Conor Meyler: Meditation, cold baths, stretching, and taping my mouth

For the data-driven Tyrone star recovering hard is as important as training hard

Conor Meyler doesn't do half measures. His bedtime routine includes taking a cold bath, opening the windows in his room, and taping his mouth closed. This year's GAA Footballer of the Year nominee has learned success is not just the result of training hard, it's also about recovering hard.

The day before Tyrone’s All-Ireland final victory over Mayo, Meyler’s Whoop app gave him a recovery reading of 98 per cent – the average reading for users is 58. The 27-year-old has just enjoyed the best season of his career and credits much of that to his extensive recovery routine, culminating in near perfect preparation for the biggest day of all. “I have no problem training but I have to work on recovery, my sleep and being accountable with it,” he told The Irish Times.

“I think people know these things but it’s about making it a habit and implementing it at least 90 per cent of the time. I have my meditation. Cold baths, stretching, nasal breathing. You know if you do it most of the time you’re in a good place.”

One of the aims of nasal breathing is to slow down your heart rate and increase oxygen intake. Mouth taping, Meyler explains, can maintain this during sleep. “Before bed I do a bit of reading and stretching. I’d have a cold bath or shower and have the windows open to drop the temperature in the room to help me relax a bit easier. I’d have no screens. I would meditate to help me switch off every night and I tape my mouth, for nasal breathing. To try and regulate your heart rate in pressure situations.”

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It's a game of inches for the Omagh St Enda's club man, and he's not willing to leave any stone unturned. "There were days during the championship season when my resting heart rate was 35bpm, my average was 37. As a teacher during the summer I could afford eight hours of sleep at least, and during the day I was a lot more relaxed.

“The week leading up to the AIl-Ireland final, my recovery was in the yellow on my Whoop, it was just okay and I remember thinking it was because of nervous energy and stress and excitement as it wasn’t because of any extra training we were doing. But on the Friday night it was 98 per cent. So I’d a deadly sleep. My resting heart rate was 36.”

He knew he was ready, but more so because he trusted his routine, as he hadn’t actually checked the data on his app on All-Ireland final morning. “I hadn’t looked at it until afterwards because I know of other lads who’ve looked at recovery scores and thought ‘oh I’m not recovered, I’m not going to perform’.

“So on a game day I never look at it as I don’t want it playing on my mind and affecting my performance. But it’s about the whole week or month, averages not one-off days. For me this year, and last year, it was important to start recovering hard as well as training hard. The sleep and that recovery was what was most important to me.

“I learned that if I have days off after a training session, I don’t need an extra gym session. You’ve got to put that effort into just recovering hard. For some people they’ll take different things from their data, for me it was to try and avoid overtraining and keeping myself fresh for the big day.”

According to Whoop – the wearable fitness tracker that provides real-time feedback on sleep, training, recovery, and health – the average resting heart rate for users is 56bpm. Little wonder the versatile half-forward had the capacity to keep going, covering every inch of ground in the Croke Park decider last September.

There are natural tendencies at play, but Meyler's respiratory rate is low as well – 13.7 at times – which he says is thanks to "Wim Hof stuff". From monitoring his data he has also reduced his caffeine intake and can be found in team mate Richie Donnelly's Natur & Co social wellness club several times a week for rounds in the cryotherapy bath and infrared sauna.

According to Meath's dynamic midfielder Ronan Jones, Meyler's data is in "ultra marathon runner territory". Jones' own resting heart rate averages at 41bpm.

On All-Ireland final day Meyler’s tracker started to record activity from almost two hours before the 5pm throw-in. Jones, the European marketing manager with Whoop, explains that the impact the match build-up was having on his body was such that it was being translated as physical activity.

Then at half-time all of the nasal breathing paid off as he was able to bring his heart rate right down; the second-half action was interpreted on the app as a separate activity. That second-half went on a bit longer than the usual 35 minutes as the on-field celebrations were also picked up as continued activity.

“It took a lot of trial and error, but the accountability has been key. The main data points for me are how many hours sleep did I get and how much deep sleep. I try to keep my recovery on the game week up in the green, not just the night before, and the best way to do that was good sleep and keeping my respiratory and heart rate low.”

For a young man who recovered from a broken tibia within four weeks to start the 2018 All-Ireland final, after sleeping in an oxygen tent, his commitment to training has never been in doubt. But the missing ingredient added in 2021 was recovery.

Meyler ultimately played every minute of this year’s championship, providing crucial passes, undertaking the key marking jobs and time after time leading Tyrone’s piercing transition. Earlier in December, he collected his first All Star, and few have ever worked or rested harder for it.

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