Entrepreneur profile: Matt Roberts, Personal Trainer to the stars
Matt Roberts Personal trainer, credited with keeping the likes of Tom Ford, Naomi Campbell, John Galliano, Trudi Styler, Amanda Holden and Clare Maurice of Maurice Turnor Gardner in perfect shape, is son of John Roberts a former Arsenal player. From his background of high profiling sporting personalities it isn’t difficult to imagine where his knowledge and motivation came from to set up a personal training company. “When we were seven or eight years old we went training with our Dad, running up and down the Cheshire hills where we lived.” His mother was also fanatical about healthy eating which is something he said they didn’t really understand or appreciate as children.
Roberts says although he started out in 1995, around fourteen years ago, it had been a dream from teenage years to develop better gyms. “I hated the gyms I visited. I just found them smelly and uninviting,” he says, “the rich and famous had access to good fitness and nutrition information but no-one else did.”
Roberts who is now thirty six, says as a sprinter wanted to know more about the science of running so in 1995 he decided to set up his own gym. He found a disused art gallery and did a recession deal on a lease. Within a few months of set up he had a full client list and was charging ¬£40 an hour. I ask how he found clients and he says he knocked on doors and leveraged as many contacts as he could.
Roberts says he always viewed himself as a company and used “we” rather than “me” from the start. “I didn’t want to be a one man band.” he says. He didn’t take on freelancers which is unusual, but instead took everyone on as staff. “I want high service and do a strong internal programme of training.” Roberts, who also trains the likes of pop star Mel C who was formerly with the Spice Girls, says he also stays tuned into what clients want from their trainer and what they are thinking. “I want to be a luxury, quality high end service.”
To set up he says he took the usual entrepreneurial route – starvation, long term credit deals and saved money everywhere he could. “I am a proud person,” he says “and wouldn’t take a penny from other people”. I ask if he had a benchmark for when he felt that he had made it. “I never think I have.” He says without flinching.
One key turning point in the life of Matt Roberts Personal Training he says was when his brother joined. “He worked for another health company and although we’d talked about working together, the time arrived when it was right. He really made the business grow and we work together very well.” says Roberts smiling.
Mayfair was a key opening in 2004 and continues to be their most successful gym. Roberts says the opening wasn’t easy though despite the building they eventually occupied having been empty for eighteen months previously. “When we proposed the change of use to planning it looked as though it would sail through but on the final sign off it was refused.” Roberts explains, “It was a set back and to this day I think planning makes life hard for entrepreneurs in Britain. It is a tough barrier in business. Although it also means it puts off competitors simply because the entry level for our kind of operation is so high.”
The business trajectory is: 1995 Albemarle Street opens. 1996 move to bigger premises. 1998 set up of No 1 Aldwych Hotel gym. 2000/1 set up gyms in two Mauritius hotels. 2004 Mayfair Berkeley Street opens. 2008 Cornhill and Hampstead (Jack Straws Castle building) open and in 2009 Chelsea (Brompton Road) also opens. He says the reason for so many clubs rolling out together later in 08/09 was down to planning restrictions again.
Roberts, who still sees thirty five clients a week, says although they saw business drop off for one or two months at the back end of 2008, they were back on their growth track by January 09. Roberts doesn’t take on any new clients personally now unless he can really make a difference to someone’s life.
When Joining a Matt Roberts gym, there is a process that every person goes through. “Clients see a physiotherapist to understand the bio mechanics of their body. They also see a dietician to analyse food intake.” In exceptional circumstances they send a client out for blood tests if there is an exact condition but Roberts believes a dietician is usually sufficient. Trainers then looks at targets and goals. “We are very goal driven” explains Roberts, “we look at end points and a process to get to each goal.”
Advice from Matt Roberts
Improve at running
“For an experienced runner, who wants to improve they would look at when lactic acid kicks in whilst running. We would recommend interval training around that point and would structure a programme to push them past their current level of fitness. Most people work to seventy five percent of their capacity but we can make people go beyond their normal threshold. It can get quite technical though.”
“In order to fat burn we need to burn energy and use muscle fibres. Weight training wakes up muscles and is something we recommend for men and women.” Says Roberts. “Obesity is a growing issue for Britain with sixty four percent of people overweight or obese.” He says whilst many want a quick fix solution that there just isn’t one. “I don’t want to name brand names but products like vibration machines, in my view, cannot possibly be burning the calories they claim.”
Matt Roberts after pregnancy exercise and care routine
He councils caution and ambition: “Getting back into shape within three or four months is just not realistic. It will probably mean either the mother or baby will suffer. We analyse what sort of birth a woman has had first to understand any limitations and focus goals on the emotional and physical wellbeing of the individual.” He says the best thing for new mums to do is to be as active as possible: “walk fast with the baby in the pram” and then adds “and definitely don’t get worked up about being over weight: even celebrities in the public eye take ten months to get back to pre baby bodies with expert help.”
How to get fit
Do interval training. “Change intensity to raise metabolism and increase lung potential.”
“Resistance and weight training will make a body stronger not bigger. It prevents Osteoporosis and keeps testosterone levels in the right place.”
“People must do three days a week for at least half and hour each time as a bare minimum. Otherwise you go backwards in health terms. You will bring on a shorter life and illness later on.” Says Roberts.
Busy executives surviving Christmas parties
“Planning is key. To think you won’t eat or drink too much before a party is unrealistic. If you know you are going out then control breakfast and lunch with healthy options but don’t skip meals just keep a good balance. Aim for 55gm of fat in total a day.” (There are roughly 10 calories in a gram).
“Just try and have self control and skip having a bottle of wine at home if going to a lot of parties. If you don’t go to the gym, then go for a walk.”
Can you get a couch potato off the couch?
I ask how you get a real couch potato off the couch and he agrees it is difficult. “Sometimes having young children and wanting to be around for them later in life can be an inspiration that changes the mindset. If not, it may take a heart incident or having a parent die to get a wake up call. Fortunately people are starting to understand the need to exercise more now.”
Matt Roberts top tips
Don’t avoid eating. If you stop eating the body can’t work properly. Just be healthy but eat.
High fibre: because vegetables add hydration and get rid of toxicity.
Females need to do weight training
Food should look like food. It should be taken from a tree or carcass. It if isn’t then it’s not good for you.
Low fat food. “Sometimes the cartons don’t represent reality. A 100gm product with 300 calories and 10gm of fat sounds good but when you know 1gm of fat is 10 calories then you know a third of the entire box is fat. Which doesn’t sound so appealing.”
Roberts personal drivers
Fulfilling his European and global ambition to bring a well respected health industry to the world
To be in the same shape when he gets to fifty (he is 36 now)
To bring his methods to children and schools. He is talking to the government about bringing children’s health onto the government agenda. “You need support from the government for a concerted UK effort.” he says.
Cost of attending a Matt Roberts gym
Sessions at time of going to press are ¬£65-78 dependent on the seniority of the trainer and clients pay for 25, 50 or 100. You can’t attend on your own and you pay for what you use. Physiotherapy is ¬£45/75 an hour. Pilates ¬£20 and people buy short courses.
Roberts plans further expansion with two or three more openings. He is particularly pleased with their foot scanner which helps prevent injury with a 3D foot scan that is then analysed to look for potential problems.