SOBER OCTOBER, WINTER WORKOUTS & FITNESS FANATICS | FEATURE
If, while in lockdown, you are contemplating taking up kickboxing, have a burning desire to try cage fighting or feel boxing is your calling, Buzz’s Jon Sutton has learned the hard way how to safely embark on a new fitness regime…
October 1: that miserable yet hopeful day that marks the beginning of sober October and also marks the first anniversary of my virgin voyage into yet another fight sport – jiu-jitsu.
“I’m done with kickboxing,” I told my mates down the pub on September 30 last year, wearing a pointed grimace as my thumbs massaged my overused knees. “Starting tomorrow, for sober October, I’m going to jiu-jitsu. Enough of all those kicks and punches. Jiu-jitsu is just rolling around on the floor! Joe Rogan does it in his fifties! What could possibly go wrong?”
Imagine my surprise when, the following evening, I found myself splayed out on a bed in the accident & emergency unit suffering from broken ribs. Having gone into my new class full of gusto and insecurity earlier that night, I’d thrown myself so hard into my first ‘roll’ that I’d bust my own body by leaping, ribs-first, onto my opponent’s protruding knee. After all my promises about starting a new sporting activity each day of the week throughout sober October, I spent the entire month, and the remainder of 2019, incapacitated and ashamed on the sofa.
So, a year on, what can we learn from my idiocy – and how can you attack the winter-workout without suffering the same humiliation as I? Simple. Find an expert. As south Wales goes back into lockdown, I look at my favourite local fitness fanatics who are practising full social distancing measures whilst shaping the Welsh into winners and warriors.
Someone who knows all about changing up the fitness regime is Olympian Mica Moore [above]. A few years ago, not satisfied with her Welsh medal stash for sprinting (or her Commonwealth Games appearances), Moore decided to take up bobsleighing during the quiet winter months. After crowdfunding £40k for the endeavour, she and her teammate went on to represent the UK in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018, with a banner on their sled reading “POWERED BY THE PEOPLE”. Always one for giving back, Moore is now offering to power the people of south Wales with a range of one-to-one (or two-to-one) strength and fitness classes from her home in St Mellons – and, in between sessions, found the time to tell us about her new project.
“Sessions provide a huge range of exercise – weights, CrossFit, sprinting, running, high intensity circuits, all tailored to individual needs. A bit of everything I have done to become an Olympian. The aim is to shape, to tone and to bring the fun back to fitness!”
Tyson Fury may do the business inside the ring, but when he steps out of it, Llanharan legend Brendan Lyons [above] is the man set with the task of looking after the world heavyweight champ. And when Brendan is not acting as close protection to the toughest man on the planet, he’s running his gym in Pontyclun, The Lyon’s Den. It boasts 7,500 square feet over four rooms with 120 machines, a full boxing space and an outdoor gym, covered by a gazebo, to keep well within the ever changing Covid regulations.
There’s also a few recognisable faces hanging around: Brendan’s gym provides the power behind UFC fighter Brett Johns and several Cardiff City and Cardiff Blues players, whilst also being home to Pontyclun ABC boxing club, ensuring that as well as bringing in today’s sporting stars, Brendan is also building tomorrow’s athletes. Scared by the competition? Don’t be. The Den is a family-friendly environment overseen by a true gentle giant, offering 15 outdoor classes a week to the casual fitness fanatic, from spin to Funkypump.
Before being introduced to ex-cage fighter Barry TKO Francis [above], you would be forgiven for assuming that you were about to meet a truly terrifying young man. But upon meeting him you soon realise that he might well be Ely’s most affable fighter – alongside his namesake, Barry Jones. Francis’ nickname of TKO (“technical knockout” for non-fight fans) had been assigned as a result of the MMA (mixed martial arts) world offering their best and brightest fighters theatrical names to match their characters in the ring, a la American wrestling.
That combination of brutal MMA experience and a flair for entertaining the fans is what gives Francis’ outdoor boot camps the edge over the competition in the martial arts market. It’s even possible to laugh out loud while your lungs are burning out and you’re sweating a few hundred calories into the cold concrete at 6am. Added to this, he’s recently partnered up with Gemma Price of Boxing Pretty to offer female-only self-defence classes to her women’s group, Fiercely Free, which Price founded with Rachel Whiting to “empower women with physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.”
Francis also offers Sunday boot camps to kids, and their parents, to help keep the local youth off the streets and to help them connect with their families. “I want to get kids on a better path, put down the X-Box controller and build a better future, because it’s only hard work that makes the dream work,” he told me.
SPECIAL MENTION TO… THE OTHER CAGE FIGHTER:
Not quite a cage fighter, but Cardiff’s finest jiu-jitsu instructor, Craig Ewers, has had to put all but the most serious competitors on the sidelines during lockdown. Find him on Facebook for full details of when his widely respected classes will reopen to the general public.
Michael Gadd [above], ex-boxer and current trainer, set up shop in St Clare’s ABC last year to deliver real boxing lessons to the Fairwater public. For Gadd, boxing is a discipline in every sense of the word, but he approaches it with the calming influence of a professor and an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject matter that puts allcomers at ease – even those who have never stepped foot in a legit boxing club. Every misstep is corrected with a gentle nudge towards the right stance, every drop of the hands punished with a playful tap. Nothing gets missed in this club: Gadd is blessed not only with the technical know-how, but the tools, to boot.
