Witness the fitness: A-list personal trainer Dan Roberts
Have you heard the name Dan Roberts? For many of you the answer might be no. For those that have you will be among a select group of people that are privy to the knowledge of one of the most important figures in the fitness and wellbeing industry. Dan Roberts is the most established and sought after personal trainers to come out of Britain and with his brand growing by the minute The MALESTROM caught up with him for a chat about all things fitness & health. A longtime athlete, his training career began in Brazil honing the physiques of Victoria’s Secret Models for Elite as their in house coach before branching out and developing his own sought after fitness programs. His number is on speed dial of the hottest Hollywood agents and producers as the go to man to get some of most famous celebrities on the planet in shape for their next role. Read his story and get some great advice for getting on the road to all round health and well being.
The MALESTROM: How did you get into the world of fitness?
Dan Roberts: Well I’m just about to turn 40 and I started when I was 16 – I’m a sports coach, I taught tennis, lacrosse and athletics for about 5 years over in the States and also in England, then I became a strength and conditioning coach while I was in New York and I started training American Footballers for a few years. Then basically I travelled round the world as a strength coach working with professional athletes like the Indian Tennis team, a lot of pro golfers, triathletes in Australia, I’ve kind of lived all over training athletes, and I did that until 2007. It was then I moved to Brazil and randomly became the in house trainer for Elite Model Agency and started working with all the Victoria’s Secret models over there, that’s when my career kind of changed and became a bit more about working with celebrities, actors and models.
TM: So you’ve worked with a lot of A-listers then?
DR: Well yeah, my company now is not just me, there’s quite a few of us and we work on a lot of film sets and we help people get ready and prepare for roles, so most of the people are high profile.
TM: Are these actors and sports stars conscious of keeping themselves in good shape all the time?
DR: Generally people are more aware about fitness than they ever used to be. Normally when people either hire me, or a studio producer gets me in to work with someone, they’ve had trainers before, especially in America, they’re used to the idea of having to get in shape. Some people, like some actors for example, tend to work incredibly hard for the role and then go completely crazy and chill out in between, and then some have a more moderate approach. I think it’s all good, I don’t know what it’s like to be Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ve got no idea what kind of weird life they must have so you can’t really blame them for going like crazy hard and then partying hard, because why not?
TM: Tell us about the Dan Roberts wellbeing lifestyle brand?
DR: Sure, it’s a company I set up in 2002, where basically we help people become more athletic. We offer personal training, for as I mentioned actors, models and athletes, there’s a group of trainers in London, we also have a small team in New York which is growing, we also do retreats in Miami, like luxury retreats, we also do qualifications for trainers, we mentor personal trainers, improve their business skills, and help them grow their brand. We do classes in London, we do yoga, methodology x classes, which are model fitness classes, we have a free Facebook group, where we help people for free – we have like a whole range of services, we just try and help people live a more athletic life, be active be fit. There’s nothing too crazy about dieting, we just try and encourage a more ethical, intelligent way of getting fit.
TM: With such a hectic schedule how do you find time to keep yourself in shape?
DR: Well I’m pretty active, I still look after private clients a few hours a day and I’ve got a bit of a martial arts background, so I do a lot of sparring and stuff so that keeps me in shape.
TM: What Martial Art did you study?
DR: I lived in Thailand for a year competing in Muay Thai as a professional, that was after Brazil. I’ve done a lot of things after Brazil that I didn’t mention, one of the things was I took a year off to fight, so I’m used a lot now in films for fight choreography, helping the actors look and act like fighters, so I get involved in the stunt work and all the parkour stuff and teaching them how to punch and strike and yeah it’s really cool.
TM: There’s a lot of contrasting information out there these days, in terms of fitness, recovery etc. What’s your approach?
DR: There’s a lot of information, there’s also a lot of opinion, and everyone is a journalist now, everyone is giving content out on Instagram and Facebook and people are commenting on it and so it’s very hard to decipher who really is an expert, who’s a commentator, who’s an influencer, it’s really hard. I think we should all just really focus on the fundamentals, because for example with nutrition there’s so many arguments on the minutiae, but 99.9% of every nutritionist and dietician would agree with the basics, and the basics are what we’re not really doing right – eating mostly good food regularly – from the ground. We’re mostly not mixing training, doing weight training twice a week and running and all the basic stuff, so unless your training like a pro athlete – or you are a pro athlete yourself, you don’t need to know all these details, it’s overkill! You need to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, looking for example at what micronutrients are in your protein shake when you’re getting pissed twice a week is pointless – so you need to get the basics right, eating well and healthy, regular meals, training moving your body everyday, lifting heavy things, sprinting, climbing, once you’ve got all that sorted, which is hard for most people – then you can start getting into the details about how should I most effectively say use this hour. Most of us just need to move more, and eat a bit less and eat a bit more intelligently. So I would probably just say step back – and just focus on the basics.
