Chris Feather pulls off the road. He’s driving between Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and has time to talk. Feather is the founder of 98 Gym, a fitness center that has been described as a fitness cult, notorious, exclusive, with seven gyms in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.
For Feather it’s all about hard work and evaluating the numbers. He is unapologetic in his approach to achieving ongoing improvement.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Feather left school to take up a rugby league contract. He played professionally for 11 years, including a stint in France, and on retiring moved across the world to Australia. Feather liked it there and wanted to stay, but needed a job to retain his visa. He needed to be nominated by an Australian employer.
Feather had met actor Russell Crowe and worked on films with him as his personal trainer. Crowe offered Feather the use of his private gym in Sydney and told Feather to come up with a business plan. Feather’s idea was to create a gym that replicated his rugby league training. Rather than being one of the many “fad-type gyms,” Feather wanted a performance-based gym.
In 2010 at 98 Riley Street in Sydney, 98 Gym was born.
Beginning as an invitation-only gym, 98 Gym extended out to be for anyone but “all with common goals, like minded and fully aware of the standard I expect.”
Feather describes “performance-based” as valuing performance over aesthetics. His training philosophy initially was influenced by American gym Gym Jones which focuses on the ability of the mind to push through physical barriers.
“A lot of gyms are about looking a certain way,” says Feather. “This was about training athletes for their sport. If you’re going to spend 45 minutes to an hour in a gym you want to be able to perform. If you want to be the best businessperson in the world then you’d follow that person. With fitness the fittest people are professional athletes, so you follow how they train.”
Feather believes not every gym replicates this because it’s hard.
“You need qualified staff. It’s not an easy option.”
The members at 98 Gym are now a mix. They are generally people that live or work in the area and range from teenagers to people in their 60s as well as some athletes.
“They share the characteristics that they want to be better. They’re held accountable by the numbers.”
This is where the SkiErg, RowErg and BikeErg come into play. They all allow for ease of tracking and analyzing progress with their consistency, standardization and a Performance Monitor recording the numbers.
Programs are designed around time and built around training as a team. “Our members are a diverse group. They have varying fitness levels and therefore produce very different outputs on each machine,” says Feather. So programs use maximum aerobic speed (MAS) to ensure each member receives the same workout. MAS relates to aerobic performance (VO2max) and forms part of the process for developing aerobic capacity. It is expressed as meters per second. The RowErg especially is part of the program. Of the four sessions three are built around the erg. The program follows a 12 week cycle with week 13 used for testing, often with the RowErg or BikeErg.
Feather was introduced to the RowErg when he was playing rugby league. “We had a strength and conditioning coach that was ahead of his time and one thing he implemented was using the rowing machine.” Feather took to it. “I loved the numbers and love that they’re all calibrated the same so no matter where I am the results are comparable.”
“It’s really efficient and a smart way to train. You’re accountable and you’re also scalable across all demographics.”
The results of members are recorded and analyzed to see if they’re improving, and Feather can point to many success stories. “I’ve had people come in who have never been to a gym. They jump in the SkiErg and do 2k in 12 minutes. We get them doing sub eight minutes.”
Then there is former swimmer Kate Hilliard. She came to an open day, joined, and now works for 98 Gym. Hilliard holds numerous SkiErg records including the only woman to go under 7 minutes for 2000 meters. Her world best time is 6:58.9. Hilliard also holds records in the 100m, 500m, 1000m and 1 minute.
“She’s been a real inspiration,” says Feather. “We have a high female client base now and I feel her leading the way on the SkiErg has driven that.”
98 Gym has expanded outside of the gym doors. They have released a capacity-based training app, 98 Training, which is tailored to the individual. It runs on a 12-week block with an exercise physiologist taking daily numbers.
Now, wherever you are, 98 Gym can be with you. Feather says, "The idea is not to be exclusive, it's to be so inclusive we hold everyone to the same high standard."