Q&A: Steve Mellor
The founder of AMP Athletic on the need for a personal touch, the benefits of small-group personal training and the joys of a calorific blowout
Interview: Jean-Paul Aubin-Parvu
Images: Orlando Gili
Have you always been into sport and fitness?
I always loved playing sport, all kinds, though rowing became my main sport and I was constantly training for that. Just enjoying being fit and healthy led me to study sports science at university. I rowed throughout university, and continued rowing when I was working as a lecturer up at Loughborough, which is a big sports university. I worked with the sports science team there, looking after all the athletes. Many of the students are also world-class, Olympic-standard athletes. I’d seen people down in London launching various fitness and personal training businesses and thought I could take what I’d learnt from Loughborough and bring it down here. My love of sport fed into everything. Starting a business meant there was less time to row, but I got into running and did a few marathons and ultramarathons, including the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert.
What was that business?
It was called Freedom2Train. We started off doing personal training in people’s homes and in parks across London, both one-to-one and group sessions, and were then very fortunate to take up the residency at Claridge’s five years ago. I was looking for a space to work out of and they were looking for someone to run their gym and do the personal training for members and hotel guests, including some of the more famous people who stay at Claridge’s. Off the back of that I got approached to run a gym at a sports medicine clinic on Harley Street. And that was the first time I delivered small-group personal training, where you have four people and one coach. The group might include an oncology patient who’s just had major surgery; a patient with a muscular skeletal injury; somebody training for a particular event; and a local who lives around the corner—so a very mixed bag of people. And those four people would all be doing different programmes. Cutting your teeth within that environment was challenging but highly rewarding, and I worked with some great physiotherapists and sports doctors.
AMP Athletic opened in January. Why did you decide to open your own gym?
I just felt that the fitness industry lacked a high quality service. If you walk into lots of gyms the reception staff might say hello but they won’t know your name. I understand they have thousands of members, but I didn’t want to create a gym like that. I wanted to create a smaller gym. At capacity we’ll get to about 300, 350 members. At present we’re about at 150 and we know everyone’s name, where they live, about their injuries, their lives, and we get to know them as individuals. A big thing for me is to make a gym a friendly place, but also a place where we can push people, challenge them, make them fitter than they’ve ever been and show them what they can achieve. We put a lot into making people feel welcome and special, making sure they know that we care about them.
What else is different?
At the moment there are lots of people opening HIIT studios: group classes where there might be upwards of 20 people all doing the same thing. The sessions are pay-as-you-go and it’s all about trying to make a gym look like a nightclub—pump the music out loud and stick a microphone on someone. It’s aimed at the 20-year-old. But what happens beyond that? Where does that person go? They move round in that circle from one gym to the next and have no real loyalty. And so I thought, right, let’s start a membership gym where we can really get to know our members. AMP Athletic is aimed at a 35-plus market, though we do have members in their twenties, and we focus on quality and on having small groups of four people rather than large groups. Everyone’s following a programme that’s relevant to them. They train together but all do different exercises. There might be a common theme, in that it could be an upper body exercise, but each person does an upper body exercise that’s relevant to them.
What is the benefit of small-group personal training?
We feel you can coach four people as well as you can coach one—it’s as close to personal training as you can get. Certain parts of a session are neither intricate nor complicated, where as soon as you’ve been shown what to do you can just crack on with it. There are then other parts of where you do need hands-on coaching, and when you need a coach’s full attention you have it. But you don’t need it for the full 50 minutes. We can then make it more affordable because there are a few other people in the session. The average one-to-one personal training session in this area is £75 to £80. Two or three of those per week plus a gym membership is a lot of money, which not many people can afford. We run small-group sessions on the hour every hour and you just book via an app. Our sessions are written with the input of the entire coaching team rather than just an individual trainer.
But do you also offer one-to-one personal training?
Yes, some people just want it. At the moment we have people doing it that have had a history of a particular injury. They might do one or two sessions a week as well as a small group. It just depends on the individual.
What does AMP stand for?
The ‘A’ is for athletic, so it’s not focussing on one component of fitness, but encapsulates them all, and it’s also an aspirational word. If someone tells you that you look athletic, it’s a massive compliment and is also achievable. The ‘M’ stands for medical. We like to think that we bridge that gap between the medical world and the normal gym world, and we get lots of referrals from physios, sports doctors, surgeons and so on. Many of them also train here and know that a lot of thought goes into what we do. When their patient is getting towards the end of their rehab they can hand off to us and we can make that patient stronger, using really good principles of exercise. And ‘P’ is for performance. You might have some sort of goal and we will change your training to suit whatever that goal may be. We like to encourage people to have those goals and have actually organised events for members to work towards, for example, the Yorkshire Three Peaks in October.
Are you a fan of wearable technology?
Wearables are fantastic and we are very lucky to have a great relationship with Apple. Fundamentally we are a human business—we want to have that human interaction, that connection with people—but technology supports what we do. We use the Myzone heart rate monitor to help personalise coaching. Each member receives a Myzone belt, so when they come to the gym we can see their heart rate up on a big TV screen. We can see if they’re working either too hard or not hard enough. Myzone sets a target for everyone and rewards you with points: the higher your heart rate, the more points you earn. We use it as a way to measure success in someone and also as a way to motivate people. Like lots of wearable technology, you find that people get really into it. We even have leader boards and hold competitions.
Who are your coaches?
We are a team of six. Everyone has a BSc in sports science and some of us also have an MSc, but we all have very different professional backgrounds. Mine is in performance sport and then in the clinical world. My head coach Matt comes from a sports injury background, working with physios and sports doctors to try to get people pain free and moving. And then we’ve got Steve—we call him Flash—who was a professional basketball player. Jake is Canadian and a former professional ice hockey player. Tash, who recently joined the team, worked in women’s football for a long time but has also delivered personal training to employees at Google’s in-house gym. And we’ve just been joined by a guy called Niall, who has come on board after completing his MSc.
How often do you train?
Doing this has taken over so much of my time, but I try to train at least three times a week and would love to do more. This gym was built and designed with me as a consumer in mind. I’ve been a member of loads of different gyms and there are always things I’d want located in certain places to make it easy to do a session, rather than having to walk upstairs, then downstairs, then over to the other side of the gym to do the next exercise. AMP Athletic has been carefully designed so that you have everything you need right around you.
Do you allow yourself the occasional calorific blowout?
Yes, definitely. I’m very fortunate to live in Marylebone where there are so many wonderful restaurants, pubs and bars. We don’t believe in this idea of green juices and being whiter than white in terms of our approach to health. Many people enjoy eating out. We don’t demonise that. If that’s what you like doing then go and enjoy some good food and good wine. And we certainly do. But it’s all about that balance—just trying to make sure that within your week you also have some good exercise.
And is there one local restaurant that you simply can’t resist?
La Brasseria on the corner of Devonshire Street and Marylebone High Street, but I also like a good pub as well. And there are loads of those here in Marylebone.