As well as building champions through the amateur boxing club, he now brings his unique brand of intelligent instruction to the general public in his boxing-based workout sessions, suitable for anyone who knows how to jab a focus mitt and hook a heavy bag then collapse on the floor in excited exhaustion. And if you don’t know how, don’t panic, he’ll show you. With poise and professionalism. Just do not drop those hands. Ever.
Facebook: St Clares ABC
Dave Tonge has 25 years of swimming experience, as Performance Director for Cardiff Met among other roles, and is now offering private coaching with his talented team at Heathwood Swimming – Cardiff’s only endless pool offering 1-2-1 lessons. Of course, the pool is not technically endless but, with a current flowing against you, allowing Tonge to stand by and monitor your every stroke, it certainly feels endless after an hour.
One man who knows about the energy needed to become a top swimmer is Welsh rugby legend Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas, who teamed up with Dave [both pictured top of article and left] to enter Iron Man Wales 2019, as featured in 2019 BBC documentary Gareth Thomas: HIV & Me. Before meeting up with Tonge, Alfie couldn’t even swim; by the end of their time together, he had completed an Iron Man contest and found a friend for life, such is the coach’s warming presence and calming demeanour.
Having recently taken on a new unit at the bottom of Ocean Way, with two new pools scheduled to be constructed in the coming weeks, Tonge’s swimming empire continues to expand across Cardiff. With only one swimmer and one coach present at each session, it’s the perfect way to remain socially distant whilst exercising this winter. (Heathwood also provide regular deep cleaning, temp checks, and sanitiser.)
Whilst Dave Tonge has the swimming covered, Hector Elgales will take you the distance with his 1-2-1 running, cycling and general fitness sessions, in both indoor and outdoor settings. Barcelona boy Elgales has been a triathlete for decades, and last year offered up his Catalonian charm, extensive experience and boundless enthusiasm to the people of Cardiff. His functional workouts, which include a deep-dive into the workings of the body, have become legendary among his followers – as have his tattoos, his piercings, and his handlebar moustache.
THE MENTAL STRENGTH MONSTER
Anyone doubting Ian Higgins’ credentials in the world of mental and physical fitness can probably still find footage of him powering across the tryline for Wales U19s, moving up north to become a professional rugby league player, or trying his hand (feet, knees and elbows) as an MMA fighter. Not that he’d tell you any of this, such is his modesty and his dedication to getting down to business in the gym. Maybe though, over a beer one night, he might just delve into the wealth of stories that provide him with the gas tank to drive forward no matter what obstacles lie ahead. For Ian is a mental strength monster.
So if you want to strengthen the mind as well as the body, then look no further. All fitness plans, which include mental health coping mechanisms as well as physical training, are tailored specifically to the client.
Shout out to Elite Fitness, the previous tenants of the warehouse style gym that occupied Fairwater’s industrial units for a decade, bringing white collar boxing to the area, before recently retiring – and welcome new tenants Dragon Athletic [above]. A CrossFit company previously based in Cardiff Bay, they’ve renovated the Fairwater space during lockdown and opened a new fitness feature just as the world begun moving again. From the coffee counter in their café/reception area, to their anthracite grey, cast-iron black and old school oak fittings, Dragon Athletic delivers that perfect balance of “LET’S FUCKING DO THIS” seriousness and “you’re in good hands here” friendliness.
All levels of CrossFitters are welcome, from the absolute beginner to, quite possibly, the fittest people I have ever seen in Cardiff. If CrossFit is not your thing, they also offer an open gym membership with an impressive collection of weights, a yoga studio and a third room whose purpose, co-owner Angie tells me – bouncing her baby whilst husband Andy puts the finishing touches to a new wall rack – “hmm, haven’t been decided yet”. Watch this space.
FURTHER LOCAL RECOMMENDATIONS
Candice Weymouth, personal trainer, who recently took on a friend’s young daughter to help her find her fitness feet! Giaccolina Maria Crothers and Luke Routley Cantrill at The Gym, Cardiff City Centre, who always make their customers and gym-guests feel like friends. Chris Morgan at AJ’s Kickboxing Academy who took his classes online during lockdown. Dale Norris, who kickboxer Paul Jenkins credits as having a “decorated history and stories for days”.
Plus Mark Tregilgas, Steve Wall, Richard Harris, James Knight, Emma Cresswell, Alison Jennings, Neil Driscoll, Ian Liddiatt, Matt Stockham, Leighton Rees and James Lightfoot, who were all judged to have gone the extra mile while on lockdown.
words JON SUTTON
photos CHARLOTTE TONGE (Dave Tonge/Gareth Thomas); OLLYHARRISONPHOTO (Mica Moore); MIKEY WILLIAMS @ TOP RANK (Brendan Lyons); SACHA WIENER (Barry Francis); KELLY GADD (Michael Gadd); PAUL STILLMAN (Hector Elgales)