Angela Mass, Jess Kobayashi, Carla Mayze, Joyce Findlay, Sheri Ambler-Smith, Jen Rodgers, Sarah Sullivan,
Brendon Leong, Oliver Vajda, Brennan Demas, Ashwin Singh, Vince Martin, Deric Davies, Larry Rousey
Missing: Toby McEachern, Dee Sicklesteel
Unified Training Centre is a community-based gym that supports its members with an instructor-led, fun and empowering atmosphere. I had the pleasure to visit the facility and meet most of the coaches. The common theme was “We love supporting others and helping them reach their health and fitness goals.”
Many of the members raved about the support and care that was shown by each staff as well as each member of the gym. It quickly became The place to go to have an enjoyable me time.
Brendon and his team lead by example in creating an environment that people from the community can go to for many purposes including unwinding and sweating.
Below is an interview with Unified Training Centre owner Brendon Leong.
Brendon, what are the 5 most important elements that make your gym special? Please list and explain.
A very vague answer, I know, but people make everything. Especially the RIGHT people. First, it starts with the entire staff. Make sure the right people are in the right places, doing the right job and doing it properly. This makes sure our members are able to receive the best experience possible. The right people will also attract the right community. The entire team at Unified understands that a strong sense of community is of utmost importance. We do as much as we can for our people by giving and providing as much value as possible. Not only does it help massively with retention for the business, but more importantly we get to create long-lasting, meaningful relationships, as members become friends and the entire community strengthens and grows. We don’t discriminate against anyone, but having the right people in all areas attracts those we wish to have on the team and the ideal clients we wish to serve.
At Unified Training, we have an ideal client journey: what it looks like as a person joins our facility and goes through the process with us. We feel it’s important to have different services that cater to people at different stages of their journey. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for a person to stay with us if they lost all the weight they wanted, and reached their ultimate weight loss goal, and our only service was to help people lose weight, right? So we offer different levels of services and training to make sure we cater to each person’s new identity as they flow through the Unified continuum.
It is important to make sure we continue to serve as much as we can. At Unified, we are constantly thinking of new projects so that we can keep our members engaged, retain our members, and attract new members, all while making a contribution to the world. A project could be as simple as sending handwritten cards to our members, or a greater mission such as participating in a charitable event to support a worldly cause. Although we are a fairly new business, the ultimate goal is to have everyone (staff and members) recognize and see there is something greater than ourselves and to give as much as we can.
It ties into PROJECTS but our overall culture is built around compassion. When they become a part of Unified, people immediately feel the sense of compassion and concern we have for them. We are a very results-driven business and understanding a person’s motivations, struggles, and emotions help us to support them on their road to achieving their goals.
People get bored, so we are always thinking about new ways to keep our members engaged. All of our sessions are group fitness-based, where our Instructors are given the freedom to create their own workouts or programming (and even games). We do not follow any strict formats, which allows for a different workout every time. Every Instructor also comes with a different personality: where some are over the top lively, others may be calmer and more reserved. This variety keeps things interesting for our members and allows us to cater to different individuals as they get to choose where they are most comfortable. We also have 2 sides to our facility: one side is a gym where we host strength and conditioning sessions, while the other side has 22 heavy bags where we offer boxing, kickboxing, and cardio kickboxing type sessions. But ultimately, our sessions are only limited to our imaginations.
A gym culture is very important but often there is a lot of confusion about what it really is. You have it dialled in. Please share your culture.
Funny you should ask us about this. At our last team meeting, I asked our staff how they felt about the culture of our community. In their words, they stated, “Family”, “Caring”, “Kind”, and “Unified”. Each was correct. Our business strategy is one that is very client-centric and it is felt at every level of our organization.
Your team is made up of many stars. Please describe your team and what they mean to your gym.
The team means the world to me. There is no way we would be where we are without them. As a matter of fact, when we originally opened, many of the team members had already been with me for over ten years grinding it out in a previous fitness venture. When the idea of Unified came to mind it was built around the skill sets that the original team members already possessed. There is no way this could be a one-man show and I am grateful every day for them. As the business grew, the team was required to grow as well. Fortunately, we have been able to find and maintain a solid crew who fully believe in what we are doing, see the future, and want to be a part of it all.
You have a coach that is a bit of a legend, Toby McEachern. He is going through some challenges battling Stage 4 Colon Cancer. What does Toby mean to everyone at the Unified Training Centre?
Toby is the original coach who could not be there. He was dealing with a bigger battle with cancer. However, we could not do this article without Toby. Toby was gracious enough to speak with us right after his chemo session. Toby shared his love for training, and his massive knowledge base through experience, mentorship and common sense. Toby loves the Unified environment and the people and cannot wait to beat this issue and get back to where he belongs, at Unified Training Centre supporting his colleagues, friends, members, and community. I’m looking forward to taking one of his classes soon.
When you hire a trainer to join your team, what do you look for?
