Meet Kyle Russell a mobile personal trainer in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Kyle travels to his clients’ homes to train them giving them the benefit of his education and in the trenches experience. Kyle actually played soccer here in the States as a teenager before moving back to Scotland where he went on to win the Novice Sports Models Class in the International Natural Bodybuilding Association in 2013. He moved up a class earning 9th at the World Championships in Physique the next year and placed second at the first Layne Norton Classic in Scotland before starting to train functionally. Kyle is a graduate of the Scottish School of Sport who has trained over forty people online. He got on my radar this year shortly after he rebranded his online training business as Peak Fitness and began offering his services to local clients.
Read below to find out how he started his fitness journey, his plans to move Peak Fitness into a home gym and his experience with CrossFit during the 2017 Open.
How long have you been working out, how did you start and how did you start training people in their homes?
Well, it’s quite interesting talking to yourself as Garage Gym Life. The way I got started initially working out; was I must have been 14 years old, and my uncle who was a bodybuilder at a decent level here in Scotland, he actually done all of his training in a back shed in his back garden. He still to this day has got that gym in his shed, I remember going there as a 14 year old kid and there were all of these pictures from these fitness magazines of all these bodybuilder women with competition bikinis on plastered over the shed.
There had to be at least one of Dorian Yates though right?
Probably! Ha ha, but that had to be after my mom noticed that there was a lot of girls and said he had to change it to guys because I’d started to train there. There was definitely a Ronnie. So yeah, that’s kind of how I got started. And then he started to train at a gym locally so we went there with him and then that closed down. I was training to play football (soccer) professionally and because I was quite good I was always playing with older people so they were always bigger. So I had to quickly learn to be too quick for them or I had to bulk up to take a hit. I was living at home at the time, I was only 17 so me and my dad went on Gumtree (the U.K. version of Craigslist) and we bought a bench and weights; got together and put up a pullup bar in the garage. My dad and I started training from the garage all the way up until I went to California and played football over there. That was when I really started training more seriously; did more squats, deadlifts and did more leg stuff.
Switch to Bodybuilding
When I came back from the United States, I was 18, 19; that was when I decided I was going to do bodybuilding. So I just stopped playing soccer all together and started doing bodybuilding; I trained at gyms in Glasgow. I’d done quite a lot in bodybuilding, competed in International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA) went over to Greece in 2013 for the world championships and came in first in the novice sports models class in the INBA which is pretty cool. Went back and decided to train for another year in the hopes to go up a class and go to Physique. The year after we went to Slovakia and I took a team of athletes and I ended up finishing 9th in the world in Physique which for my first year in Physique was okay. Came back to the U.K. and– you know Layne Norton?
GGL Yeah, I actually met him one year at the Arnold Classic Expo (not that he’d remember me of course). He’s a nice guy.
KR Yeah, so he had the UKDFBA Layne Norton Classic here in Scotland so I competed in that and ended up coming in second in the U.K. in the Physique class. But after that I kind of started to train functionally.
An Eye Opener and Switching to Functional Training
It’s a story I tell all of the time but I never get tired of telling it because it was kind of eye opening. At the time I was quite big, had put on a lot of muscle. But I went to gymnastics with my wife and there was a guy there who was working on the paralletes and he was half the size of me but he went into a handstand and started doing handstand pushups and I remember thinking, “I’ve got all of this muscle but I can’t do anything with it. It’s not functional!” So for the next 8-9 months I trained completely calisthenics and done all of that from home. Quit all of my memberships to gyms, got a pullup bar and paralletes trained from home. That was 2015. From there I started to miss the weights and a pretty good gym opened up around the corner from where I lived so I joined that gym and started the heavy lifting again but I kept that functional element in it. Training flowed from a power day, a strength day and a calisthenics day. All within the same structure: a full body workout using different aspects of fitness but still working through the whole body. I hope to move house in a couple of months and then we’re going to build a facility— it won’t be massive but it will be one on one style training facility.
Like what your uncle had?
Yeah, his was made of wood, this will actually be a concrete, solid structure that hopefully will let me train myself but also train others in, one on one or small, semi-private.
