FOR the exercise and sports scientists that exclusively make up the staff of ACLAÍ in Donnybrook Commercial Centre, it is the lifestyle improvements for all clients they see daily that convinces them that they are doing a good thing for the people of Cork. ACLAÍ’s founder Ainle Ó Cairealláin was head-hunted by Cork senior football team manager Brian Cuthbert shortly after his appointment in 2013.
The former Antrim inter-county hurler has been talked about in sports science circles as one of the most progressive and intellectually-gifted thinkers in sports and performance in the field in recent times, and the new Cork coach wanted his charges to be guided by the very best when it came to preparing their bodies for the rigours of combat in the Munster and All-Ireland Football Championships.
Ainle insists that while such recognition is welcome from the upper echelons of the GAA community, it is the pleasure of seeing regular people make improvements in their everyday lives that motivates him more than anything else.
He has decided to end his relationship with the Cork footballers for the coming year and instead will concentrate 100% on driving ACLAÍ forward, further enhancing the philosophy that people making incremental changes in lifestyle now will prolong health and happiness long into the future. Whether they are GAA players, triathletes, boxers, or everyday folk who just want to be healthy.
Generic gym programmes that promise the sun, moon and stars after six weeks are deeply troubling to Ainle.
“The whole fitness industry needs to be re-evaluated. It’s almost led by marketing rather than anything else. You hear six weeks and you’re promised you’ll be sweet for life after it. But that’s adding to the obesity problem — what happens after those six weeks? You’ll be eating and moving worse than ever if there is no educational value in it.
“The important thing for athletes and lay folk alike to understand is that being agile and supple is being better than stiff and immobile. Basic human functions are to be able to put your hand over your head or touch your toes.”
“Waterford hurling great Tony Browne is an athlete that has looked after himself. He created that longevity in his career that will see him in good stead for the rest of his life. But it need not be for only athletes, it should be a goal for everyone. If people do integrate things like water intake, having a good breakfast, getting good quality sleep — it’s not difficult, it’s not putting pressure on people, it’s actually simple things that people can do. We emphasise educating people but not in a way that they hate or won’t be able to do after they leave.”
Everyone is treated equally when walking through the doors of ACLAÍ for the first time.
That means GAA players who want to improve are given cutting-edge scientific guidance in movement that will help their jumping, strength, agility and mobility.
The ACLAÍ Team, Ainle, Eoin, and Róisín
Triathletes learn how to improve their bodies for one of the most testing and gruelling events in all of sport. It means boxers become equipped for round after round of ferocious combat. It means everyday readers of the Evening Echo, athlete or not, learn movement, nutrition and lifestyle changes that will equip them for years to come.
“Athletes are beginners too when they walk through the door. When a runner comes up here and wants to run an extra ten miles, you improve his efficiency rather than telling him to run more miles. The Cork players were like sponges, they learned and were smart. They knew what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t hard to get them to buy in to what we were doing. If you ask players to do something and they don’t even know why they are doing it, they won’t buy into it,” says Ó Cairealláin.
“People in everyday life are just as smart. They soon learn what works for them and they see that they can apply it. We had one client who came in following a car accident. She needed help getting up the stairs. Within weeks she was doing it on her own. I can’t tell you how satisfying that it is to see such quality-of-life improvements.
“We want people moving around, loosening the hip flexors, being active during the day. Everyone has their ultimate goal – many want to get physically stronger and to enjoy fitness again.
“We set some milestone goals for people. Not unachievable goals, but ones within reach. It means people are getting somewhere and there is a purpose to their training. We can show people what they can do with their lives. It means you’re going to be able to do all these movements that are going to be able to help you in your life.”
“We make sure people are getting enough sleep, getting enough water and getting a good breakfast. There needs to be a concentration on whole foods and making sure people don’t rely on supplements. We want people to buy into a lifestyle and get people to see why they are buying into it.”
“We get people working out and working in. Working out is when you’re in the gym, working in is where you are practicing on your breathing or getting out for a walk. There are a lot of ways to alleviate stress and relax.”
That is not to say that ACLAÍ’s emphasis on team sports isn’t one of its major attractions. You go to one of its GAA-orientated workshops and chances are high that you are coming out a better, fitter and stronger player.
Strength and conditioning coupled with state-of-the-art lab work means world-class preparation for the coming season. ACLAÍ is equipped with OptoJump, polar heart rate monitors, video analysis hardware and more. It’s not surprising. GAA is in Ainle’s blood.
“I have a sports science degree from the University of Limerick. I had a real desire to play Fitzgibbon Cup hurling, which drew me to Limerick. I used to meet Dinny Cahill in Nenagh and travel up and down to Antrim from Limerick.
“My grandmother is from Cork so I soon came here and started playing with Na Piarsaigh. My grandmother is from Timoleague and we would have spent a lot of time down there as kids. It used be great in the summer, we would be fierce excited about coming down and playing all the Cork boys in the hurling, and going back home and telling them all up there how we got on.”
A never-ending thirst for education and knowledge will see Ainle and the coaches of ACLAÍ devour the latest in evidence-based sports science for hours every week. But Ainle is wary of online coaching.
“I spend hours and hours every week learning. Online is great, but you have to know that people have vested interests. I can’t tell someone over the phone what to do because I don’t know how they move. People are smart and they know where things don’t work. You have to do things in person for motivation and accountability, in my opinion.
“We get people to sign up for 16 weeks at a minimum. We want to get them in regularly so we can teach them and have some fun doing it. It can mean training twice a week, three times or four times, whatever. I don’t know of any other establishment that is staffed exclusively by sport scientists, that have that level of expertise. This system is made in here and put together by us. It is only getting better and we’re very excited about the future.”