Personality comes first. This personality must come with the ability to connect with their clients, keep them engaged, and provide an exceptional and memorable experience. Having experience and outgoing character is also a must. We would sooner hire a trainer with personality and experience over any amount of certifications or academic accomplishments. A trainer may know everything about fitness, but if they can’t connect with our people it just won’t work. We also look for those who are not just in it for themselves. They must understand they are part of a team and community. We do this for others and at the heart of a true trainer, this is what it’s about – helping others.
What type of clients do you specialize in supporting?
Our main driver is our Body Transformation program where we serve those who need support to improve their body composition through fitness, nutrition, accountability, mindset, and community. However, although Body Transformation is our flagship program, we have designed a continuum within our business to make sure we are able to serve people at every level, whether they are looking for weight loss, muscle gain, improved performance, and even boxing.
Our clients are those who enjoy, perhaps even need, the community aspect and the support of caring staff. While your typical weight gyms are designed to simply give their members access, we are very member-attention-based and client-centric.
Can you share your training/coaching methods?
The variety of different programs offered at Unified Training requires our Coaching and Management to handle and treat every client as an individual. While some clients prefer to simply come in and participate in our sessions, others require more personal attention and we make sure we are available for them. Our programs and services include Body Transformation, Nutrition support, Strength Training, HIIT, Rehab and Corrective Exercise, Boxing, Cardio Kickboxing, Large and Small Group Training, Body Composition Testing, as well as Online Body Transformation services. All of our prospective clients first come in for a consultation prior to starting with us so we can assess and discover what their goals are. From there, we can suggest and place them in the appropriate program that is in alignment with their goals. But no matter what programs our clients choose, we always have staff available to sit down one-on-one to review and catch up on how their progress is going. We need and want our clients to get the results they set out for themselves, so we do as much as we can for them.
When you are training a lifestyle client what are you looking to achieve? What are your methods? What are some of your biggest challenges?
When it comes to lifestyle clients, which, in my opinion, should be everyone, we make every effort to show the importance of long-term health. Of course, we are going to establish short-term and achievable goals but anyone can stick to something for a little bit. Take dieting for example (by the way, I can’t stand the word “diet”): anyone can lose weight fast, but the magic really happens when a person can stick to something for the longer term, and even a lifetime. This requires more than just exercise and being in a caloric deficit. Having this become a lifestyle for the client must be an enjoyable experience, which means showing them how to eat the things they enjoy in life while still making progress, the importance of sleep, hydration, overall activity rather than just exercise, coping with stress, and mindset. It really is the non-sexy stuff that makes all the difference. People focus so much on the exercise when in reality it is merely a small piece of the puzzle.
Some of the biggest challenges we face (and we welcome them all!) is, in fact, getting people to break old habits and completely change their lifestyle and identity. However, we have been very successful and over the years we have found the biggest influence has been immersing clients in our community. Surrounding clients with like-minded members and staff, those sharing the same struggles, wanting the same goals, celebrating wins together, and overcoming obstacles as a group, has been our greatest weapon.
How have you pivoted your business with Covid?
Over 2 years later and I can’t believe we’re still in this mess with Covid-19. But the reality is what it is, and for any business to survive, adjustments have to be made. This may sound odd, but personally, I had some fond memories of the original lockdown we experienced. Because Covid was only supposed to be a 2-week hiccup, it gave us time to be with family and forget about work for a bit. Although there was still work to do, there were no running errands, in-person coaching sessions, cleaning bathrooms, managing staff schedules, and all the other day-to-day tasks that come with running a business. Of course, 2 weeks turned into over 2 years, so adapting to the new world was crucial.
During numerous lockdowns the business still had bills to pay, so with the team right beside me, Unified Training first pivoted to a very primitive remote model. We hosted online Zoom and Facebook training sessions for our clients and held our people accountable through Facebook groups. It was received quite well, giving people something to do during the original lockdown, and we needed to retain as many members as we could. In fact, it was during this time our Unified STRONG Remote Training was born. After much trial and error and 2 years of improving our processes, our online program has now become a permanent arm of the business where we serve people from far and wide. Unified STRONG now has its own custom app where we provide clients with a dedicated Coach and online workouts, with a heavy focus on nutrition support and accountability. As far as our clients’ results, we have found their progress equivalent to our in-person model, and many even thrive under this format as it allows them the convenience to train where and when they want while keeping themselves distant during Covid. As I also stated, we also now have the ability to market to and serve people anywhere in the world as a completely online program.
So not all was terrible, as Covid provided us with this opportunity to grow in an area that otherwise would never have been explored. It has added additional revenue to the business, created new employment, and has allowed us to service more people, making a bigger impact.
How important is mental health? How can fitness and movement improve people’s mental health?
Being in the fitness industry for many years we have seen the positive impact fitness has on mental health. Conversely, we have seen how detrimental it can be without it.
Fitness provides an outlet and even a solution for many people. Whether dealing with anxiety, sleep issues, stress, trauma, ADHD, depression and a plethora of other mental struggles, the benefits of fitness are undeniable and it’s all science-backed. Exercise is medicine. We encourage people to simply “move” and be “active”. Although many of our sessions are HIIT-style workouts, a person can do anything really – walking, hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, spinning, martial arts, etc. – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they find something they enjoy and make a habit of doing it. Not simply to look good in a bathing suit, but for mental health as well.
