Exercise Value vs. Exercise Punishment

Recently, I was discussing an exercise program with a client, who was at the stage where he wanted to make an impact on his club and try to make a push for selection in the first 15. Although the discussion was GAA focused, it has its relevance in other territories and quite frankly, is a horror story that frequently rears its ugly head in other exercise codes. As I ventured into his exercise regime, we discussed his prescribed exercises. I wanted to know how many reps he was doing and what areas he was working on. On asking if he did press/push ups, he said he did and would often do up to 170 per night in training. That’s a substantial amount given that the average to a good performer will do around 56 per minute. Beyond that, the technique becomes questionable in respect to the protocols applied. When I asked him why he would often do up to 170 per night he replid: “as punishment from the coach.”

Image credit: breakingmuscle.com

Image credit: breakingmuscle.com

The motivation behind the coach’s instruction was inspired by misdemeanours of certain players in training and as a result, ‘the rest should suffer.’

In these situations it’s difficult to hold back and call it what it is: a total lack of basic understanding of exercise, bad coaching and unprofessional to say the least. I could ridicule ignorant coahcing methods, but that’s another day’s blog! Ultimately, the fitness industry has come on leaps and bounds in Ireland over the past number of years and there are a lot of good fitness professionals out there. Most fit/Pro will encourage fitness activity, whether as individual or group activity, and will instruct that it should be purposeful, effective, and fun too. The health and fitness industry go to great lengths to generate awareness amongst all age groups and fitness levels, providing a full range of activities to encourage and support fitness. Look around your area – I know locally here in Monaghan, you have the Monaghan town runners under the insightful tutorship of James Campbell and Raymond Aughey, the Jolly Joggers in Emyvale and a multitude of classes provided by Coral Leisure, including Spin, Circuit, Step, Slide and Era Fit catering for the advanced athlete.

Considering the effort that’s put in to exercise and the importance of encouraging people to get involved, then why should it be used as a punishment? When an exercise program is tailored to suit either an individual or group/team, the coach will formulate his plan. In general terms, the training will suit the goals set out and will be balanced. Leaving aside some tests for the moment, such as Medical clearance, screening and fitness testing, all exercise should be sequenced. That is, the actual exercises should balance with the body.

The body itself is looked at as back and front and the exercise is suited to each side with each side divided into three areas:




So for a balanced exercise program, a simple formula such as that outlined below will provide the required balance:


  • 1 Press Up
  • 2 Sit Up
  • 3 Leg Extension


  • 4 Lying Hand Clap
  • 5 Back Extension
  • 6 Hamstring Curl.

This way all body parts are exercised equally. The intensity, sets, reps etc. are not addressed in this blog but the repetition ratio is balanced. However, once exercise is used as a punishment, it more ofte than not will create an imbalance to one area of the body. Inevitably this can lead to potentially postural imbalance and possible injury among other things. If you take the ratio of where we started, 170 press ups vs. no balance is bordering on nothing short of naïve recklessness by the ‘coach’ in question. Having subsequently surveyed various exercisers to name the exercise that is usually the front runner when it comes to ‘punishment,’ the unanimous answer is always the‘push up’. But why punish at all? When I coach and take a drill, I take it for what it is – a drill. It must be practiced as mistakes will be made. But drills are exactly what it is – a skill that is repeatedly performed – within the boiundaries of balance – until it becomes second nature to perform. It isn’t and nor should it ever be a memory of punishment administered by a power ego coach. Believe me, this isn’t the Army.


Exercise is not a punishment. It should be purposeful, with achievable goals clearly defined. Of course it is not easy, but the rewards are great. And coaches, when it comes to ‘PUNISHMENT,’ why not take those rewards away from those disruptors by letting them sit out training!





