Matt Boyles, 38, is an online fitness trainer who focuses on gay, bi and trans men providing a service tailored to the individual but which is in a safe and inclusive environment where gay, bi and trans men can feel comfortable whilst working towards their fitness goals. Matt’s brand is ‘Fitter Confident You’ and it includes an emphasis on the mental health side of things understanding that gay men often feel uncomfortable in the gym and can lack confidence in both their bodies and also themselves. Matt is the embodiment of his brand. He is in great shape and comes across as intelligent, confident and well-adjusted. When we met up, he was exactly as he presents in his videos, apart from the fact he was wearing an orange top and a baby pink hoodie. He is clearly relaxed in his own skin and comfortable with his sexuality. Above all he came across as inspiring but approachable, motivated but warm. If anyone deserves success in the cut-throat arena of online fitness, he does. In our interview he talks about how he came to terms with his own sexuality and how fitness and helping other gay men has become such a passion.
Matt’s website – https://www.fitterconfidentyou.net/onlinetraining
Please can you tell us about your family background?
I grew up in the 80s in the Midlands with a loving, stable family. Dad was a dentist, mum helped out in the surgery. I went to school five minutes away. I have two older sisters and from how I remember it was almost idyllic, well maybe not quite. Growing up on farm as well there was loads of space and animals and you could run around the buildings and the fields and I have very happy memories of my family plus we were comfortable enough to go on a few holidays a year, which obviously is a great thing, because it just shows you a bit more of the world from an early age. Overall, I had a very happy family life growing up.
Do you think coming from a more conservative family made it more difficult to come to terms with your sexuality?
I don’t think you could correlate it directly. I don’t think I could say because of X it made it directly more difficult to come to terms with being gay. But as one of the variables, yes, having a bit more of a conservative family. Also, I went to an old private school, so that was obviously that thing of old boys, old guard style of establishment, not like Eton and Harrow level but it was a 400-year old private school. So, there are I guess there were institutions within it, in terms of things like ‘it’s rugby and everyone plays rugby’ and that was very not me.
I don’t remember specific homophobic.outbursts from family as such, I guess the occasional jibe at school, but I didn’t know I was gay then, I definitely didn’t, not to the extent of putting a label on it. Maybe I knew I was different in some way, but it was impossible to know what that meant, certainly from a young age.
You came out relatively late, why do you think this was? what was the turning point?
Partly I was just a late developer, physically, emotionally, mentally and also there was the whole ‘I’m going to pretend that I’m not gay for as long as possible, for as long as humanly possible’ and try and date girls and things like that and just ignore it but then obviously it just comes to a head. And in fact, I guess the turning point was moving to London because I’d been at University away and then come home and then realized that I wanted to leave my small town and my sisters were both living in London and I just needed to see a bit more of what life had to offer.
Another turning point was from being around other gay people and just using forums as we used to do in the early 2000s online, to find your tribe and realize that you’re not alone and you’re not weird and it’s just that you are gay and yes we are different to straight people, but not a bad different. You’re just different.
What were your early relationships like? Did they help you build your identity as a gay man?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know about identity. My first proper relationship was actually really lovely, and we were together for about 18 months, 2004-2005 and by amazing coincidence I hadn’t seen him for 15 years since we split up, which was amicably, and then I bumped into him recently at a Park Run, which was really nice. The funny thing is if you had asked beforehand ‘how did it feel to bump into your first boyfriend after so long?’ I might have said ‘oh maybe a bit weird’, but actually in real life it was just lovely. We had a nice chat. He looked well, it was great. It was just a nice reminder of a time. He was also sort of going through the early stages of coming out and coming to terms, so we were kind of there for each other, we understood what the other was going through as well. So, it did it help my identity? I don’t know, I guess everything changes and impacts your identity at a certain level.
You originally had a career in marketing, how do you think that has informed your movement into the fitness industry?
