40-Day No Messing Challenge

If you had to get someone in the best shape possible in 40-days, what would you do? A friend recently put this to me and it got me thinking, and my thoughts have turned into the following article. It is a long read, but it covers all your bases, so take mini-stretching breaks as needed and plough on. Why 40 days? Not a great length of time to achieve much in life really, but it’s short enough to be a do-able and realistic goal, and long enough to see changes and motivate the transformer to go for another 40 days. One thing we know is there are no magic pills, and long-lasting results come from keeping the head down and making training and movement part of your way of life. People do, however, respond well to shorter time-frames, helping them to stay focused. Three essentials for success with a training program:   -a good plan -consistency -optimal recovery and regeneration (food, sleep, stress-management) So for the purpose of this experiment, we have 40 days to get into the best possible physical condition. First thing in this case is we don’t have any time for the biggest problem anybody faces in a successful transformation: Poor compliance. The process of creating and changing habits is probably the most difficult part of the puzzle, and one which deserves the greatest investment of your efforts to begin with. Start small and gradually build healthful habits into your life. But for now, we will assume that the superpower of our friend here is the ability to instantly engrain good habits, because for this to...

The paradox of trying less to achieve more

Have you ever had the feeling that the harder you chase something, the further out of your reach it becomes? We are told that to achieve something great in life, we need to obsessively and relentlessly  pursue our objective, sacrificing all else along the way. And that makes sense. Every day we hear inspirational success stories about athletes who have made it to the top, the endless hours in the gym when nobody else is watching, putting in the thousands of hours of deliberate, focused practice. Yes, there is no doubt about the physical effort and hardship required, pushing yourself past the physical limits, enduring more than what you thought was possible. As they say, if it was easy everyone would be doing it. But paradoxically, it seems that the more you depend on achieving your goal, the less likely you actually are of getting there. This seems to hold true whether in relation to sport, music, careers, or relationships. I have pondered over this for years, wondering if it a real phenomenon or mere illusion, as I chased my own hurling dreams. My brothers and I were hurling in nappies, I remember well my first training session in St Paul’s when I was 8. Hurling, like for many in Ireland, was woven into the fabric of our lives. We could name every player of ’89 All-Ireland team by nickname, and dreamed of Croke Park decked in Saffron. Every summer the stack of video cassettes in our house grew, as we recorded every All-Ireland championship game off the teilifís for repeated viewing, cursing the tall trees across the road for our grainy...
Getting started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Getting started with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Ever since watching Kieran McGeeney roll around in Straight Blast Gym in that RTE Conor McGregor documentary a couple of years ago, I thought it would be good to try out Brazillian Jiu Jitsu . So last week, after a long time flirting with the idea, I finally took the leap and began BJJ.   I had a few different motivations for going. Firstly, It has been a long 5 years since my last hurling match, and ever since there has been a huge void in my life; the challenge of competition, sense of accomplishment, the physical suffering, the opportunity to test myself and find out what lies within. Even the frustration of failure, and the pain of losing. Sport gives us the opportunity to experience all these things, while most people amble along through life nice and cozy. Never getting the hands dirty in life, avoiding the need for physical and mental duress, or self-examination, not risking failure. Secondly, it is an excellent compliment to one’s movement practice. It promotes fluid movement and the connectedness of the whole body, with huge emphasis on the hips. It requires body awareness and full control of the joints and limbs. It demands the ability to explosively contract and coordinate the body while also the ability to relax. I’ve always thought Jiu Jitsu would be a complimentary form of training for hurling players, helping to develop a type of strength that you won’t get from lifting weights in the gym. And thirdly, of course, who doesn’t like the idea of being able to protect oneself somewhat from all the maniacs out there...
Antrim hurling continues its rapid decline towards extinction, who cares?

Antrim hurling continues its rapid decline towards extinction, who cares?

I had to turn off TG4 at half time, I couldn’t take any more punishment. But it was a familiar scene, another humiliating hammering for an Antrim team in the U21 All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final. Waterford 5-25, Antrim 1.5.  ‘We knew how bad our preparation was, this team was only pulled together in five weeks’, manager Ollie Bellew said afterwards. This remains one of the great mysteries of Antrim hurling for me, a proud hurling county. Why was the team pulled together in five weeks? It seems like every county in Ireland are aware that the All-Ireland hurling semi finals are held in August except for Antrim, where they are annually taken by surprise and pulling teams together after one training session. Last year before Antrim faced Wexford in the same fixture, manager Kevin Ryan disclosed that his team were in for a ‘massive hiding’ after they couldn’t get a panel together to even train in the weeks leading up to the game. Back in 2008, I sat on the bench as Derry beat us in the Ulster U21 Hurling Championship Semi-Final. We trained twice leading up to that game. So Antrim are continuing their tradition of hoping to defy the basic first principle of sports performance in their quest for All-Ireland glory: Preparation. Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail You would think that they would make the most of the incredible opportunity to compete against one of the big teams in an All-Ireland semi-final by training really, really hard. But that would make too much sense. And for years we’ve had a County Board who for some bewildering reason thought...

