ATLETA Fitness

Spotlight on: The Atleta Team

An interview with Neil Russell, ATLETA founder and VIP trainer.


ATLETA Social Media and Online Content Manager Catie Kerris catches up with Neil Russell to gain some insight into what has shaped him as a trainer, the future of his company and what he really thinks about Crossfit.

Neil Sitting

What inspired you to start Atleta?

I started ATLETA when I was working as a strength and conditioning coach for the Parramatta Eels, in exercise rehabilitation and personal training. I had noticed the contrast between the level of service that was provided to professional athletes versus everyone else; the difference was night and day. Professional athletes have the best trainers, nutritionists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and massage therapists all working as a team to ensure every athlete achieve their goals. I believe everyone’s health and fitness goals are equally important, so I created ATLETA. I wanted to build a company that had all the best exercise and health professionals working together to deliver the highest level of health and performance training to positive minded and driven clientele.

What has changed in the fitness industry since you started the company in 2006, and how have you adapted?

When I first began personal training in 2001, it was something that only the rich and famous had access to, everyone else just went to the gym. These days personal training is something that most people can have access to in one form or another. Outdoor group fitness has also taken off, small boutique studios have popped up in every suburb and people are starting to move away from the big gyms.

What is the biggest thing that you believe separates you from the growing number of personal training companies in Sydney?

We are the only company that has a team resembling that of an elite sports academy. All of our trainers have university degrees in Exercise & Sports Science and years of experience in different areas of the industry. Some of our team members have been strength and conditioning coaches with elite sporting teams, others taught at universities and colleges and some have been published in journals and magazines. The other major point of difference is that we all work closely with other allied health professionals when necessary to deliver the best holistic service in Sydney.

So what exactly is the difference between a personal trainer and an exercise physiologist?

In order to become certified, Cert. 4 Personal Trainers only need to complete a four week training course that can be delivered completely online. Exercise Scientists and Physiologists must complete a 3 year, full time Exercise and Sports Science university degree whilst also obtaining specific practical experience with different populations and meeting various training requirements. Exercise Scientists and Physiologists must learn to examine the latest scientific research and extract the relevant information for their clients; Cert. 4 Personal Trainers have not been trained to do this, instead they accept the information that is presented to them regardless of the source. In my opinion, an Exercise Scientist is a professional, an Exercise Physiologist is an expert, a Cert. 4 Personal Trainer is merely an exercise enthusiast at best.

Give us a glimpse of the day in the life of Neil Russell.

That’s secret (laughs)… just joking. I spend my early mornings getting results for people that I care about, afterwards I train myself by running, lifting weights or doing yoga. In the afternoons I work on business development and write health and fitness articles for different publications, including Weight Watchers, and then somewhere in between I usually manage to squeeze in a surf.

What is your personal favourite form of exercise?

Surfing! Though I don’t really consider it “training”. I love training when I have a specific goal in mind, I find it difficult to train hard just for the sake of it since I am already extremely active on a daily basis. There have been periods when I’m all about strength and hypertrophy training, then sometimes I completely focus on performance running. Right now core development, muscular strength and endurance are my main focus, but the running season is fast approaching, so look out!

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Crossfit seems to be a hot topic in the fitness industry at the moment; can you weigh in on the big debate?

Well look, you can research it for yourself. You only need to complete a two day Crossfit course to become a Level 1 Crossfit instructor, which is less than a Cert. 3 or 4…. In my opinion that’s pretty ridiculous. My major issue is with Crossfit Olympic Lifting and Power Lifting protocols, performing these types of lifts at a high volume or under fatigue is contraindicated and straight up dangerous. If you understand the way muscles contract, the effect fatigue and high intensity exercise have on muscular contractions, combined with the complexity of Olympic and Power Lifting, you would strongly recommend against anyone performing in Crossfit competitions and training protocols. Furthermore, implementing these programs to general populations for general heath, fitness and body shaping is no less than reckless. It’s not all bad, there are some great people who do Crossfit and they build amazing community with a positive atmosphere, but I can’t get past the training protocols, it’s just too dangerous….sorry guys.

Where do you see the company heading towards in the future?

Our main goal is to continue providing a premium service to Sydney’s elite. I hope to slowly and organically expand the team in order to cover a few additional areas in the health and fitness industry. I’m really excited about developing our group training classes that are run exclusively by Exercise Scientists. These classes allow affordable access to professional, university qualified and highly experienced trainers. We will also be looking at developing some sport specific programs and exercise rehabilitation services to medical centers. We have lots of stuff in the works and I can’t give everything away, so you’ll just have to stay tuned.

If you could offer only one piece of health and fitness advice to everyone reading this, what would it be?

Set goals, keep it simple and balanced, eat whole foods and do some exercise. If you need assistance, seek the best professional advice available to you and never settle on anything less. You’ve only got one life and one body, treat it as such!

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