If there is one thing we should have learned through this pandemic, it’s that the relationship between fitness and mental health is tight-knit. Being isolated, and dealing with all the stress Covid has caused, we have seen a massive impact on mental health. Almost 100% of people we have consulted over the past couple of years have come in with an extra 10-40lbs they put on during Covid. All have said they got complacent, depressed, are highly stressed, and mentally not coping well with the world. After working with them on their fitness and overall health not only are we able to get the weight off, they improve drastically mentally and emotionally.
This is where the magic really happens. Although we are a gym, lifting weights is simply one aspect and nutrition is a key component that many overlook. One of the main reasons Unified Training was started was to provide people with ALL the necessary tools required for change. We were sick of seeing people going to typical gyms, struggling to make changes, and beating themselves up day after day seeing zero results. In order for anyone to successfully change their body, they need to dial in their nutrition, and most gyms don’t offer this essential service. We recognized this gap in the industry that needed to be filled, so we went for it. The point was proven when Unified Training grew to over 500 members in just a few months, as people started to see our clients’ results and word-of-mouth took off like wildfire.
We have a number of different nutrition programs, starting with the very basics where people are provided meal plans, measurements, and recipes, to more advanced nutritional support, counting macros and calories. If sensible nutrition is to become a part of a person’s lifestyle it must be enjoyable, so the ultimate goal is to get people to the point where they can eat all the things they enjoy in life (because they will do it anyway) without guilt or shame, while still moving forward and making progress.
Status is very involved in MMA training as we have trained with and featured many UFC stars including GSP, Brock Lesner, and Randy Couture. What are your thoughts on martial arts training?
Prior to Unified Training, many of our Coaches, including myself, were more heavily involved in the Mixed Martial Arts world. Training MMA requires persistence, dedication, mental and physical toughness, and the ability to problem-solve very quickly. It is one of the most gruelling sports/workouts one can do because it tests your strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, skill and will. To be well-rounded in MMA one needs to train in multiple disciplines, and be proficient in all of them, to be able to compete and be successful. It’s a fantastic sport to train and watch, and it has been a pleasure to watch the sport evolve to what it has become today.
What separates STATUS MAGAZINE from other fitness magazines?
Status has great content to educate and inspire those looking to live the fitness lifestyle while encouraging those already involved to continue living their best lives ever. It is also great to see a heavy focus on our Canadian athletes, coaches, gym owners and others involved in the industry.
If you could ask Status Fitness Magazine Editor in Chief Rodney Jang any industry question, what would that be?
Nobody does something for 20 years without loving what they’re doing. Besides making a living, what or who is your number one inspiration to keep you going?
In your opinion, is weight loss more of a fitness issue or a health issue and why?
Depends on who we are talking about. It could be a number of issues. I would say fitness falls under the health umbrella, but I would push to include mental health and education as well. There are a number of reasons weight loss could be an issue for an individual. But we would need to dig deeper into that specific person and determine what the issue is exactly. For example, a 5’10 female who weighs 120lbs looking for weight loss obviously doesn’t need to lose weight, right? So what’s her issue? Why is she asking for weight loss? Perhaps there are some other issues/solutions to explore. Or take a 5’4 male who weighs 260lbs with a body fat percentage of 50%. What’s the issue? The point is that every person is different.
The person needs to be assessed and questions need to be asked so we can determine what the issue is, then suggest solutions.
What is your number 1 tip for those on their fitness journey?
Enjoy it. Or else you just won’t do it (not for the long term anyway). Educate yourself on why it is important, find the things that are fulfilling to you and do them, and know that you can always do something else if you get bored. But make sure to always do SOMETHING. When the body is healthy and fits it really does affect everything else in and around you. Exercise and proper nutrition are both medicine, they are both cures, and more importantly, they are both preventative measures for most illnesses, diseases and sicknesses.
What does success mean to you?
Making a positive impact on my family, my work, my community, and even the world.
What is the biggest lesson you have ever learned?
Change always requires ACTION. Don’t expect anything if you do nothing.
Who inspired you?
Anyone who succeeds that started with nothing, or very little, is always inspiring to me. I believe it really shows that anyone can make something of themselves, no matter who they are and where they come from.
5 most important attributes you see in a person?
- They are hard-working and driven
- Take care of themselves
- Good heart
- Humble, not prideful
What are your future fitness goals and plans?
Continue to live what I lead and support others in their journey while trying to extend my contribution as far as possible.
Status will be presenting prestigious “Gold Level” Awards of recognition to premium first-class gyms and coaches. This would put in you a very exclusive group in the crowded fitness industry. What would it mean to you if you or your gym were to receive one?
WOW! This would be an honour and reinforce the reason behind everything that I and my team do day in and day out. We are not perfect but we are confident in what we do, and although we are not looking for recognition, it would be a tremendous accomplishment and a welcome push to keep us going strong to serve others.