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Canary Wharf: How Ultimate Performance works to help its clients meet their goals

Wood Wharf-based personal training business offers relentless focus and commitment

Ultimate Performance's Mike Turnbull assists in a lift
Ultimate Performance’s Mike Turnbull assists in a lift – image Matt Grayson

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Ultimate Performance (UP) might look a bit like a traditional gym.

Descend into the brand’s Wood Wharf facility underneath the 10 George Street residential tower and you’ll find ranks of high-end Atlantis fitness machines in serious red, white and black livery, shiny lines of silver dumbbells awaiting the firm grip of sweating clients and a scarlet trackway ready for a pounding from those pushing sleds.  

But this business is a very different animal.

This is “where the excuses stop and the results begin” – according both to the writing on the wall of the facility and more subliminally from the TV screen beside the street-level entrance, which broadcasts an unrelenting carousel of before and after pictures of the bodily changes achieved by its clients.

Founded in 2009 by personal trainer Nick Mitchell, UP has grown from a one-man band in east London, to operating 21 gyms in four continents. 

It only offers in-gym or online personal training, meaning its clients only work out at its facilities on a one-to-one basis for hour-long sessions with their trainer present.

“Our motto is: ‘Producing results not promises’,” said Wood Wharf UP gym manager Mike Turnbull.

“We always aim to give clients a significant return on their investment.

“Nick’s founding idea was to change the personal training industry for the better and to make sure the clients were getting the best out of it.

“People who train with us get serious value for money.

“They sign up for results – whether they want to achieve a certain bodyweight or look – and we’re going to say that with the programmes that we have, designed over more than 10 years, we know we can deliver.”

The internet is awash with surveys suggesting people often fail to achieve the fitness goals they set themselves – one by Bodybuilding.com found only 27% had done so within a year with only 40% getting halfway there when left to their own devices.

UP’s approach is squarely aimed at addressing that challenge, although with a price tag of £5,650 for a 12-week, 36-session package, access requires a significant financial outlay.

The justification for that bill comes in the sheer intensity of approach from UP.

Ultimate Performance's Wood Wharf gym
Ultimate Performance’s Wood Wharf gym – image Matt Grayson

“Our programmes are very much backed up by science, so we know we can deliver,” said Mike.

“First of all at a consultation, we break down the layers to find the true reason a client has come to us.

“That’s different for every person – it might be to get a six-pack, to be able to perform 10 pull-ups or just to feel healthy again. 

“We want to understand their vision so we can project-manage to help them achieve their end goal.

“We’ll take a full set of measurements, photos and conduct an intense assessment on the gym floor so we get a real profile of their starting point.

“Then we’ll know what to do to build their training programme.

“It will also allow us to set nutritional guidelines – how many calories a person is going to need – breaking that down to fats, protein and carbohydrates, so we can find the calorie deficit necessary to help achieve their goal.

“From a scientific point of view, that’s the guarantee – the harder part is coming in with the right mindset and being able to follow the plan. 

“That’s where our trainers come in to try to find the right solutions to any problem, to guide people and help them stay accountable.

“We have a messaging system where clients can contact our trainers at any time as a support network to keep them going.”

This holistic approach offers clients a clear plan to achieve their goals, although UP is clear that the effort has to come from them.

The brand’s regional manager for London and Amsterdam, Matt Milles, said: “We’re serious about what we do to achieve results.

“For us, it’s about going the extra mile with everything we do. 

“That includes how we approach nutrition – we offer packages to help time-poor people – how we train clients in the gym itself, the level of support and service we give outside the gym and the amount of time and money we invest into making sure that every aspect of our operation works, whether that’s the personal training product itself or the technology behind it.

“Even if we’re doing something well, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, but ask ourselves how we could do it better.

“However that doesn’t mean our clients have to be athletes – we train clients from every single background you can imagine.

“We have complete beginners, people who want to get in shape ahead of a holiday or a wedding, or sports people who want to build muscle.

“People usually come to us because they want to achieve a physical goal, but they find there are also lots of mental health benefits to exercise.

“Our clients talk to us about how much more confident they feel and the benefits to their relationships with their family and work colleagues.

“They’re more energised – they’ve got more energy to spend with their kids and such things are priceless.”