Peak Fitness Past, Present and Future
That sounds pretty awesome. You’re currently building up your local client base by doing mobile personal training; going around to people’s homes along with online stuff right?
From 2014 I’ve been training people online, so if there’s someone who wants to add some muscle or get lean for summer; I train people who want to do different bodybuilding competitions as well in contest prep. But this year I decided to take my business and rebrand it as Peak Fitness; step away from the computer and train people locally. So I bought a lot of gear, stuck it in my van and I’ve been doing mobile PT and doing classes at different small studios. Taking my gear and taking classes, then going to people’s homes. All of that’s kind of building up to have my own facility attached to my home.
You’re a busy guy! If you factor in drive time, plus being at the classes you teach, you have to be at people’s homes and you have to go home and work on the programming for your online clients, review video, pictures for your online clients— that’s a full day every day!
And I still work a day job every day as well until this starts to pay the bills!
Now it makes sense why you want to have your own facility because then you could combine the classes you’re already teaching plus the personal training. Everybody could just come to you; so you’d help more people and have more time for the online part of your business.
Say I was to pick up even more clients and do it all from home. I could have clients from 5-6 and then have my 6 o’clock class, high intensity interval training (HIIT), could be from 6-7. Have another client from 7-8. There would be absolutely no travel time involved. At the moment say I’ve got to be at someone’s at four, then go to the class, I’ve got to leave for class at half five (5:30 for you Americans) to set the class up then be here before anyone comes. That’s all wasted time I’m not getting paid for whereas if I could streamline it and have my own facility, it also means I’ve got the best of gear available all at one time exactly the way I want it. I’ve got it all drawn on a piece of paper, tagged it how I want the gym to be and that’s where I can look at it every day and see that, that’s the end goal.
I want you to understand that for Peak Fitness to be successful as a brick and mortar it’s got to have a Garage Gym Life banner on the wall. All of the market research and studies show that’s a must for real success!
Have you already investigated the requirements for insurance related to having the building on your property and zoning laws?
I’ve got a friend who does drawings for architecture. Here in the U.K. what you call zoning, we call the Planning Commission so you basically have to speak to all of your neighbors to notify them you’re building a second structure and when you buy the house you’ve got to notify them that you’re going to be running a business from home as well.
Because it’s going to be one on one I assume you’re going to be the only instructor so you won’t have to hire staff or worry about insurance.
I thought about opening my own gym but my mother’s friend has her own gym and for the first few years you basically have no time. Until you really make it big you’re basically in the gym all day because the busiest times are from 6am-9am and from 4pm -10pm and you’ve got to have the gym open all through the day as well so your time is not your own. I’ve been used to being self-employed all my life; I like to be the manager of my own time so if I have a one on one facility it means I can create a calendar and block out certain slots so if I’m doing something with my family no one can book that time.
Do you do any boot camps?
The HIIT class is sort of a boot camp. That was how I marketed it at first in January, high intensity boot camp to help you get in shape, but I’ve just rebranded it because I’m doing it three times a week now ongoing.
Did you do it in the park?
We’re on the coast of Scotland so the beach parks are where people take boot camps so that’s where I started off there but it was in January so the winter in Scotland is pretty cold and it’s dark quite early so we were doing it by streetlights. It just wasn’t working; I was sitting and no one was coming up so I moved it to a studio.
Do you plan to go back to the beach in the summer?
In the summer, yeah, I think so to save myself money. I’m paying £10 which is like $13 per hour for the room I use so that’s an extra £30 a week that I could keep to myself. And when it comes to the winter time, hopefully, I’ll have my own facility so we can just move it into there. But even in the summer in Scotland, you have some really rainy days so it would be good to have the option to take it indoors.
Let’s talk about your training philosophy as far as Peak Fitness goes. I know you talked about what you like doing for yourself. Online your clients are typically doing contest prep. The people who come to your classes are in a different demographic probably. Talk about your assessment and do you have a standard way you train most people or do you try to tailor it to everyone?
