Q&A with former Wallaby Luke Milton – ‘Training Mate’ gym owner in LA

Sydney boy Luke Milton was a professional rugby player back home before he got into personal training and moved to the U.S. In 2009, Milton founded his signature Training Mate program of group fitness with an Aussie twist. In September, Milton opened Training Mate West Hollywood, a gym on Santa Monica Boulevard that specializes in high-intensity workouts and encourages you to have a laugh with your mates. The gym has already attracted celebs including ‘Desperate Housewives’ star Jessie Metcalfe, and Milton is becoming a bit of a celeb himself making appearances on CBS’s ‘The Talk’ program where he demonstrates workouts with an Aussie flavor. Read B_Space’s Q&A with Milton about his high-energy career below.

Tell us about yourself, how did you get into fitness training and where did it all begin?

I grew up in the Southerland Shire in Sydney’s south, a good Cronulla boy. Then I went to The Scots College [in Sydney’s eastern suburbs] for school in high school and got involved in rugby. After school, l loved the eastern suburbs so I stayed there and played for the Sydney Roosters NRL team from 1998 to 2002, and then moved on to the NSW Waratahs rugby union team, which was really fun, and from there I moved into the Sevens program with the Australian Rugby Union team. I got to travel so much and see the world. We got to see America, and I got to hang out and talk with some of the best fitness brains in the world—some of the best trainers, the best strength and conditioning guys, the best coaches, and I just fell in love with the training aspect of things, that fitness component of how you can be creative, how much your body can change, and nutrition. It’s cool! It just keeps on going and going. So I fell in love with that, and at the same time, met an American girl back in Australia. She was doing study abroad from Georgetown and was at Sydney University for a semester, and I met her on the second day. So we hit it off, dated for six months and then she went back to Georgetown while I still had a year left on my contract at AIU so I stayed in Sydney. I went and played against England at Twickenham and flew down to the Cayman Islands for this invitational Sevens event. I said I’d do it if they flew me back through New York, because I wanted to check out New York and I was in love with America at the time. I met up with Keri and just thought, ‘This is ridiculous, we have to try and make it work.’

What did you do next?

So I moved to New York and ended up playing for New York Athletic Club where I met some amazing people and again, got more involved in fitness. I started a little company there called ‘Aussie Boot Camp’ which we ran out of Central Park. It became really popular and it was just a word-of-mouth thing. We got coverage from CNN, and it just grew and it was really cool. I left New York in 2008 and then went back to Sydney where I started Training Mate. We did the corporate wellness for J.P. Morgan, Credit Swiss, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Boost Mobile.  I just loved how much you can build a community around fitness, so that was a big thing that got me into the group training. I didn’t return to the U.S. until May 2012, and since have been training some celebs here and then I opened Training Mate West Hollywood in September 2013.

Do you miss rugby?

After retiring from rugby, to be honest, I don’t miss the rugby or the sport, but I miss all the boys and all of the camaraderie, I miss having 25 ready-made friends waiting for you every day. So that’s what I’m trying to create through Training Mate. We’re trying to create a family, people that you want to go and hangout with. You’re going to sweat and work hard at times, but we’re going to have some fun doing it and we’re going to be super motivating and super positive and we’re just going to create an atmosphere where it’s fun to come and work out and through that, our staff are going to feel like a family. It’s just going to be a positive environment.

I believe hugely in physical health, what we do to our body, the food that you put into it, the activity that you do, but I also believe in “social health” and interaction with friends and family. For a lot of Australians over here, we are away from our family, and we miss them and we need that social interaction. LA is a very transient city, so I think that Training Mate can be people’s social engagement. Thirdly, I think of mental health as well, so we’re going to work in getting those three boxes ticked. That’s why we designed the gym with space so people can hang out after class; it’s not just like, “give me your money and go”.

The Training Mate crew post work out in Los Angeles

How does LA compare to Sydney, fitness industry-wise?

