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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019

'Whether it's for performance or to look better naked, everyone needs to do it'

We talk to co-founder of the Irish Strength Institute John Connor, who runs the top high performance centre in the country.

Connor with a client.
Connor with a client.
Image: isipersonaltraining

IRISH STRENGTH INSTITUTE co-founder John Connor may be one of the country’s most well-respected strength and conditioning coaches but he admits initially stumbling into the area of fitness 14 years ago.

The Dubliner was a talented goalkeeper who played his schoolboy football with famous DDSL clubs Home Farm and Belvedere before attracting the attention of Millwall.

At the time manager by Mick McCarthy, the Lions invited Connor along to train during a pre-season trip to Ireland but a second trial never materialised when McCarthy was handed the international job in 1996.

A visit to Bristol City didn’t result in a move and after a subsequent football scholarship to go to college in the States fell through, Connor “got the hump” and drifted away from the sport.

While working in a cinema, a chance meeting with a former manager opened the door to a fitness course with the National Training Centre — and he hasn’t looked back since.

After its completion, he picked up a job in Westwood Gym in Fairview and during his eight years there was always striving to improve his knowledge via trips abroad for various training programmes.

Duing a visit to the US, Connor met world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin who offered him the opportunity to work with elite athletes from the NFL, NHL and the US Olympic team during an internship in 2004.

He returned home and set up the Irish Strength Institute with Eoin Lacey, who he had worked with at Westwood, and went about hosting Poliquin’s programme in Europe before going on to teach them.

“I saw all that training and picked up his system but at the same time I learned off a lot of other people,” Connor tells

“The Bruce Lee analogy goes: ‘Use what is useful’. Look at everything, use what is useful and make it your own.”

Among the ISI’s clients are a host of intercounty GAA players, a couple of Irish Olympians, Belfast boxer Carl Frampton, as well as UFC fighter Conor McGregor and his SBG team-mates. The vast majority of those who walk through the door are just normal people keeping themselves healthy, however.

“The session I just had Was with a woman who had a baby five months ago and I’m holding the baby while I’m training her so it’s not only athletes.

A lot of people are intimidated by the name Irish Strength Institute so that’s why we subtly changed to ISI Personal Training. Everyone needs strength and conditioning whether it’s for performance, for health, or it’s to look better naked.

“Regardless of whether we’re training elite level MMA guys or regular people, programmes tend to look very similar when we start you off. The human body is the human body. We always start off with a structural balance phase to try correct imbalances, which you’ll have whether you’re a professional athlete or a couch potato.

“People think it’s all screaming and shouting but it’s not like that at all. I hate that stereotype of a drill sergent fitness instructor — whistle in your mouth. There’s a lot more to it than that.”

The work has taken him all over the world but he is still based in one of their five facilities in Dublin (there’s also one in Portugal) having seen the business grow from one small gym on Richmond Road.

“At the start it was hard getting anybody in the door but results get them in them in,” he explains. “Probably one of the most successful things I had was when I trained Ronan Keating for the Boyzone reunion tour.

“The papers did a piece and we got about 15 or 20 clients from it alone. I’ve got more from that one article than anything else I’ve ever done. I don’t know what that says about people.

Here we are training some of the most successful athletes and MMA fighters and I probably still won’t get as many people as I do from that one article!”

On the subject of MMA, the ISI have also agreed to run a section of the gym at SBG’s new headquarters which officially opened last week. Connor describes the fine-tuning that goes on before fights:

“What I’ve learned through working with the lads is that the contribution might be 5-10% if we’re lucky. A lot of what we’re doing is keeping them healthy through the camp so they can do all their technical work.”

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Ben Blake

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