So the HIIT class is all functional type training. It’s marketed as a fat burning class because HIIT is so good for burning fat. But all of the stuff that’s in it is also functional fitness, you know battle ropes and such, so you are building functional strength as well as increasing your metabolic capacity and utilizing EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) to burn more fat. But people come to the class because it’s marketed as a fat burning class. Or they’ll see a calisthenics and come because they want to learn bodyweight training but in the one on one clients, yeah, I do an actual assessment, whether it’s my online or my local clients I have a questionnaire that they fill out and pretty much any detail that I need is on that. What their goal is, their schedule— it gives me all of the parameters that I have to work with. I know a lot of trainers are cheaper than me; I don’t claim to be cheap but that’s because a lot of trainers will have like three templates for different age groups and then they’ll just kind of copy and paste your name in. I like to start every single program fresh and do a bespoke for them, really that is tailored to their goals. What I try to do is get the client to give me at least twelve weeks at each goal before they change it. Because so many trainers will post stuff like, “Get a six pack in six weeks” and it’s really misleading. Don’t get me wrong, if you put somebody on a starvation diet you could get it but as soon as they start eating normally again they’ll just put the weight back on. So if I’m going to create something that’s maintainable for someone I’m going to ask them to give me a certain amount of time to work on that goal and then if they decide after that, “Okay I want to get lean,” I say, “Okay, that’s fine, you’ve got to give me twelve weeks to get you lean now.” Especially if you want repeat customers; people that are going to come back you’ve got to make sure that you’re providing something that’s maintainable. And something that’s going to work long-term rather than something that’s a quick fix.
In helping clients identify goals do you ever pick out someone from a magazine who’s got a similar body type to them; but has a realistic level of fitness to help them or would that just depress them?
My mom is a bit of a fitness fanatic and she’ll come to my class and she’ll say to me, “Kyle, I don’t know if that was a good idea posting that picture of yourself topless because it’s a bit intimidating,” which is something I’ve never came across before. Because as far as social media and online clients, you post a picture of yourself topless after a workout that’s going to get the most likes! I found that local people tend to react better to quotes and pictures of food that tends to motivate them because they’re not very self-motivated. They need someone to push them; they need a class environment where there’s other women who are like them that they can kind of compete with. I try to tell them focus on progress. Even a little progress is progress; try and compete with yourself, focus on how much you can do now versus when you started and that seems to work better for them.
When you go to someone’s home do you train them by themselves or can they bring a buddy?
I think semi-private is the way to go, it reduces the cost of one on one but it’s a much more individual approach than a class training where you have ten to fifteen people in a class and you’re struggling to see each person individually in the class. If I’m doing an hour at a home for one person and they bring a friend, I let them split it which brings the cost down. I’m quite happy to do that. It also acts as a little bit of motivation. I’ve noticed that if I’ve been training someone for a couple of weeks and they want to bring a friend along; suddenly they’ll step up their game because they want to show their friend the improvements they’ve been making.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with your fellow Scotsman, the strength coach, Alwyn Cosgrove, but I remember he mentioned that he likes semi-privates when he was on an older episode of the Fitcast podcast.
Actually I’ve not, the Scottish fitness community isn’t big so I generally know or know of others but I don’t think I’ve seen his stuff, definitely someone to check out though.
I’ll link to him as well. He’s a pretty good person to follow and read.
What are some keys that you give people to maximize the fact that they can optimize their workout area to fit their needs?
A lot of people have a little room in their house. It’s not always big but a lot of women have a treadmill or something, they might have a couple of kettlebells. I tell them here’s something you can do with what you have. That’s the main thing. If you just have literally nothing at all but you want to go in the living room, move the coffee table aside to do some bodyweight stuff that’s fine. Use what you’ve got.
I know that there’s some element of your in home training that’s bodyweight. You mentioned battle ropes but do you also take along kettlebells, barbells etc.?
I’ve got kettlebells, slam balls, sandbags, sliders for bodyweight training, TRX suspension training equipment. We’re looking to get a set of Power Blocks so we have a dumbbell set that’s adjustable. When I’m buying something for the van, it’s got to be something that I can get multi use out of; I’ve got a big bag of different resistance bands. It’s a lot lighter than carrying about different sets of dumbbells!
Do you have a weighted vest?
