Ten: How a “happy accident” led to an award-winning health & fitness business

Interview with founder / owner of Ten Health & Fitness, Joanne Mathews

Ten Health & Fitness is celebrating 15 years this year. Cited by publications such as Vogue and Time Out as being among the top Pilates studios in London, it bridges the gap between pure fitness / gym experiences and medical. Clients go to classes to keep their already perfect bodies toned, but also for support recuperating from accidents and medical procedures.

They have just introduced a new programme specifically for people who are recovering from long COVID. They also have training for pre and post-natal women and for women who have breast cancer.

As with so many good ideas for businesses, Ten Health & Fitness grew out of the direct experience of its founder / owner Joanne Mathews, looking for a service she needed which didn’t exist, so she created it.

She had what she now calls “a happy accident”, though it did not seem that way at the time. She had a car accident in 2006.

“I was driving home at 2am on the north circular when a woman smashed into the side of my car” she told The Chiswick Calendar.

The result was a fractured back and rotated pelvis.

“There was a lot of soft tissue damage. There was bruising from the impact of the airbag and whiplash as well.”

Image above: Reformer Pilates; Ten Health & Fitness

“The classic Pilates in places like town halls was not very accessible”

Inconceivably, she spent four hours at a hospital which sent her home and told her to take paracetamol. No X-rays, nothing. There followed a round of visits to GPs and orthopaedic consultants who demonstrated “contradictory decision making” and “the absolute lack of joined-up care”.

As a former county-level swimmer and squash player, sport and exercise had always played an important role in Joanne’s life but it took her two years to get back to her previous level of fitness.

She lost her job as head of marketing and PR for Habitat during that time and it was after a trip to a small rehab gym in Highgate run by a man who had trained with Los Angeles fitness guru Sebastien Lagree, that she decided to set up her own business.

“The classic Pilates in places like town halls was not very accessible. Sebastian Lagree made Reformer Pilates mainstream, fast-paced. It is amazing for building up core strength.”

When she started she found it hard to get funding because “no one understood it, we are a boutique provider.”

Image above: Reformer Pilates; Ten Health & Fitness

A multidisciplinary approach and a well-trained staff

When I was waiting for my hip operation, I did an exercise class which effectively stopped me walking altogether. It transpired I had done a quite gentle movement which had been exactly the wrong sort of movement for a dodgy arthritic hip. When I saw my chiropractor, who clicked me back to functionality again, he expressed his disdain for “people who don’t know what they are doing” and Pilates instructors in particular.

I asked Joanne how I could be sure her training programmes wouldn’t do me further damage. A multidisciplinary approach and lots of training was the answer.

“We only employ staff who have PT level three and above” she said. The personal training qualification is the industry standard. Taking that as the baseline, they employ staff who have a Sports Science degree, a Ballet degree or equivalent and then give them eight weeks training and continue to update the training at regular intervals.

Ten Health & Fitness have physiotherapists and kinesiologists on the staff who use evidence-based research to treat and prevent injury and to improve movement and performance. They have clinical exercise classes designed for people who have had life-changing accidents or illnesses. They also have a system which flags up clients’ medical history so the person taking the exercise class can see the notes from the physio on the team.

Image above: Personal trainer consultation; Ten Health & Fitness

Having the self-discipline to keep going to classes

It all sounds marvellous but for someone who hasn’t historically enjoyed exercise and wouldn’t know an endorphin if it bit them, I asked her how do you overcome the initial fear of walking in there in the first place, braving the company of the chiselled and the toned, and how do you then make yourself do it on a regular basis?

Surprisingly, keeping it up is something she has grappled with herself.

“I fell out of love with it because I realised I was never going to be back to where I was” she told me, “but then I realised at 50 I shouldn’t be where I had been before.”

It is important to adapt to the changes in your body, and not give up. Having someone else monitoring your regime and keeping you honest definitely helps, which is why the personal training in the UK is worth £635.5 million.

Ten offers a “thoughtful” consumer experience she said. There are beginners, intermediate and advanced classes and though you may have been in the advanced class last week if you’re not feeling it this week you can go to a beginners or an intermediate class instead.

Image above: Massage session; Ten Health & Fitness

Chiswick studio one of Ten’s longest established

Joanne opened her first studio in Notting Hill in 2007; Chiswick was her second a year later. Based in the Barley Mow Centre, Barley Mow Passage, just behind the High Rd, it was refurbished last year to provide separate spaces for one-on-one sessions with physiotherapists and massages as well as exercise classes.

Ten is so-called because they keep the classes small, limited to ten people so the instructors can give individual attention. They are best known for Dynamic Reformer Pilates, using machines, as opposed to mat Pilates.

Having built the business up to the point where she owned studios in nine locations with 180 staff, opening studios at the rate of one a year or every other year, with branches in the City (Liverpool Street), Fitzrovia, Hatton Garden, Little Venice, St James’s, Tottenham Court Rd and Mayfair, when everything came to a grinding halt because of Covid they went online and still offer on-demand and live-streamed classes.

Now the business is expanding again. Joanne has opened her tenth studio at Notting Hill Gate, the next will open at Nine Elms in August and she plans to open another at Kings Cross at the end of the year.

Ten Health and Fitness is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme. See the package of offers for Club Card holders here: Ten Health & Fitness Club Card offer

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