Johnny Tieu (@quacktieu) is, in a word, a beast.
“Fitness has always been part of my life, whether I knew it or not,” he says. “From the constant desire to be outdoors and play in the backyard as a kid, to after school sports and keeping active on the weekends.”
He’s come a long way from playing in the backyard, however. Johnny is now an avid athlete, constantly pushing himself to the limit by competing in Spartan races and obstacle course races - and it all began with the the notorious Tough Mudder race.
“Tough Mudder was not a timed race, I ran it with my friends and we struggled through the obstacles, mud, walls, electricity... After this experience, I wondered, what if I ran it for time? This is where Spartan Race - a timed competitive race with even more obstacles - came in a few months later,” Johnny recalls. “Going into my first race back in 2010, all I expected was to run the race, have fun, and see how hard I could push myself. What i didn't expect was to place 1st in my age group and top 10 overall. This is where competing really started for me.”
Seven years later, Johnny has been dedicated to challenging himself and maintaining “total body fitness.” Following an epic trip trekking through jungles and caves in Vietnam, UNCVR caught up with Johnny to talk about everything from his favorite training tips to how it feels to finally cross that finish line.
On “total body fitness”...
Total Body Fitness focuses on training each and every part of your body in a dynamic and functional aspect on a regular basis. You are not just focusing on a certain body parts on specific days. Instead, you are training your body as a whole. This way, you won't run into the issue of over-developing or building bigger body parts than others. The focus is for performance and not just aesthetics. This training style will push you from strength movements straight into cardio endurance intervals to challenge your aerobic and anaerobic systems (imagine heavy dumbbell thrusters, to burpees, then straight into hill sprints with little recovery). This can be done with little to no equipment. Keep it fun and push yourself to the limit.
On “mind over matter”...
I would say it's 60% physical and 40% mental. These races are long, technical, demanding, and challenging. No matter how strong or fast you may be, that can only get you so far. You have to be mentally prepared to be ok with discomfort, to keep running even when your legs can't go any further, and to withstand different conditions and obstacles. You can be in superb shape with amazing athletic abilities, but if you don't mentally engage and understand how to efficiently tackle each of the obstacles, you will just be wasting your speed and strength. You are challenging your competitors in mental grit and physical prowess.
On training for Spartan races…
Above all else, keep it fun and interesting, but start gradually. It should be an enjoyable process to learn about your body and what you can accomplish. Don't just do things because someone else is doing it. Question the movements and make sure you understand the process as you dive deeper into your training. With Spartan races, it may seem overwhelming or hard from looking at the course, but you won't regret it (as long as you stay safe out there). Pace yourself on the course and bring friends to cheer each other on!
On common training mistakes…
- There is no such thing as a quick, magic fat loss pill, six pack ab patch, or magic water. Fitness is a lifestyle. It will take time, commitment, and understanding. This will bring about a healthy change and happiness for yourself and those around you.
- Our food provides us with all the essential nutrients on a day to day basis. Focus on eating real, healthy, wholesome, and natural food. Most people do not need protein supplements, pre workout, muscle pills, etc. Save your money and stick with foods that Mother Nature provided.
- Gone are the days of static pre-workout stretches. Instead, warm up with gradual dynamic movements that focus on the exercises you will perform. Develop mobility in all parts of your body to avoid strains, injuries, and overuse issues. Please don't forget about the cool down and post workout stretch/foam roll after the hard work you’ve put in. Restorative routines and stretching is just as important as the training itself.
- If you stick with the same workout or routine day in and day out, your performance and growth will become stagnant. Change things up constantly. Take different classes, try other fitness styles, step out of your comfort zone.
- One other note - GUYS, classes are not just for females. Fitness group classes are just as, if not even more effective than day to day workouts by yourself at the gym.
On crossing the finish line…
Whether it's a race that I win or not, the feeling of accomplishment in knowing that I left it all on the field rushes through me. There’s always a smile across my face no matter what pain I'm in. Of course, this is after the initial wave of exhaustion and need for rehydration. With all the training and hard work leading up to each event, I know I will use it as a learning experience for what’s to come.