A CONVERSATION WITH BEVAN JAMES EYLES
Has it been ages since you last exercised? Do you know that you need to put some time into your health and fitness – but you haven’t made it a priority? Do you not enjoy exercise and maybe even HATE it? Have you completely given up making it a part your life?
If so, you are not alone! New Zealand homes are littered with thousands of unmet goals, broken New Year’s resolutions, and body-conscious people who’ve all but given up on achieving their health and fitness dreams. And the quick-fixes that appear in our social media feeds aren’t helping!
Thankfully, there’s another way. Bevan James Eyles is a successful fitness coach, athlete, and content creator whose recent book, I Will Make You Passionate About Exercise, takes a different approach to get people fit. According to Bevan, it’s all about laying the foundations that will create a lifetime love of exercise.
So, we decided to track him down and find out how we can go from being unmotivated and unfit, to being fit and healthy, and loving exercise …
GRAPEVINE: Firstly, why should people be passionate about exercise?
BEVAN JAMES EYLES: It leads to a better life. It’s as simple as that! I mean, there are the obvious health benefits: you’re going to be fitter, have better health outcomes, manage stress more easily … and then there’s all the mental health benefits. But it’s not limited to just those things. To me, the ultimate reward of exercise is the development of character.
I run this hardcore running group over winter. We call it Epic, and it’s not designed for beginners – it’s hard exercise! There’s a lady called Di who’s doing it for the first time. She’s in her mid-fifties and very fit, but she’s training to a level she’s never reached before. We were running down a hill together last week, and she turned to me and said, “Bevan, I don’t think I’ve loved life like this in a long time.”
So, there are the obvious health benefits. But ultimately, a passion for exercise gives us the ability to overcome adversity. And when you overcome adversity, your character and your self-identity shift. And when your character and self-identity shift, two things happen: a) you gain more confidence in yourself, and b) you see better possibilities for your future.
GV: And you’re seeing this take place with people you’re working with?
BEVAN: Absolutely! And it’s not just in exercise. Some of the best feedback we hear are things like, “I’m better at work because I’m doing this exercise”, or “I’m better at home …” or whatever. So any area where you develop yourself and grow as a person will open up the possibility of developing yourself and growing in other areas as well.
The benefits are life transforming. I’ll give you another example: We had a lady called Leanne who had joined our beginners Get up to Five group. She was overweight – more than 100kg – hadn’t exercised in years, and was in her mid-40s. She ended up running 5kms with us – which was a big thing for her! The following week I saw her, and I asked, “What was it like running 5k?” And she said, “Well, that actually wasn’t the highlight of my weekend!”
She went on to explain how she went to the park with her teenage boys the next day. Usually, she’d sit on the sidelines, wishing she could participate in their games of touch. But because she was now fitter, she went and joined in! Leanne said to me that being able to be active and actually participate in life – because she had that fitness – was the most significant benefit of the Get up to Five programme.
People need to realise you simply have a better life if you have movement in it.
GV: So, what got you started on this journey?
BEVAN: Well, I was a sporty kid growing up – probably wasn’t ever going to be an All Black, but I was a good local athlete! And then I went down a wrong path for a few years … got into drugs and alcohol … left school at 15 … had no qualifications, low skilled, pretty insecure – so I was a bit of a broken kid going down a bad path.
Then one night, I had an epiphany after a horrible drug experience. It made me realise I needed to change, and the only thing I could look to was exercise – because that was the only thing I’d ever actually been good at! So at that moment, I started getting back into exercise … and luckily, I found my passion for it.
Within a short period of time, I started going to university. At the time, I needed a job, and someone at my gym suggested that I become an instructor to earn money. So I became a part-time instructor – and a year later, I quit university … and this became my career!
GV: Obviously, you’re passionate about getting those who are averse to exercise enthusiastic about it … but your first attempt was a complete failure, right? What happened?
BEVAN: It started when I had this moment where I realised that I wasn’t helping unfit people. At the time, I was travelling the world, I was teaching exercise to a thousand people a week, I’d won New Zealand Instructor of the Year three times, I was an Ironman triathlete … you know, I was killing it! But one day, one of my friends in the industry said to me, “You realise we’re failing with fitness.”
It was a moment when something was revealed to me in a totally different light. And I realised that I was really good at fitness … but only if you’re already fit. But if you’re not fit … I suck at helping you! So, for the next few months, I worked my butt off creating a beginner 5km running programme … … which completely failed.
I think we had a dozen-or-so people participating … and by the end of the eight weeks, none ended up running 5km. To say I was gutted would be an understatement. I’d promised them the world … and I failed. I felt miserable!
The good thing was … I didn’t give up. I realised I needed to learn from this and figure out what I’d missed. In designing the programme, I found that my biggest mistake was not spending enough time learning about the people I was trying to help. Even though it was easier than what I would typically do, it was still too hard – it was still a ‘fit’ person’s programme.
And so I rang every person in the group and asked, “What did we get wrong?” I needed to understand what’s it like when you feel vulnerable with exercise. Because I enjoy it! I find it hard, but it’s because I make it hard. But what is it like when you hate it, and it’s hard? So I spent a lot of time trying to understand how they felt: what are the problems these people need to solve, and what’s the right level of guidance they need as we navigate them through their journey.