TM: What are the common pitfalls that people fall into when it comes to their training regime and their lifestyle?
DR: I think one is a psychological thing, I think peoples expectations are a bit out of whack, it’s the way a lot of the fitness industry and magazines advertise, this ‘before and after six weeks you can change your life’. People think if they just join a gym for a few months and lift a few weights they’ll be ripped, or lose loads of weight, it’s a long term thing, unrealistic expectations are the biggest pitfall.
TM: How do your transformation programs work?
DR: We have a hundred day one – we have a new one which is a year. The hundred day one is mainly born out of the work I do with the film studios, working with actors pre-film – 3 and a half months twice a day training, food delivered to your house, it’s pretty intense.
TM: So it’s a full on lifestyle change really?
DR: It can be a kickstart for some, the people who’ve done it before have in their own minds what’s needed to do it, most for their job, they’ve needed to be in amazing shape. The others they needed it for their life, because they were so out of shape, you know like city boys who are partying too much, they just needed to change because you can’t carry on that track, or people who are very overweight and just doing three times a week with a personal trainer when you’re 40 kilos overweight, you’re not going to do it. People who don’t just want the results, they need the results. There’s nothing left to chance, me and my team we’re looking after them completely, so there’s no way you can’t get results, your basically just hanging out, hanging out with a load of fit people all the time. There awesome, there really amazing, the hundred day one in particular is loads of fun. We have like an application process for that if people do want to do it, because it’s very popular – Esquire awarded it the world’s best transformation programme and because of that we get so many people applying. It’s not for everyone, it’s expensive obviously – but if it’s right for you then it’s really awesome.
TM: For our readers looking to shed some weight – what tips do you have to get them started?
DR: It’s a very open question. I think the first thing is before doing anything actually taking a step back and doing a bit of self analysis. I think it’s important before taking any action, ask are you really overweight? Also thinking what the causes are. Is it because you’re not moving? Is it because you’re eating rubbish – I mean most people don’t need a coach to tell them that they’re drinking too much or they’re not moving enough? So you need to kind of work out what your Achilles heels are and then work on those. If you’re a bit lazy you don’t need to tweak the way that you’re doing bench presses, you need to just start walking more, if you’re eating too much then eat less, it’s not going to kill you feeling a little bit hungry, a lot of people who are a little bit hungry are like ‘oh my god I’m starving’ – it’s not starvation you know. It’s all about self analysis, we all tend to know what we’re doing wrong, if you like a bit too much shandy or you don’t sleep enough you tend to know and then if you work on that that will have more of a dramatic affect, the problem is most of us tend to tweak what we’re good at, so if you take a guy in his mid-thirties who likes lifting weights, doesn’t lead a particularly healthy lifestyle, he’ll read every article about lifting weights and the details on how to do that better, but really he should probably eat more salads and do a bit of cardio. So ultimately we need to work on the stuff we’re bad at rather than the stuff we’re good at or know about. Also I think just for one week in your life it’s really important to keep a food diary, just a week as a one-off to see exactly what you’re putting in your body, don’t judge it or edit it while you’re doing it, only at the end of the week have a look back and actually ask yourself some key questions, is this nourishing me? Is this helping me towards my goals? Again you don’t need a nutritionist to know if you’re eating shit food, a lot of it can be done ourselves. It’s great having coaches and experts and stuff, but a lot of it we already know the answer.
TM: People like to have someone to make decisions for them though don’t they?
DR: Ha well that’s true yes – the way I work and my company, we try and educate people as much as we can, so people know more about fitness and food. It’s like when I train with athletes they know everything, or personal trainers, it’s great because they already know stuff, then they ask me intelligent questions, and we can get a bit more synergy and even better results. If people are a little bit clueless then they’re just doing what I tell them to, they’re dependent on me and being dependent on someone else is not a good way to empower yourself. We are facilitating fitness, I don’t want any clients needing me really, I want to give them the information so that they can do it themselves. That’s the ideal.
TM: Turning our attention to adding muscle, pound for pound what would you say is the best exercise?
