Nick Mitchell looks amazing at age 50, and through his work as the founder and CEO of Ultimate Performance, he’s helped to improve the lives of more than 25,000 clients in U.P. Gyms, worldwide. While he relishes the opportunity to whip Hollywood royalty into shape, as was recently the case with Glenn Powell for Top Gun: Maverick, the best-selling fitness author is just as passionate about inspiring the general public as he is about training those form tinsel town.
So, with the new year squarely on our minds, M&F caught up with the man from Yorkshire, England, now living in Los Angeles, to find out how we can reconnect with exercise and stay consistent with gym sessions, no matter our age.
Congratulations on your amazing celebrity fitness transformations, including your recent work with actor Glen Powell for Top Gun: Maverick! Are you still as excited as ever about sharing your expertise?
Yes, I’m more excited than ever to share my expertise! I’m in a very fortunate position. Understand, that when you exercise, if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. So, a stroll to the bottom of your garden isn’t going to challenge you, it isn’t going to change you, you won’t get much from it.
That’s a great message not just for celebrities, but for us “normal” people too. How can we make better progress in the year ahead?
Even as a gym owner, I know that you don’t have to go to the gym to exercise. You can exercise at home with bodyweight exercises, you can go swimming, you can go cycling. The most important thing is to get your heart rate elevated, to challenge yourself. Personal training businesses like mine will always recommend weight training, because that is the most effective and most efficient exercise modality you can do in a restricted unit of time. Weight training is going to give you the most bang for your buck, by far, in terms of body composition and insulin sensitivity, which is related to blood sugar management and diabetes. Find what you enjoy doing and do it consistently.
As a gym owner, you must see that it can sometimes be intimidating for new members to hit the gym floor. How would you reassure people that this should not be the case?
The truth of the matter is this: You may think people are looking at you and that they are thinking “Look at that fat fool,” or “They don’t know what they’re doing,” but, be logical. No-one at the gym really gives a damn about you. They’re either focusing on themselves, or they’re looking at the impressive boy, the impressive girl, the hot boy, the hot girl, the person that is lifting loads of weight or doing something extreme. They’re not looking at you. I have more than 35 years of experience of various different gyms and I can tell you that they’re the most collegiate places I’ve ever been in. The more serious they are, the more people want to help you. This is a place where people go to improve themselves. So, when they see you struggling on a 1 percent gradient, going 2 mph on a treadmill, which is very easy to most people, any reasonable person would say: “Blimey, that person is going for it. Good for them.”
Is weight training just as important as we age?
Yes. There is a medical condition called sarcopenia, which basically means muscle wasting. As we age, our muscles atrophy meaning that they shrink, they get weaker. This dramatically decreases our quality of life. Think of the septuagenarian who struggles to get out of the bathtub, to use an extreme example. Think about the older people who struggle to climb up a flight the stairs. As we get older, we look at that steep hill and think: “I don’t fancy taking that on.” When you were in your 20s you would bound and leap up that hill, and you had energy and a zest for life. That’s what weight training gives you. It improves your quality of life. It also improves other things, such as strength and bones.
Weight training won’t do anything for the lines or wrinkles on your face, but it’s going to do an enormous amount for your posture, the way you hold yourself, the way you carry yourself. All you have to do is look at 60-year-olds and 70-year-olds who weight train. Their faces may carry their age, but their bodies don’t. You look at them from a distance and they look like they’re younger, because they move different, they have better quality of life. That’s because the resistance training that they’ve done, which doesn’t have to be lifting weights by the way, it can be bodyweight training, has given them a spring in their step. For older people I recommend a full range of motion, and compound movements, and I would prefer tasks where you’re moving your skeleton against gravity for example: chin-ups, dips, split squats, those full range of motion exercises that enable everything to move, because the greater the range of motion, the more control you have and the less likely you are to hurt yourself.
Social media influencers go into overdrive as the new year approaches, but can Instagram Reels ever replace personal consultations with a qualified personal trainer?
Very simple answer! If you’re an influencer on social media, your primary job is to be an entertainer, not an educator and not a coach. The most followed accounts are entertainment driven accounts. Social media is a new TV channel, and we should not confuse that with education and expertise. Accept it for what it is: they are great entertainers. They should never replace qualified personal trainers. You have to be very wary of even a qualified trainer or coach dispensing their wisdom online. Let’s say someone asks me, online, how do I fix my sore knee. How on earth am I supposed to answer that? I don’t know how you move, recover, sleep, eat, or your medical history etc. Anyone, online, who gives answers on how to help this or that, the very first two words to come out of their mouth if they are to respected should be: “It depends.” That is the stock answer in training, I’m afraid.
What are some of the most common mistakes that people make that threatens to derail their progress?
Sticking to the same workout, all of the time is a good example. If it worked for you for a little while, it must work for you forever, right? Wrong. In fact, in many ways the best workout is the workout you’ve never done, because your body adapts. On the other hand, and this may seem like a contradictory message from me, but changing routines too soon or too often can also be a mistake. You need to give your body time to adapt to a program, milk that program, and then when your progress plateaus, change that program.
Another mistake people make is not pushing themselves hard enough. If you don’t force your body to go somewhere it doesn’t really want to go, it is not going to positively adapt to that stimulus you’re giving it, so it won’t change, it won’t get faster or stronger, more explosive, whatever it may be.
What are some of the qualities that you see in people who are able to stay consistent?
People who stay consistent with the gym, or any exercise modality, are those who find ways to enjoy it. You must change the mindset of: “I must go to the gym.” Going to the gym is a privilege. We all get an endorphin high from slightly different ways of training. You must experiment. For some, the gym is a lifeline. If you make progress in the gym, that becomes addictive. The results and the progress can be addictive. “I’ve got more pain free movement, greater mobility, greater endurance, I can climb up the stairs, I can play with my kids better.” All these things are results and positive outcomes for you. Learn to track these positive outcomes and you’ll start to become addicted to chasing these positive outcomes.