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The Big Idea

The Big Idea: High end training that pays for itself

When Ciaran Ruddock was let go from Leinster, himself and a friend opened their own boutique gym – they explain their Big Idea to

DSC_7430 Ciaran Ruddock trains members of the Leinster squad FFS Dublin FFS Dublin

CIARAN RUDDOCK HAS seen both sides of professional sport.

Picked from the Welsh under age rugby set-up and parachuted into the Irish U-19 squad, both he and his brother, Rhys, did enough to earn a call-up to the U-20s, and latterly, the Leinster academy.

He spent three years learning his trade alongside some of Ireland’s best players in the professional era.

“You’re working and challenging yourself against the likes of Leo Cullen, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip and Nathan Hines. You see their work habits, the discipline, the mental toughness, the confidence.”

Ciaran Ruddock Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Then, the music stopped.

After three years in the academy, no professional contract was offered. He was, essentially, made redundant.

I went through a bad time. I put some negative pressures on myself. But you live and learn. You learn from that.

Bouncing Back

It is the common reality for most who get funnelled into professional rugby. You dedicate every aspect of your life to a goal, you risk everything physically, and then, after sparse playing time, you’re told that you haven’t made the grade.

The low probability of making it as a pro grinds up against the indefatigable self-belief that must be ever-present in sports people. But in every case, a day arrives when one trumps the other. For Ruddock, it was the news they all dread.

But he picked himself up quickly.

Finding belief on the rugby pitch didn’t take long for Ruddock. He went back to his club, St. Mary’s and came on to make a decisive difference in three comeback victories that culiminated in an All-Ireland League title.

Ciaran Ruddock 1/11/2013 Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

But it’s in business where he’s really put the skills he learned as a professional to use.

Along with his one-time college classmate Rory McInerney, he opened a small boutique gym in Dublin City Centre: Fitter, Faster, Stronger.

The Big Idea

Music pumping from a basement on Leeson Street usually indicates physical activity of a different kind, but on one of the first sunny Fridays of the summer, Ruddock and McInerney are putting about ten people through their paces.

Opening a gym might not seem like too innovative an idea from two graduates of health and performance science in UCD, one of whom has a background in professional sport.

However, the proposition behind FFS is what marks it out. In an era of mega-gyms and price wars, the Leeson Street outfit is unapologetically expensive compared to other gyms out there – three sessions a week for a month will set you back €100.

Where they really beat the opposition, is the attention and care they give clients, explains McInerney.

“It’s a small group training with expert coaching in a small environment that’s very hands-on.”

The philosophy underpinning FFS is one of inclusion, rather than the intimidation that the co-founders say can be encountered in traditional gyms.

“At the end of the session, if you see ten people who didn’t know each other laughing and joking, that’s nearly as much of a plus for us”, explains Ruddock.


Training is to give people functional strength and improve their quality of life, rather than an over-emphasis on size – big or small.

For Ruddock, the outcomes are simple.

The better you get then the easier everyday life gets…it teaches you discipline, mental toughness – it gives you confidence, it’s an unbelievable stress reliever.

McInerney, who has worked in gyms around the world, wanted to set up a gym that would counter what he saw as dangerous and unhealthy trends in fitness and exercise.

“You get lads coming in at 16 or 17, and all they’ve done is lift weights for three or four years, but they can’t get their hands above their head.”

How is that functional? If your chest is so overdeveloped that you can’t get your hands over your head to catch a ball, how is that functional?

Neither claim that its impossible to get fit safely without the help of a trainer, but they argue that the same principal applies as trying to acquire any other skill.

Ruddock says: “If I was trying to learn a language, I know that if I was going to a language school I’d get it a lot faster than trying to pick it up off Youtube.”

Regular testing and feedback mean that there’s no hiding place, but allows members to relax in the knowledge that they’re being looked after.

Equally, Ruddock says they try and encourage a balanced lifestyle, and to ensure that clients working out in the gym aren’t compensating for something else.

If it’s becoming a negative aspect, and we see someone is overworking and overtraining, then we have a word with them and say ‘what’s going on’? Their baby might not have slept the night before, they might be up the walls in work – there’s always something.

Video / YouTube

Their commitment to their credo is more than skin-deep too. Both have published their research on strength and conditioning in academic journals.

Is it working?

Across the business, the pair try to focus on processes rather than outcomes, something that permeates the product as well. The idea is to look after the small details and ensure a more valuable product overall.

The team behind FFS has expanded considerably as well, with three coaches and an operations manager now employed.

The gym has had a waiting list since November, relying almost exclusively on word of mouth among customers to build up membership.

Video / YouTube

There is a tension, McInerney says, between wanting to expand and making sure that the atmosphere and ethic they’ve created in Leeson Street isn’t diminished. With this in mind, they turned down a 10,000 foot location several months ago, preferring to focus on perfecting their first gym.

However, they are responding to demand, and plan to open another outlet in the coming months, and are already registering customers. More jobs are also on the way to staff the new outlet.

“The plan is to keep doing what we’re doing – we’ll look after the quality and hopefully everything flows from there.”

Read: One of our writers has been given an 8-week challenge to get in shape>

Read: 5 common mistakes inexperienced athletes make about nutrition>

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