Did you ever look at something and just think to yourself; ‘that does not feel right’?
Well that’s what happened to me when I finished a degree in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Limerick in 2007. I entered the big bad world of the so called ‘fitness industry’. I was set to take the health and sports performance world by storm with all my degrees and high ambitions. Shortly thereafter, I started to work as a gym instructor, only to leave disappointed and disillusioned after only a couple of months. I spent most of my time cleaning toilets and gym equipment and hoovering the floor. The work I did mostly involved showing people how to use the weights machines, and making sure nobody hurt themselves or died on my watch. I didn’t feel like I was making any difference to people’s lives (apart from making sure the machines were not covered in someone else’s sweat), and I could see that the people who were coming into the gym every day were not really getting any value to speak off in return for the time and money they were spending in the gym. In other words, I felt unimportant and like crap in my job, and the gym members were wasting their time and money flapping around aimlessly on silly weights machines and cardio equipment with no gains to speak of. Things had to change.
Back to University for a Research Masters Degree in Biomechanics. Two and a half years later and I was a bit wiser, but still could not see the path that felt right for me. Now that I had more experience and more study under my belt, things in the fitness and personal training world just seemed even more wrong than before. Let me explain a bit about why I thought it was wrong.
People seemed to be more sad than happy as they went to the gym, and most expressed the feeling that they were there out of some guilt ridden notion of duty, as opposed to a genuine desire to take part in something that they enjoyed. I ended up working with people who seemed to be addicted to the treadmill and using it as an escape from life while running themselves into the ground, people who were told by the doctor to go to the gym, but looked like they would rather be anywhere else, people who were chasing some magazine cover dream without any realistic form of guidance, expertise, or plan, others who would buy into the nonsense and sterile gym culture for fear that if they didn’t some instant harm would befall them, and even small batches of people who could see a better way, and wanted to train smart, but this group were more like a covert group of undercover agents, hoping not to be spotted deadlifting barefoot in the far corner of the gym by the staff. Insurance you know, you can’t be deadlifting without your shoes on! So again, things had to change.
Over the last 5 years or so, some things have become clearer to me. I believe what we know as gyms, are built to create as safe an environment as possible for people to push arbitrary weight machines around, so that they can be charged at the door for entry. Make the machines as easy as possible to use, put instructions on them, and throw an unfortunate graduate in there to keep the place clean and look after them. It also became clear that the primary function of the supplement industry is to make money for the companies that sell them as opposed to creating any true value for the vast majority of their customers. Our relationship with food is largely broken considering the cultural history of eating the local food communally, and passing cooking and preparation methods down through the ages. Sure, we have more convenience these days, but we have lost ten times what we have gained by replacing convenience with culture. Now we are like lost souls with infinite choices that leave us stupefied. It’s clear that fitness does not equal health. Fitness comes from being able to do a given task with relative ease. I.e. If you can run 5 kilometers faster this year than last year, you can say that you are fitter, but that does not equal being healthier. Health comes from a much wider range of components than just physical fitness. There is mental wellbeing, the health of your digestive system, the health of your social system, your overall happiness, your stress levels, how much water you drink, your dental health, the health of your personal relationships, how content you are with life, your sense of adventure, your vitality, the health of your joints and your overall movement health as opposed to how fast you can get from A to B regardless of the quality of movement in between is. All these things contribute to overall health, and it is as clear as day that going to a big room full of metal machines to move like a robot for 30-60 minutes a couple of times per week with a whole bunch of people who are plugged into their phones and couldn’t care less about who you are or what you are doing there beside them, is the absolute opposite of health.
I was never one to just let things sit as they were and accept the status quo. It wasn’t really my fault that I turned out that way, I was just born into it. I was brought up speaking an outlawed language, attending an outlawed school, and into a family and community that risked their necks to change things around for the benefit of all. The outlawed language is now at the heart of a growing modern urban Gaeltacht culture in Belfast city, and the outlawed school received official recognition from the state when I was 15, and is now one of the top performing schools of its kind in the whole country. You know something is different when both revolutionaries from foreign lands, and American Senators come into your classroom to swap stories with the children. So back in the ‘fitness world’, I set out to create something different. Something that would make a real difference to people’s lives, and that would incorporate more than just going to the gym for the sake of it.
I founded ACLAÍ in August of 2013. It has been a great ride so far, with plenty of ups and downs, a lot of great stories, and a fair share of mistakes along the way. The biggest challenge of starting something unique, is that there isn’t always a model to follow, so you have to feel it out for yourself sometimes. My vision for ACLAÍ has always been to have the best training facility in Ireland, with the best coaches, the best vibes, and an alternative way of developing health and sports performance. Today, there are three coaches at ACLAI. Myself, Mark Eaton, and my other half Shakira Coonghe. We all hold a minimum of an Honors Degree in Sports and Exercise Science, and see ourselves more as students, craftspeople, and coaches, than personal trainers. Our collective goal is to be among the top coaches in the world, provide the best service in the world, and lead by walking the walk, not just talking the talk. What we provide is a service that is a step away from the drudgery of mindless gym training, and provides a level of individualisation, personal touch, expertise, and really genuine level of enjoyment and engagement to our members. The results of our training go beyond feeling a bit pumped after a session, and provide the framework for a lifetime of robust and vital health, movement, and enjoyment. Our approach to food steps away from supplements and diets, and instead focuses on real food, building habits, and enjoying what you eat. Aside from the physical training side, and the nutrition side, we have a book club that is coming up on its first birthday, a food club that meets once per month (RealBia), a social cycling club with Irish as the main language of the club that meets once per week at 10am on Sunday’s (Cumann Rothaíochta an Fear Iarann), an athletic sponsorship program, an in-house book collection, table tennis, slack-lining, and open sessions every Saturday.
Most importantly, we have a group of members who are engaged with what we are doing, and are getting life-changing results. People who struggled up the stairway to ACLAÍ on day-one are now in the best shape of their lives, and are doing day to day things with more vigor and vitality than ever before. Members coming back from surgery are regaining function, people who were overweight for years are absolutely smashing it, our athletic scholarship athletes are breaking PB’s and literally making waves, and as a coaching team we love every minute of our days. We have a 58 year old lady doing handstands, a once 20+ stone man performing impressive crawling patterns and deadlifting like a tank, a swimmer walking on his hands, self-professed sugar addicts eating like champs, people who thought they tried it all before breaking through the perceived barriers, and many more people who were a stiff as pokers moving freely in the first time in many years. The fact that GPs, consultants, and physio’s all refer their patients to us to help them get functional again is a massive compliment to us, and it’s a privilege to be regarded in such high esteem that we are on the minds of some of the top physicians and therapists in the country.
With all our science background and experience, our success and progress comes down to the most basic of principles. Move the body in a way that suits you as an individual, and gives you strength, mobility and resilience. Eat real food, and build simple habits that will allow you to enjoy great food and stay healthy for the long term. Always learn and have fun with the other people around. Enjoy the real life outside of the gym, and stay active together. So simple, yet so far removed from the fitness world that we know today.
If you would like to find out how we can help you become healthy again, drop me a private message, and we can set up a complimentary in-person consultation, which in itself is extremely valuable as a starting point. We train in-person at our facility in Cork, and also have an online coaching program, and can tailor a program to suit your needs. Consultations can be in person, or online if you are to far away to come to us. Of course, there is no obligation to train with us if you feel like we are not a good fit, but if you are committed to becoming healthier, fitter, and happier, I am pretty sure we can help you. Ainle
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.