Last year, for the first time in his decade-long career as a personal trainer, Tobias Ottley saw an increase in post-Carnival clients. Even better, the retention rates of people who were interested in keeping up with their training were also on an upswing.
“TT society has come a long way, I think. There’s way more retention from January starters now than there was even three or four years ago,” Tobias, 40, told Business Day in an interview last week at his training facility, D Blueprint, in St James.
He is known as D Body Architect – the name of his company. Branding as a fitness business is key for Tobias who calls his gym Diablo's Playground, the flagship of the training facility which includes health and wellness services including yoga, massage therapy and sauna.
“(Health and fitness) is growing but we still need to understand, as the saying goes, your health is your wealth. If you’re sick, you won’t be making any money. A healthy workforce is a more productive one, so that’s why you see companies offering incentives on gym membership refunds, and so on. Because as a boss, I see that if my workforce is happy and healthy they will be more productive.”
Ottley is used to people coming in every new year with grand resolutions about becoming fitter. There’s no one-stop solution, he notes, but what helps is to make your resolution bite-sized.
“It’s better to tell yourself to do one push up every night than saying you’ll do 20 and fall short. If you do one every night, at least you have that success that you did one. Then you have the night you decide to do two. So, now you’re doing twice as many as you were doing before and that success builds. And before you know it you will be doing that 20 a night. That sense of success is what drives your desire.”
Too often people make lofty goals, he said, and while it’s fine to push the envelope sometimes, if you are someone who starts heavy in January and then drops off, maybe that’s not for you. “You need to tell yourself you know what, I’ll just try to do something for ten minutes every day. Give yourself a nice small goal and check off your list and before you know it you’ll have completed 30 days. Otherwise, if you don’t make that big goal, the negative rhetoric about it’s too hard or it’s not for you becomes compounded. Or else, you go too hard and get sick or injured.”
Even with eating better, he suggests starting with one small thing and make it not just achievable, but constantly achievable. “Add more leaves. What I’ve found, and which is why I don’t try to change anybody’s eating habits in the first month, once you start exercising your conscience acts for itself – 'I died in the gym today.' Do I really want to eat something to throw that off?”
Getting people fit is a science and business for Ottley. It’s also his life’s passion. Trained in the UK, he has a BSc in sports science with a minor in psychology and an MSc in applied sports science with a focus on physiology. He also has countless certificates in personal development and training techniques.
“When I first contemplated being a trainer was around the time of the great recession (he returned to Trinidad in 2009) and that’s when you realise that people looked at personal training and physical health as a luxury and not an asset. Because it was one of the first things people cut from their budget.” Other factors why people didn’t want to go to the gym, he found when doing his research, included time or fear of judgment. So he decided to make the gym accessible. Literally – long before D Body Architect’s new home on Salazar Street last year, Ottley started out in a Suzuki Ignis. Then, he graduated to a white pick up truck; and eventually, a branded panel van. “Someone once asked why I drove around in this branded van. Well, I could transport more equipment so I could help clients keep their workouts more interesting, because let’s be honest, fitness can get a bit monotonous. Secondly, it’s a mobile advertisement. I don’t have to pay for marketing and at the very least, it would prompt a question about what is D Body Architect.”
Ottley also understands the scepticism about the industry, where it remains largely unregulated and unlicensed. Regulation is something he feels the industry can definitely use.
“If you want somebody staying on top of their own personal development, staying on top of trends and giving you the best advice, you want somebody who’s investing in themselves. For them to invest in themselves they have to a see there’s something coming back. I try to do one professional development course every year. That’s how I’m wired and also I just believe the fitness industry is one of the most dynamic industries we have out there. And it’s always changing. It’s easy to fall off if you’re not adaptable. It’s not that you’re on every trend but because you want to understand them. I’ve done courses where I might not use a methodology but I might want to pick from it or else justify why I don’t use it.”
He also understands making fitness more accessible. It’s not cheap. It’s also not something that’s easy money – something he as a businessman knows. He tries to offer clients options, with personal training in the morning, and more group-related activity in the evening. And he works with his clients because, as a body architect, he dislikes seeing hard work go to waste especially when a client is genuinely responsive to his training.
“I pride myself on the ability to train anyone in any space. One client operated in a space six by three feet and she saw major changes. I think people can get fit anywhere, they just have to have the desire. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking well I’ve spent so much money on qualifications and people are spending all this money on a fly by night trainer they found on YouTube. But on the other hand, you can commend people for trying. If I see someone trying I’ll go over and encourage them and give them tips on how to be better. Advice doesn’t really cost you anything.”