Wednesday 26 October 2016

'Knowing what works for your body is key' - 'Red Rock' actor Sean McMahon

A former Hollywood fitness trainer to the stars, 'Red Rock' actor Sean Mahon has returned home with a wealth of tried and tested health and wellbeing tactics

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Actor Sean Mahon photographed at Loft53. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Actor Sean Mahon photographed at Loft53. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

S ome people may be familiar with actor Sean Mahon as the villainous Sergeant Brian McGonigle in TV3's hit series Red Rock, others know him from his role in the award-winning film Philomena. However, few are aware that for years, while Sean struggled to make a name for himself in the acting world, he was paying his bills by working as one of Hollywood's top fitness trainers.

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For seven years, Sean worked as both a personal trainer and fitness instructor, tutoring the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Noth and Hugh Jackman at celebrity favourite Barry's Bootcamp in West Hollywood.

"I didn't do sports in school at all, but I would have cycled a lot as a kid. My first job out of college was in a bank and as a part of that they gave you a membership to a local gym. So I started there really," Sean explains.

"I moved to the States pretty soon after that, to Chicago where there was a huge gym culture taking over at the time. Initially, I had a 'normal job,' I was the brand manager for Kerrygold and then I became the sales manager for Avonmore, but I knew I wanted to act. So I quit that world and I moved out to Los Angeles to act.

"This was the early 1990s and LA was of course the epicentre of health and fitness, so I got a job in Barry's Bootcamp, which was the Hollywood place-to-be at that time," he recalls.

"It was where all of the celebrities went to get in shape and it is still hugely popular. It is a very specific, one-hour workout, moving between treadmills and floor routines using all different aspects of weight training and aerobics.

"At first I got a job behind the front desk, but part of the requirements of that job was that you had to train so that you'd be able to teach a class in case one of the teachers didn't show up."

Sean took to this training so enthusiastically, that he soon became one of the Barry's Bootcamp instructors and a personal trainer in his own right.

"Los Angeles is all about the body perfect. We had a lot of stars in the classes who would come in and they could really design their bodies there. It wasn't just about getting fit. It was about getting fit to look a certain way or to get a certain role," he explains.

"And that is all fine, but it can easily slip into the obsessive and the ridiculous where you are in the gym twice a day, six days a week and counting calories obsessively."

Ironically, Sean's own fitness began to take a back-seat during this period.

"While I was teaching I was actually working out less, it's almost like the cobbler's children having no shoes, but I left LA after seven years with all of that knowledge, so I have been able to incorporate all of the stuff I learned into my own regular, healthy lifestyle and I have a very balanced approach to it all now," Sean says.

"I know what to do and when to do it and how to step it up, if needs be; what works for my body type and what I can and can't do; you have to make peace with the body you have rather than trying to get a body that is not yours."

After his time in Los Angeles, Sean lived in New York for six years and then moved to London. A year-and-a-half ago, he returned home to Ireland to begin working on Red Rock and now spends his time travelling between Ireland and New York.

"I work out a minimum of three times a week and if I needed to get into a specific type of shape it would be five times a week," Sean explains.

"I've had to adjust my workout as I have gotten older too and that is just a fact of life; I used to do a lot of high energy, high-impact work and now it's about low-impact stuff.

"So I might walk on a high incline, at a lower speed and really sink into the legs and walk low and hard, so it's really low impact, but it still burns a lot of calories and builds the lower body.

"Then I might go onto the rowing machine for upper body at high intensity for maybe 15 minutes, so that would be 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and then I'd go for the weights; heavy weights for strength or if I was just trying to sculpt it would be the lighter weights.

"Flexibilty is also a huge thing for me," Sean adds. "I studied yoga and I incorporate it into a lot of my stretching and mobility work."

When it comes to nutrition Sean also practises a very balanced and conscious approach.

"There was a time when all I ate was brown rice, chicken breasts and broccoli, and certainly that was all about reducing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass," he admits. "But I think the most important thing is to know your body and how well it responds to certain foods, everything in moderation is wonderful; there is nothing like a little bit of good fat and the proper carbs.

"Certainly there is a lot to be said for cutting back on high levels of sugar and certain carbs that will spike your sugar levels, but I would not deprive myself of dessert every now and then.

"I love dark chocolate with 75pc-80pc cocoa," Sean smiles as he produces a bar from his pocket. "I would absolutely be conscious of what I eat, but denial is not a great thing for the psyche; if you are able to moderate it, that's great, but if you feel any sort of psychological deprivation, then at some point you are going to crack.

"If I need to drop five to 10 pounds, I will cut out the pints, the bread, the desserts and hit the gym," Sean shrugs. "It's a very simple formula - calories in and calories out."

Sean has a unique outlook on his fitness and nutrition; he views the efforts he puts in as necessary and key components for his career, as well as his health and wellbeing.

"With acting there can be pressure to slim down, particularly for the screen - unless you are playing a super hero or someone meant to be that size - because the camera does add 10 pounds and five inches in height; so I would be aware that I need to stay a certain size," he explains.

"But it is very important as an actor to be aware of your body and what you can do with it; your body is your instrument - it's like a singer taking care of their voice."

* 'Red Rock' airs every Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on TV3

Sean's food diary


One pint of cold water to start. Three scoops of oatmeal (made on half water and half skim milk) and add in one banana, a handful of blueberries and a handful of nuts. Alternate this with no sugar added muesli (3 scoops) and full fat Greek style yoghurt. Tea (black).

Mid-morning snack

A few handfuls of nuts (almonds, hazel and walnuts).An orange or an apple and a pint of water.


Protein (chicken or fish or beef). Vegetables (steamed or raw). Brown rice or sweet potato. A few pieces of dark chocolate (75-80pc cocoa) and a pint of water. Summer months will see an increase in salads heavy in protein (chicken and salmon), light carbs and vegetables high in nutritious fats like avocado.

Mid-afternoon snack

Nuts and fruit and water. A few cups of tea for sure.


If I am cooking at home, it will be generally pretty light. Basic carb, protein, fat combo.

Snack before bed

Cheese or yoghurt, but I will typically not eat after 9pm. Most days I will drink a cup of hot water and lemon each morning and evening (before bed) just to clear the system and balance out sugars.

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