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‘The gym is a place for improvement in the same way a library is a place where you study’ – Hench’s Rory Girvan


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ADOPTING a healthy fitness routine can be difficult to commit to. I don’t know how many times I’ve rocked up at the gym with the best intentions only to give up after half an hour of furiously speed walking on the treadmill.

However, founder and director of strength coaching company Hench and new Irish News fitness columnist Rory Girvan is attempting to change attitudes like mine and help more people become stronger for life.

“The mission that we have about helping people become stronger for life isn’t just a tag line,” he says.

“We see strength training as an anchor habit that can change your life in terms of your health and life span, but it also tends to have a ripple effect in people’s lives and can be a catalyst for behavioural change.”

Strength training is designed to improve strength and endurance through activities such as weightlifting.

“I started strength training when I was 14,” Rory explains.

Hench Gym
Hench founder Rory Girvan, pictured right, and head strength coach Conor Johnson

“I just fell in love with it instantly. I was born in the 80s so I saw all the meat-head Arnie and Sylvester Stallone films so that might have had something to do with it, but it became a real focal point in my life.

“I really enjoyed the process of getting stronger and seeing other people get stronger.”

Rory opened Hench in 2013 aiming to transform the traditional gym experience through a ‘mind over matter’ approach combining physical strength with mental resilience.

“Whenever I started Hench I wanted to share my strength training experience gained from a lot of trial and error to save people the years of guess work. I knew what mistakes I didn’t want other people to make.”

Although Rory’s fitness endeavours have taken him to the top on many occasions, he’s battled his own issues along the way including with his mental health and his own physical health.

However, he hopes his personal experience combined with his background in strength training alongside a degree in biomedical science followed by another in sports and exercise science will help others to take care of their wellbeing.

“I’ve always seen the link; I’ve always used strength training as something to improve your mental health, but it also takes off the shackles of whatever modern life does to us – it tends to empower you.

“Mental health is a massive thing but we’re very careful about how we deal with that. I’ve a background in biomedical science as well as sport and exercise sciences but we’re strength coaches so we really have to stay within our scope of practice.

The gym is a place for improvement in the same way a library is a place where you study – it’s open to everyone

—  Rory Girvan

“We’re not psychologists, we’re not psychiatrists, but what we can do is empower people to develop an anchor habit of strength training which has a knock-on effect in their lives.

“Strength training helps you become more physically resilient. Physical resilience and mental resilience are kind of the same thing – training is essentially a process of applying stress to the body. You adapt from it, become stronger and as a result you can kind of deal with stress in all forms.”

The Hench gym team
The Hench gym team

Rory’s approach has proven popular as Hench has amassed more than 5,000 members, attracting people of all ages and abilities.

“We see every day the small ways in which strength training has changed people’s lives,” he says.

“There’s a lady called Elizabeth who is training with us at the minute and she’s 60 – I’m not too sure what her background is but she just comes in and does her work, but we recently found out she’s been training away for the last two years because she’s planning to climb all the peaks in Ireland.

“Another lady called Anne had retired and decided after she started doing her strength training that she would go on a sailing trip to the Faroe Islands. Stories like that are always so inspiring to hear.”

Hench is the only gym and fitness centre that teaches strength training one-on-one in a small-group environment, with personalised programming and reserved equipment. However, what sets it apart most is its universal accessibility, says Rory.

“When you’re trying to grow a business it’s always brilliant to niche-down and specialise but the idea of having a female only gym or something like that kind of goes against our whole mission of helping people become stronger for life because strength should be for everyone.

“The gym is a place for improvement in the same way a library is a place where you study – it’s open to everyone.

“We’ve had people as old as 87 in the gym training…”

Hench Gym
The Hench team at the gym’s new Belfast premises on Cromac Street

Given that the late Irish News chairman Jim Fitzpatrick used to train at Hench it seems fitting that Rory is now part of the Irish News team, contributing a monthly fitness column.

“The aim of the column is to meet people where they’re at in terms of their understanding of strength training and hopefully empathise with them in terms of what they’re going through and also show them that the path towards having this as part of their life really isn’t as arduous as they think,” he explains.

“Then it’s about maintaining it as a consistent part of their life and showing them how to avoid all the mistakes that are so easy to make.”


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