THE INCREASED EMPHASIS put on fitness and strength and conditioning in gaelic games has become more and more prevalent in recent times.
‘When I work out I’m happier.’
The game is becoming more and more physical. Players want to get bigger. There is more and more time being spent in the gym.
This isn’t just on the inter-county scene, but also in club set-ups. It’s not just seen in football, it’s just as prominent in hurling. And it’s not just men, female footballers and camogie players are also spending more and more time in the gym and off the field.
“At the end of the day, I think the sport is like 70% skill anyway,” Cork camogie capatain Ashling Thompson tells The42.
“I think people focus too much on the strength and conditioning side of things in the GAA.”
Thompson does agree however, that the hours in the gym have to be put in to keep up with the physicality and fast-moving pace of change in the game.
“The game is getting a lot more physical than it would have been. I’d say it’s the most physical it’s ever been. Before, you never heard of strength and conditioning or even nutrition or anything. You kind of ate what you wanted, and just played the game.
It [strength and conditioning] definitely has come on a lot because it’s so physical. I’d say it’s the most physical it’s ever been. It’s a huge part of it, but as I said, you could be the size of Rock and at the end of the day, if you’re not able to move or have the skills nailed — for me that’s kind of number one, but strength and conditioning is a huge part of it now.”
Following the disappointment of being dethroned as All-Ireland champions by Ann Downey’s Kilkenny in September, Thompson is hoping her side can get back on track this year.
The 27-year-old knows that fitness, strength and conditioning and gym work will be a key part of the equation if they are to do so, even though she’d rather just play the game.
That being said, she’s fond of a visit or two to the gym herself, but doesn’t like to overdo it, especially at this time of year.
“We’re back training obviously, so I’m not going to really go to the gym outside of training. Maybe one day, or if I miss a day training, I might. But at the moment we’re doing enough.
“It’s January, you don’t want to come September and be absolutely burnt out.
“But then in the heat of championship, you’re looking two days a week. I’ve kind of learned, before I would have been in the gym all of the time but now not so much. It’s a learning curve, you learn as you go along.”
Thompson in action for Cork.
Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO
Workout-wise, she tends to stick with what will improve her game.
“I’m not the type that goes into a gym and lifts weights 24/7. A lot of my workouts would be core work, and squats, lunges and planks, all that kind of stuff. It’s pretty basic stuff but it varies.
“I incorporate exercises that will make my striking better – striking comes from your core, not necessarily your arms.”
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Although the gym and healthy eating are now seen as an almost necessity for athletes across the board, Thompson finds it more of a hobby, or a way of life.
Not only does she do it for her sport, she does it for herself. As someone who has suffered with mental health issues, she finds it an outlet, a way to keep herself in a good place.
“I know that I have to do fitness and strength and conditioning work, it’s a huge part of it so you do have to do it, but at the same time I really enjoy doing it, so I see it as a hobby also.
“Physical fitness is your mental fitness, when I work out I’m happier. I could be having a shit day and I don’t want to go training, it’s the thoughts that kill me. But then when I actually go and do it, I’m like a different person when I come out.
Your physical health is your mental health.
“Fitter people are healthier mentally, and they’re happier. A lot of people, myself included, hate the thoughts of it. But it’s a solid fact, that any exercise whatsoever releases something in you.
“It’s about being healthy and happy, and that’s one of the reasons why I play the sport. It is all about winning for me because I’m a sore loser, I will admit that, but at the same time if I lose and I look myself in the mirror and say I’ve given 100%, I’m happy with that.
“As long as I’m enjoying the sport and having fun, and it makes me happy, I don’t care what the exercise is.”
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"Discipline is extremely important" – @AshlingThompson shares her tips for success on the pitch. #YouCan #Fitnesshttps://t.co/81hunG81PH pic.twitter.com/ZR5wG1rp7S
— Red Bull Ireland (@redbullIRE) January 13, 2017
Source: Red Bull Ireland/Twitter
As a brand ambassador with Red Bull, she’s currently involved with their fitness campaign with FLYEfit gyms.
She takes classes, has a fitness blog on the website and helps promote working out and fitness around the country.
“It’s all about basically just putting fitness out there and motivating everyone else, especially after the Christmas period.
“Even if you’re having a bad day, especially me as well, I always tend to try and fit it into my fitness regime. I work and some days I’m not feeling it. Between four and six is always the period where I’ll drink a can of Red Bull and it motivates me to get to the gym.
“That’s where the hashtag is incorporated — #YouCan — it’s something for everyone, it’s not just for your athletes. I’m taking a fitness class today in a few hours in Flyfit in Dundrum. It’s a core class, but it’s something you could do in the comfort of your own home.
“Red Bull came to me, they source their athletes so they came to me with a genuine interest in signing me up and of course I was absolutely delighted. It’s something that doesn’t happen too often, I’m still kind of taking it all in at the moment.
“They’re a pleasure to work with, I’m absolutely obsessed with the brand. They’re always thinking outside the box and I think it really ties in with my personality.”
Written by Emma Duffy, with interviewing by Ryan Bailey.
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