Fitness power couple Ashleigh Frost and Alex Mateus spoke with anatomē founder Brendan Murdock about their fitness journeys, training schedules and daily routines.
Ashleigh is a dancer from Essex that has performed all over the world with artists like Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Coldplay, Little Mix and many more. Although she fell in love with the fitness scene quite recently, she is a Certified Yoga Instructor and is a Versa-Climber instructor with BXR. Alex is a personal trainer and physiotherapist with a degree in Exercise Nutrition from Plymouth University. He began his career working in a gym and is now a personal trainer and instructor with Barry’s London.
We’re thrilled to welcome them both to our panel of a+ Experts – friends of anatomē who have come on board to further support your wellbeing journey.
Tell me about yourself and where you come from.
Ashleigh: I'm originally from Essex, and I went to a dance college in Cambridge because I was just in love with dancing and performing when I was younger. But I also loved sports as well, and I had to decide whether to go down the sports route or go down the dancing route. So I went to a college in Cambridge, and then from there, I moved to New York.
Did your parents encourage your dancing?
Ashleigh: My mum was all for it. She really could see how much I loved it, and she just could tell that I just wasn't an academic sort of child. I was always putting on little shows and running around.
And how did you end up going to New York?
Ashleigh: I saved up loads of money, and I went out there just to get a little bit more training behind me. But, I ended up getting spotted by an agent out in America who was putting me in front of a few artists.
What kind of dancing did you do?
Ashleigh: I have danced with a lot of artists. I've danced for Beyonce, J Lo, Justin Bieber, La Toya Jackson, Coldplay, Little Mix, that sort of thing. I've done videos, tours, award shows, all those sorts of amazing shows.
What were moments in your career that were landmark, and you just had to freeze to take it in?
Ashleigh: To be honest, I feel like that happened a lot because I did not think that I would be able to have the career I had. I know it sounds silly, but coming from a small little town in Essex, there was no way that I would ever think that I would end up on stage with J Lo. Every single job that I did, I was like, "Whoa, I can't believe I'm here."
One moment where I actually cried on stage was when I performed with Ariana Grande at the NBA All-Star Finals game at Madison Square Garden. It’s such an iconic building, and there were just so many people.
What has dancing brought to you?
Ashleigh: Everything. I've managed to travel most of the world. It was one of my goals to fill up my passport, and I had to get a new passport last year because I filled up every single page.
What were the most memorable places that you've been to?
Ashleigh: I loved Australia. We went to Indonesia, and I loved it, but I didn't get to see much. It's so fun that we get to travel to all these places, but we only see snippets. The inside of the airport, in the arena or the stadium, and then you're back on the plane. So I think I've been to so many places where I just saw snippets.
A dancer's career is a short one. Is that what's led you to a career change?
Ashleigh: Dancing is very short-lived, and I've been in the industry for ten years now. Slowly, your body starts to tell you when it's time. I'm 29, and I think my body was telling me, "Oh, this might be time." So I moved back to England about two years ago and slowly transitioned into fitness.
What do your classes involve?
Ashleigh: Right now, I have a Versaclimber class. It's basically a spin class but on a climbing machine. I really like it because I'm very music-driven and I plan my class around music. When it gets really hard, I try to plan a really good song at the end when everyone wants to quit. My dance background helps with that. Teaching is a little bit like performing. You have to present yourself. As a dancer, I think that switches over.
And what do you hope that your audience takes away?
Ashleigh: I just want them to leave with that massive endorphin kick after you finished working out and just feel good about themselves.
What does a morning routine look like for you?
Ashleigh: A cup of Yorkshire tea straight away.
What are you eating before class?
Ashleigh: Most mornings, I have eggs on toast or eggs in a bagel.
When are you feeling the most energised?
Ashleigh: During and after a class, for sure.
Are you doing your own personal exercise?
Ashleigh: I dance a lot, and I train on my own in a gym, and I do a lot of other classes as well. I go to Barry's or go to other friends' classes, so I'm always active.
Is there a specific type of dance that you enjoy?
Ashleigh: I'm more of a commercial hip-hop dancer.
How do you develop your skills as a dancer?
Ashleigh: Constantly taking classes. There's a lot of dance studios where you can go and train and learn from other professionals. When I was younger, I used to sit and watch tours. I used to watch Janet Jackson's tour. You can learn so much from just watching.
What is your motto in life?
Ashleigh: Just go with the flow and just keep going and going and going. I feel like I've never really had a plan. I’ve just cracked on and done what I wanted to do. I didn't have a plan of action; I just did it and went for it.
Would you give any advice to your younger self?
Ashleigh: I'm really proud of myself and my career. I just try to do it as best as I can and be in that moment, and then if I do look back, I'm like, "Okay, next time." And then I move on.
If you were stuck inside for 24 hours and you're only allowed to bring your favourite album, book and TV show, what would you choose?
Ashleigh: Anything Michael Jackson – I could listen to his stuff all day. For food, does a cup of tea count? And I’d watch any documentary out there.
In the evening, what do you do to destress and decompress leading up to bed?
Ashleigh: I watch a good documentary. I feel like TV makes me switch off. And I’ll probably have a cup of tea in the evening.
Do you ever get a sense of feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and have you developed many coping techniques?
Ashleigh: This year, I've learnt that it's okay to have a day off. In the past ten years, I've really struggled to have time off. I feel guilty for taking a day off. This year, I've had to learn that it's okay to sit down and relax.
In terms of health advice and inspiration, what advice do you give to your clients?