Ultimate Performance's Matt Milles
Ultimate Performance’s Matt Milles – image Matt Grayson

Mike and Matt have been with UP for about seven years, having both worked as personal trainers before joining.

“Working in commercial gyms is tough,” said Mike.

“It’s finding your feet, building a client base – you’re out there on your own, wanting to be the best, but not sure how to get there. 

“At UP, you have a mentor and a team and there’s a lot of support.

“You’ll be looking after your clients, but we’re always working to understand how we can improve our programmes – you have to be a certain level of trainer before you walk through the door.

“Then you get to concentrate on that job because you don’t have to do the marketing or the sales – you just focus on the training and helping your clients get the most out of it.

“That’s the best bit of the job – seeing the person in front of you changing and working towards their goals is super-rewarding.

“As a manager, my role is to look after and train the trainers and to oversee the programmes.

“We have multiple team meetings every week to discuss where we can improve.

“That’s all to make sure we’re delivering a very high quality of service to everyone.”

Having recently opened, UP’s Wood Wharf gym is currently seeing about 100 clients per week, but has capacity for at least 400 as it looks to grow its customer base locally.

“As a trainer myself, joining UP was like going from playing Sunday football to the Premier League,” said Matt. 

“It was a massive difference in terms of the results we achieve but also the amount of effort we put in.

“Our clients are generally very successful at what they do, but that can mean their health and fitness has taken a back seat. 

“That might be because they have a career and a family and that’s understandable. 

“We’re here for when they realise they need to make a change and, instead of going into a commercial gym and spinning their wheels with no progress, this is a place they can come where they know they will get results.

“As long as they are prepared to do what they need to do, they can be confident we’ll cross all the Ts and dot all the Is to make that happen.

“You might see your trainer for three hours a week, but we’re in touch with our clients every day outside those sessions – that really makes the difference. 

“I really think that’s the big secret and the reason we achieve the results that we do – because we go the extra mile. That comes from experience.”

Ultimate Performance is open daily with early morning and evening sessions available most days.

Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance
Trainers work one-to-one at Ultimate Performance – image Matt Grayson

Read more: Discover open water swimming in Canary Wharf

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Wapping: How The Sporting Club delivers for clients at all levels of fitness

Personal training gym in Garnet Street offers one-on-one and semi-private sessions alongside classes

Founder of The Sporting Club, Tim Keleher
Founder of The Sporting Club, Tim Keleher image Matt Grayson

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January is traditionally the month of knee-jerk reactions to the excesses of the festive season.

Alcohol is shelved, meat nixed, diets started and resolutions to walk thousands of steps more a day than last year enthusiastically begun.

It’s not peak time for sign-ups at The Sporting Club in Wapping, however.

That usually comes in February as expert help is sought in the fitness field when it becomes clear abstinence and good intentions aren’t quite going to be enough to generate the honed body of desire.

While its personal training programmes aren’t cheap – a one-to-one session costs £80 for 60 minutes – founder Tim Keleher can promise a highly tailored service that has seen around 30% of clients working out with him or his trainers for more than 10 years.

“We’re realistic with people right from the start,” he said. “We set sensible goals that change over time.

“If people say they want a six pack then I’ll be honest with them and ask whether they’re willing to train six times a week, clean up their diets completely and not go out on a Saturday night. For many that’s a step too far.

“What our clients report after they start training with us is a general feeling of wellbeing. It might be that their sleep improves, their concentration at work is a little bit better or that they feel energised and are more likely to do healthy activities outside the gym.”

Originally from Melbourne, Tim made the journey to London from Australia at the invitation of his brother Jamie, who had more work than he could handle as a personal trainer.

While Jamie moved on from Wapping to Wimbledon, Tim stayed in east London, steadily building up his business at John Orwell Sports Centre before moving into his own premises, tucked away at Sovereign Close looking out onto Wapping Woods. 

Seeking more footfall and greater prominence he’s now relocated the business to premises over two floors in Garnet Street, which has generated a stream of interest from passers-by, one of whom stops by during our interview. 

“We are coaching based – that’s the fundamental difference between us and a mainstream gym,” said Tim.

“Our clients come and they are always getting coached – this isn’t a gym where you can come and do a workout on your own and we have to be clear about that.

“Predominantly people train here in one-to-one or two-to-one settings with a trainer. We also offer semi-private sessions for up to three people with a focus on strength training and classes, at the moment, for up to eight people. 

