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'Trying to become Sean O'Brien, really': Pilates helping Healy return fitter and faster for Ireland

The prop also revealed his ‘untouchable’ record squat.

WITH THE EXCLUSION of the short and sweet Six Nations window, this season has been one to forget for Cian Healy.

Three games in to Leinster’s Pro12 campaign a freak injury brought his hamstring right off the bone. Three games before the end, he began feeling a problem with his neck.

It was almost five full months before he came back with a repaired hamstring, yet the joy returning in time for the Six Nations was tempered as Jack McGrath stood between him and a starting berth.

Jack McGrath and Cian Healy celebrate after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Healy was left to grin and bear cameo roles for the three biggest games of the Championship, playing in or around 20 minutes against France England and Wales before promotion back to his number one jersey arrived on the final day in Edinburgh.

Even then, the sturdier, bulkier Healy didn’t feel quite right:

“I think I put on a stone over the last season, of muscle,” Healy said at an event for Flexiseq Sport.

“[Just] to test it out, what it would be like to be a bigger prop, and a heavier prop.

“I didn’t like how slow I was and I didn’t like not being able to take that space or whatever. So that’s on my project list: to be the same weight, but faster, and more explosive.”

More explosive. Just let that cascade around you for a second.

They don’t come more explosive that Healy. His scrummaging now is as strong a part of his game as any, but when Declan Kidney first brought him in to the international setup, it was as an out and out wrecking ball to fling at defences.

Healy has left team-mates and coaches bewildered by the numbers he puts up in the gym. What kind of numbers? Numbers like his single rep records for bench press and squat, just for a taster:

“I think it was 190kg was my bench, and 300kg for my squat…”

Incredible figures to have stored away in the locker. And for Healy, they’re just that, a moment in the past that he looks back on to take a bit of confidence from now and then. Leinster’s head of fitness Dan Tobin has torn down the gym’s records wall, pushing players to keep ticking over consistently during the season with pre-season left as the time for lifting big.

After surgery on his neck, the 27-year-old prop is working towards that again. Slowly but surely.

“It’s working towards being able to push-up. We got to that stage yesterday and now it’s starting to move on again.”

Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien celebrate Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He added: “The worst thing about coming back from the hamstring was being so unfit. I lost so much fitness because I couldn’t walk, jog or run for so long. There was nothing really that I could do to maintain that cardio side of it.

“So now, going into this, once I have the right movement back in my upper body, I’m going to be working on my fitness and that’s going to be the goal for the next few weeks.

“Usually, I’d plug away on strength work. We’re going to be setting up a plan where there is less strength work to do and more about becoming fitter, faster and more durable. So, try to become Sean O’Brien, really.”

At the minute ‘the new Sean O’Brien’ is toiling away at rehabilitation. Like every other international he will take his holidays in June, but that will have an in-built exercise programme too so that he doesn’t lose ground before Ireland go in to camp.

Running is still off the agenda for now and swimming has never been for him. So along with his continual work to strengthen his ankles, hamstrings and neck, Healy will hop on the bike to keep the calipers at bay.

“The furthest I’d be going  is cycling. I’d go from Clontarf out to Howth – that’s it, that’ll keep me tipping over.

“I won’t do anything too extreme, I don’t like to train on my holidays anyway. Coming off your holidays in to pre-season, you know yourself: you don’t want to be wasting time when you’re supposed to be sitting on the beach.”

The biggest change Healy has made to his routine is the amount of time he spends stretching. He jokes that he wouldn’t bother trying to convince his younger self to start practicing pilates earlier given the single-mindedness of young Church. Now though, the experienced prop has ensured to chop out all the shortcuts.

Cian Healy Cian Healy Launches Drug-Free Gel For Joint Pain and Stiffness. Flexiseq Sport. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’ve changed [the routine] a lot more to kind of pre-arm the body; strength and mobility work in those vulnerable positions where you might be stretched out and stuff.

“I’ve started doing pilates stuff before bed and that’s helped a lot for strengthening me up. In the last couple of months I took in an hour’s stretching before bed – instead of sitting on the couch I’ll be stretching on the floor – and getting in to training a bit earlier, too; a bit more of a switch-on with a few more core exercises. So at the start of your day, your body has been moving,  you know. you’re not going straight from breakfast into the gym cold.

“It’s like you would expect: you should have something triggering your muscles off before you go in and try something hard. So that’s something I’ve brought in on both ends, morning and evening.

“And the evening thing, it’s helped my sleep and everything. It’s a been a complete change around for me.”

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Sean Farrell

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