not prioritising breakfast, it could be not eating enough whole foods, it could be not fuelling their training. We will only tackle one of those things at a time.”
So what about people with injuries, is strength and conditioning for them? I ask. He advises that personal training is the first step but that an injury, depending on the injury of course, is not a reason for someone not to take action towards a healthier lifestyle. But also that this is when your nutrition becomes even more important as if you’re injured, you’re not as active as you used to be and if you are eating the same, that’s inevitably going to lead to weight gain.
A team sport in a gym
Dan and Paddy are proponents also of getting out of the gym. They are outdoor sports enthusiasts and enthusiastically encourage members to live that life also.
“There’s a huge benefit to people getting more sunlight and getting active. We are surrounded by these beautiful mountains and hikes and we want to expose our members to that.
“If you’re not getting enough sleep, you are hungry, you’re going to be eating more, putting on weight then you might not have any energy
“We like to bring people up new routes [mountain] and these are thoroughly social events and that is one thing we missed over COVID. Some people want to come [to Phoenix] for training and that’s fine but there is a huge social aspect to group training and that’s what people keep coming for. They’re working out beside their friends, you generally push yourself more when you have somebody pushing at that same level. That group atmosphere is a huge element to it.”
A support structure when trying to break into good habits is vital too as we pick up the habits of those closest to us. Paddy advises that to succeed you need to surround yourself with positive people with common interests.
The too tired to exercise vicious circle
Paddy believes that sleep is hugely underestimated.
“It has such an effect on your stress, on your mood, on your appetite. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your hormones will be out of whack. The hormones leptin and ghrelin will be out of sync, the former controls how satiated you are by your food and the latter controls that feeling of hunger, so you’re always going to feel hungry.”
Without a holistic approach, things like this can be the missing link for people who start a healthy regime. Paddy says that it’s a vicious cycle: “If you’re not getting enough sleep, you are hungry, you’re going to be eating more, putting on weight then you might not have any energy. Lack of sleep leads into this kind of really dark tunnel of bad habits. Whereas if we can control the sleep by changing bad habits, we can control our diet and really start to progress forward.
“If you were going to climb Everest and you only ever looked at the top you would get very disheartened because you need markers on the way to getting to that goal. No matter how small the progress, success breeds motivation and when you see that you’re making progress and succeeding, you’re going to be more likely to stay with it.”
Paddy explains that in Phoenix goals are SMART: simple, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. They need to be achievable and you need to measure your success. With climbing Everest, first it’s Basecamp and then you go to the next stage so you know you’re progressing towards your long-term goal.
“I get clients to visualise what their goal is. If you lose a stone, how is life going to be different? When you can visualise that and really connect to your “why” you’re going to be so much more motivated in the times when it can be a bit of a struggle. CL