‘Sports Therapy by Sports People’

5 tips for starting a training regime in the New Year

Many people across the country are welcoming in the New Year by lacing up, togging out and hitting the roads or the gym in an effort to shake off the extra pounds piled on over the Christmas period. RunnerThere’s no doubt, that January is the busiest time of year for exercise but there are certain considerations to be made, before you set out with your New Year’s resolutions of being healthier and much more active.
Get medical clearance 
It’s not something that many of us consider, but getting medical clearance prior to beginning a new regime, especially for those who are starting out after a long lay-off, is hugely important. A brief visit to your GP will let you know that you’re starting out with clean bill of health, and help you along in achieving your training heart rate.
Set achieve able goals
As the old saying goes: you must learn how to walk, before you can run. By rushing into a new training programme with all the best intentions but unrealistic goals, you are setting yourself up for a fall. It takes time to attain small increments in fitness, depending on your fitness levels and heart rate. Be modest if starting out with a new regime and establish weekly goals to work towards.
Find out what exercises best suit you
Whether you’re a professional athlete or a novice, casual exerciser, understanding what exercises to partake in will surely help you achieve your goals. Discuss your goals with a Fitness Instructor and if you need to, get your FI to fitness test you. This will give you a base level to work from and subsequently map out your progression.image (2)
Factor into your weekly schedule
If you are starting a new regime and your lifestyle was too busy before, you are going to have to change and adapt your lifestyle to suit your regime. In general terms, we don’t always adopt to change seamlessly, so the smaller the change, the easier it will be to incorporate into your daily life. Start small but aim big, and gradually you will achieve your goals by maintaining consistency.
Don’t forget your diet!
Diet and nutrition go hand in glove with exercise. By combining a healthy diet with a regular workout programme, you’ll soon lead the healthier lifestyle that you eagerly chase. Consult with a dietician if you’re unsure of what a healthy diet looks like or if you know what to eat but struggle to stick with it, remember, you must be patient and disciplined. Expect change every 4-6 weeks, and also expect some regression along the way. If you miss a session, don’t try to double up. Just continue on with your programme.
Finally, always remind yourself – Fitness is a journey, not a destination.
For more advice, feel free to contact me.
Sports Therapy by Sports People”

The Therapeutics Value of Cryotherapy

In recent times, something that has become standard practice in Sports/GAA clubs throughout the country is the use of a ‘wheelie-bin’ or similar vessels filled with water and ice for post-training treatment. When asked the question of why this practice is carried out, there are few who can answer correctly by explaining the effects of physically dipping your body into the iced water. The general instruction to the player is to jump in and submerge themselves in the near freezing water for as long as possible then get out and take a warm shower. From my experience, there’s certainly an argument to be made that the sole rationale behind the induction of make-shift cryotherapy treatment units ie. wheelie-bins in sports clubs seems to be that because others are doing it, well, so should we

photo 1

The conventional ‘wheelie-bin’ treatment which has become commonplace in Sports clubs nationwide.

I personally find this practice subjective for a number of reasons. Firstly, if a person gets injured, the R.I.C.E. principle applies. Taking the I. as a connotation for ice in the treatment, is to extract the heat out of the injury site. The interface in which the ice extracts and the concentration of heat is at its optimum where the ice burn occurs. In order to prevent this, a barrier or medium is applied such as a damp towel etc to avoid the burn.

This begs the questions of how you might prevent ice burn when you immerse yourself in iced water? What acts as the barrier to prevent the burn? The required effect of the process is to gain a vasoconstriction.

In cryotherapy treatment of a foot injury, the temperature is tested to the patient’s threshold. The foot is immersed in cold water to effect a vasoconstriction. It is then immersed in hot water to effect vasodilation. In the absence of hot water, the shower is used in the ‘Wheelie-Bin’ treatment. Does it have the same effect as the immersion of hot water? Not nphoto 2ecessarily.

In 2010 an interesting article on the subject was published in the Irish Independent. Professor Donnelly et al U.L. carried out tests over a three year period on cryotherapy ultimately finding that there was no proven benefit in reducing muscle soreness through the use of Ad-hoc ice baths. However, the definitive conclusion is the risk of Bronchospasm and ice burn. It also begs the question to be asked is medical clearance required prior to engaging in this practice?

