Building strength through community with The Real Body Movement

For many people, the gym is just somewhere to squeeze in that obligatory hour of exercise with a set of headphones in their ears or rushing in and out of a group class with barely a word spoken to their fellow attendees. For others, their gym is a genuine community – a place where connections are formed through sharing challenging workouts together, celebrating one another’s accomplishments, and offering that support on the days when it all feels a bit too hard.

It’s the latter sort of gym experience that Fiona and Matt Keable have created in the Queensland town of Gympie. Describing themselves as “more than a gym”, The Real Body Movement has evolved into a thriving community of humans that are set on improving their physical, and also their mental health. The couple also launched RBM Recovery, wellness, and recovery space that compliments their fitness centre with a sauna, cold plunge, and compression boots. RBM Recovery links with other local businesses to collaborate and cross-pollinate their offerings. I got to ask co-founder, Fi Keable, a bit about her business:

WNiF: What motivated you to create a space where mental health is just as important as physical health? How did TRBM begin?

During the years 2006 and 2007, I received a diagnosis of post-natal depression. Due to witnessing my brother’s suicide attempt while he was on medication, I decided to pursue an alternative approach and avoid taking medication myself. Let me clarify that I don’t hold a negative stance toward antidepressants; I believe they have their place when necessary. However, after experiencing such a traumatic event involving someone on medication, I felt the need for a different path. I discovered that exercise became my form of medication, and it proved to be effective. Although I still experience underlying anxiety and depression, I have learned that managing these conditions is crucial.

As time went on, my passion for this fitness-based approach to well-being grew, and I became a personal trainer myself and spent some years managing a 24/7 gym. I loved that gym but I found that some people needed more than just exercise, they needed a community and the engagement from coaches to educate and empower them to manage their bodies’ pain, strength, and movement.

In 2017, I worked as a personal trainer, renting space in a small studio owned by someone else. Around this time, my husband suffered a back injury during a Jiu-Jitsu takedown. His condition involved four out of the five possible spine conditions (spondys). Through gentle movement and attending the Rehab FX course developed by Ulrik Larsen, a physiotherapist who bridges the gap between physiotherapy and personal training, he was able to avoid undergoing a double fusion on his spine. The course had a transformative effect on him, reducing his pain and making him feel taller. This improvement had an instant positive impact on his mental health since chronic pain often acts as a trigger for poor mental well-being.

Witnessing this progress and the effectiveness of the approach, we felt compelled to share it with others. In July 2017, we met with Dan Henderson and Kevin Frazier from the business coaching program known as Game Changer at the time (now Fitness Profit). He guided us on how to establish our own fitness space, align it with our vision and values, and make it a reality. In October 2017, The Real Body Movement was born, and the rest, as they say, is history!

the real body movement gympie

Image courtesy of The Real Body Movement

WNiF: How do you collaborate with other businesses to promote wellness and mental health in the community?

We are fortunate to have a fantastic collection of cafes in our business area with whom we establish collaborations for coffee meetups with our members, whom we affectionately refer to as our tribe. The availability of pleasant meeting spaces is highly valued as it provides an ideal setting for social interactions.

Additionally, I serve on the board of The Chamber of Commerce for our town, which grants small businesses a platform to voice their opinions and concerns. Recently, we secured funding to offer a mental health training course specifically designed for small business owners in our region.

Furthermore, our gym tribe has a dedicated fundraising committee responsible for organising events and selecting charities to support. We often prioritise raising awareness about mental health. In one such collaboration, we partnered with a not-for-profit organisation called Death Lifts to sell merchandise featuring prints that promote mental health awareness. The funds raised from this initiative allowed us to bring Ben Higgs from The Rise Foundation to Gympie, where we could offer his Mental Health Response Course at a reduced price thanks to the funds raised from the Death Lifts Merchandise. We extended invitations to other gyms in our town as well, resulting in 25 individuals becoming certified in Mental Health Response after receiving education and training.

WNiF: Are there any particular events or charities that you are involved with?

This often varies as we like to support the choices our tribe suggests, however, every year we support the Kokoda Youth Foundation by registering as many teams as we can for the Kokoda Challenge on Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. We have also donated funds to Little Haven Palliative Care.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen since working in the fitness industry?

People want support and community now more than ever. I think there’s a bigger emphasis on valuing health and wellbeing and people want a more holistic approach to the training methods and education they receive from their gym / personal trainers.

