What Makes Brendan Walsh and Hilary Riordan Tick

‘What Makes You Tick’ is a new segment where I will have a chance to pick the brains of some passionate and inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by getting a feel for how these people operate on a daily basis, we can continue to learn, develop, push our limits, and inspire each other.

Brendan Walsh, a native of Clogheen, Co. Tipperary, is one of the leading personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches in Ireland. As well as making his living as a strength and conditioning coach, the Waterford IT graduate dedicates every second of his life towards expanding his business and becoming an elite level CrossFit athlete.

Hilary Riordan- also a graduate of WIT- is one of the most sought after personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches in Ireland, and is an elite, sponsored CrossFit athlete. She is among the top female competitors in Europe, and is only the 2nd ever Irish female to qualify for the CrossFit European Regionals. Hailing from Bandon in Co. Cork, she runs Guerilla Fitness with her fiancé and business partner, Brendan.

Brendan and Hilary opened Guerilla Fitness in 2012- a results based training facility located in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, and one of the top gyms in the country.  They were kind enough to take the time out of their busy schedules to answer some questions, and share their ideas.

I’m very excited about this, so let’s get straight into it.

Ladies first, take it away Hilly. 

Hilly making it look easy.

Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?

Honestly, I am not too sure. I am very shy and definitely feel a little uneasy around new people. I have no problems being on my own, but when I am with my family and friends I really enjoy their company. So I guess I am a shy extrovert, if such a thing can exist!

What is your passion?

My passion is health and fitness, in particular CrossFit and weightlifting. I want to constantly test myself to see how far I can push my limits in order to reach my full athletic potential. My other passion is our business Guerilla Fitness, which myself and Brendan started up from scratch. It is what I am most proud of to date, without a doubt. Seeing how you can have such a positive impact on people’s lives every single day is truly amazing.

What are you driven by?

It might sound strange, but what drives me most efficiently is routine. I love knowing what the day ahead has in store. For example, I like to know exactly what time I will eat, train and nap. This allows me to feel most at ease, and I am more productive throughout the day because of it.

What motivates me the most is the fear of mediocrity; the thought of not giving 100% of my best efforts towards something doesn’t sit well with me. My Dad once said to me, ‘if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’. This most simple of sayings has sat with me daily ever since I was a child.

How do you measure success?

Success is something I don’t think you can measure, particularly when you have two people like Brendan and I who are always striving for more. Once you have achieved one thing, you need to start working towards the next goal. As a whole we are certainly very happy with the direction in which our business is going, and I feel very blessed to be able to do what I love every day and share it all with my best friend and fiancé.

Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?

My biggest influences have definitely been from my family. My parents- in particular my Mum- always encouraged me to play all kinds of sports, and went out of her way on a daily basis to facilitate this. I also have 4 older siblings which I have always looked up to.

What’s the best book you’ve read?

My favorite book I have ever read was called ‘Bounce’. It’s a very interesting sports psychology book which goes into great deal about the nature versus nurture debate. I also love to read auto-biographies.

Describe your typical morning routine.

My morning routine isn’t anything fancy. We are generally up pretty early- around 6am- so I have my clothes prepared the night before. I jump out of bed, throw on my clothes then I have a smoothie prepared from the night before, ready to be blended, which I have in work later on in the morning, and a bulletproof coffee and I’m ready to go!

Describe your perfect Sunday.

My ideal Sunday is waking up with no alarm, having a leisurely breakfast, then heading out for lunch and coffee with friends. A sauna and swim in the afternoon, and then off to the cinema in the evening or snuggling up on the couch to watch a movie.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasures all revolve around food. I have a weakness for Nutella, but I also love to go out for coffee and cake!

Outside of training and competing, what are your hobbies/interests?

I love to read, watch movies or go out for dinner or the cinema. It sounds pretty boring, but because we are so busy and active we like to enjoy some down time.

I am happiest when……..

It’s super sunny and I get to enjoy it with my family and friends.

How did you become involved in CrossFit?

I was introduced to CrossFit by my fiancé Brendan when we moved to New Zealand. He had been doing it for quite a while before we left and he often had tried to explain it to me. I never quite understood it though until I joined a CrossFit gym in New Zealand, and was instantly hooked!

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is definitely seeing people make life changing transformations, not just physically but mentally also. It is very rewarding when you see the look on a person’s face when they reach a goal, even if it’s something as simple as getting their first press up or pull up.  It’s validation of the hard work, effort and consistency they have put into their training and it definitely makes you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside!

How does your approach to training differ as an athlete and a coach?