I fell into marketing because at school I remember being told in Business Studies that I’d be good at marketing. So always in my head that was the sort of the career that I had in mind. So, I tried it and was OK at it. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it particularly, but one of the companies I worked for six years, I loved the company and I loved the people. The work most of the time was quite good. So, there was nothing really pushing me away from it because I liked it there. I was paid Ok too, I’d been promoted a few times and had nice people around me. So weren’t any push factors, but there were pull factors to get me into fitness, but definitely things I learned in those sort of nine odd years of being in marketing would have helped me in transition into any career that I would have chosen next.
It taught me a lot in terms of client management, looking after my clients, client retention and just trying to ensure everything I do is of a high level, which obviously it isn’t always, because that’s life! But I try to make sure that people have a great experience working with me and I encourage them to see the bigger picture, why they’re doing it and to focus on the good stuff they will gain as opposed to the bad stuff they will leave behind.
I do a bit of copywriting for the Website, layout and design, I’m not a designer but I think I know what looks good. But in terms of specific marketing, I’ve learned a lot on the go, because you have to and I’ve even done a specific course about becoming an online trainer, which was great and helped me understand who I wanted to work with and why, and just take it from there.
how did you get into personal training as a career?
In my 20s I wasn’t that fit and healthy, and I started going to the gym because in the marketing agency I was working for we got discounted membership to a really great gym. So, I joined that and then had a few PT sessions with a PT and just started to enjoy it, my body was changing, getting stronger and fitter. I’d run a bit before and done a few triathlons, but fitness still wasn’t a major part of my life, but work at that agency became so busy that I couldn’t go to the gym in my lunch break and I didn’t have time before or after work, I was sleeping worse. And so it just sort of hit me as a lightning bolt one day ‘Why don’t you look into being a PT’ ‘maybe that would be good because that way you could you still get to mix people and you get to improve your fitness at the same time’. So, I did that without really telling anyone, certainly no one at work and just my then-boyfriend and my parents who were very against it, but I understand why, it was fear-based. Why would you give up a sensible career, a corporate career, to go and do something self-employed? But they understand now why I had to do it.
How did I get into a personal training career, just doing the exams, and studying those on the side, realizing that I liked it and the more I did it, the more I loved it, understanding how the body worked, how it all goes together, how there’s a holistic approach, to bring in the mental health side in and just wanting to step out of the 9-5 office life as well. So that was a bit of a push factor towards the end as well.
Your work as a personal trainer has largely been outside of gyms – do you think part of this is because of you being gay and it being less of a comfortable environment for gay men?
No, not me personally. When I became a PT I worked in the parks in London, for about five and a half to six years. That was because I didn’t want to work in a gym because you either get paid peanuts or you have to rent their space each month, for like a grand, and then you don’t make anything until you’ve made that grand back each month. So it was pretty much purely a financial decision as to why I worked in the park where there were fewer overheads, but this is one of the things that I hear a lot with new clients saying they just don’t feel comfortable in the gym and I have been there.
Years ago in my 20s I remember walking into a gym or any gym and just not quite knowing what to do. Thinking people are looking at me and getting on the treadmill and going home after 20 minutes and that’s obviously not a great use of your membership. So, I understand fully the whole ‘not being comfortable in the gym’ and this is something that some straight trainers get, but not all of them. Not every straight trainer is going to have the empathy, to be able to understand why that is a thing for some gay, bi or trans men and I’ve even had a straight guy say to me ‘.Oh, but surely it’s the perfect environment for gay guys’. ‘Don’t understand why they’re not happy there.’ That hits the nail on the head, you don’t understand it, because you haven’t lived it and you can’t empathize. That’s why I include options for home workouts, if people ever want to work with me, but don’t want to have a gym membership and that’s OK.
How did Fitter Confident You come about?