Image courtesy of The Real Body Movement

How did the floods affect you guys and do you feel like that experience has changed the community?

Although our business location and personal lives were not directly affected by the floods, a significant number of our community members experienced direct consequences, resulting in a considerable impact on their businesses. While most of them are gradually recovering, our city centre continues to struggle in the aftermath of this event. From our perspective, the impact was primarily financial. We had planned to implement a price increase aligned with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) around the time of the floods, coinciding with a substantial wage hike. However, we made the decision to forgo the increase to ensure that our community members could continue their training without facing additional financial burdens. Consequently, we absorbed the costs associated with significant wage and rent increases. Nevertheless, our experience pales in comparison to the hardships endured by other small businesses affected by the floods.

Can you share a favourite client outcome/success story that gives you all the feels when the going gets tough?

Absolutely. We have numerous heart-warming stories to share, but one recent success story that stands out is about a woman who experienced the tragic loss of her 11-year-old daughter due to a cardiac condition. Six months after her daughter’s passing, she made the courageous decision to join our gym. Recognising that she had two paths to choose from, she believed that joining a gym would be the most beneficial for her mental and physical well-being, especially considering her ongoing sciatic pain.

With the understanding that it’s perfectly acceptable to shed tears on the gym floor and to simply show up and give her best effort, she has undergone a remarkable transformation. She dedicates herself to training five to six days a week and has recently incorporated two recovery sessions at our RBM Recovery space. During these sessions, she utilises compression boots, enjoys the sauna, and takes a plunge into the cold water twice a week. She wholeheartedly embraces all the activities that we know contribute to positive mental health, and her progress is truly inspiring.

Moreover, during her time with us, she has also navigated through a separation, adding further challenges to her journey. The pivotal moment for us came when her father visited the gym and personally expressed his gratitude to our team for the support we provided her during this difficult period. It was an emotional turning point that reaffirmed the positive impact we strive to make in people’s lives. We always hope that others notice the transformations we witness in individuals, and it was incredibly rewarding to see her father recognise and appreciate the positive changes she has experienced since finding us.

Image courtesy of The Real Body Movement

Is there a software, app, or piece of technology that has been beneficial to you in running your business? Why?

We use MindBody for our bookings and CRM. Even though it’s been known as “expensive” it’s so reliable and our clients love it. I remember starting out the business and thinking how badly I wanted to use MindBody but it wasn’t in my budget. Dan, our business coach, said to me: “How many clients do you need to pay for MindBody”? I told him the number, I went and got them and we haven’t looked back. We use it for both the gym and recovery space.

Is there another favourite piece of equipment, supplement, or product that you love?

Personally, I love Animal Flow as a training method as it gave me full knee flexion back after knee surgery in 2018. I am addicted to using Kettlebells, they’re kind of meditative but savage all at once, haha! And with regards to supplements, at the moment I’m loving True Protein but honestly, just a good clean protein is key as it’s really hard to get your protein up when you are a pescetarian plus it keeps it simple and easy when you’ve got your skates on and hustling (I won’t use the word busy as I don’t like to use that 4-letter B word).

What advice would you give to other fitness professionals who are considering starting their own business?

Get a coach! As a coach yourself you believe everyone should have a coach… so get yourself one for your business. It’s the best thing we did and The Real Body Movement and RBM Recovery would not exist if we didn’t have one.

What’s next for you?

This year, I embarked on a new endeavour by organising practical workshop academies for Certificates III & IV in Fitness in partnership with SRPT Recruitment. Our primary goal is to boost the number of Personal Trainers within our industry and expand our community. Additionally, I recently joined the coaching team at Fitness Profit. Fitness Profit (formerly known as the Game Changer program) is the coaching program we have been a part of since the inception of The Real Body Movement. Now, it’s time for me to share the valuable knowledge I have gained and support others in their business growth. Having a coach is crucial for maintaining security in the business world, and I am thrilled to be the person to give back what we have received over the past six years.

To find out more about Fitness Profit and learn how a business coach can help you grow your fitness business, check out the website here.

Fi and Matt have created something so different from the “weight loss challenge” and “summer bodies are made in winter” vibe that the fitness industry has run with in the past. The values they have brought to The Real Body Movement are raw and vulnerable and empathetic. Keep watching what these guys are doing, because they are changing lives.

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