James Ellis has been a DJ, an architect, fitness model, and is now a VPT at Gymbox Westfield, where he has found his calling. "Helping someone to make changes to their physique and often their lifestyle is immensely rewarding" he says.
Hi James! What have you been up to today?
Hey! Tuesday is my (sort of) day off where I only PT in the morning, and take the rest of the day off. Today I had a nice hard sports massage from my awesome massage therapist Adam Ilko at FTM, and I've been absorbed with the launch of my new website, which isn't quite ready yet. Now i'm about to spend a couple of hours on client programs.
What does a day-in-the-life of James Ellis look like?
I'm an 'early bird' type of PT, so I try to do most of my sessions between 6.30am and 1pm, and this is true for 4 out of my 6 working days. I lost the will to do evening sessions during the week a while ago, and decided to re-structure my diary and stick to these rules. I'm forever addicted to bodybuilding and metabolic training, so I generally get my workouts in pretty early where possible, so they are done, and box ticked. After my morning shift the rest of the day is taken up with some writing of programs/diets for online or gym-based clients, general admin, and some time spent running my social media portals. A lot of my time is taken up coaching fitness competitors, and it's becoming more of a daily event that i'm speaking to someone about their upcoming show!
You've been a PT and fitness model for the last six years, but you've also been a DJ, a project Architect and have two design degrees – which do you prefer?
Yes, it's been a mixed bag. They are all so different, and gave me a different type of emotional or financial reward. Nothing could ever beat the thrill of DJing to a crowd of 1000 screaming clubbers, playing a track from my own record label and watching them all go nuts. To be honest, the last six years of PTing has been the highlight because it's been the 'full time job' that has truly encompassed a life-long passion for fitness.
Do these diverse set of skills overlap in any way?
Yes and no. They key factor is that I achieved success in each one (so far) by taking an analytical approach initially, setting goals for each and then dedicating myself 100%. The two most prominent skill sets that I would say have been present throughout, and thus overlap, are my skills as a first class communicator, and my inherent creative drive. Each of the aforementioned careers or achievements has, in some way, allowed to me to express my inner artist!
You've been with us a Gymbox Westfield for the last 18 months, what have been your highlights so far?
Being in London is so different to my hometown of Cheltenham, and Gymbox is so much more exciting to work in than my previous gym. The people at Gymbox are diverse, exciting and more fitness crazed. My client base has also gradually morphed into a more athlete-dominant one. Highlights have been playing the role of strength coach, mentor and stage coach to countless amateur fitness competitors. A somewhat niche market that has grown exponentially in the last three years, but thankfully so has the demand for my services. Knowing that so many of my clients look up to me, and admire what I have achieved is extremely motivating for me professionally and psychologically.
How many contests have you entered as a fitness model, and what drives you to do it?
Fitness modelling generally encompasses two sides: Commercial Fitness Model and Competitive Fitness Model. I have done a fair amount of the former, with features in magazines. As far as the competitions, that has probably been my biggest success trail, and the reason that people know me. Since Nov 2011, I have done eight competitions, and with some fast progression and early 'wins', the last five of them have been Pro Level shows for The WBFF (four international World Championship events). I have always quietly obsessed over the aesthetic of the male physique, and developing mine over the last few years, and starting the competitions has been a giant snowball of obsessions. It can be a very solo journey, and without hardly noticing I have given up a lot of things over the last few years that most people would find quite difficult. However, the satisfaction from competing is endless, and it has had positive impact on my business and my brand identity.
What does winning feel like?
As cheesy as it sounds... winning isn't about getting first place to me (though i have taken first on two occasions!), it's about achieving my objective of constantly improving, and being happy with my performance and how I presented myself on stage. But, taking the 1st place trophy is pretty surreal. It doesn't improve my own self-image – it's simply a statement of appreciation and acknowledgement from a panel of judges, and sometimes the crowd itself. After weeks of hard training and dieting, this moment of reward is pure bliss, and the aftermath is rarely one of anti-climax, but much horn-tooting for at least a month after, and shaking hands and taking endless congratulatory messages. Once the show is over, there can be temporary loss of drive or motivation, but I've been generally setting the next goals within a few weeks and that keeps me pushing on!
Is it hard to be so disciplined?
I'm one of the least disciplined competitors I've come across, as far as being ranked at World Championship level. Training is easy for me, I'm happy to devote endless hours into the gym. I love all aspects of training – endurance, strength, pain, lactic acid, personal bests, boring cardio even! My diet however is always an area where I will often stray from the guidelines, I think this shows that inside i'm just a normal gym-goer –and most of them in my direct experience fall down with their diet and lifestyle, but are happy to nail it in the gym six times a week! So promising to not drink or go out for 12 weeks, well, that sometimes gets forgotten. No carbs from Monday to Friday? Occasionally something will slip in. These sorts of irregularities are generally managed, but it's rare that I'm 100% on point with my diet during a competition prep!
What do you find the most rewarding about being a fitness model and VPT?
It's the ability to educate and motivate others. Helping someone to make changes to their physique and often their lifestyle is immensely rewarding. Seeing a client get onto the stage, and take a trophy or a medal is rewarding x 10! Just two weeks ago I watched one of my Stage Coaching clients win his Pro level category at the WBFF World Championships in Las Vegas, and is now the World Champ. We celebrated quite hard after. These things make me very happy.
And tell us something that no one knows about you…
When i was a kid, I used to have Superman duvet and Superman pillows. He was a childhood icon to me. I also used to tell my dad (RIP) that he had biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger's and that I wanted to have some when I was older!