"My Name is Rory O'Connor, I am 23 years old and from Dublin Ireland. I relocated to Canada two years ago and have been working and living in Whistler/Vancouver. After graduating from University College of Dublin with my Commerce degree, travelling the world was my main objective. As an avid downhill mountain biker, Whistler was of course the first stop on my world tour.
Two years later, I haven't looked back. It's been an incredible experience and a massive learning curve. But it was exactly what I needed and fits perfectly with my motive to always improve and learn as much as I can."
Last summer, Rory was at the top of his game. He was getting ready to compete at Crankworks, a world renowned mountain biking competition. But two weeks before the big day, he had a catastrophic crash that shattered his hopes of competing.
He fractured his elbow, forcing him to be in a cast for weeks. After that, he spent the following few months seeing physiotherapists and going about rehabilitating his injury.
When we got in touch early November 2015, Rory was struggling with getting his fitness back.
"It was about 3 or 4 months after surgery and lots of physio but I wasn't recovering as fast I wanted. I had lost a lot of muscle mass and was very out of shape. Confidence was at a low because I knew I wasn't as strong as I had been after 8 months of training prior to my injury.
It was mentally tough to walk back into the gym and to be starting from the bottom again. Although I knew I had to get back lifting weights, my motivation wasn't there. I had no plan and was just going in and messing around which bothered me even more. I couldn't do half the exercises I loved before and had no idea where to start. I was lost."
We started with an assessment which included an array of unilateral (single-sided) upper body movements. We needed to see where his left arm strength was in comparison to his right arm. We couldn’t train any bilateral (two-sided) movements until both arms were close in strength. Despite Rory’s eagerness to get back to bench pressing and overhead pressing, doing so too early would have left too much room for compensation which could have created more problems down the line.
The plan early on was simple: get Rory back onto a regular training routine, focusing on leg work and upper body unilateral work. This allowed his to push hard on the lower body exercises and bring his left side up to speed again. We also did a large amount of core work in the process.
Rory was always very committed to his training, both inside and outside the gym. He greatly improved his overall flexibility by putting in extra hours of work at home each week. But even with his strong commitment to gaining back his fitness, the road wasn’t always easy.
"I fell off the wagon around Christmas time, as I was working 6 days a week and outside factors in my life were making it difficult to stay on track. My elbow was cooked and I didn't know where I was going in life. I always feel bad when I miss the gym for a week or so and it's hard to accept taking that little step back and ramping up again.
Same thing happened in April when a good friend came to visit and I didn't train for 2 weeks. Sometimes life gets in the way though and I have come to accept now; that there will be set backs and you just have to be calculated about getting back to training. The longer you leave it the harder it gets, so just jump back in as soon as you can. "
Despite these road bumps, Rory managed to add almost 100 lbs onto his squat in 6 months. He went from 185lbs in November 2015 to 275lbs for 3 reps in May 2016, which was a new personal best for him. He also brought his left arm strength up significantly, allowing him to start practicing the bench press, overhead press and chin up again.
The plan was set up so that Rory had target weights to hit every 4 or 5 weeks. This made him focus on his day to day work, breaking down his bigger goals into manageable increments. It would have been much harder for him to focus on “the 6 months of rehab ahead of me” all at once.
"A lot of small PRs and goals were achieved along the way, which kept the training interesting. The short term accomplishments that Sean had me focus on were definitely key."
But the numbers in the gym weren’t what mattered the most.
"The number one thing I achieved was being healthy enough to swing a leg over a downhill bike again and go riding. After 10 months of recovery I felt my arm was strong enough and I decided to give riding another shot. 5 seconds into the first run, it was all worth it. My physical preparation was on point and I felt right at home on the bike again. It was as if I had re-wound 12 months and was back ripping turns. Obviously things weren't 100% and my elbow isn't as stable or as strong as before, but I was impressed with myself as to how strong and in control I felt on the bike. No fatigue, no stiffness, no low back pain, no running out of breath. I couldn't have been happier with being able to just get on the bike to ride and not worry about anything. "
Today Rory is still training hard. He's pushing his body to be stronger than it ever was before, while still riding Whistler’s famous hills. We continue to work remotely, making sure he’s not rushing his progress and going through the appropriate steps to keep him injury free.
"By myself I wouldn't have had the patience and would have probably done more damage than good."
Sean is a personal trainer and strength coach who loves teaching beginners how to safely get stronger in the gym. He lives in Vancouver BC with his wife Lynne, and their children. Sean has a keen eye for good movement and encourages a positive lifestyle to support good training results.