An Interview with David Kingsbury
Let’s start from the beginning, what initially brought you to the world of health and fitness? How and where did your journey begin?
The number 1 reason I wanted to get into fitness coaching was my personal passion for sports and performance. In my youth, I did a lot of sports to a high standard and I was very interested in my own performance. I was a member of a cycling club and I’ve won national medals as a junior, so I was very interested in my training. I worked with a coach too so at a young age I was a student in that student-coach relationship which I found very interesting.
As I began to take my own sports slightly less seriously I started to want to help people achieve their best results and meet their goals. That was the initial thing that pushed me towards working with other people. I should also say that I’m from a family of fitness people. My dad and my grandad were into exercise science and fitness and they actually helped developed some fitness testing equipment for British Cycling in the 80s. I’ve been around the technical side of fitness forever.
Fitness is a job you can love and be passionate about. You can be successful doing it but if you’re looking to make all your cash and get out, it may not be the best career path. There’s still huge potential to be massively successful but the huge benefit to working in fitness is that, if you’re like me and so many other people, you’re going to love going to work on a Monday morning. That’s the important thing, I’m buzzing to go work on a Sunday night. I’m motivated and excited to see what the next week of work will bring me.
You’ve trained some big A-list names, I’m sure there are a lot of people wondering how did it all come about?
There are very few people doing this sort of thing and every single person who does the same thing as me or slightly similar will have had a very different route in because there’s no set path. Some people may have got here by chance – they’ve been working in a gym that an actor just happened to walk into.
For myself, there were several stages of my career that led me to this work. Initially, I was working in freelance personal training studios and gyms. I started in the same way as everyone does, as a gym instructor, and then I started doing personal training sessions.
I was in a private studio and one of the guys that trained there worked at Pinewood Studios. He knew I was very motivated and I’d spoken to him before about opening my own studio. I had no plans to run a traditional business, I didn’t mind where I was at and in fact, I still don’t mind where I’m at. That was the main thing. He said that he could put me in touch with the property department at Pinewood and potentially find me a small space on-site where I could run personal training. I phoned them up and they had an old storage room which was part of the old house.
At Pinewood, they have the sound stages and the new studios but at the heart of it is still this old country house that’s been expanded around. There was an old squash court that had been converted for two floors of storage. I’d essentially got the top floor and I could just about afford the rent. It was very daunting at first because I’d never done anything like that myself or by myself.
I’d played around with other businesses before, there was a point where I was buying bicycle parts, building bikes and selling them, but it was my first personal training business venture. I was very fortunate because one of the big film productions are the time was selling off a bunch of gym equipment at a very reasonable price – it was all the gym equipment from one of the Bond films in fact. I didn’t put in a huge amount of equipment because I didn’t feel it was needed, I just had a squat rack, dumbbells, that sort of stuff.
So that was me on-site, in the gates at Pinewood and from there the journey progressed. I was training anyone and everyone who worked at the studio. Everyone from the costume department to accountants, riggers and carpenters. There are so many tradespeople and businesses at Pinewood so plenty of opportunities to work with people. After a few years, my reputation started to build and there were a few potential film job offers that were put to me. I didn’t get the first few because they were looking for someone who had experience training actors.
Eventually, I did land one and that was my first step into this line of work. It took a long time to build up to that, I went to a lot of interviews I never heard back from. I would present training plans for actors for huge films and they’d say no. There were a lot of setbacks but I was persistent and I kept working away and kept doing what I was doing and that led to my first opportunity. It was worth it in the end.
How different is a training plan for an actor to compared to ‘regular’ clients?
You train people in very much the same way or very similar ways. The main difference is the intensity and the amount of time you have with the person. Most people training clients in the gym might train them once, twice, three times a week. With an actor, you’re with that person all day, every day. So if you want to train twice a day you can do that, if you want to train six days a week you can do that. The planning has to be a bit more detailed and more technical because you could be doing more training.
A key difference is the goal. There are generally very specific goals. It might be that they’re shooting a shirtless scene in three months and that’s the absolute deadline. When you’re working with regular clients, unless they’re sportspeople, the deadlines and goals can be a little bit more flexible.
In general, those are the key differences, but essentially you do train the same, you’d work through the same training plan, it’s more in the execution. The actor will have a personal trainer with them all the time, they may even have a private chef with them cooking their meals. Someone who doesn’t have those resources is going to have to be a little more self-sufficient with it.
Have you ever felt any pressure to make sure your client, the actor, achieves their goal? And how did you deal with this?
Working with the actors towards a specific goal brings immense pressure. It’s one of the toughest parts of the job, but it’s also one of the reasons why you achieve such strong results. That pressure could be to gain muscle, trim body fat or just lose as much weight as possible in a given time. Within the realms of films, there are endless goals, there are not all about trying to look like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
I’ve done extreme weight loss jobs, I’ve done jobs based more around stunts and sports performance. I’ve done jobs where the goal is to be very effective at certain skills, for example, wirework. I’ve just done a film which was set in space, so zero gravity. I had to look after the whole cast to make sure they could move effectively on the wires which requires huge core strength. So the goals could be varied but ultimately the pressure is always high.
