Personal Health

How A Heart Condition Gave Emma Carney A New Perspective On Life

Three time World Number 1 Triathlete and Sports Australia Hall of Fame inductee, Emma Carney, is a force to be reckoned with.

With a long line of outstanding sporting achievements to her name, Emma was one of the world’s leading triathletes, known for her incredible athleticism and determination.

So when she was diagnosed with a serious heart condition in 2004 and told by doctors that she would never exercise again, Emma didn’t take the news lying down.

“I basically threw their advice out the window… my reasoning was that the heart’s a muscle, if you don’t give it any rehab it’s going to still be sore,” she said.

No one had ever tried this form of recovery before, so Emma and her doctors set about maintaining a level of fitness that kept her sane.

“If I hadn’t been an athlete, my cardiac arrest would’ve killed me.”

The road to recovery was a long one, which changed her perspective on life.

“Shortly after I was diagnosed with my heart condition, my older sister was diagnosed and died of cancer,” she said.

This devastating news made Emma realise how lucky she was to have survived a cardiac arrest, and she got back into exercising just three months after her first heart implant. While she still coaches junior elite athletes over some of the same courses she used to train on, she’s taking a more relaxed approach to training.

“Back in the day I was doing 4 to 6 hours of hard work each day. Today I did one [session] for 2 hours at the most.”

Alongside coaching, Emma also launched her own personal training business since retiring.

“I’ve grown up all my life with sport, and it’s sort of been a natural progression to go on and coach,” she said.

Since coaching both in person and online, Emma has a few important tips for those just starting out to improve their fitness.

Don’t overdo it

Whilst pushing yourself to reach personal goals is important, overdoing it and pushing too hard will end up backfiring. For Emma, her continual drive to succeed competitively played a part in the strain on her heart which led to her eventual diagnosis.

Make sure you’re not trying to do too much. “A run doesn’t mean you go out there and exert yourself for half an hour, a run might be a walk-run, or a 5 minute jog and then a 2 minute spur…mixing it all up,” says Emma.

Reduce the volume

A common training mistake she sees people make is engaging in too much volume. “To keep the body fit, you don’t need a lot of volume, you just need to mix it up every day,” she says. Unless you’re an Iron Man athlete, more volume is not always better with training.

Dress for success

The right workout gear is equally important for successful training. Having exercise clothes that fit, and are weather appropriate are key to feeling good whilst exercising. “It’s all about making yourself comfortable and then making the training fit to what you enjoy doing so that you’ll keep doing it.” An ambassador for 2XU, Emma loves how they’re designed to move with you. “2XU have spent a lot of time developing the right sizes, the right shape of bra, the right cut of tights so they don’t fall down – they fit you,” she says.

Break it down 

As for staying motivated, Emma says to make it something you’ll want to keep doing. “Break it down into small chunks… surround yourself with some like-minded friends, and give yourself a goal”. By keeping things manageable, you’re not going to be left disheartened, says Emma.

Self-belief is another important way to stay motivated. “I think it’s really important that females stop underestimating themselves when it comes to exercise. If you get out there and break things down into manageable tasks, you’ll find yourself a regular daily exerciser.”

A little bit of inspo for us all.

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