There’s a common public image people have of personal trainers. Intimidating, cold and obsessed, they were born with perfect bodies and can’t understand how their clients can find it so hard to shed the pounds. Joshua Paul Fitness has already done a lot to dispel that image, and now, with the arrival of Ashley Connolly into the JPF family, it may have found its most relatable coach yet.
Like a lot of members, Ashley got into fitness to lose weight. Also like a lot of members, he doesn’t want fitness to be something that stops him having fun with his friends and even the occasional drink. Plus, he’s as unintimidating and friendly as they come (when he’s not in the boxing ring, that is). But don’t let that fool you into thinking Ashley isn’t the real deal – he gave up a successful legal and business career to go into training and, by the end of my interview with him, it’s clear that he’s as dedicated as they come. It’s also clear that I’m going to have to the end the interview with a series of boxing puns. You have been warned.
Ashley grew up in North Manchester and went to an all-boy’s school in Blackley: “It was full of testosterone – frightening!” He played a lot of football, but loved basketball even more, and also competed in taekwondo from the age of ten. His first love, though, was boxing – his dad ran several boxing classes around Manchester so he was literally brought up on it. His early sporting prowess fell away a bit in his late teens – “that’s the time when you start getting drunk with your mates and chasing girls!” and after a year of college he joined a law firm as an office junior. This was no ordinary law firm though, it was Pannone, one of the North West’s biggest. “For a 17 year old with no responsibilities I was doing alright! I had a good job, worked with a great bunch of people.” From this humble beginning he worked his way up to the ladder and soon found himself with a large business development and sales role, networking with small solicitors’ firms around the country. His stellar legal business career would eventually come to a halt though as he jumped ship to be a personal trainer – a terrifying and brave move, but one which didn’t happen overnight. Ashley’s path to a PT began in his early twenties. “I’d got a little podgy. A lot of my mates went to the gym or did running, but I didn’t fancy that route at the time – I wanted to get into boxing again. I started going to boxing classes again, really enjoyed it – I did a mix of grappling, jujitsu, MMA (mixed martial arts) and kickboxing.” It was at that this time that Ashley met Joshua Paul Fitness owner Josh. “At the time we were both training for fights.” Ashley did a few amateur MMA fights, really enjoyed the experience and lost a lot of weight in the process – and it was this that really kick-started his coaching journey. “It was definitely the weight loss journey that got me into coaching – once I found something to enjoy that helped me lose weight, that was it. In that sense, the weight came off as a by-product of doing something I enjoy. As a result, I dedicated myself to learning about nutrition as well as training, and started to develop a passion for bodybuilding and strength training. Going to the gym on my lunchbreak became my passion.”
Another pivotal moment in Ashley’s fitness journey was finding himself in hospital due to his weight issue – a period he speaks about with admirable honesty. “I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome as a result of not taking care of myself and carrying too much weight. That was a real kick up the backside for me, and really gave me an incentive to lose weight.” It wasn’t long after Ashley’s new fitness journey had started that he made the leap into personal training. “People saw how much weight I had lost, and were asking me for advice. I thought: “I enjoy training, and I enjoy teaching boxing, so why not get the personal trainer qualifications?” I did my qualifications while still working for Pannone, and doing a part time boxing job – that was a busy time alright!” As a result, he began to build up a small personal training client base part time, and then the moment came for him to jump ship – he left his lucrative, successful legal career and began his personal training journey. Surely that must have been terrifying? “It was pretty scary that’s for sure. I jumped in with both feet – it was a massive change.”
Ashley got a job at large commercial fitness chain and quickly established a rapport with the members there. “I would go up to people and see what I could offer them, try and sell my coaching. People in a gym are a little bit intimidated by personal trainers, they think they’re going to shout at you all the time and tell you not to eat stuff. It was important for me to listen to them, and see how I could actually help them.” This was a successful approach that soon got Ashley a growing list of clients, who all had the same things in common. “They didn’t want to give up their lives to get into shape. Just like me. They still wanted to spend time with their friends and family and be able to go out on the weekend, while getting fit and healthy. I was really fortunate in that way to have a great bunch of people I worked with.” What was his biggest learning curve at the start? “Empathy. It soon became obvious that I needed to understand where a lot of my clients were coming from. A lot of people think to themselves: “why would I got to the gym four or five days a week and be in pain when I can stay at home?” A lot of people I work with have trouble finding a sustainable pattern for losing weight because of this. So it’s really important to find something that works for them – something that’s sustainable, over a lifetime if possible; and give them a mindset so they can go out and continue it themselves.”
So how did Ashley join the Joshua Paul Fitness bandwagon? “Well, as I’ve said, I’ve known Josh for a while, but it was while I was on a mentoring course – the Ric Moylan one – that Josh approached me. Ric Moylan works with a bunch of elite level athletes; he mentors personal trainers. Josh was a mentor on the programme too, and he’d been helping me to structure my business. One day he contacted me and asked me if I wanted to get on board – and I thought why not?” In fact, Ashley has had the interesting experience of having watched Josh build up his business from a fledging enterprise to a South Manchester powerhouse. “I’ve seen it grow from a business in his back garden to where it is now. In fact, when I was thinking about becoming a coach, I spoke to Josh about it, and how he got his qualifications.” What really attracted Ashley to the job was the sense of the same thing that he’d been enjoying with his clients, but on a community scale: “What’s exciting about Joshua Paul Fitness and Evo Camp is that it’s totally unintimidating. The normal everyday person who wants to get into shape can do exactly that. Having that good atmosphere gives people an incentive to exercise – being with a bunch of people who are going through the same thing that they are, making friends and being a part of something big.” He’s on a roll now. “That community feel is something us one to one coaches don’t get a lot of normally. It’s just us and the client. But building that relationship in a group really helps people – it makes them want to be a part of something, which makes me want to be a part of something too!” So how will Joshua Paul Fitness members get to see the newest coach in action? “You’ll see me with the likes of Mason, Jake and Josh in Evo Camp and Evo Lift over the next few weeks, getting to know the members, building a rapport with them, starting to share my passion and enthusiasm with them”. Does he have a particular style? “Well my boxing background is certainly something I like to bring to my one to one sessions – there’s nothing better to blow off steam! If I’ve got clients that are stressed after work, there’s nothing like a good boxing workout to help them relax!”
On that note, going forward Ashley reveals to me exciting plans Josh has afoot for Evo Box, a new Evo class which will, as you might have guessed, be focused on boxing, giving him a chance to show his talents on the pads. Also, on the nutrition front, Ashley has, like other new coach Mason, a passion for cooking, so expect to see even more of a focus on this in the future. Could Evo Cook be on the horizon? You heard it here first (and possibly last). As the interview finishes, I ask Ashley to describe himself in one word, compared to the other coaches. “The joker” is his reply . But don’t be fooled by this. Sure, members will have a laugh with this new Evo coach, but it’s clear that Ashley is no lightweight, and he’s not wearing kid gloves. As far as Joshua Paul Fitness is concerned, he’s certainly not punching above his weight, and all the signs are that he’s set to be a knockout.