Thankfully we learnt those lessons, and nowadays, in our 5km Get up to Five groups, we have over a 90% success rate. And when you think about our target market … 30–55-year-olds that have failed with fitness, feel insecure and vulnerable about it, and have often struggled with their bodies … and we get them there!
GV: So what were some of those lessons?
BEVAN: The most important thing is after their first session, they walk away thinking, “Wow, I did it, and that felt good!” Because if they walk away feeling successful in that first session, there’s a high chance they’ll turn up to the next. We need to understand that there’s so much room for error for these people – they’re coming into the programme expecting to fail. So that first experience is really important.
But then you have to manage their ‘stretch’ really wisely. So, the first session is repeated three times – we do have to extend them, but most people try to extend too much. It’s about keeping them at the right level where they can feel successful again – where we can manage this emotional and physical journey they’re on, and they can feel successful along the way. If we can get the habit and consistency, they will get the desired results.
GV: So, what makes you confident that you can make people passionate about exercise?
BEVAN: Well, when we look at the person who loves exercise, they share a few traits. Firstly, they prioritise training. And the really passionate people prioritise it no matter what the conditions! Secondly, they have a movement or exercise they love – whether it’s surfing or mountain biking or running or … whatever.
Then they tend to have a community with their movement. That might just be a group of friends, or it might be a club or the people you go surfing with in the morning. And, if you’re on a growth pathway, you tend to have a leader (or leaders) around you who guide and educate you along the way – especially at the beginning.
And finally, those who are passionate tend to go on growth journeys and put challenges in front of themselves – maybe a challenging mountain bike race, a triathlon or a grading in their sport/movement. And that’s all about achieving results that are at a higher level.
So if they’ve got a movement they love, a community, and go on journeys with their movement, they then identify as an exerciser. And when they’re not exercising, they feel a dissonance. And the great thing about that dissonance is it pulls you back. Because if you miss a week of exercise and feel like crap, you’re like, “Man, I’ve gotta get back to my exercise again!”
The framework of this book is all about building these things into your life – and understanding the many insecurities and vulnerabilities that non-exercisers bring with them when it comes to fitness. Ultimately, I’ve learnt that to change your identity and self-belief, you must first have an experience. That’s why this works.
GV: What do you mean by ‘an experience’?
BEVAN: Well, we live in a world where people say, ‘just believe in yourself and then you’ll find success!’ But that’s rubbish. What actually creates belief is evidence. And the example I often share is one from our 5k runners’ group: usually, about six weeks into our programme, they’ll come up to me and say two things: firstly, they’ll say, “You’re not going to believe it, but I actually like running!” and secondly, “I’ll see other runners, and I think, ‘I’m like them!’”
This is a crucial moment because what’s happening is: a) they realise that they can enjoy exercise, and b) they’re actually shifting their identity. Now when they see other people running, they think, “I’m like that!”
So, what’s created that? Well, for the last six weeks, they’d been attending three sessions a week where we’ve managed them carefully through an experience. And these experiences are shifting their belief about themselves – their identity.
GV: What do you think is the biggest hurdle to getting people exercising regularly?
BEVAN: Probably the biggest hurdle is getting them to start! Because the problem with exercise is it’s always that thing I’m gonna do ‘tomorrow’. I often tell people there’s always a good reason not to start today – you might be busy at work, you might be going on holiday, the kids have something on after school, you’re tired … but there’s always going to be a good reason not to start tomorrow! Which means there’s NEVER a good time to start!
So, I think the first thing is to make today the day you start.
But the second thing to overcome that hurdle is to get a wise plan to understand the beginner’s journey. Obviously, my book is trying to be that solution, but even if it’s not my book, there’ll be fitness professionals in your local area who have helped people like you – people who understand your journey.
GV: You mentioned earlier that successful exercisers have a community
… which happens to be your third step: Find your exercise world. Why do you suggest it’s the most important step of them all?
BEVAN: When we look at our 5k group, we always do a questionnaire after they’ve run their five kilometres. And we always ask them what’s the number one reason they were successful. Now, they have great programming, coaches at every session, amazing education … but the number one answer is always the group. It’s never something else first.
People want belonging. People want to contribute. People want accountability.
Finding a movement you love is really important. If you love cycling, but I said you’ve got to run 10 times a week and never ride your bike, you’ll eventually give up on exercise. So that ‘love’ is important … but finding your community is the most important. And if you find that fitness group that makes you feel like you belong, and you can build friendships and camaraderie … the motivation becomes easy.
One of the greatest testimonials we’ve received was from a lady called Lisa. When she started with us about five years ago, she was around 120kg and had never exercised. Just recently she has completed her first marathon. Lisa tells me that when she came along to the first session of our beginner group, she instantly knew she belonged. We were able to create a really safe environment, and now she’s gone on to do massive things because of the support of her community.
GV: It can be hard to find that sense of community now, right?
