Last weekend saw the official opening of the new training facility of ACLAÍ in Cork, and I was lucky enough to attend what turned out to be a very special occasion and a gym opening with a difference. We were treated to some theatre, live music by the great Band Anna, an art exhibition by local artists, magic tricks and balloon making, delicious food from the Alchemy coffeeshop and ACLAÍ’s own Shakira. Most of all, I enjoyed spending time meeting friends of ACLAÍ and seeing at first hand the impact the gym has on this community. The big crowd in attendance was testament to this.
As I was hanging out in the gym in the morning it was refreshing to see real coaching again. Coaches that actually care about helping everybody who steps through the door, that help build healthy bodies rather than break them.
Living in London over the past two years has been challenging in many ways, but nothing more so than taking out a membership in the local Globogym and watching the absolutely horrendous service provided by the personal trainers to their clients. I try not to look, but I can’t not. I once writhed in anguish as a guy who couldn’t deadlift was forced to do so with a heavy barbell and repeatedly shouted at that he was doing it wrong and to straighten his back. I’ve watched as clients have been put on a treadmill and left to their own devices as the trainer would head off to chat up every female that crossed his path. I’ve witnessed people who can barely move being subjected to torturous elaborate circuits. You have these people who have taken a huge step, responding to a call for action to improve their bodies and lives, and in doing so often facing anxieties and fears of the gym environment. They pay good money for some help and guidance, and unbeknownst to themselves, walk straight into a cacophony of incompetence, ignorance, and apathy.
Well back to ACLAÍ. On Saturday night, I was chatting to a member who told me his story of back pain. His back was giving him trouble, but at the beginning he could get by. As the months went by, it progressively got worse, getting to the point where he could not play with his young family, walk without pain, or really function at all. He went down the path of doctors and scans, receiving little bouts of short-term and expensive relief from Chiropractic sessions, and relied heavily on pain-killers. Probably worse than the physical pain was living in constant fear. After nine months of this back pain he came to ACLAÍ, where he has since been training over the past four months. He doesn’t need pain-killers, he can play with his daughter and his back pain does not impact his quality of life anymore.
Persistent pain is a complex subject for sure, and there usually isn’t a quick fix or a a particular exercise that solves the issue. But, if you approach it right you give someone a great chance of improving their symptoms. A mindful movement practice brings awareness back to the body, awareness that has been lost to the distractions of modern society. I believe that regaining this awareness is a huge part of the puzzle of chronic pain. Tuning in and working with the body, not against it. Gentle, appropriate, progressive, and with care.
As Ainle told the assembled in Cork City on Saturday evening, ACLAÍ’s mission to help people lead better lives involves the reintegration of a broad and varied physical practice, but it’s more than that. Emotional and mental malaise is as much of a problem in society these days as sedentary living, and so moving more is only part of the solution.
It is well known and widely accepted that social interaction, and a lack thereof, can affect ones mental and emotional wellbeing. There is plenty of evidence that points to the importance of social support in making long-lasting behaviour change, whether it is overcoming addiction, cultivating positive eating habits or regular physical activity. Therefore, we can throw a training program at someone and they might benefit, but this alone is incomplete. Most gyms address the physical component only, whereas, a truly holistic approach to health and performance is needed to really make a difference.
ACLAÍ brings all of these elements together. Along side the high-quality coaching and movement practice, it has a book and coffee club, a cycling club, it hosts Real Bia food workshops, has fun activity nights where anyone is welcome to come in and play table tennis or chess, check out the library, and of course to move. ACLAÍ promotes culture and the Irish language, and values strong social connection. It also puts on the most remarkable and diverse gym opening night you are ever likely to see.
Spending time in ACLAÍ over the weekend was good for the body and soul, and I’m looking forward to getting back again. If you are lucky enough to live in Cork City, call in and see for yourself.
Cairbre is the face behind Feed Me Strength. Currently the Strength and Conditioning coach for Arsenal Ladies FC. He has a passion for athletic performance and an endless curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind.
UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.
Cairbre dreams of Antrim winning the All-Ireland Hurling Championship most nights, and believes a good dose of movement, meditation, and Irish traditional music will cure almost anything.