If you’d asked 20 years ago why Richard James Oliver works out, he might have told you his goal was to look great in a t-shirt. As a musician, Oliver had a stage presence to maintain; as a fine artist, little did he know how becoming a GX24 group fitness instructor would come to influence his work and his life.
“Something happened that made me look at why I was working out,” Oliver says. “Becoming a parent was one of the big ones. I wanted to be more functional and stronger, be around longer for my kids.” He began to reconsider the purpose and content of his workouts. At the same time, he saw that the classes in the group fitness studio were doing many of the exercises he was trying to incorporate into his own workout. “So, I braved it one day and I snuck into the back of the class, and lifted weights that were way too heavy for what was required of me—and failed dramatically!”
It was a Les Mills BODYPUMP class, and Oliver says the combination of the coach, the music and the exercise “just got into me—I couldn’t wait to go back.” He persuaded his wife to try it; she loved it, and they started going to classes together.
Oliver is featured in the 24 Hour Fitness “Worth It” campaign, and 24Life asked him during a break in filming to share his secrets to balancing parenting, art and GX24 instruction and what makes it worth it.
24Life: If there’s a stereotype people have in mind about who teaches group fitness, people might be surprised to know what you do outside of fitness. What prompted you to become a GX24 instructor?
Richard James Oliver: It was a natural transition really. Before I became a group fitness instructor, I was in a band for about 12 years, so I had some experience in entertaining. I also have my master’s degree in fine art. That’s what I do outside of training.
A fantastic coach encouraged me to explore the option of becoming an instructor myself. I jumped at the chance. It was a challenge for me at times, coming from a musical background and being “the talent,” to transition to coaching where I need to consider, “Well, what skills do I have that I can use to help other people?” The workout [that I’m coaching] isn’t for me. The members are not here for me.
24Life: Do you consider being a GX24 instructor and being an artist to be two separate sides of yourself?
RJO: I’ve found that group fitness really aids my art. Being a painter in a studio is a fairly isolated profession. I’m involved in the process, but then the work goes out and I have no idea if I’m changing the world for the better or not.
Coaching is so hands-on. The immediacy of being able to affect people’s lives in a positive way and seeing that happening in front of my eyes—that’s helped me not take my artwork too seriously. I’ve really brought more joy back into painting. I think [group fitness and painting] go together really well.
24Life: With your career as an artist, and fitness instructor, and parent, how do you make time for your own fitness?
RJO: It’s challenging. I have two children with special needs. Obviously, that was extremely challenging for my wife and I to discover. Mental health was and is a massive part of getting fitness done. … But sometimes we neglect taking care of ourselves, because we’re so busy taking care of the people that need the help.
Trying to find a balance between those two things was really important for me. Fitness and mental health go hand-in-hand and make me a better husband, a better father, and hopefully, a better coach and inspiration to 24 Hour Fitness members. I talk in my classes about the fact that we’re not only training to be better in the gym or better at the sport, but also to be functional. These squats are going to help you pick up LEGO, and this exercise is going to help you get your elderly parents in and out of the car.
24Life: We can all appreciate and relate to the moment that you decided to walk into that class. What advice do you have for someone who’s standing by that door?
RJO: I know firsthand, 90 percent of the hard work is done just to get through those doors. You’ve driven to the gym. You’ve walked through the doors. You felt intimidated and got over that. Now I’m going to take care of you. That’s what I bring to my coaching, because I needed it back then.
As we age, we lose 10 percent of our muscle mass. What drew me to the Les Mills formats, specifically BODYPUMP initially, is that it is a workout that allows me to guide people of all ages safely and easily through that workout, to be motivating and not intimidating, to be encouraging and inspiring—and help them to find their intensity and levels so that they can get the benefits that they’ve come for.
24Life: Why do you think people give up on their fitness goals?
RJO: The problem is that people have goals; they do measurements; they get results and then they plateau and it’s no longer fun. They see diminishing returns and start to begrudge doing what they’re doing.
Remember when you were a child? You changed the rules. You made up the game. You jumped over the fence. If a sign said, “Don’t climb the tree,” you climbed the tree anyway. Working out has to be like that. It has to be fun; you have to be playful and diverse [in your workout]. You have to be willing to move away from things your body doesn’t want to do anymore, and you have to challenge yourself. Don’t take the easy route.
24Life: If you could say one thing to everyone in the world, what would it be?
RJO: Alan Watts, the philosopher once said, “To go out of your mind at least once a day is tremendously important. By going out of your mind, you come to your senses.” I think working out is that opportunity. Going to the gym is that opportunity. Coming into the present, being body-aware, and just putting a break between those thoughts.
Photo and video credit: Tom Casey, box24studio.com