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Train like a champion

Nicole Hearn pays a visit to London-based City Athletic, which offers City workers the opportunity to train like elite athletes

by Nicole Hearn | Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 4
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The club offers a sprint track and equipment from Life Fitness
The club offers a sprint track and equipment from Life Fitness

Office workers in central London who would jump at the chance of using their lunch breaks to train like a professional athlete are in luck. For they are the target members of City Athletic, a new premium sport and fitness club located between Bank and St Paul’s.

Launched in December 2012 with a mission to make sports conditioning achievable for all, the 465sq m (5,000sq ft), open-plan strength and conditioning gym is dedicated to helping members achieve professional-standard results. Its owners say the approach has proved a great way to differentiate the club from its competition and hit a passion point for its target audience: working men and women aged 22 to 55 years old.

The club was five years in the making – an ambition and dream of its business partners, former cricketer Ben Claypole and fitness world champion Shaun Stafford. Having worked together as personal trainers for more than 15 years at a large gym chain – they decline to name the brand – they say they shared similar frustrations when it came to the choice of equipment available to members and the service offered.

“Our pre-opening research showed that members of conventional gyms didn’t feel they were provided with enough support and that the service was lacklustre,” explains Claypole. “This inspired us to focus our efforts on creating a medium-sized gym which bridged the gap between a PT studio and a super-gym. We wanted to offer our clients a really personal, bespoke service that delivered ‘more bang for their buck’ and better results for the individual.”

A sporting destination
Together with running shoe and clothing retailer Sweatshop, City Athletic had the idea of joining together with complementary businesses to create a full and unique experience for members. This resulted in the creation of Trump Street, an immersive training space which spans three floors and includes the City Athletic gym in the basement, with The Running School (a complete technical support unit for runners), The Altitude Centre (for specialist hypoxic training), Perfect Balance (an elite rehab clinic) and the Sweatshop on the other floors.

Each company recognises that, in the same building, they have some of the best qualified, most experienced professionals in their given area, and regular meetings ensure all teams are fully briefed on new starters and updates within Trump Street. The aim is to identify what’s most important for each member and cross-refer to get the very best results for that individual.

“The idea was to create a fitness destination that people could use to take their specialist training to the next level,” enthuses Claypole. “Whether the user is new to sport or a seasoned triathlete, we believe they should have access to the same elite services and products usually saved for professionals.”

Strength and conditioning
From the outset, Claypole and Stafford wanted to focus on strength and conditioning to deliver the fast, high?impact results they knew would appeal to their ambitious City executive target audience. Alongside unique features such as a two-lane sprint track, the gym floor houses the very latest Life Fitness equipment including Elevation Series CV, Lifecycle GX bikes, rowers and Integrity Stairclimber. Meanwhile, for strength training, Hammer Strength HD Elite, custom-built power racks and lifting platforms are on offer, alongside a full complement of fixed and free weights including Life Fitness Signature Series equipment and a Cable Motion DAP.

Nick Mennell, EMEA education & global journey manager at Life Fitness, comments: “City Athletic is one of the warehouse-style strength and conditioning gyms that are rapidly on the rise. They are part of a new wave of unconventional gym models that are coming onto the market.

“Strong is the new skinny – consumers want to be fitter, faster and stronger – and strength and conditioning gyms provide the perfect way to do this. They give the everyday consumer the chance to discover their inner warrior and achieve incredible results. City Athletic allows members to undertake sports-specific training, which isn’t always easy in a conventional gym when you’re fighting for a piece of equipment.”

Monthly packages at City Athletic start at £75 off-peak, going up to £110 for a full membership. “Our membership capacity is purposely capped at 400 to ensure members are given enough space to work out, and that they get personal service. In fact, we believe our gym has the greatest square foot of space per member of any fitness centre in the City,” says Claypole.

He continues: “There are many different reasons why people train at clubs like City Athletic. Some want a lifestyle change, some want to change their body shape and others will be training for particular sporting events and charity challenges. But what members have in common is that they want a training programme that’s bespoke to them and that delivers specific results fast. They want to train among like-minded people who are as focused as them and who want to achieve similar end goals.”

Focused training
Alongside members who want to train like a professional, City Athletic has also attracted a number of actual professional sports people to its facility. These include Fulham Football Club, former boxing heavyweight champion David Haye, national championship parkour runners, Division One footballers, cricketer Nick Compton and a number of West Ham and Brighton football players.

“These professional sports men and women often have their own training programmes written by their team coaches and trainers, but come to City Athletic to use the top-end facilities and equipment they don’t usually get in London,” says Claypole. “They also interact with our PTs to exchange ideas on high performance training.

“In the meantime, the club’s PTs and fitness staff are able to encourage the ‘normal member’ to train correctly, which is the main thing. The intensity, alongside the advice and motivation on offer, is what sets us apart from standard health club training. Members are educated to understand how and why athletes train like this and the results speak for themselves.”

Members have the choice of training in three ways: one-to-one bespoke PT sessions, independent training, or semi-private group sessions. The latter is included in the membership and caters for a maximum of six members to guarantee personal service, with sessions covering strength-focused fat loss, core and stability work and Broga – a dynamic form of yoga aimed at men. To help keep things fresh and aid motivation, Claypole and Stafford also create 30- to 45-minute ‘workout of the day’ programmes, as well as setting monthly challenges.

All new starters are given an in-depth assessment with a PT, during which goals and aims are agreed, resulting in a bespoke workout plan and timescale in which to achieve the results, along with nutritional advice. Goals might vary from losing weight and changing the shape of their body to scratch training for a competition or event.

“Around 50 per cent of members will be training for a particular event at any given time, but trainers encourage all of their clients to aim towards something they can compete or participate in. We believe this will drive a member forward,” says Claypole.

Although there are no sports-specific group training sessions, PTs will tailor any private sessions towards customers’ specific needs for their event. Around 70 per cent of members invest in PT, at a cost of £60–80 an hour.

But even if they’re training independently, members can expect some input from the in-house professionals. “The gym is deliberately spacious and open-plan with nowhere to hide; if someone is training incorrectly, a PT can see and be on-hand to help and give advice,” says Claypole. “We worked closely with Life Fitness not only to provide high quality equipment, but also to create the right environment.”

Future plans
The short-term goal for City Athletic is to create a thriving business model that’s financially stable, says Claypole, adding: “We want to change the bodies and the performance of 400 members within our first year of business, giving them the vision and appreciation that their original goals were only the start.”

Eight months after opening they’re on track to reach these goals, with 260 active members. The club is also carrying out recruitment drives, running wellness days at local businesses. However, the main focus is to ensure all existing members reach their goals, with its founders acknowledging how important this will be in driving word of mouth and personal endorsement. Once the model is working perfectly, Claypole and Stafford plan to roll out more sites in city locations. “Consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of strength and conditioning training and are looking for a training facility that’s different from the norm,” observes Life Fitness’ Mennell. “Every day, we’re seeing a shift away from the cardiovascular focus of the traditional gym floor and I can only see this momentum increasing and impacting the fitness industry more and more.

Specialist staff

All 11 staff at City Athletic – including receptionists – are fully qualified, best-in-class PTs qualified in a range of specialisms including strength and conditioning, posture correction, rehab, nutrition and sports-specific training.

All new trainers must pass a vigorous recruitment process to ensure they have the right skills and attitude and that they complement the existing team. They must all hold qualifications such as Poliquin Qualification Level 3 (international athlete standard), Paul Chek (holistic, posture), UKSCA and university degrees including Sports Therapy, Sports Science and Sports Medicine.

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