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I rediscovered passion in the slow burn of failure

By Mona Ombogo | July 17th 2019

“Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. I sold my businesses, moved upcountry and took a year out in 2012,” says certified personal trainer Philip Namasaka.

“When I came back to Nairobi, I finally got the courage to follow my dream for fitness.”

In 2016, after 12 years of pursuing a multitude of ventures, Philip, 41, opened the doors to his true passion, Feel Fitness Centre. He did it with his partner Cathy Kilonzo, who’s also a certified trainer and the originator of Afrobics, an African dance-based fitness programme.

Feel Fitness Centre focuses on using space, movement, resistance and body weight to help everyday people find optimum fitness, while also improving their health.

Their clientele ranges from those as young as six to those over 60, because they believe it’s never too early to get moving or too late to get in shape.

Philip shares his journey with Hustle.

There are several fitness outfits in Nairobi today. What makes you different from the rest?

Typical gyms can be intimidating. You walk in and see all this equipment that many people aren’t sure what to do with. At Feel Fitness, we use simple methods that people can emulate anywhere, even in their homes or when they travel.

What inspired you to start Feel Fitness?

I played rugby in high school. I was good at it, so my plan was to enrol in the military and play for their team, especially because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my higher education.

Unfortunately, I got an injury two weeks before the military rugby team tryouts. I couldn’t go back home to my parents, so I decided to sell clothes for a living.

I did this for seven years successfully, but somewhere at the back of my mind, fitness remained my passion. I just hadn’t figured out how to live off it.

What was your turning point?

It was a blessing in disguise because my business started struggling. I expanded too fast, opening a branch in Nairobi’s Westlands.

That branch failed, so I sold it and opened a food stall near my original clothing business in Nairobi West.

After a year, I realised it was taking too much effort to make too little money.

Every day I’d invest Sh8,000 to Sh10,000, and only make back Sh2,000 after expenses.

My businesses struggling coincided with a long-term relationship falling apart and I thought I needed a change.

I sold the food stall for Sh100,000 and the clothing business for Sh300,000, took the money and went to live upcountry. For one year, I ran a kitchen in my brother’s resort in Mumias, just trying to figure my life out.

How did you know it was time to come back?

I felt like my mind was stagnating, but more importantly, away from the noise, I realised the one thing I had never stopped loving was fitness. When I got back to Nairobi, I invested in a trainer course with the American Council of Exercise, which gives you credentials to be an internationally recognised fitness trainer.

After I completed the course, I enrolled at Kenyatta University for an undergraduate degree in sports science. I was 15 years late, so to speak, but it didn’t matter because, finally, I was answering my true calling.

Why did you opt to start your own business as opposed to work in an established gym?

I worked freelance for a while, making fairly decent money. I would charge Sh3,000 per session and typically took clients through 12 sessions.

I targeted couples because most of them liked to work out together, so in one hour, instead of seeing one client, I’d see two.

These sessions brought in Sh30,000 a month and I had three consistent couples.

I found, though, that sometimes they’d ask me to train them at their gyms, so they’d be paying me the Sh30,000 on top of a Sh10,000 gym membership. So I thought, why not open my own space to save clients’ money and capitalise on the revenue.

My partner, Cathy, and I were also looking for a space to film some of our work but struggled to find anything suitable. We knew then we had to create our own space to showcase our product.

What was your start-up capital?

Sh2.5 million, most of which went towards renovating our premises just off Thika Road, and buying equipment. Six months ago, we opened for business.

What are your charges?

Our membership fee is Sh7,000 per month, but we offer a discounted cost of Sh6,000 for the first month of membership to allow clients to get a feel of the place.

Our daily rate for classes is Sh500 per session. We also offer personal training at Sh3,000 per session.

Personal training is specialised, sometimes incorporating a physiotherapist because some of our clients have specific medical conditions or are referred by doctors for rehabilitation. Our services also include a nutritionist at an extra cost.

Take us through your programmes.

The very first thing we do when a client walks in is give them a fitness assessment. This is crucial because until we know your goals and current fitness or health condition, we can’t offer a package that’s effective.

Once we complete the assessment, we create a timeline-based fitness regime that’s then evaluated every three months.

The regime depends on a client’s preferences because we have several programmes. On Mondays, we do Body Combat, which is a mix of choreographed kickboxing and boxing moves. It is similar to Taebo, but was founded by a South African called Les Miles.

On Tuesdays, we do circuit training. This is a full-body workout using resistance bands, weights and cardio. A person works out all body groups by moving through different stations set up by different trainers.

Each station tackles one body group and lasts approximately 10 minutes before you rotate out. The entire circuit takes an hour.

We do rhumba on Wednesdays, aerobics and toning (aerotone) on Thursdays and on Fridays we do Afrobics.

Afrobics is a product specific to Feel Fitness, how did it come about?

My partner and co-founder Cathy loves dancing. She’s danced professionally for close to 20 years. When she got interested in fitness training, she was looking for a way to put her two passions together.

She came up with Afrobics, which is using choreographed African dance movements to the beat of African drums as a way of keeping fit. It’s highly popular because very few people, if any, are doing it. It’s like an African version of zumba.

Like zumba, can it be accessed outside of your fitness centre?

We’re working with a production company to shoot sessions and then do tours to promote it. We think it’s something that will be well received because it’s different.

Outside of South Africa, it’s very hard to find a fitness regime that celebrates being African, using African moves and African music. This is the space we want Afrobics to take.

What advice would you give anybody trying to improve their fitness routine?

Start where you are. Too many trainers push people too hard, which makes them quit or get injured. Fitness is a journey, not a sprint.

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