WatchFit expert Sean Blyth is a key figure in the evolution of Gymsport. Here he interviews Ric Fenton of the Fenton Grueller. Ric cuts to the chase about the fitness business, how fitness has turned his and many of his members lives around and why Gymsport is a must…

SB: Fenton Fitness is preparing to take over the X-training challenge The Gorton Grueller (named after a town in Manchester) to rebrand it as the Fenton Grueller – how do you feel about your name being associated with the course? (Ric runs the gym where the Challenge takes place)

RF: I always believe in offering a quality service and the best way to do that is if you believe in to put your name to it…Fenton Fitness and now the Fenton Grueller. The Grueller is a great X-Training course so I was happy to put my name to it.

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SB: The Grueller more than anything else is about the 60’s …. that magic number of reps particpants do on the bench and the shoulder press. It’s only 25kg! Must be easy right? How would you recommend training for these stations?

RF: The shoulders are a killer! LOL The best way to train is to use variety and your imagination is the only limit. I could write an essay on preparation but here are two advanced tips:

100’s. These make for a pleasurable workout. Load up an Olympic bar with 5- 10, 2.5kgs each side and set off toward completing 100 reps on either the bench or the shoulder press. Each time you hit failure whip a plate off each side and carry on until you get to 100 reps. I call this the ultimate muscular endurance drop set.

Superset rounds… pick any time period (10, 15, 23min whatever) and do the two exercises (bench and shoulder press) from the course as many times as you can in that time…simple. This workout will have great benefits in preparing your mind and body for race day.

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SB: Explain about the competitions you hold at your gym and the relationship you have with your gym members?

RF: We run a X-training event called the FXT (Fenton’s X Training) once every 3 months…the more people who take it on the better. Each week and every day in that week we run one of 20 fitness challenges, such as the Heart Rate Incline Max test, a 2000m row, PT designed strength tests and so on.

These go on our website. It’s all about goal setting and purpose.

SB: You lead by example – do you think gym managers should be in good physical condition?

RF: I do think a gym manager should be fit. For far too long in this country we’ve been trying to sell fitness I think it’s about time people were shown health and fitness and its benefits. Too many uninspired individuals are out there just trying to pay the bills. There’s a huge feeling in the big gyms that it’s all about the money. I wanted to get away from that and create a community, sure you have to make money but that shouldn’t be the entire priority!

SB: What have been your thoughts on competing in Fit Brit? And what do you see as the differences between it and the Grueller?

RF: The Fit Brit was good, I have competed and managed to get into the top five for three years in a row. The problem as ever with XTraining events was the marshalling of technique. Squats, curls and presses are not an ideal choice of exercise for a start.

Some participants are more intent on cutting corners than others or they just get caught up in the moment (and cheat the movement). The Grueller is easier to marshal as far as technique goes and therefore fairer for all involved. Other than that Fit Brit was more of a cardio/ calisthenic (body weigh)/weights mix whereas the Grueller is weights and calisthenics then a cardio finish.

SB: You are using the WattBike for the first time in events. Do you see this as the ultimate bike and what makes it so special?

RF: The WattBike is one of my favourite pieces of kit so all I’m going to sing its praises! It’s great for racing on and provides all sorts of info such as wattage, k/mph and instant feed back on your pedalling technique. It’s also great to ride and feels like a normal road bike…it just feels cool too!

SB:Your gym has the ski-erg. How do you like it?

RF: The Ski-erg is another favourite of mine. The variety of this cardio machine is unparalleled. Of course it will prepare you for a skiing holiday, but it can also be used to isolate a number of muscle groups or imitate swimming movements or do plyometrics, it’s also great if you are in a wheelchair. A Concept 2 manufactured machine was always going to be good…we have five and it’s not enough!

SB: You use a heart rate monitor – what would you say are the benefits of this?

RF: We have live heart rate data on the big screens around the gym so people can get instant feedback on which zone they are training in and how hard they are working. This is very important to allow you to adapt your effort to the given situation i.e. ease off if you’ve set off too quickly or increase your effort if you’re not working hard enough.