Three years or so ago I had seen the rise of some online trainers like Joe Wicks, Kayla Itsines, James Smith (more recently), all doing online training and really breaking through and so they all did a great job bringing the concept to market. With my face to face training I was really busy, and I was only able to help as many people as the work hours in the day. So, I wasn’t changing the world in terms of number of people I was reaching and helping. I just looked at the online things that were out there and thought maybe I can do better than that, I could personalize the plans more, I could offer more support and I can even include elements to support mental health and confidence as well. So that was the starting point.
Also going on Twitter a few years ago and seeing and realizing the extent of how many gay, bi and trans guys were unhappy with themselves, their bodies, their community and I knew I could pass on the benefits of a bit of self-care, in the form of some exercise, maybe some meditation, maybe a bit of knowledge about nutrition as well and just wanting to be able to do something to just help that and help people feel a bit better in their own skin. So that was the starting point and it sort of just evolved from there.
You have chosen a niche within the industry? can you explain the boundaries and your reasoning around this
This goes back to a marketing point, that if you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one because you don’t have a specialism and you sort of fall through the cracks and that was my approach when I was a face-to-face trainer and I met and worked with some amazing lovely people who I’m still in touch with. However, when you dial into a niche and have a specialism It just becomes a bit more apparent who you’re for, who you’re designed to work with and who’s going to benefit most from working with you.
Why do you think it is important for gay men to have a resource such as Fitter Confident You?
Because we haven’t really before I think. I created a free group as well because I was looking for somewhere like that a few years ago, a free online group for gay, bi and trans guys to talk health, fitness and mindset and LGBTQ stuff in a safe space and it didn’t seem to exist. So, I was like, I’m going to start a group and now two and a bit years later we’ve got 3,000 members which kind of blows my mind. It’s not a dating site, it’s about empowering and uplifting us all. One of my favourite phrases is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that’s kind of the point of the resource, of Fitter Confident You, what I do with the training and with the free group, it’s there to just lift us all up and inspire and encourage everyone when people get involved with me, even if they just are in the group or even just seeing tweets or content. You don’t have to work with me to benefit from this.
Also, I guess, in this I don’t want to make it sound like the world is getting worse and worse. But in this increasingly divided world just having a nice safe space to be you and talk about and raise concerns and fears and ask questions in a forum away from judgment. I think is important and just a nice thing for us to be able to have.
In a PC world is it difficult to deal with any challenges around the membership of Fitter Confident You?
I get all sorts of comments on my adverts and content and there are some nice things as well, so thank you everyone who’s ever commented on it in a nice way. But there are straight guys who either hilariously tag their friends and say ‘oh you need some training because it’s hilarious to be gay isn’t it’ or I get straight guys saying ‘if I did PT saying if I did training just for straight guys, I would get shot’ and I always say it’s not just for gay, bi and trans guys but it’s been tailored for them so they’ll have a better experience. I do work with straight guys and lesbians and straight women as well. I have just tailored the program. It’s not I turn people away based on their sexuality and I also get gay guys who say things like, ‘oh, we’re no different. I don’t want to be separated, why do I need separate training’ and answer is you don’t, you just might get a bit more from this and I always make it clear the workout, nutrition etc are from my very back-to-basics science approach, so the physical elements would be the same for anyone just tailored to people’s requirements, and that it’s the other elements – the support, the empathy, the mental health stuff, the confidence – they are the bits that are more tailored for the LGBT community.
Thinking about your online persona – how carefully is this crafted?
Well, I always try to be a bit like a Labrador. Obviously, I have my downs as well. But I’ve tried to represent that online as well. Pretty much what you see is what you get. I am this upbeat because I think I’ve worked on myself and I’ve worked on how I want to be and of course there are downs and I have low energy and moods like anyone but I think because I’ve got good at looking after myself I’m good at managing my energy levels, my time, my stress. I look after myself. I don’t get ill very often but obviously I also don’t work in a 9-5 and I don’t take the tube every day so I don’t mix with as many people, which obviously helps reduce the risk of things like infection.