‘Sports Therapy by Sports People’

Remember to Have a Heart

With the Winter months drawing nearer, many of us are concluding our outdoor training with the 5k and 10k season drawing to a close. That said, a visit to any town or a trip on any road will show up many exercisers still training, still out jogging or walking.


As a Physical and Sports therapist, I find that for those who are looking at their peers and thinking of hitting the roads before the season ends, and indeed for those well into their training with half-marathons on the horizon, there are a number of frequently asked questions. How fast should I walk? Should I be able to keep up with the seasoned walker/jogger when I’m only starting? Walking and jogging are both mostly aerobic exercises. While we should be able to carry out a conversation while exercising initially – maybe in the first 10 mins – breathlessness will seep in as a result of the energy system change over.

Defining Aerobic Exercise and the importance of Heart Rate Monitoring

Aerobic exercise addresses the cardio-vascular system and is the primary health-related component of physical fitness. When we were born our heart-rate was at its optimal beats, said to be 220 Beats Per Minute (BPM). It’s estimated that our heart-rate will lose a beat for every year of our lives. By taking your age from that 220, you will end up with your maximum heart-rate and exercising to our heart-rate is somewhat similar to the function of a speedometer in a car. We have safe speeds to our driving just as we have safe speeds that we exercise to. For aerobic exercise we should train to 60>% of our maximum heart-rate. Calculate you max heart-rate and then work out 60>% of it – this will give you your training heart-rate (THR).

Understanding the value of a Heart-rate Monitor

A heart-rate monitor can seriously help in measuring one of the crucial values of your training by giving you the information to allow you to maintain you training heart-rate. If, for instance, your training heart-rate is 120 BPM, the watch LCD will gauge your current heart-rate allowing you to increase or decrease your intensity to suit. As you get fitter you will find that your speed will increase but your heart-rate will remain at your THR, thus, giving you a method by which to measure your training progress.


When you start out with a new exercise plan, whether it’s to shake off a few pounds or maintain activity through the Winter months, measure your heart-rate with a 2-mile walk or jog depending on what you’re aiming to achieve. Set your heart-rate, time yourself and over the course of 4 to 6 weeks you will clearly observe how fit you are getting, without even looking at the scales. By simply measuring your increasing speed versus the consistent intensity of your heart-rate, you can monitor the impact of your aerobic fitness program.

Remember to always seek medical clearance prior to beginning an exercise regime.

‘Sports Therapy by Sports People’

A Word of Thanks

I would like to thank the former Monaghan Senior Football team Manager Eamon McEneaney and PJ McKenna for allowing me to implement my ideas, forming the strength & conditioning and diet & nutrition template in 1999, which was adopted by the All-Ireland winning Armagh Senior Football Team and is still currently in use in Monaghan, Armagh, Louth, Donegal.

The Ulster u21s Championship title was our major success and the all Ireland B final with the seniors.

To Dr. Eugene Young and Declan Gamble for the input into the fitness test norms for development squads, also to Eugene for all the help, advice and areas in which he allowed me to work un-supervised. Also, to Tony Scullion for enthusiasm!!

To Eamon O’Hara, Bernie Murray, Mick O’Dowd and Pauric McDonald and former Chairman of Monaghan County Board Paul Curran, for embracing Sports Therapy.

To Dave Kelly DFPTI, John Doran DFPTI, Philip Phelan, Damien Jackson NCEF and Capt. Mark Lennon, who are all eminent instructors.

To Chris McBride, Lar Hammond, Shane Reavey, Ollie Martin and Jim Hayes, Coaches with C.M.U.L. for embracing Sports Therapy.

To Ciaran McBride for his excellent insight into what it really takes to succeed at the the highest level of competition, his professionalism and thorough knowledge of the game of Gaelic football.

To Alan Ryan, Ozzie Hughes and Monaghan County Hurling management, for embracing Sports Therapy.

‘Sports Therapy by Sports People’