Is a warm-up ‘just a warm-up’ ? A quick guide to team warm-ups for sports performance

Traditionally, team warm-ups for training or competition have been a means to an end, a jog and a stretch. However, great coaches now value this 20 to 30 minute block as an opportunity to enhance movement competency and reinforce excellence, as well as the necessary neuromuscular preparation for the proceeding activities. In Athletic Development, Vern Gambetta emphasises the point that the warm-up sets the tempo for the session: It is an integral, not separate part of the workout. As a strength and conditioning coach, there is nothing you will do more than conduct warm-ups, and these should all be taken as coaching moments to be taken advantage of. As an athlete, every warm-up should be a self-assessment; how do your joints and muscles feel during different movements at varying intensities? Kelvin Giles notes that the relatively short period of 20 minutes can see over 200 ‘movements’ taking place, developing the fundamental movements by connecting from fingernail to toenail. So, over time you can progress the challenge by increasing the complexity of the movement puzzles laid out for the athletes to mechanically solve. A bodyweight squat can turn into a squat with a trunk rotation; then a combination of a prisoner squat to a duck walk, or a drop squat to drop lunge. The possibilities are endless, and the more you hear your athletes tell you that the warm-up is weird, the better. Crawling, rotating, hinging, hoping, pushing, lunging, squatting, and mixing them all together. It also makes things fun and interesting. When you introduce a movement sequence that is new to the athlete, you will witness an immediate surge...

In-Season Need-to-Do’s

In-season programming is a juggling act of so many different physical components, that I sometimes get dizzy just thinking about where to fit them all into the training week. There’s more and more information out there about what you should be doing with your athletes, but if you try to pack it all into your physical development plan, you’ll create a fine mess which will be reflected in your athlete’s performances. Vern Gambetta talks about the three types of training To Do’s:  Want To Do, Nice To Do, and Need To Do. If you commit to at the very least getting the Need-to-do’s in every week then no matter what else happens you know you’re covering the essentials. It’s too easy to get side-tracked by the fancy minutia at the expense of your bread and butter. Your Need-to-do’s should reflect your training philosophy; as we know, if something is worth doing it is worth doing consistently, not in drips and drabs. The Pareto Principle seems to be applied to every life-situation and it’s granny these days but I’m sure it is relevant here too:  20% of your efforts and resources account for 80% of your results. Apply this principle to your strength and conditioning program to figure out what you Need-to-do’s are.   Strength training Despite everything we know about the benefits of strength training for sports, I still find myself having to convince some athlete’s to commit to getting stronger. The purpose of strength training for football is not to build muscle, that is merely a potential side effect. Building strength will develop your tissue’s load bearing capacity,...

We all want our athletes strong…but what is strong?

Strength is a great way to bulletproof against injuries in sport. Get your athletes stronger and you help them develop resiliency and robustness. This make intuitive sense (stronger= less likely to break), and research indeed seems to back this up. But is there more to this equation than just “get them strong”? I am definitely in the camp of keeping training systems simple, and always a bit suspicious about the motives behind making things sound complicated. But as the saying goes; Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. The early-2000’s brought in the functional training era of Strength and Conditioning, where athlete’s followed a physical therapy model and spent all their time getting ‘functional’ and forgot to get strong. A training program with 20 different exercises, unstable surfaces, cable machines, and focusing really really hard on getting the TA and multifidus firing. Then in the late-2000’s the pendulum swung towards the opposite extreme; lifting heavy weights and getting strong. Training programs had little variety, and focused on the Power lifts and a few sets of plank. This is what most of my physical preparation for hurling looked like when I was in college, along with some Olympic lifts. I focused on the numbers and on how much weight I could shift off the ground, off my chest, pull up, or squat with on my back. I definitely got stronger, but the harder I trained in the gym the more I broke down on the field. The extra strength and size may have been somewhat useful but my balance and coordination was poor, and I wasn’t very explosive....

