Marvin Ambrosius is living proof that men CAN multi-task. Perhaps more to the point, Marvin’s story is one of highs and lows, but where rediscovering exercise made a huge difference. Here, he talks about his past struggles with obesity, what exercise means for our mental health, why Instagram isn’t real life, and how we can all take steps to improve our wellbeing.
A personal trainer, fitness instructor, TV presenter, podcast host, public speaker, entrepreneur and CEO, Marvin has also played basketball for England and enjoyed success as a singer-songwriter. Now, he’s embarked on (yet another!) new venture, this time in partnership with us at BuddyBoost, allowing him to pursue his passion for helping people get a little bit better both physically and mentally.
You’re a personal trainer, but you had quite an unusual route into the industry. Could you explain how you got into fitness?
It actually stems from working 12-hour shifts in marketing and sales. With that kind of shift pattern, I couldn’t really find time to exercise. And with that kind of job, I pretty much snacked all the time, so for that reason my weight was always up and down. I found it really difficult to regulate my weight, and I got up to 18-and-a-half stone. So I decided to carve out 25 minutes at a time in the gym on my lunch break. After going for about three months, and changing some aspects of my diet, I ended up losing around five-stone. And while I was doing it, I developed short-burst workouts, because my lunchbreaks got shorter, because I had a new role. So I started to do these really high intensity five-minute workouts, and that allowed me to maintain my fitness and keep losing weight. So that’s pretty much how it started. I developed a passion for it, I really wanted to help other people who had the same problem as me. So I started giving people advice, and then I took it further and decided to study, and I went and got my qualifications and became a personal trainer.
Were you daunted by the idea of getting fit when you started out?
Not really. I’ve struggled to maintain a steady weight for my whole life – I’ve got an over-reactive body. If I work out, I get the result I want, but if I don’t eat healthily and work out, I go completely the opposite way. When I was young, I played basketball at professional level until I was 19, I played for England for five years. And I got injured a lot, and every single time I got injured, I’d put on about two-stone. And everyone would wonder, when I got back to training, how I’d managed to put so much weight on. It wasn’t because I was over-eating, it’s just that my body holds on to food! If I’m not active, my body doesn’t like it. So I’d always been like that, so I knew what I had to do to get back in shape.
Were you surprised by how much exercise affected your mood?
I was very surprised. I was genuinely in a much better mood all the time. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening, which was the endorphin release that I was getting. And the time in the day that I was exercising was key. I was exercising in the middle of the day, when your mood usually dips and you start to get tired. So the endorphin release that I got from that would get me hyped for the rest of the day, and by the time my body was tired, it was bed time, so I got optimal sleep. And we know that optimal sleep and exercise, as well as eating well, are really key to wellbeing.
What made you want to get into personal training?
The main thing was that I enjoyed teaching classes. I loved the atmosphere of the classes. I come from a performance background – I was a singer-songwriter for years, and I love the stage. When I was teaching classes, it was the closest thing I could do to being on a stage, but the difference with this stage was that people weren’t watching me to be entertained, they were watching me to learn, and to get fit and feel better. And it was a different buzz that I got from that, and it was really lovely to be able to help people in some capacity.
You created a fitness programme called Fit in 5. Could you explain the concept behind it?
The concept came about because all I kept hearing from people, especially my wife, was that they didn’t have enough time to exercise. And I thought “We’ve all got time to exercise, we just don’t know what to do in the time we have.” And I figured that exercising for five minutes every day was better than doing nothing. And once you’ve started doing five minutes exercise every day, psychologically you want to do more. If you can get people to exercise for those five minutes, and they start to get better at it, they’ll want to push themselves further. They’ll say to themselves “I’m feeling much better than the last time I did this, so I’ll do another one.” That’s exactly what ended up happening, and people started exercising more, moving on to 20 minutes and then 30 minutes. That’s when I knew it was a success.
So Fit in 5 is a sort of gateway into fitness?
Exactly. It’s just the starting point.
You’re now the face of BuddyBoost’s Wellbeing and Active programmes. What’s the idea behind them?
The idea is to reach people working in the sort of environment that I used to be in, people who are working, and who don’t have the tools or the knowhow or the motivation to do what they need to do look after their personal, physical and mental wellbeing. They give you the tools to help you, and articles and workouts, and daily challenges, so you can use it every day to help you through the day, find time to exercise, and take time for your mental health.
What made you want to get involved?