DR: A classic deadlift scientifically speaking recruits the biggest muscle groups because you can lift the heaviest weight, not a Romanian style but a classic deadlift, you can shift a lot of weight that way and put your body under more strain. So as long as you’re eating appropriately the muscle fibres will tear apart and then they’ll grow bigger. So the classic deadlift is always the number one, second to that would be the barbell squat, basically the bigger the muscle groups you work, the better. The lower body muscles are bigger, the glutes and the quads are much bigger than say the chest or the shoulders. Obviously you want a whole balance of muscles, but if you really want to put on size you need to focus on the big lower body movements. The third exercise I’d say is pull ups.
TM: And continually adding weight is important?
DR: We’re all biased, our opinions are based on our experience and because I’ve spent years training pro athletes and pro fighters, I kind of think most people are a little bit soft, they don’t train hard enough, so I think that’s the biggest issue I see. I think if you’re going to train it should be an experience (laughs), you should be shaking, or bleeding or bruised or something, having a workout and being a little bit sweaty, I don’t think that’s training, that’s just living, that’s just moving and I think most people who are not in the world of high end athletics aren’t used to that. I was in that world, and I’m trying to encourage more people to train properly. It’s way more fun training until you fall over and pushing yourself to your limit. I get great results not because I’m clever, but because rather than just think about the biomechanics and the energy systems I get in the head of people and get them used to pushing themselves hard. Because you’re never going to get great results unless you go past your comfort zone, and every week your comfort zone will improve, so like you said about the weights, yeah totally you’re a hundred per cent right, if you stick to the same weight or always do ten dips or always do 3 sets of ten of the same weight, there’ll come a point where after a few months it will do nothing for you. If I went for a run – I used to do ultra marathons, so if I go for a 10k run now, it’s not going to make me fitter, because I’ve done it a million times. Whatever your limit is, you have to go slightly beyond it and that’s how the body will adapt. It’s the basic law of fitness if you will, always go beyond and the body adapts. That’s why the human body is so amazing, it’s designed to adapt to pressure.
TM: In terms of supplements what are you thoughts, is there some must haves?
DR: I don’t have a golden rule about this to be honest; I think most people have to sort out their diet before adding extra’s into it. At the moment I’d say a quarter of our clients are on some sort of supplements and the other three quarters aren’t on anything at all. So it’s not a given that we recommend supplements. It’s only really when training is perfect, diet is perfect that we will look at extra stuff. I mean I’m talking about performance supplements here. I mean just having a vitamin pill is great everyone should have a multivitamin pill, but in terms of bcaa’s or creatine and HMB and all that kind of stuff, I’m a bit hesitant on that because you can get reliant on it. The same as protein I’d much rather people ate more steak or more meat or more fish because of the other nutrients and fatty acids and all the good stuff you get from eating real food that you don’t get from pills or powders, I think people can take protein powders and creatine too early. My personal advice is be a bit smarter, get your diet right first, get your training right and then think about it. When you’ve got that sorted if you’re lifting heavy and you want to put on more muscle it’s very hard to get enough protein in, so whey protein is probably my first choice and then probably creatine, as if you normally do say 10 reps of whatever it’ll help you bust out twelve, and seemingly there’s no side effects, so there’s no major problem with it. Things like pre-workouts I’m not a big fan of, I mean there’s so many supplements and it’s quite hard to tell how many of them actually work because if you say spent £200 on a stack of supplements you’re probably then going to go to the gym and train a little harder anyway, so you have to look at the studies rather than anecdotal evidence. The best thing to look at is a company called Examine they’re great, they have a guide about what supplements work and what doesn’t, that’s the go to guide for most strength coaches. Generally though I think you’re better off saving your money, sorting out your diet. You don’t need to take pills to get a great body.
TM: So how often would you say people should train?
DR: Everyday, everyday, everyday. Our bodies are designed to move, our biomechanics, our hands, the way our pelvis works, we’re designed to move, to move in varied directions, to jump, to climb, to sprint, to run long distance, to lift, to twist, our bodies are incredible and we’re supposed to be moving. Like I said earlier if you do a load of bicep curls, and your arms get really tired, they’ll then literally grow bigger – it’s amazing, we’re like this incredible machine, which I think most people forget (laughs). If we really want to get in touch with our mind body connection, and live a life in tune to which we are designed we have to move everyday and in different ways. If we all played sport everyday, which is brilliant because you move in all different directions, if we all played sport and climbed and surfed, we wouldn’t have back problems, we wouldn’t have weak glutes, we wouldn’t have weird big upper bodies and tiny legs and these other things that happen in todays culture, we wouldn’t have the need for physios, the need to see osteopaths, if we just actually moved more. So I think we should move everyday and not just for an hour, we should try and incorporate activity into our lives, for example occasionally running up the stairs, don’t just go to the gym – do your one hour of functional training and then leave and be a slob again, mix it into your lifestyle play sport, try new things.