BEVAN: I’m not a very religious person, but one of the things the church does brilliantly is community – and with its influence lessening in our society, those strong community groups are less of a thing. But I think exercise can be a great way to help supplement that – to help people find a place where they belong. And if you have that piece in place, there is a much higher chance of your success.
GV: So, how do you find your fitness community?
BEVAN: The first thing is to trust your instinct. Then ask around and see what people recommend, and then you have to take a risk and try some out! Did someone come up and say hello? Did they make you feel welcome? Do the leaders make you feel a little bit special? Do they get to know your name really quickly? Do you feel included – even if you feel like the beginner there?
10 STEPS TO BECOME PASSIONATE ABOUT EXERCISE
- Learn how to get out the door with the right attitude
- Spend time exploring different exercises to find the one you enjoy the most
- Find and commit to the right ‘exercise world’ for you
- Find your Proud Goal that is set at the right level for your current ability
- Learn how to achieve your goal and enjoy the challenges along the way
- Celebrate, reflect and learn
- Set a new goal that is the perfect next step in your fitness evolution
- Take ownership of your fitness identity, so it becomes a part of how you see yourself
- Develop the ability to live within the Circle of Fitness for the long term
- Help others learn to love and grow with exercise
From ‘I Will Make You Passionate about Exercise’ – used with permission
GV: So … is running the best exercise?
BEVAN: As I mentioned earlier, the best exercise is the one you love doing. Now, if you want to have a six-pack and go to the beach and look amazing, well, you’ll probably have to get to a weights room. But for someone new to exercise, the best answer is the movement you enjoy doing.
When people fall in love with a type of exercise, they remove one of the biggest barriers to success. They shift from telling themselves that they should exercise to a place where they want to exercise – because they love doing it!
Now, once you’ve found your movement, think about growth pathways – where you’d like to get to. Ask yourself, “where is the growth of my movement?” So, for a surfer, it might be to travel somewhere with huge waves, so you practice by surfing bigger waves. Or, if you’re a runner, it might be to eventually run a marathon. Having these growth pathways is essential to keep you motivated.
The thing is, when you love what you do, you’ll thrive. And thriving exercisers always have great results. It might not be the six-pack abs, but they’re healthy-looking people.
GV: You talk about a popular 5k running app in your book, where only 1.8% of the people who start succeed! And plenty of gyms make money off people paying for a membership, but only go once or twice … or not at all! So how do we make our exercise sustainable?
BEVAN: Okay, this is an important question to solve – and it requires a shift in thinking. Most people are ‘results’ focused. They want the beach body; they want to run the marathon … but that’s not a sustainable approach. Instead, you need to begin by building the right foundations to give them a lifetime of exercise. And if you ask where people’s foundations are right now? Well, most don’t prioritise or plan for it. Instead, they’re thinking, “I wonder how many squats I should be doing.”
So, for someone who is not exercising, their first job is to learn how to successfully bring the habit of exercise into their life and lay the foundation to make it sustainable for the long term. Because if you can do that, you’ll get the results. I’ll give you an example: our first step in the book is to get out the door with the right attitude. And the first challenge is to do 12 exercise sessions a month – but one of the rules is that the exercise has to seem extremely easy. So, if you go for a five-minute walk, it’s a win.
But people will say, “I’m not going to get any physical results if I only go for a five-minute walk!” Well, if you don’t build a habit, you’re not going to get physical results full stop! And unfortunately, what a lot of people do when they start, is make the exercise so hard that it becomes a barrier to them building that habit.
If you can create the habit of exercising three or four times a week, I guarantee you’ll get massive results in the long term.
GV: I’m guessing the ‘long term’ part of that is a problem for many people?
BEVAN: Yeah, people definitely want the quick fix! There’s an interesting sales business model that asks four questions. The first question is: can you give the person a dream result? So, in the fitness world, the dream is to be fit and healthy. The second is: what’s your credibility in giving that person the dream result? Well, I’ve trained 4000 people to run 5km – so I’ve got lots of credibility. The next one is: how quickly can you get me the result? Mmm … people want it today. And finally: how hard will it be? Because people want it easy!
So when people are looking for solutions to their lack of fitness, they look at that model – because it’s everywhere! They’re thinking, “Can I get my dream result?” “Can I get it from Bevan?” “Can I get it from Bevan today?” and “Can it be easy?” And the problem is, it’s impossible! I mean, yeah, that model sells – but it doesn’t actually create success.
Again, we must have an approach that lays the foundation of a fitness lifestyle. One that gives you a wise plan to guide you on that journey. If you can do that, there’s a much higher chance you’ll wake up in the future passionate about exercise, and not feeling guilty because you never got anywhere with it.
So, don’t reward the quick fix!
GV: Any final thoughts?
BEVAN: If you start on an exercise journey, do it in a way where you don’t beat yourself up … and don’t go into it thinking you’re going to fail. Make a decision to start, get a good plan, get good people around you, and so on … One thing I learned from the thousands of people I’ve worked with is the unsuccessful person has one bad day, and they quit. So, see it as a long-term journey – build your foundation, be wise, and do it safely.