Is The Gym Enough To Build A Healthy Body and Mind?

Funny story. Circa 2009 I was bringing a class of undergraduate sport and exercise science students through some basic strength training techniques at the University of Limerick. '...and this is the back squat', I said as I demonstrated a back squat with an empty bar in the elite training room in the University Arena. I was no sooner at the bottom position of the squat than i heard the almighty tear from my pants splitting in two at the crotch. The students will not forget that session in a hurry!

Anyway, I was only starting out back then really. Learning the ropes and the tricks of the trade. Since then I have had the pleasure to mentor some great upcoming coaches, get time under my belt working with professional athletes, in the top flight of GAA strength and conditioning, set up a business, and see the success of many of our clients at ACLAÍ over the last number of years. With time, views mature, and experience has taught me things that just cannot be found in a book.

On some level, back all them years ago, my view on getting in shape and regaining your health was pretty simple. 'Your out of shape? Easy. Lets fix up your nutrition and get you into the gym a few times a week. Easy Peasy'  In some respects, this approach can be quite successful with some people, and certainly forms part of the framework for long term successwith your health and fitness, and I am definietely still the world's number one fan of keeping it simple. On the other hand, the people who i have had an immense pleasure to work with over the years who have absolutely turned their health around, have done something more than just eat good food and go to the gym. What were the extra ingredients that turned it all around for those people? What made them stick it out to loose massive amounts of unwanted bodyweight, and maintain their health for years to come?

'Health' in terms of the dictionary definition (the state of being free from injury or illness) is an all encompassing concept, that requires you to address more than simply exercising and eating the right food. The more we explore what brings results to our members, and the more we focus on providing the kind of service that we enjoy providing, we realise that the social structures that you have are much more to blame for your poor state of health as opposed to the fact that you do not go to the gym a couple of times per week. This is the reason that we have a book club, and food club at ACLAÍ, and are working on a few separate initiatives to bring more of a social and lifestyle type events to our regular schedule. If you really want to get to grips with your health, look at the bigger picture of your overall style of life. The gym, and the right foods certainly have a big part to play, but look at how you socialise, how much physical activity you get on a day to day basis, the stress you harbour each day, and the vibes that you are surrounded by. I personally think it is important to reconnect with the important aspects of our native culture as well. The opportunity to communicate as Gaeilge plays an important part in my own life and health, and listening to our own music and songs certainly gives my an inner feeling of pride and motivation, which no doubt contributes positively to my own health.

'So what part does going to the gym actually play?', I hear you ask! Well that depends on what you actually do when you go to the gym. I would give an educated guess that 9 visits out of 10 to the gym are off little of no benefit to health. The gym must serve as a place that gives you more strength and mobility that actually brings real tangible long term value to your health in terms of freeing you from pain or tightness, and giving you more freedom to enjoy the everyday pursuits that you are engaged in as part of your overall active lifestyle. Most 'gym training' does nothing of the sort. For example, lets say you are a gardener, and are currently out of action due to some back, shoulder, wrist, or elbow pain (or a combination of them). No amount of 'the machines', 'cardio' or generic gym training is going to help you regain your pain free range of motion, and get you back in the garden. Thats a big bummer, and resigns many people to just accepting pain and the limitations that this creates in terms of the things that they can and cant do in their everyday lives. This is a massive pty, and most of the time is unnecessary. A focused and progressive strength training program, individualised for your needs and abilities, and under the guidance of a coach who knows what they are talking about, why you are with them, and will help you do exactly what it takes to get yourself back on track. It just so happens that strength training done correctly is one of the best ways to build muscle, develop mobility and balance, and protect your priceless bone density.

Anyway, I digress! The bottom line is that if you really want to change your health for the better, keep the results, and have a positive effect on the health of those around you, it needs to be a lifestyle approach. Our evolution at ACLAÍ is moving along these lines to help our members get there in the most enjoyable and effective way possible. And I won't lie, we do what we do for our own enjoyment as well as our clients'! Over time, our mission has evolved from helping people move better and improve their physical abilities to making a positive change to society, starting with each individual that comes through our doors. Sit less, move more, read books, eat delicious food, surround yourself with positive people, walk, breath, learn, enjoy.

To your health!


This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.