LA is almost the mecca for fitness throughout the world. I think even more so than Sydney, and Sydney has a very dominant fitness industry. There is literally a boutique workout space or a gym on every corner here, especially in West Hollywood, which is super competitive, and that’s a great thing. What I think that those other gyms have missed, in my opinion, is that social aspect, that fun aspect. A lot of boot-campy group exercise classes that I’ve gone to, with SoulCycle being the only exception, have all based themselves around a very serious, cultish mentality, and I don’t want that. I want people that can come in here as an Olympic athlete or literally as a first-timer. And because we work on that time system, they’re going to get an equally beneficial workout. Other boot camps are, in my opinion, too reliant on unnecessary impact on knees and hips, and treadmill abuse is not conducive to a good social environment. The music is so loud that you can’t hear yourself think, so what we’ve designed here is that there’s going to be music absolutely and it’s going to be motivating, but everyone’s going to be able to hear the instructor. We’re going to work on correcting people’s forms but we’re also going to work on motivating someone to achieve their best.

I wanted to take the community aspect of a group exercise class, and the Australian lifestyle, and blend those two together. I think it’s just a gold medal recipe for success. I think this industry takes itself way too seriously—I understand that it is a serious industry, but I think that you can have a lot more fun with it. You can joke with people, and the added advantage of the Training Mate system is that most of the people have got accents in here, so that’s a novelty in itself.

What has been the evolution of the space?

I went for a drive with Keri [now Milton’s wife!] just to look through some spaces. From there, we drove passed this space, and a space across the road and at the time, it was an old marijuana dispensary clinic and it was painted lemon yellow. It had a huge painting of a hibiscus up the side of it, it had moldy old carpet and cockroach-infested floors, and it was just disgusting. So we designed this space and ripped it apart, gutted the whole thing, and as you can see it’s turned out pretty well. It looks great, and the concept was—for what we’re doing, and the flow of traffic coming in—feeling comfortable, feeling welcome and then moving through to the workout area. I wanted to keep Australians involved. Sammy Cooper has literally taken what I said that I needed and designed the inside space, and Pete Hyatt has designed that back area that looks amazing as well. I told them what I wanted and they just expanded and blew it out of the water. This has been an Aussie space from day one, which is very cool. The logo says Training Mate and the Southern Cross is bang smack in the middle of the two words.

The Training Mate gym in action

What’s the workout like?

The workout we’ve designed is a three-tiered system. It’s a high intensity interval training that you work through. It’s circuit based and you work through with like-minded people and the family that we create at Training Mate. You work through three stages, three separate circuits, and we’ll go for 45 minutes. That will be usually Monday to Friday. There’ll be some strength work in there, some cardio work in there. We also offer yoga classes to really help with that social interaction, the mental health side of things as well. It’s a great, calming class and that’ll be done outside for the most part, in our designed gardens. I would love to get people in on a membership base. It’s going to be $225 a month and that’s unlimited. So you can literally come to everything; you can come to 10 classes a day if you want! I’m giving away waters, so all the members and all the people that come in, grab a water, grab a towel and come on in. All you’ve got to do is bring yourself and dress appropriately. If you’re not a member, you can come in for a single class for $25 and also there are a couple of structured classes, 5-20 classes will be discounted a little bit. In my opinion, it’s going to be the best work out in LA.

Group fitness instructors are going to keep the Australian spin going and we’re going to be really motivating, in correct form, correct posture. I’m always going to be around so I’ll always be floating around, greeting people, making sure the classes are as consistent and as good as possible. We’ll have a couple of instructors on the floor that are working people through their workout and making sure that they’re doing things in a safe environment and challenging people to be at their best.

What’s a day’s schedule like?

The schedule at the moment will be a couple of morning classes. The first class will be 6:30am through to 7:15am, then another class at 7:30am until 8:15am. Initially, there will be about 25 to 30 classes a week. After that we’ll work our way up to 40 classes a week. The classes involve the high intensity interval training throughout the day and it’s basically going to be all the same classes every day. So on a Monday you’ll come and do the ‘Bondi Burn’ on Tuesday you’ll come and do the ‘Down Under Workout’ and on Thursday you’ll do the ‘Rugby-ready Workout’ and it’s going to be structured so you can follow the Training Mate system throughout the week. There’s initially going to be 3 to 4 yoga classes per week, twilight yoga classes and Sunday afternoon yoga classes which will be done out the back in our garden.

Check out Luke’s training program here: http://trainingmatela.com/

Get your first Training Mate LA session FREE by using the promo code “MATE”

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