Double Olympian Karen Bennett and Rory Gibbs, who recently won a gold with the men’s eight at World Cup 1, talk about their online coaching businesses with Patricia Carswell
Imagine if you could have access to your very own Olympian to help you achieve your fitness goals. Well, it turns out that you can. We talk to two members of the Great Britain Rowing Team who have each started an online fitness coaching business.
Karen Bennett is one of those people whose enthusiasm alone is enough to make you want to pull on your trainers and get down to the gym, but as a world champion, double Olympian and qualified personal trainer she has much more than passion to offer her clients. “I know what I’m talking about because I’ve lived and breathed it,” she says.
Karen’s new online fitness coaching business is based on an app. Prospective clients fill in a form setting out their goals, the obstacles they face in achieving them and how they hope Karen can help. She calls each new client personally and if they both feel she’s a good fit, they’ll sign up and dive into a more detailed questionnaire.
Each client gets a programme individually tailored to help them achieve their objectives, whether that’s building strength, improving their erg scores or losing weight. For anyone new to exercise, the app contains instructions and videos showing them how to do each exercise safely. Karen devises a nutrition plan for them, too, catering to all their needs, preferences and dietary requirements. “It’s really adaptable to each client,” says Karen.
“Exercise plays such a huge part in our mental health. I just want to get people moving”
Working with Karen is a collaborative process. She shares tips, hints and encouragement, and clients can ask questions via the app’s messaging service. They have a weekly check-in with Karen to see how they’re doing and feeling.
Given her rowing pedigree, you might expect Karen to be aiming exclusively for a clientele of elite rowers. Although she certainly isn’t averse to coaching top-class athletes, however, she’s just as enthusiastic about helping the less active. “I get a lot of joy helping people that aren’t active or confident in a gym,” she says. “Exercise plays such a huge part in our mental health. I just want to get people moving.”
Her experience can be just as relevant to beginners, she says. “I know my body inside out and have learned a lot in terms of routine, sleep, water and so on. I can pass on all that knowledge to people. It can make quite a big difference.”
For someone new to rowing, Karen recommends a variety of different workouts to keep it fun. She understands that “people don’t have eight hours a day to train”, so is happy to recommend shorter workouts alongside longer sessions. For anyone new to strength training, she suggests starting with bodyweight exercises or light weights and building up. “It’s about getting the movement right and building from there.”
“I love seeing people achieve their goals,” says Rory Gibbs, who has been building up his online coaching business since he started it during lockdown (with a break for the Tokyo Olympics).
Like Karen, he operates via an app. A prospective client fills in a lead form on his website before having a chat via Zoom with Rory to work out what they want to achieve in four to six months’ time, both in terms of fitness and nutrition. Once they’ve signed up, Rory creates an individual, personalised programme and nutrition plan tailored to their goals, lifestyle, preferences and available time. They find the programme on the app, together with recipes and videos showing the exercises. Rory checks in with them once a week and will check their progress, including their mood, energy, sleep and nutrition.
“I’m trying to ingrain more holistic and meaningful change over several months”
He is keen for clients to set a deadline, say within six months, to achieve their goals, though this is not set in stone. To achieve this, he always ensures that their initial goals are realistic, maintainable and sustainable.
“I’m not trying to just strip some weight off someone or bang a load of weight on in, say, a month’s time, and then revert back to old habits. I’m trying to ingrain more holistic and meaningful change over several months.”
Although he trains everyone from young aspiring rowers to older men, his main target market is middle aged women.
“The biggest market for online coaching is women,” he says. He’s also hoping to work with small and medium-sized businesses and micro-businesses, supporting employees with their health and fitness. “Optimising your health and fitness will have a significant improvement in work performance,” he says.
Although combining his business with training in the men’s eight is gruelling, the discipline he has had to learn is something he can pass on to his clients.
“Rowing training is a tough sport. You need a high level of motivation, determination and organisation, so I bring a lot of positivity and motivation to my work.”
Although he is not a qualified therapist, Rory finds clients end up confiding in him about issues beyond their fitness and nutrition.
“I want to help in any way that I can. A lot of my clients do confide in me, they release their stress, they let me know how the week’s gone. I will help in any way that I can and if it is required, give them a nudge to go and see someone to speak to. Online coaching to me isn’t just about improving your physical health and fitness, but your health and fitness as a whole.”