I partnered with them because they have the same values and outlook that I have. We all want to become better versions of ourselves, and they give people the tools to do that. It really spoke to me personally. It made me reflect on when I was 18-and-a-half stone and how I felt really bad. It took me around a year to figure out what I needed to do to feel better about myself and to get up and do something. BuddyBoost is an immediate tool that will allow you to take steps on that journey, and make you feel good about yourself. There are going to be pitfalls and days that are mentally and physically challenging, but everybody goes through that. This isn’t the Instagram world where we all look great, it’s a world where we all feel the same way and we all want to get there as a team. BuddyBoost not only helps people to look after their wellbeing, but it builds a really great and accepting community at the same time.
Lots of people – probably the ones who would benefit most – will be too intimidated to take on a challenge involving physical activity. What would you say to them?
I’ve given a lot of talks around this subject. What we tend to do is shy away from things that we know are going to be difficult, but the things that are the most difficult are the things that produce the most gains. So I try to tell people that, even if something might be hard, it will be the most rewarding thing they’ll ever do. You might not think it works for you today, but it will influence who you’re going to be tomorrow. Tomorrow comes very fast, and as we get older, we’re combatting things that could possibly hurt us in the future, not just right now.
You don’t have to go nuts and train incredibly hard, do you? BuddyBoost caters for all levels of fitness.
Yeah, it works for every single person, whether they’re starting out for the first time to people who train every single day of the week, there’s something there for everybody. There are challenges you are set to improve on what you’re doing, there’s articles and challenges and exercises to help you do that. It’s a great combination of tools to use.
What’s the ideal amount of activity we should be looking to do?
Half an hour a day. But it can be any exercise, including walking. Walking for half an hour, you’re probably going to do 3500-5000 steps. I was recently working for a company where I was driving to Dorset, and as a result I was only hitting about 4000 steps-a-day. And it made a difference to my body and how I looked, compared to what I was doing before, when I was walking about 12000 steps-a-day. So that’s maybe 900 calories-a-day that I would usually burn that I was no longer burning. That’s why for people who drive a lot for work, like truck drivers, it’s important for them to make time to incorporate some activity into their lives.
How important is the role of buddies in the whole concept?
Very important. Accountability is everything. Personal accountability is very difficult. It can be very difficult to stay motivated, because the best person to make an excuse for you is yourself. You can talk yourself out of anything you want to do that’s difficult. But if you’ve got someone else who’s relying on your active participation, and you don’t want to let that person down, you’re more likely to complete the task. I spoke to somebody the other day, who had been going out on the bike every day with a friend. And they’d just been on holiday for two weeks, and it took them out of their routine. And they said when they’d got back, they probably wouldn’t have got back on the bike, except the other person made them get straight back on the bike, and it became part of their routine again. So it’s about that team aspect, that sense of community. That sense of teamwork helps create positive behavioural change.
Why is training outdoors particularly beneficial?
Training outside is great. Being out in nature, the endorphins you get, you geta release of energy from working outside compared to working out inside. And working out in different environments ultimately helps you mentally. Working out indoors is fine, it’s great, but doing it outside and being around nature gives you a completely different feeling.
Do you have any nutrition tips to combine with exercise?
The best thing I would say is to try and avoid sugar. Not all sugar – sugars in fruit is fine. And try and stay away from processed food. Eat sensibly. I’m the one to say this, because I love bad food, but bad food doesn’t love me. I love burgers, features, that high-fat food. But it’s all about doing everything in moderation. It’s the same with exercise. If you overexercise, you’re going to get injured. It’s the same with everything you do in life. It’s all about moderation, and finding that balance that works for you.
How important is it to vary the kind of exercise you’re doing?
Very important. Every six weeks, you need to change your workout. Your body and your muscles are now completely aware of what you’re doing. That’s where the term muscle-memory comes from. If you’re working out every single day, and you’re doing the same thing every single day, your body will say “Oh, I know exactly what we’re doing, we’re doing this work out, we’re going to burn this many calories.” But if you change it, even by just wearing a weighted vest, your body will then be working harder, and your muscles will be working harder, and your body will be forced to change.
How much do you personally exercise every day?
Sometimes I train twice in one day, but they’re half-hour workouts, because I’m teaching training online. But now that I’m getting older, I tend to miss out a day a week, to give my body a break. But other than that, I’ll do a minimum of half-an-hour-a-day.
Do you notice effects on your mood if you have a period without exercise, like when you were driving to Dorset so much for work?
Yes. When I was doing that, I was tired. I was always tired and sluggish. After a long journey, when you get out of a car, the first thing you want to do is be active, but I was actually more tired from sitting down driving than if I hadn’t been driving at all. And when you’re driving, your brain automatically craves sugar, because sugar is what’s going to keep you awake. So my eating habits and everything went down the drain. It was really easy to say “I’ve got another two-and-a-half hours until I’m home, I’m going to be eating really late, I’ll just get myself a snack.” It’s really important to take ownership at that point and make healthy choices, particularly when you’re not being active.