I’m getting a weighted vest. I’m doing a charity event, my mother in law just managed to survive breast cancer and there’s a local charity, North Ayrshire Cancer Care they’re really small but they have volunteers, that took her for eight weeks of her treatment; they drove her for two hours every day up to the hospital in Glasgow out of their own time. I was really impressed by that so I decided to do charity events to benefit them. One of the things I decided to do is the Three Peaks Challenge to climb the three highest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland in twenty four hours. You’ve got to drive, climb one, drive to the next and climb that so it’s quite a long distance between each but what I’ve decided to do to make it even harder is to do it while wearing a weight vest. I’ve been in contact with a company called Raptor Weight Vests. They’re a UK company and they’ve decided to sponsor me so they’re providing me with a weight vest.
Hmm. I know you invited me to come to Scotland and work out with you but I’m not coming that day you climb three mountains okay? I’ll be sick that day! We can go look at Dinnie Stones or something but I’m not in for that ha ha!
So as far as your own competitive career, is it on the back burner or is that something you do to drum up business?
Well, I’ve always been someone who’s been against CrossFit just because from the coaching side of things I’ve always been heavily focused on form. So I’ve always been against coupling anything that’s sort of metabolically taxing or creates any aerobic fatigue with any kind of complex lift. If you look at any sport as soon as you bring fatigue into it, form and technique is always going to suffer. So if you start doing snatches and clean and jerks when you’re already fatigued then your form is going to suffer and there’s an increased risk of injury. But I watched a Netflix documentary on CrossFit and I looked at some of the top level athletes and even when they’re at complete fatigue their form and technique is so 100 percent spot on and I was impressed by that. I’m still not completely in agreement with it for someone who walks in off the street and doesn’t have any sort of training background; if they’re going to just jump into a WOD and start to race the clock without any technique, I think there’s definitely danger there. But I’ve been training at a CrossFit box for the past three months also because the only thing I can’t coach is Olympic lifting; it’s something I’ve never done. So I decided to do the CrossFit Open and record it for my YouTube channel just trying to show someone who comes from a very strict bodybuilding background how they do in the CrossFit Open.
I watched and enjoyed those videos and I’m linking the playlist for it here. But briefly can you talk about what your impressions of it are now that the Open is over and you’ve had time to process the experience?
Well I am going to be doing a whole video discussing my thoughts on the whole experience, the programming of it all and my thoughts of CrossFit coming out the other side but in short it made me realise, someone would look at me and say how fit I am but fitness for what? When you look at the speed and efficiency of the athletes who are at the top level of CrossFit; their ability to be so well rounded it’s admiral. I definitely have a different view of it than I had going in. The feeling of the pump when your training for hypertrophy is amazing and so addictive and in my opinion a lot more fun, for me the CrossFit workouts are all generally horrible whilst you’re doing them but there’s still a different type of addictiveness you get from them that makes you want to go back and do it all again and I see why it’s so popular. You’re either first, second or third or you’re not. And also you can train for a specific event and get better, improve your capacity. My absolute ultimate goal would be to create something in the future that would be generally accepted by most coaches as the ultimate test of fitness.
Oh wow! Then you’d have to decide how you’re going to measure fitness. Because as you said, ,the first question is fit to do what? A strongman is fit to do one thing and a marathoner is fit to do another.
It’s funny, when I was in school at the Scottish School of Sport, one of my lecturers had that as one of the questions, “What is fitness?” and they always responded with, “Fitness for what?”
Well man, it sounds like you’ve got a good plan for the future and you’ve got a really good mix now with going to people’s homes and doing classes. I think that by going to people’s homes you’re filling in the missing piece of the puzzle by providing them the information that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Last question, how do you want people to get in touch with you? Say someone’s not in Scotland, they’re in Australia but want online training.
I actually have a lot of clients in New Zealand and Australia. Generally you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Instagram or Facebook and we can set something up there. I’ll send you an initial assessment and we’ll set up a Facetime or Skype to chat then once a month we’ll do a Facetime check in.
note: Kyle and I went off on a long tangent about the idea of what fitness means that had to be cut for this interview. If there’s interest in the discussion we might do a short audio of it in the future.