I’ve manoeuvred my work into giving me this time to do what I want which has been amazing. That’s a big lie they tell you when you become a personal trainer, a face-to-face trainer. You have to work mornings evenings and weekends because that’s when everyone else wants to train with you. So, it’s not until I transitioned fully into being an online trainer that I did have the freedom and flexibility to run the business and to have run my day how I wanted. I’ve diverged but my online persona is pretty similar to real life me which as you’ve met me in hopefully you can vouch for! (I very much can).
How important is mental wellbeing in the work you do?
It’s critical. I always talk about developing and looking after the inner you, as well as the outer you and it doesn’t even need to be in the form of a specific mental workout. For me building strength of body had a direct knock onto building strength of mind, but that isn’t enough. A part of what I do with my clients is coach them along the way because so many people come to me and will say if it doesn’t go right ‘I’ve failed it’s not going right or I am so far behind’ and I’m always trying to just gently encourage them to see that there is no behind and there is no failure. There’s just testing and learning, modifying to see what works, see what works best and moving on and adapting as you go. There’s not a rigid fixed way of doing it and I think that’s why it works so well because it’s not like a diet with a capital D.
I sell a 12 week and an 8 week program, but that’s because I have to package them up. So, people understand what they’re getting into. I couldn’t just sell a ‘work with me ongoing’ but they don’t just stop working after 8 or 12 weeks this because my approach is all about sensible lifestyle changes and easy to understand and stick to workouts. If you can get into a good groove of physical workouts, the mental benefits will often follow but obviously there’s no guarantees cos there is often crap going on in people’s lives and things that you can’t account for but some kind of commitment to self-care will always benefit the inner and the outer you at the same time.
Do you think there is pressure on gay men to be a certain body type – do you see it? do you feel it yourself?
Good big question. Yes, I do, and it’s mostly implied I feel as opposed to explicitly said. Still every Club poster has a really buff guy on it and obviously it’s a really thorny issue and there’s nothing wrong with some kind of aspiration, to wanting to better yourself in some regard but there’s a lot of pressure, implied pressure that you need to look this way or that way and that’s why I never talk about appearance in anything that I do and it’s also why I made a conscious decision not to use any of my body shots anymore. So, people know I’ve got a body is it good? Is it bad? It’s just a body. I’ve worked on it a bit longer because it’s my career and the industry I’m in, but you don’t need to see my nipples. From about a couple of months ago I decided to always be clothed because the last thing you need is someone else putting pressure on, even just sort of subconscious pressure on people. Everything I do I want it to be inspiring and to feel all inclusive.
The one thing I would say is, I’m not on any of the apps but I see a screengrab sometimes and people saying ‘oh this guy fat shamed me or was mean to me or said I wasn’t his type’ and then they say, ‘oh this communities got so much work to do. I blame the community’ and I think that’s a dangerous thing because it isn’t the community. It was just that one guy and I think when you write off all of us, we write off all of us at once. That’s when people sort of internalize that. It’s the easy answer but it’s the truth is that it was only that one person there and then, and maybe they were having a bad day, they were feeling mean, someone had hurt them. I’m not excusing anyone who’s mean to you but writing it off as the whole Community isn’t the answer and isn’t the truth.
So, do I think the pressure on gay men to be a certain body type? a bit. Do I feel it myself? No, and again, that’s partly because I’ve worked on myself for so long. I don’t mean physically. I mean just worked on the whole all of me. This is something else I always encourage people to do work on just getting to the point where you enjoy the process of working out and self-care and meditation and knowing what’s in your food because then it doesn’t matter what happens. If stuff does happen like your body changes or you sleep better or your clothes fit differently or your sex drive goes up that’s all a bonus but I never work out for any type of goal anymore. I do it because I enjoy the process and it’s just made the biggest difference because there’s no pressure and if stuff happens great and if it doesn’t I don’t really care because I haven’t expected it. If you expect things, you will always going to be let down, so that’s with friends and real life and everything, but and I’m big on that just sort of not expecting stuff because then I guess it’s kind of a pessimist is never disappointed but it’s ultimately true.