Claochlú Coirpe #2 – Méadú Meachán, Sláinte, agus Ithe Glan

Sa chéad cuid den sraith seo, phlé muid cailleadh meachán. An gá dúinn muid féin a mharú le traenál dian mar a fhéicimid ar clárthaí teilifíse ar nós The Biggest Loser? Nó an bhfuil bealaigh níos éifeachtaí is níos slaintiúla ann cúpla punt a chailleadh? Caith súil siar ar Claochlú Coirpe #1 . Inniú, beidh muid ag caitheamh súil ar an taobh eile den bonn. Cad faoi siúd atá ró-thanaí agus atá ag iarraidh meachán a mhéadú? I sochaí an lae inniú, bíonn an-béim curtha ar íomha coirp, agus brú mór ar mhná óga ach go háirithe an íomha tanaí a chomhlíonadh. Ach cuimhnigh nach ionann tanaí agus slaintiúil, go minic is a mhallairt an chás. Cén sort aclaíocht is éifeachtaí le haghaidh méadú meachán, agus cad é an bia is fearr ithe I dtreo an sprioc seo? Sa chéad dul síos, ba mhaith linn bheith níos cruinne nuair a phléimid meachain a ardú. Tá sé measartha simplí againn éirigh níos ramhaire; ná bog móran agus ith cuid mhór pizza agus uachtair reoite! Tá sé tábhachtach idirdhealú a dhéanamh idir seo agus meacháin a ardú ar slí atá slaintiúl. Ní hé sin le rá gur droch rud i gcónaí é an leibheáil saille sa chorp a ardú má tá sé an-íseal, ach ba mhaith linn díriú ar meatán a mhéadú. Chun na meatáin sa chorp a spreagadh chun fás, caithfidh muid cur ina luí ar an chorp go bhfuil tuilleadh meatáin de dhíth orainn. Is féidir linn seo a bhaint amach go héifeachtach le haclaíocht neartaithe; tógail meacháin mar a luaigh muid cheanna féin, luailí gleacaíochta, nó fiú obair sa fíor saoil a thugann orainn...

Managing the Never-Ending Sporting Season

As we move into another winter winter, we reach the period of the year for many GAA players where one season blends into the next. Whether your club is lucky enough to have navigated its way through the County championship into the Provincial and All-Ireland series, or you are a student playing for your school or college, you probably haven’t been afforded much of a break this year. Des Ryan, Head of Athletic Development at the Arsenal Academy, speaking at Setanta College’s ‘Developing and Maximizing Youth Potential’ Conference in Thurles, warned that the physical demands on young GAA players are not sustainable. He wasn’t joking. I was speaking recently to one of this year’s Limerick minor hurlers who said he could do with a break. He wasn’t joking either. Let’s take a quick look at his year so far: He started training with Limerick in January, playing through to the All-Ireland quarter final in July. Somewhere in-between he managed to win a County u21 title in April. When the minor’s season ended, he joined up with the county U21 team who went on to win the All-Ireland final in September. He played with his club in the county minor championship as far as the final in October. The club senior championship started in April and culminated in final success in October, which sent them into the Provincial championship; they won that in November. Of course, back to school in September and straight into the Harty Cup, they topped the group this week and go into the quarter final in January. A brand new year. The club’s senior team continue to...

Physical development of the young athlete: Doing it right Part 3

The first part of this series looked at the importance of providing the young developing body with lots of varied physical inputs, the pitfalls of sedentary living and early sports specialization. The second installment looked at gym training and how moving away from the conventional approach might serve us better in the long run. This third and final part will discuss nutrition; how our physical capacities are inextricably linked with what we eat. We understand that a good diet can reduce the likelihood of developing degenerative cardio-vascular diseases, but do we realize the effect our diets have on our movement? Less Grains, Please. The food we eat affects our organs, and our organs affect our movement. Paul Chek describes this connection in detail in this article: “Most people have little or no understanding of their organs in general, and because of their ignorance of what is inside them, they make diet and lifestyle choices that create stress on their organs and glands that disrupt almost every aspect of their body and mind” The practice of segmentalizing the body into separate pieces may be useful in terms of putting labels on body parts and teaching anatomy, but it has mostly served to diminish our appreciation for the oneness of the human body. Organs talk to and control muscles. Thus, Chek believes that you would be wise to look inward when dealing with chronic problems, describing how he has rehabilitated athletes with chronic muscloskeletal pain that could not be resolved until function was restored to the related glans and organs. The mechanism for this is explained as such: If an organ overheats...