It’s also great for medical reasons i.e. if your not allowed to work over a certain HR. The system we have also emails you your workouts so when you get home you can actually see all your hard work in graphs.

SB: Bringing people from all over the country to your gym to compete…. is this a benefit or a inconvenience to other gym members? 

RF: Having the type of people who will travel from all around the country to do physical  exercise such as X-Training is a privilege not an inconvenience. My members understand it may impede their usual session but they also know the gym does a lot for them and a bit of give and take is what life’s all about.

I’m a big fan of gyms organising local comps but I’ve tried to get other gyms into it but they’re unenthusiastic.

You would need a strong motivational force within each gym and especially the larger gyms who don’t really care about anything external and have a fear of losing their own members. We’d take our members anywhere and anyone who’d like to bring a team here is more than welcome!

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SB: How is retention affected by running gym challenges and being involved in Gymsport?

RF: Retention is key. We’re a facility not in city but in a rural area if we don’t inspire and motivate our current members then the business would soon fall on its face.

Gymsport goes a long way to keep people working towards a goal. Sure, unfortunately it will scare some individuals off but a gym should be a place where you go to face a challenge. If you expect results chatting on the cross trainer or in the sauna you’re seriously mistaken.

SB: As a manager what sort of satisfaction do you take in seeing a member join and in a few years time see them as a really fit and healthy individual – what has been Fenton’s greatest story?

RF: Seeing an everyday mum become superfit, converting a body builder to someone who’s fit and goes out mountain biking on the weekends, seeing someone who’s over 60 become fitter than they’ve ever been feels amazing!

The most impressive scenario here has to be the fact all the PT’s are ex-clients or members i.e. they’ve been unfit become inspired, fit and made it their job. One of our PT’s had been an alcoholic, had M.E, recovered and came to our X-Training classes five times a week and now she’s our newest PT. She’s super-fit, got a good client base and will be competing in the advanced Grueller course.

She also did the Tough Mudder with us and yet just 18 months ago she was terrible at cardio and as strong as a sparrow! She’ll be with us a very long time…she’s awesome!

SB: Gymsport bring with it a certain pain threshold – are you frightened this will scare off your members or do they welcome the challenge?

RF: As mentioned X-Training or even working hard isn’t for everyone but I made a decision that the only real mindset to have is that of hard work and dedication. I may have lost potential members and even members because I’ve not been able to teach them that ethic, but when I reflect on that I look around at the energy and positivity and realise you can’t help everyone but our philosophy obviously works.

SB: Do you see Gymsport as a benefit for gyms or a hindrance for the gym owner?

RF: Gymsport is fun, motivational and part of what should be the many aspects of a wellrun gym facility.

SB: Is Fenton Fitness the ultimate gym in your region?

RF: I think so, there’s no one else out there doing what we’re doing. We do so many things that are different with some of the best equipment chosen by fitness professionals, not people who are all about the money. We get people as fit as they can be with the time they have and that’s the best we can do. I’d also put us up against the cult of CrossFit for example, but that’s a whole different story!

SB: Tell us a bit about your sporting and other background and how you got involved in Gymsport and X-Training…

RF: I’m a jack of all fitness and sport. Even from a young age I did as much as I could. I played rugby and cricket for my school and football for my local town. I did the 1500m and crosscountry at school. I got my then wiry frame from my dad. I was also fast and agile. I skated a lot, flew around on my BMX or motorbike…

There was a gap in all that from 16 though due to various reasons including my addictive personality. I got into drugs and alcohol in a big way from 16-22 after skirting with prison, then I suddenly snapped out of it, went back to college, became a landscape gardener, then a PT, then I brought PT’s together and ran a group. Eventually there were 32 of us and I opened Fenton Fitness.

Nowadays I do duathalons, 5ks, 10ks, military assault courses (for example, Tough Mudder, Total Warrior, Born Survivor). However, I carry too much muscle, vary my training too much and carry one too many injuries from parkour (free-running) and football to be outstanding.

I’m lucky with my genetics so I’ve competed in fitness model competitions and done ok but it wasn’t for me really… In the world of elite fitness I would say I’m average…I train hard not to be the best at one thing but to be very good at lots of things I suppose.

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