“That allows us to bring in a few different things, such as Yoga, boxing and circuit training. Our clients will come in and do one or a combination of a lot of those.

“The first thing to say is we can train people of all levels but our typical client is someone who doesn’t have any  specific athletic goals.

“Most have busy lifestyles, stressful jobs and perhaps they haven’t been doing enough exercise and would like to lose a few pounds.

“But my youngest client is the 12-year-old daughter of a friend across the street who is doing some strength training with us and our oldest is a local councillor who is in her late 70s and we have everything in between.

“Most people who start with us stay with us, they love training and are loyal to us as a local business and I think that’s a good reflection of the service we offer. 

“We have about 90 clients who are doing personal training with us and of those, 25 have been with us for more than a decade. I still have the very first client I started training at John Orwell.

“We always ask clients to commit to at least 12 weeks of training. It’s not a cheap thing to do, but if you want to get the most out of it there has to be an investment of both time and money.

“Generally, getting people to commit financially is a good way of getting them to do the work they need to in the gym.

“We do offer a bit more flexibility with our semi-private classes and group classes where session packs are available and people can purchase single sessions too.

“For the group classes we also do an introductory offer of three sessions for £30.

“Ultimately I think we’re a good place to train, but we won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. For that type of session, I want people to try one out and see if it fits with what they’re looking for.”

Tim demonstrates a squat at the club
Tim demonstrates a squat at the club image Matt Grayson

The Sporting Club’s core focus, though, is on personal training, with personal programmes created for each client according to their needs and individual goals.

“I think what sets us apart is the quality of the trainers we have here,” said Tim, who grew up playing a range of sports before discovering a passion for weight training in his late teens.

“Unfortunately the quality of personal trainers in the industry as a whole is not very high – it doesn’t take much to get your certificate and you have providers of those courses who want to make it as easy and accessible as possible to get those qualifications.

“But what you learn in many of those courses does not give you the skills to be a personal trainer.

“It’s a first step and everyone has done it, but learning the process of becoming a trainer, knowing how to read clients and to write really good programmes for each individual – that takes time.

“A statistic that is probably a little old but still rings true is that two thirds of personal trainers are out of the industry within six months.

“They get their certificate, they try to make a living out of it and within six months they can’t and then they’re out. It’s a massively high turnover.”

Staff at The Sporting Club are selected based on personal connection or recommendation and have to go through a rigorous interview process, which includes writing a programme for Tim and coaching other trainers under scrutiny.

“That enables me to see what their skill sets are like and how they work,” said Tim. “It also ensures that I’m comfortable for them to start seeing clients.

“We currently have six other trainers here apart from myself, including Justin Lam who I’ve been working with for more than 10 years after meeting him on a course.

“That expertise is essential because, having worked eight years in a public gym my opinion is that most people don’t know enough about exercise to do it by themselves and get results.

“They might have the best of intentions but don’t know how to put exercises together to get the most out of their workout.

“For a lot of our clients, having a set time in their calendar when they’re accountable not just to themselves but to us, is motivation enough.

“And that’s the first step. You have to show up every week – it’s a game of consistency. Then we’re very good at designing programmes, asking what a client’s capabilities and goals are and bringing the two together for them.”

Brightly-coloured kettlebells at the ready
Brightly-coloured kettlebells at the ready image Matt Grayson

Part of the service is having a facility and equipment capable of delivering and from its clean, white shopfront to its banks of free weights, cable machines and basement studio, The Sporting Club is comprehensively kitted out.

“I like my toys,” said Tim. “Take our set of bars, for example. We have a lot of different ones that you would not see in a mainstream public gym.

“They will probably have a standard Olympic bar and nothing else. Mainstream gyms are usually a little behind what studios like us are doing.

“But the reason we have these things is to ensure we can safely do different types of exercise with a wide range of clients.

“Our latest piece of kit is called a belt squat machine, made by a company called Primal. Because you’re loading around your back this is a really easy and safe way to coach squats.

“I’ve only had it for four months but it’s quickly become the most versatile and most-used machines we have because it allows people a greater range of motion.

“We also have our track – a must for personal training studios if you have the space.

“It’s where we load up push sleds or pull sleds and you just get people dragging weights, which is a great way to build leg strength.”

Read more: Why Third Space’s Eve Powell turned to a personal trainer

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