Endeavour Founder, David Birtwistle on Coaching, Training and Overrated Exercises
We caught up with David Birtwistle, the founder of online coaching platform, Endeavour, to discuss all things online coaching, the different forms of training, concurrent training, specific exercises, nutrition and much more.
David has a passion for making the most out of life, particularly through movement and nutrition and works hard with his team of coaches at Endeavour to empower clients around the world to live a healthy and happy life.
Prefer to watch the interview? Watch Meghan and David chatting here.
David, tell us, what got you into fitness in the first place?
It started when I was 15, I was playing rugby and somehow managed to get into England under 16s. That was a huge moment in my life; I remember it perfectly, I was in awe! Just before that happened, there was a teacher at my school who saw a bit of potential in me and said “David you need to get into the gym”. I started training with him in preparation for that, got into England, got scouted by Wasps and Wasps academy, and then was training like a professional rugby player. So, 5 days a week, in the gym, on the pitch. All with the goal of going pro. However, it’s a classic sports story. I ruptured my ACL and had reconstruction surgery at 17 and couldn’t go pro.
As a result of that, I bought into the idea of human performance. I’ve seen the benefits of it personally through rehabbing my knee back to full health. So I went to uni and did a degree in strength and conditioning which is very much human performance and elite athlete performance. From there I went into coaching on Chiswick common for £2 per session. I ran this Groupon discount and had 50 people or something attend my Bootcamp. Over time, I went from running boot camps in the dark and the rain to going to private PT in people’s homes, and from there transitioned into online coaching.
What is online coaching and how does it differ from in-person coaching?
With traditional in-person PT, you pay for an hour of a coach’s time, and in that hour they take you through a session. They’re able to correct your form and make sure the session itself goes well. Essentially it’s time for money both as a coach and a client. The way online coaching differs is that you’re not exchanging time for money, you’re paying for an ongoing service, a support to everyday life. That service can therefore be a lot more well-rounded, and as a coach, you can create a lot more content and valuable information to give to a client to allow them to lead themselves through their own journey. Essentially personal online coaching delivered greater accountability and becomes more self-led and, for the same money or even less, provides clients with a much more holistic approach to learning about training, nutrition, mindset, and can be tailored to their needs. They can go through that journey and come out the other side as a more well-rounded individual because the focus is much broader than just movement and gym-based training.
Have you found in-person coaching is better or worse than online coaching?
Each has its merits. In person, you can correct their form to the nth degree. You can tap into their emotional state during each session. You can apply as much detail in that hour as possible to allow that client to develop as much as possible. However, what someone does for the rest of their week is up to them. So if someone is looking for an aesthetic change or a sports performance change, what someone does outside of the 1 hour in the gym can be significantly more important than during that 1 hour in the gym. If you’re not fuelling yourself properly, if you’re not sleeping properly, if you’re not recovering properly, the results from that gym session are going to be significantly reduced.
So it’s not necessarily that one is better than the other, but if you’re a client that needs a lot of attention in a session, then probably face-to-face coaching is more for you. However, if you’re someone who is maybe a bit more self-led that needs more lifestyle accountability to understand the right personal nutrition strategy but also to learn for yourself how to move properly through video demonstrations and tutorials, then you can learn more intrinsically through online coaching rather than someone having to coach you in the moment. I personally think you get more value for money through online coaching.
What is the Endeavour ethos when it comes to training?
We have 3 core pillars that we really champion. Food, movement and mindset. Each plays a really important role in a client’s long-term development.
With movement specifically, we champion strength building specifically as the foundation from which everything can grow. Functional strength training is typically how we program for someone as we don’t just want to be super strong but unable to move well. We look at mobility and flexibility with strength flowing around that. We don’t just want our clients to be super strong on a bench press if they can’t control their core or balance to be stable on one leg. Most people want to be physically capable to do everything in daily life so easing up joints and providing more freedom of movement is really important to that specific progress. Most people want to be pain-free. So looking at the long-term and not just the short-term allows us to focus on the short-term results, such as aesthetic goals like fat loss or muscle gain, whilst preventing injury in the long term and reducing pain through proper training techniques.
Food, another core pillar is essential too. If someone is training for an hour or two hours in the gym, it’s not going to have the same impact if they’re not fuelling themselves correctly. Educating people on how to eat for the goals they have via a long-term sustainable nutritional approach is important too. So many people struggle with weight gain once they’ve lost weight because they don’t learn how to eat for themselves in an intuitive way.
Mindset: your mindset covers everything. It flows into how you eat, it flows into how you train, and it flows into your decision-making ability. We want to help people learn more about themselves, empower themselves, become more accountable and therefore go through life making better decisions.
What would be your top three recommendations on fuelling for performance?
- From a nutritional perspective, you need to have enough protein and enough complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are your fuel source, and for most elite athletes they expend a lot of energy so require a lot of carbohydrates.
- Protein is key for muscle building and muscle recovery in particular and helps to make sure that you can actually perform by fuelling properly.
- Then, you want to ensure you’re actually getting everything out of your performance. That might mean supplementing with specific supplements relevant to your sport, such as whey protein to help with recovery, creatine to help with power, and beta-alanine to help with lactate buffering. Any of these things are going to be beneficial. If you are a long-distance runner, say, then electrolytes are going to be massively helpful for endurance. So looking at the specific requirements of your sport and then supplementing accordingly is going to allow for much better sports performance.