What have been some of your stand out moments from the past few years? Either personally in your own training or professionally when working with clients.
For me, there have been some really big moments. Things like film premieres are always great and one of the standout ones was when we went to the Les Miserables premiere in London because my wife’s a massive fan of the stage show. Also on the premiere side of things, I took my mum to the X-Men: Days of Future Past premiere. She was really excited because Patrick Stewart was there and she loved that because she used to watch Star Trek. Being able to do those kind of things is cool.
You get to experience a different side to life in many ways. There’d be flying on private jets to locations, going to screenings and parties. There’s been a lot of strange and enjoyable experiences that as a fitness person, or someone that runs their own little business, wouldn’t really get to experience.
Another standout moment was when I was doing the Les Mis film and I trained Hugh Jackman and a few other people. We were in my gym at Pinewood and we had Anne Hathaway in there with her trainer, Russell Crowe in there with his trainer… all these people in my gym at once and I thought this is all a bit surreal.
On top of everything you do, you also offer comprehensive online training plans. How hard was it crafting something that is not only effective at helping people achieve their goals but is also value for money?
There are many offerings online and anyone that can get themselves in good shape can sell online training plans through a website or other platforms. I think it’s best to explain why I started that side of things and it might give you a good understanding of my thoughts on online training and nutrition.
Essentially, before I was working on films I did 40-50 sessions a week. I was very, very busy putting in the hours and working with a lot of people. More or less within a few months, I went from working with all those people to just working with one person, doing 90 minutes to two hours a day. I went from 10 sessions a day to one session a day and I still wanted to be training more people. It wasn’t possible because I was on the road a lot, sometimes I was abroad for 11 months. I was all over the world working in various cities and countries. I couldn’t physically do one-to-one personal training so online training was the natural progression for me.
That was maybe four and a half years ago, before the boom of online training. Back then I treated it a little differently, it was very expensive and I would only be looking after a handful of people.
What I learnt doing that was if you do enough work behind the scenes, if you get enough information together then you can actually support a lot more people than you thought you could. Essentially, once you’ve spent months creating recipes at certain calorie levels you might have a database of say 200-300. If you do that at enough calorie levels, you might have a thousand variables of these recipes and you start to create a really valuable database that can be used to support people.
For example, you can look through and find recipes that don’t have avocado for example or any other ingredients you don’t like. What I’ve worked towards doing in the past 18 months is to streamline the data that’s been accumulated. It’s allowed me to create these a platform that provides all these beneficial services for a lot less money than other people.
My latest product is a subscription product and it’s £40 a month. It uses this vast database of recipes and takes into account every single calorie outcome. So people input their details and then can get recipes tailored to those calorie requirements.
One of the main issues I see currently is you have two levels of service: you have that personal, elite service and a lot of people offer that and it is expensive; or you have the lower end, this recipe service where people are selling recipes and nothing more. By doing that, they’re missing the point of what we do as fitness professionals.
Fitness is inherently a personal thing and it’s based on you, your body type and your goals. By not having these personalised recipes, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not they’re not going to be successful. So essentially what I’ve done with this new product is make something that’s affordable and 100% personalised. That way you can still guarantee the results because the calories are matched to the goals. With people just selling recipe books with no real indication of what the calories are or what the macros are it becomes guesswork. The important thing for me is to maintain the idea that personalised health and fitness is crucial to results. It’s also important that’s accessible as well.
Your exact path to success is impossible to emulate, but what advice can you give to new fitness professionals? What are the first steps they can take to make their mark?
The key bits of advice that I would give to someone that’s qualified is that you should always continue your learning. You want to make sure you’ve got a good base level of knowledge that’s constantly expanding. As you’re training people, you’re always going to be presented with new and unique challenges and if you can overcome those with the knowledge you’ve gained, it puts you in a really strong position.
Nutrition is a really key point. Aside from the training if you can work on nutrition and get a really good understanding of that, you can really help people achieve their goals. Obviously, the training is really important but if you want to actually really make a huge difference then nutrition is very valuable.
I would also say that you absolutely have to put your clients’ results first. With every single person you’re looking after, you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to help them achieve their results. You have to work just as hard for one person as you do for someone else.
One of the bits of advice I wish I was given when I first started out is to be patient. It does take time. I qualified as a trainer when I was 18 and I don’t think I did a personal training session until I was about 20. I was just doing gym instructing and then I started my own business at 23. It was a good couple of years from that until I got my first film job. So we’re talking six, seven, eight years from qualifying to getting my first film job. If I’d got that contract any sooner, I wouldn’t have been ready for it.
You need that experience, that time working with people on a day to day basis for a decent duration of time. You learn those key skills and make sure you can get the most out of your clients. As long as you don’t become demotivated, the longer you’re doing it for, the more you’ll get out of your clients.