Ashleigh: I always want people to just be in the moment, right now. Many people are stressing about their future, or they're worried about what everyone's been through. I always say in my class, "Be here, right now. Don't be thinking about what you're having for dinner. Don't be thinking about what so-and-so's doing. Just be there." That's one of my biggest things.
How did you meet Alex?
Ashleigh: At work. I work at the front-of-house at Barry's, and then Alex is a trainer there.
Alex, how did you become a trainer in Barry's?
Alex: I went to Plymouth University and studied exercise nutrition, then I graduated and moved to London. I wanted to become a personal trainer from a very young age. I started off working in a gym seven years ago, and then started personal training and slowly started to transition over to group exercise.
I always knew about Barry's because it's such a big global brand, and I just wanted to be a part of it. I waited about a year before I finally sent my application in because, at the time, I didn't think I was good enough. In the end, I went through auditions and secured a job there.
Do you feel you have to adopt different personas for the different environments you're teaching in?
Alex: A lot of people don't realise this, but group exercise is very, very challenging. You have to control 50 people and make sure everyone's doing the exercise correctly, everyone knows what they're doing, and no one will get injured. You need to be a very good personal trainer and build experience first, then learn where you can use your skills to take it to a group environment.
What do you do in advance to prepare and to develop your skills as a trainer?
Alex: A lot goes into a class. It's not just programming your classes, but you're also doing the music and just your whole class planning. They might do the music and programming for you at other studios, but Barry's gives you complete control. So the first thing is setting the vibe and the playlist, not just in terms of what you play but the little things like the volume, the way the music builds up, the way it will drive you. Making sure the program makes sense, it's not too complicated, the crowd feels like they're learning and getting some sort of program where it's not just something random every week.
Then little things like socialising with clients beforehand and getting to know them and having that personal touch with them. When someone trains in the morning, it gets the blood flow going, and it gets their brain working. So clients always say that when they start training with me in the morning, it kind of wakes their mind up. You get a real insight into how a person works.
And yeah, when you start training with somebody, it elevates their heart rate and mood, and they overshare. They tell you about their day; they tell you about their weekend; they tell you about their stresses; they tell you about their highs; they tell you about their lows. You've got to be a very good listener. I feel like that's more of a skill to being a personal trainer, and it's one that most people don't realise when they first get into the industry.
What have you learned most about yourself over the last couple of years?
Alex: That I'm a little bit better than I think I am. I need to be a little more confident and trust my ability. I've learned that a lot.
What's different about you today?
Alex: Confidence in my ability. I know I'm good at what I do. I just need to put myself out there and just keep doing what I'm doing. Before, I would almost be a little bit hard on myself, just because I didn't have experience. That confidence does come with experience.
What would you say to yourself back then?
Alex: I'd say to trust in your own ability. Be a little bit more ballsy. If you feel like doing something, just take a chance and go with it.
What advice do you give to your clients in terms of shaping their diets?
Alex: It's just finding something that you enjoy doing daily because it's about these little daily habits that we try to build. There's no point in doing something you hate every day. You've got to find these little things that you enjoy doing. I'm not going to recommend the same thing to all of my clients. It doesn't work like that.
And what does an average meal for you look like?
Alex: I'll have a cup of tea, just because Ashleigh's having it. Usually eggs and bread in the morning or yoghurt with protein powder. Lunch is pretty much whatever we prepped for last night's meal, like chicken and rice or leftover spag bol, something hearty. And then in the evening, making whatever I fancy. I love cooking now. It’s almost therapeutic for me. I love just downloading a new recipe and just spending 45 minutes to an hour making it. It's quite stress-relieving.
What do you do to destress and decompress?
Alex: Usually just cooking and then watching something on Netflix. I love a good documentary. When I watch TV, I like learning something.
Is there a motto that you live by that you share with clients?
Alex: The thing I like to say to them is the 1% rule; just be a little bit better every day. Whether it's your training or your nutrition or just things you read and absorb, it's just being better every day. It doesn't have to be massive, just 1% every day. Listen a little bit more, train a little bit more. I say to clients, "Don't try and hammer it in two weeks – it’s all about marginal gain." Be a little bit better every day.
Coming out of lockdown, where are you hoping to visit? What are you most excited about doing?
Alex: Probably go to restaurants. We've made a list, and I think we've got a few restaurants we want to tick off. And on holidays, we want to go to Rome and the Philippines.
Is there anything that you want to share about your futures?
Alex: Personally, just making sure that we avoid another lockdown and stay in the studio for as long as possible. For the next few years, I'm going to put my heart and soul into training and build a massive big client following.
What steps would you both give for people coming out of lockdown, wanting to go back to the gyms?
Alex: I've already tried to say to my first classes that the program will be a lot easier than it was before. I'll say at the start, "You're not going to be the same person you were three or four months ago. You're not going to be running the same speeds. You're not going to be lifting the same weight." The first month or two back is about going through the movements, getting the body used to it again, because the days off will feel a lot more painful than they would've three or four months ago. Do what you can. Don't beat yourself up if you're not running the same speeds that you were before or you're lifting a certain weight. Stick it out.
Ashleigh: I'm on very much the same page. I just try to not look at it like, "I can't wait to work up towards what I can do and get better." As Alex said, I'm going to the gym feeling like I'm starting backwards, and I keep reminding myself that I've now got something to work towards. I'm just going to tell people, "Don't look back think 'I used to be able to…’ instead think, "Where can we get to now?"