TM: That’s great advice. A lot of people nowadays overlook the simple things like stretching and breathing? How much significance would you place on those?
DR: Well a lot, I define fitness as an all encompassing thing, a lot of people focus too much on strength and aesthetics, well guys do, have I got a six-pack? Or how strong am I? But there’s other important things like agility, your wellbeing, how well you sleep, your coordination – the more we work on all of them the better. When it comes to breathing, we need oxygen for the body to work properly, so if you were a dancer, an athlete or a martial artist, you study breathing in quite a lot of detail because you get a better performance – so breathing is very important. That’s why incorporating a yoga class or a meditation class into your regime is very good for you, because it teaches you to be more aware of your breath.
TM: How do you stay motivated Dan?
DR: I think if you’re not motivated then maybe your goals aren’t interesting enough. If your goals are exciting you don’t need to motivate yourself. The same as in work – if you’ve just set up a startup company and you want to take over the world, it’s not hard to stay up late and work in front of your computer, because that’s what you decided to do. If you’re in a shitty job which you hate, then it’s hard to motivate yourself. When it comes to fitness, your in control of what you want, if you want to have this amazing body, or if you want to become an ultra marathon runner or a bodybuilder, whatever perfect balanced lifestyle, whatever is exciting to you, if you really focus on that, then you don’t need to motivate yourself. I always take a step back and think what do I really want? Don’t just be a sheep and think I should just train three times a week, it’s like no you don’t have to train at all, get fat if you want to, you don’t have to – you can’t convince people to do something they don’t want to do. Always take a step back and think what are my goals. Look I know a lot of successful people, like crazy successful people, CEO’s and Hollywood people, they don’t need motivational quotes to get out of bed in the morning, they don’t need that, it tends to be the people who kind of feel like they want to do something, that need these motivational books. All the people I know who are really killing it, they don’t have time to challenge themselves because they just are motivated because they’re passionate about what they’re doing. So my long winded answer is, get passionate about your fitness goals, and if they’re not exciting enough make them bigger, don’t just tone up, transform yourself – that’s exciting!
TM: Who’s your fitness mentor? Who inspired you?
DR: Nobody really. I have peers; there are a few trainers I work with in the States and around the world who I talk to. But I’ve never had a mentor. I used to read a lot, I mean I still do now, and like everyone when I first saw Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee I was like well that’s interesting. I’ve just always been really sporty, I love sports and fitness and I really, really like my body – not because of what it looks like, I really don’t give a shit about that, I like what it can do and as my careers progressed I’ve seen it more and more, people just want to feel good about themselves, people don’t care if they’re skinny or ripped, they just want to feel good about themselves really deep down and I’ve always had that because my perspective has been a little bit different from most people. I’ve never tried to look big or look better I just like moving and I enjoy it, I like playing around in gyms and trying new sports and so I try and encourage that in other people. I don’t know where it came from, no one has ever asked me that before. I’ve been doing it a long time, I started when I was sixteen, twenty four years ago, I’ve never even questioned why I’m doing it, it’s just the only thing I can do.
TM: Sure – so what’s next for the Dan Roberts team?
DR: What are we doing next – well I’ve created this workout class, which at the moment has been trialed at a gym in London and I’ve been training up about 20 of their trainers, but now we’re opening in Manchester, New York, basically lots of different locations across the world.
TM: And what can people expect from that?
DR: This is actually for girls, because of all the work I’ve done training up the models, this is an opportunity for women to receive that same workout/experience.
TM: Finally – any words of wisdom?
DR: My favourite quote is from Proust –
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
You see, when you open your eyes to the way the world works, or what you want, or the human condition – life gets much more exciting. I think most of us are too introspective, we kind of think about bullshit stuff, spend time opening your eyes up, thinking about philosophy, astronomy or the bigger questions like why are we here? What’s the point? What am I going to feel like on my deathbed? If you think about the big questions, life is very exciting. I know from my career – I’m just a normal bloke who was working at LA Fitness fifteen years ago and now I’m hanging out with Hollywood film stars and it’s awesome. I love my life because I appreciate all of it and I see it as one big adventure – my career’s an adventure, my fitness is an adventure, my relationship’s an adventure. It’s all about your personal perspective, it’s not about what you’ve been given, or luck, it’s about the appreciation you have for life. If someone’s unhappy, change your situation or change the way you look at it. It’s all about the way we look at the world, the people I know that are the happiest tend to have a more positive outlook, perspective if you like. Keep your eyes open and enjoy the adventure.