It doesn’t change all that much. When I’m training I am 100% focused on the task at hand and it’s the only thing that will consume me at the time, I’m not really worried about anything else going on. When I’m coaching I also give it 100% of my concentration and effort. We owe it to our clients to give them the best coaching possible and I am constantly trying to find ways and means to constantly learn in order to be the best coach that I can.

How do you ensure you are 100 % prepared mentally, both as an athlete and a coach?

Being prepared mentally is definitely something I have improved on over time.  With each competition and event that you take part in, you learn a little bit more about yourself and how mentally strong you really are.

What is on the cards for you in 2015?

For this year I set out to try and achieve the qualifying standard in order to qualify for the senior weightlifting championships in April in Tbilisi, Georgia. I managed to meet the standards and fingers crossed I will be selected to represent Ireland in April. I would also like to qualify for the CrossFit Games European Regionals held in Copenhagen in May, and become the first Irish person to qualify two years in a row. The CrossFit Regionals is where the top 30 fittest athletes in Europe compete over 3 days for 5 spots at the World CrossFit Games.

Do you have advice for people who are considering entering the world of Crossfit?

Just give it a try, you have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain!!

Thanks Hilly, over to you Bren!

Brendan in action.

Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?

This is a funny one for sure. For most of my life I was as extroverted as they come, particularly in college. I hated being on my own, and I fed off the company of others. I would have considered myself very outgoing and bubbly. These days however, I found myself becoming much more introverted. Since opening my own business in 2012 with my girlfriend at the time, I have developed these tendencies as a result of the pressures of competing at a high level in a demanding sport, and striving for a successful business.

What is your passion?

I can say without any doubt my passion is finding the potential for human greatness. As long as I can remember I have been obsessed with fitness. I was lucky to have shown reasonable talent in a range of sports, having represented Tipperary in hurling and football and Munster in rugby. That being said, I always found that I enjoyed the training aspect rather than match day itself. From there I began to understand my passion more and more, and what I wanted to pursue a career in.

There are many quotes I like to keep at the back of my head, and one which has particular resonance with me comes from Steve Prefontaine, where he famously said that to give anything less than your best is a sacrifice to the gift. I want to help myself and other’s fulfill their true potential, and use their gifts.

What are you driven by?

Being the very best, and being 100% successful. I don’t know anything else, and to expect anything less upsets me. As long as I can remember I have been driven. I remember when I was 6 years old, proclaiming that I wanted to attend Trinity College. At 6 years of age I didn’t know what, or where Trinity was, but I must have heard in passing in an adult conversation that it was a top university. This trend carried on for years as I always wanted to be the best at everything I did. The goal posts were always changing for me, but my desire to be the best was always there.

How do you measure success?

Measuring success is very much a personal thing. For me right now, I feel I have become successful. I have established one of the top CrossFit and weightlifting gyms in the country, and we started it all out from the boot of a van. In any language, what myself and Hills (my business partner and now fiancée) have done is a huge success. I am one of the top coaches/ athletes in the sport of CrossFit in Ireland.

But all that being said, am I happy? No, not even close. I have bigger dreams, bigger goals. I am always wanting more and pushing boundaries in every facet of my life. However, you have to appreciate the journey and be proud of what you are achieving. Success for me is improving my athletic potential, which is easily measured through numbers and data, and as long as I can keep improving, that is success. Business is measured in profitability, but as I am not driven by profits I measure the success of my business in the results of my athletes, and once everyone can walk out my door a fitter, better person, that is success for me.

Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?

As a sports fanatic- borderline obsessed as a child- I was inspired by sports people; GAA and soccer at first, and then rugby soon after. I always had a sports personality in mind with whom I wanted to emulate. I would read all the latest auto-biographies; I would find myself relating to them, trying to take lessons from them and applying them to my own life. What I always took away was that I needed to work harder than everyone else, which is a trait that has stayed with me to this day. However, one sports person in particular stands alone for shaping who I am today, (outside of my parents obviously) and that person is Lance Armstrong. Despite his recent confessions and bully tactics, I was always in awe of his work rate and drive. His whole character definitely had a huge influence on me.

What’s the best book you’ve read?

No surprises here, without a doubt Lance’s first book. To many he is a cheat, a fraud, a bully. I am in the field of Olympic sports, and I am educated enough to know that PED’s are everywhere in high level sport. I don’t condone drug use and I won’t get into that argument today, but despite what Lance did (and what everyone else did), he still fought back from a 10% chance of living and beat cancer, before going on to conquer the most demanding sport on the planet for a decade.

Describe your typical morning routine.