How can gay men deal with the wealth of imagery on social media.
Well know that it’s false, I guess don’t buy into it by believing that everyone looks like that or everyone has to be because they don’t and we don’t. Maybe just having a phrase, I sometimes say to myself ‘that’s not real’ and just sort of knowing when you see something online for whatever reason whether it’s just a friend of yours who’s put a filter on the selfie or whether it’s a really sculpted posed fitness model or whatever. It’s not real because the point is to get to that level of fitness and the body shape that fitness model has starved themselves and worked out ridiculously and not drunk water and done all these different ridiculous things and it’s only probably for the photoshoot that they look like that and then three days later, they don’t look like that. So, just know that and write on your wrist or have it tattooed on your wrist, that’s not real and look at it every day, every week just before you go on the internet. I think that’s one of the best ways to laugh at it almost and go it’s just ridiculous and it’s not real.
Do you think there was a conflict in having to use social media to promote your business where online activity can often be negative and predicated on gaining the approval of others
Yes, so this comes back to what I already mentioned about. Should I use topless pictures of me to promote my business? and I did, on and off, originally because my theory was I needed to show some level of aspiration, so people know what they’re working to and also prove that I know what I’m doing, but now I think that’s bullshit.
In November last year I was a bit low energy, bit low mood, business wasn’t as good, so not engaging with as many clients and it sort of had a downward spiral effect. So I did a 3 day digital detox, which always makes such a difference, so I deleted all the social media apps on my phone and just did everything at arm’s length and that made such a difference. I started sleeping a bit better again and realising I had the awareness that I was overly relying on just mindlessly scrolling on social media, which is what the social media apps want you to do. They are designed to suck you in, so you lose hours and hours.
Back to the question about if there is a conflict using social media. No, because I think as long as you know that it’s not real and you do it for a good motive, which is where I come from in terms of giving people useful content, answering questions that people ask me, hopefully inspiring in some way, just to get people to look after themselves, however, that suits them. I think as long as you’ve come at it from a positive point of view, I think there isn’t a conflict.
You aim your business more at the older gay man. do you think there is a difference in the attitudes and opportunities to sexuality for the different generations – is there more pressure on younger people
Probably, is my answer. Not being a 20 year old on Grindr, I don’t know. Is there a difference in the attitudes? Yes, because while we’re definitely equal on paper we’re definitely not equal in real life. And obviously young people can’t avoid the fact that there is still homophobia and the horrible attacks and awful things like that. The older gay guys grew up when it was societally ingrained even in the law with Section 28 and the non-promotion of homosexuality in schools, and also the media thinking I was okay to write about the ‘EastEnders poofs’ having a kiss and stuff like that. So, the opportunities for gay men in the 80s and 90s to absorb more negativity about who they were was much greater.
I think all of us have internalized homophobia to a certain extent, for example in Australia recently, the whole country, had a vote on whether gay people should be able to get married. Like how can you not feel undermined by that, even subconsciously on some level and that ‘Barbara from the Outback’ has decided that we shouldn’t have gay marriage? Okay. Thanks Barbara.
Are you concerned about the growth in eating disorders in men
Yes, very and I guess it’s all comes back to image and body image and how we feel about ourselves and what we feel we need to do. In the last year I’ve worked with a few more guys who’ve had either bulimia or anorexia and it’s so sad how people have ended up in that situation, but I always make it clear I don’t have specific training in this area, so generally it’s people who are sort of through the other side of the worst of it and are working on it and who still have support elsewhere. I am concerned about it, my program isn’t about a diet or starving yourself or giving up anything like your favourite foods. If you do that, if you deny people things, then it lasts a week or two and then they’ll swing back the other way and binge on biscuits again, so if you give people a middle path to work with some flexible parameters either side, it just makes it so much easier and means that nothing’s ever off limits. I found it helps people with their emotional eating as well as opposed to saying no, you say okay and just work with it and sort of have that awareness that’s always key.