What are the main things that lead to success in the gym?
Well, in order to get success, you need to have a detailed plan, be consistent with it and work hard. There are no shortcuts. That stretches to the main things in life. Think about being a CEO, getting married, or graduating from university all of these things, if they’re worth having, take time and potentially money to invest in but then, as a result, you get something you’re really proud of. The gym and getting results in your body are very similar to that.
What are the most and least underrated exercises someone can do?
Underrated: I think the most underrated exercise is actually hip and ankle mobility. These are things that when I was younger, no one actually paid attention to and as a stiff rugby player, I really struggled to get into a good squat position and felt it was normal not to be able to touch my toes. But actually, through spending more time doing more flexibility and mobility work, my joints have become more supple. I feel like I can move freely, which has improved my overall quality of life.
Overrated: HIIT. HIIT classes are not the one! They can be a part of a training programme, but I don’t think HIIT and plyometrics should be the core of what you do. It doesn’t really allow for much progressive overload, a lot of people find they get battered in every workout, and it’s just not really optimal if you’re looking to lose fat, get fit, build muscle, or get really many of the physiological adaptations of training that you’d want. Most people don’t want to be able to bounce up and down loads! I don’t get many people coming to me like “David I really want to be able to bounce up and down a lot”.
Is it possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time and if so, what are your nutrition, lifestyle and training protocols?
Great question, loads of people want to do this, and it would be great if this was the case. For some people, it is totally possible. So if you’re a novice, someone that’s not really trained that much before, it is possible for you to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. For most people who have been training for a while, it becomes pretty inefficient as you’re aiming for opposing results. Building muscle mass requires more energy. Losing body fat requires less energy. So they are the polar opposites of what you want to do.
You can do it in a very specific situation. If you put yourself in a very modest calorie deficit, 5% – 10%, eat a very high protein diet, lift weights a lot and do low-intensity cardio to help with that calorie burn, then you could do it. But it’s not really optimal.
If you want to lose body fat, you’d get much faster results by putting yourself in a much more aggressive deficit. You’d still follow a similar protocol, lift weights, eat a high-protein diet, and things like that. But you could go into a 20% calorie deficit and lose fat twice as fast.
If you want to build muscle mass, actually, what you’d want to do is put yourself into a slight surplus in order to give the body the fuel it needs to build muscle mass. So it would be better to do them separately if you can. Typically it’s better to build muscle mass first and then cute to lose body fat. So in short, you can in certain circumstances, but I generally wouldn’t recommend it.
If you had two goals that you want to improve, how would you choose which one to prioritise? Let’s say for example I wanted to get strong but also wanted to improve my running.
Well, this is interesting, when we look at physiological adaptations to training you want to consider that when you have two goals, they have relatively similar physiological adaptations. So if you want to get strong and run fast, they are both power-based activities. So you’re looking at high power output, high strength output activities so you could do those concurrently.
However, if you wanted to get really really strong and also run really far, they’re polar opposites in terms of physiological adaptations. So your muscles want to do one or the other really, and it can take quite a long time to go from one end of the spectrum to the other.
So if you’ve been a runner for a long time, it takes a long time to build up to peak strength. If you’ve been a powerlifter, it will take a long time to become really good at ultra-distance running.
If someone wanted to achieve both these things, you could train them concurrently, but as the signals to the body to adapt would be opposite, they cause a kind of confusion, and so your results wouldn’t be as quick.
It’s one of those things, when we look at CrossFit athletes, they’re amazing at a lot of different activities; they have to be good at running quite far and cycling quite far but also power and speed and things like that. They come from a foundation of strength and power, but then they have to do the other more endurance-based activities as well. That foundation means their strength and power numbers are closer, relatively speaking, to pros in that specific sport – powerlifters, Olympic lifters etc.
However, if you look at their marathon time and compare it to an actual marathon runner, the gap is quite large in comparison. Crossfitters are probably the most well-rounded athletes, and still have to navigate this.
Having said this, if you’re a regular individual, it would be smarter to focus on one thing because you don’t have 8 hours a day to commit to training. I’d say it would be best to focus on one area and then focus on something else. Ideally, focus on strength to start, building muscle as a foundation, as then you’ll be more capable of doing things to build other goals.
To end, what’s something people might not know about you?
This is something most people definitely won’t know; I think I’m a little autistic. When I was a teenager, I really struggled to sympathise with people, understand people, and communicate with people properly. As Chrissy, the other co-founder of Endeavour will admit, I can be really direct when at work and if people don’t share the same energy as me when trying to get stuff done, I get a bit impatient with them. When that happens, I need Chrissy to take over those conversations; I need her much more well-rounded, softly-spoken approach.
That’s something I recognise, but in certain situations, it can be beneficial, for example in high-pressure situations, I can deal with stuff and move past it quickly. But when a situation requires a bit more delicacy and finesse, that’s not necessarily one of my strengths. It’s one of those things that’s great to understand about yourself: your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses.
Interested in online coaching and taking your training to the next level?
Discover more about how Endeavour and FFF can help you towards your goals here.
You can also book a complimentary consultation with David here. He’d love to hear about your goals and discuss how he, or one of the Endeavour Team, could help.
Interested in supporting your training with personalised nutrition? You can book in a complimentary nutrition consultation with one of the Fresh Fitness Food nutritionists here.