As I start every morning pretty early, it’s a simple routine of a super drink on the go to allow me some extra Z’s. Each morning starts with a bulletproof coffee- which is black coffee with butter (I add in some chocolate protein) all blended together to give you a mocha of sorts. A super drink complete with caffeine, fats and protein; I’m ready to attack a busy day ahead.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

As a coach/ athlete I am always on the go. On the rare occasion when I get the chance for a Sunday off, the best part for me is waking up with no alarm clock, without a doubt. Then a Hills special for breakfast; pancakes made only from egg and banana with a nut butter spread- delicious and clean. A visit to the sauna (one of the best ways to remove lactate from the body) after breakfast for recovery, a swim and then go out for lunch. A visit to some friends later in the afternoon to enjoy some more coffee, before returning home to chill out and prepare for the busy week ahead.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Corn flakes. Ever since I started eating super clean and healthy I have an urge for corn flakes with lots of sugar, so when I return home to my parents house every few months, a box of delicious corn flakes could go missing pretty quickly.

Outside of training and competing, what are your hobbies/interests?

I am about as big a sports fan as they come. Outside of sports I don’t have a huge interest in anything else really. I like to read and go the cinema when I can fit in the time.

I am happiest when……..

Training, or when it’s sunny. Ideal scenario; training outside in the sun!

How did you become involved in CrossFit?

I used to train with a college lecturer in the high performance lab in WIT, at the crack of dawn. I would do some heavy lifting specific to rugby, while he did this crazy sh*t for MMA. After a few weeks in, he coaxed me into a CrossFit workout. I thought I was fit and strong at the time, but that one workout left me smashed for a week. I was hooked. That day changed my life, and slowly but surely over the next 18 months of combining rugby and CrossFit, rugby became less prevalent. I found a new love, a desire to test myself and push my limits. Plus, it was an individual sport, the first I have ever taken part in where success or failure was determined by me and me alone. I loved it.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

There are two sides to my job that I love, working with the ‘Average Joe’ and working with athletes, and both are massively rewarding. Seeing a regular person come in and transform their fitness level, improve their confidence and help them become more comfortable in their own skin is something I will never tire of. Witnessing female members performing strict pull ups, double bodyweight deadlifts, and just empowering women in general to show that strong is the new sexy, is incredibly uplifting. For me, I am inspired every day seeing the girls in my gym doing their thing; they all look like models yet we boast some of the strongest girls in Ireland. The second most rewarding aspect is working with my comp athletes, helping them push their limits daily and to see them get their reward in competition. I definitely get immense satisfaction in my job.

How does your approach to training differ as an athlete and a coach?

It doesn’t. As an athlete I train with 100% intensity and have objectives going into each session. As a coach I am pretty intense, and again I will outline the training objectives which I am looking for my athletes to achieve.

Every coach or athlete has a certain dogma, as do I. What I expect as a coach from my athletes, I expect from myself. My dogma is movement and movement efficiency, so when I am training I am always looking at ways to improve my movement patterns, technique, and all round efficiency. When I am coaching, these are the objectives that I drive home.

How do you ensure you are 100 % prepared mentally, both as an athlete and a coach?

For me, I don’t switch off. I can’t afford to. In order to compete at the highest level of CrossFit- which is the sport of fitness- my lifestyle needs to match my goals. If I go out at the weekend, or eat poorly, or do what most people do at weekends for example, it will heavily effect how I train and perform. I can’t allow this to happen, so I am always in training mode. When I am eating, I eat food that fuels me. I always ensure I get to bed by a decent hour so I can get my recovery in. I train for 2-3 hours per day, but the other 21 hours are crucial and they contribute to how beneficial those hours in the gym are spent. So how do I stay 100% prepared? I suppose I am always looking for ways to make progress, and with such good preparation its gives me confidence knowing that I am always at my best.

What is on the cards for you in 2015?

As an athlete, my competitive days are quickly coming to an end. Not that I will stop training, but I just can’t focus on myself any more as I am too busy with coaching and expanding my business.

I hope to hit the qualifying standard for the European championships in the next year in weightlifting, and qualify for a major international CrossFit comp.

As a coach, I hope to get 3 girls to European standard, while continuing to smash national records in weightlifting, powerlifting and rowing.

I hope to establish Guerilla Fitness as the top CrossFit and weightlifting gym in Ireland in 2015.

As a business owner, I hope to continue to expand the size of the gym and ensure that I run the best kitted out gym in the country.

Do you have advice for people who are considering entering the world of Crossfit?

Anyone can do it, but not everyone will want to; you won’t know until you try.

Thanks Bren. 

Wow!! Thanks again for taking the time out of your hectic schedules guys, it’s been a pleasure hearing how you two approach each and every day and I’m sure you will continue to inspire, motivate and transform the lives of many. Huge congratulations on your engagement, and I wish you long and continued success with Guerilla Fitness and beyond. 

Click here to find out more about Brendan, Hilary and the Guerilla Fitness team. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.