With your own image – how carefully is it curated and effected by your business persona
I kind of touched on that earlier. It’s very similar. I wear my heart on my sleeve. When I was feeling low for a few weeks in November I talked about that in the Group and people were very grateful that I did. I think more PT’s could be honest about their emotions because there are so many who are like #lovemylife #lovemyjob. And I just think, you don’t love your life the whole the time, you don’t love your job all the time. There’s shit you go through and stuff you deal with and just that comes down to that whole Instagram culture of ‘everything’s perfect’. ‘I’m on holiday everyday’, ‘look at me with my friends’ and just I think it’s healthier to show a bit of balance.
Generally, and genuinely I am this upbeat and I know you can’t always choose how to be and obviously I know and fully appreciate that there are things like depression, physical diseases and chemical imbalances that you have no control over. What I’m saying is if I am in a more day-to-day state of mind I can sort of choose how I respond to things, I can choose not to take things personally, I can choose to be a bit more upbeat if I want to and obviously if I want to mope, that’s cool. And that’s part of being alive and being a human and having this gamut of emotions where you can which swing between up and down but generally, because I’m doing what I love and I’m super proud of it and I love being able to work with so many awesome guys, I am up. I’m mostly an extrovert so I feed off other people’s energies. So, having chats with my clients daily, hearing how it’s going with them, really lift me up at the same time, which I’m always so grateful for.
Is there a darker side of Matt
Don’t really think so. Like I’ve got a sometimes have a dark sense of humor. And I think that’s probably my outlet but equally I do a lot of fitness, so that sort helps to get tension and stress out. Don’t look in my cellar. (I don’t have a cellar).
No, I mean there is light and dark shade sides of everyone. I occasionally I get anxiety. So, not dark but I guess it’s dark for me. Sometimes I think I was brought up to be a people pleaser and I really still adhere to that. So when people aren’t happy with what I’ve done, I want to sort it out and it always makes me stressed and anxious and I just want to some people to be happy. If people don’t want to work with me. That’s cool. I want them to go off and find someone else who does lift them up and help them look after themselves. So, I would rather have an honest discussion with someone or someone considering working with me just because it has to be right for them and has to be right for me. And I’ve said ‘no’ to people sometimes because of their situation or what they’re asking for. It’s just better for everyone to say no from the start, than to say yes and not be sure about it and then it does not work out.
Are you comfortable with your sexuality now and does this inform your relationship
Yes. I’m very comfortable now, I guess the thing is though, as gay men there’s a National Coming Out day, but ultimately for us every day is National Coming Out day because you’re always having to do so if you mention a partner or a boyfriend or a life partner or whatever, you’re always having to come out and there’s always that ‘am I safe here. Is this a safe environment for me to do so’, so that’s the one element that I think we all unfortunately have to deal with that. I have a lovely supportive group of friends and boyfriend of five and a half years and I’m very comfortable being gay and I’m very proud and that’s why I’m happy to stick my neck out and do this and sort of be even more public with what I’m doing, film hopefully supportive videos and useful content to inspire and help people realize that it’s okay. Does it inform my relationship? I don’t know. What I just try to do is live truthfully and openly. My boyfriend never wants to hold hands in public and I do but I obviously I have to respect his wishes, which is fine. Ultimately yeah. I am and my family are very supportive now.
What would you change about yourself if you could
I was gonna say be better with figures and details, but I’m actually working on that at the moment with a coach. So I’m trying to improve that and just sort of realize it’s okay to go into detail about numbers and figures and even like managing the money side of my business which as a one-man band doing everything, doing the programs, the advertising, the content, the admin, the finance – there’s a lot to manage but I love it and I’m grateful that there is a lot to manage as well. So, I get help when I can in the form of coaches and tutors and things like that to keep me accountable and keep me on track.
About my body or personality – there’s nothing I want to change I got to a point where I love myself and I’m really grateful that I can say that as well.