When you meet brothers Max and Lloyd, and twins James and Tom you can’t help but like them. Firstly they look like gods… But they are much more than that.
They’re humble, charming and passionate. Collectively, they are LDN Muscle. A sort of fitness version of the Avengers, who have set up multiple online channels to get their message across that fitness, is for everyone. I met with the four of them down at their gym in Hampton to find out more about the online behemoth that is LDN Muscle, their baby and the pressures of social media success.
Whose idea was LDN Muscle? How did it all come about?
Max: It was actually the fifth member of LDN, from behind the scenes! We have an admin guy who approached the four of us when we used to work at a leisure centre together and he said “You guys keep getting asked fitness questions when in and outside the gym, or when you’re lifeguarding. Why not create an online platform?” So we thought about it and set ourselves up online.
Lloyd: It started as a blog basically. We started our social media channels, which was just Twitter and Facebook back then in 2012! And we then went to all the other platforms and pushed naturally as they started growing rapidly. It was all very organic, and no money was put in at that point. I think it just cost us about £50 for the logo and £8 for the website and that’s all the investment that went into it!
You have your own apparel range, supplements and now an academy! What was the turning point from that initial blog?
James: We did the blog for six months, giving out free content to anyone who wanted to read it. But it came a point with our social media channels where it became quite laborious. Where we were answering questions day in and day out while trying to hold down full time jobs, so we found it a struggle to be on our phones all day! It just wasn’t cost or time effective to work like that, and maintain that level of customer service without charging anything. So we introduced a low level fee that was around £2. Just to test the water really, and see if there was loyalty enough for customers to spent money. Luckily there was, so from there we developed higher price guides like the original LDN Muscle Cutting Guide which was a very sparse word document at that time! That started selling more, and the workload just rapidly increased from there. More and more customers came onboard which meant at least three of us could take it on in a full time capacity.
What were your full times jobs before all this?
James: I was a barrister. I didn’t look like this then! Ha!
Lloyd: I was in my stopgap at the time, at a leisure centre but I was also applying for the Royal Marines as an officer. I actually got accepted, and they only take on about forty people a year to do it. So I had the choice of doing that or taking LDN Muscle full time. In the end, I picked the latter! It was a big turning point for me, career wise.
Max: I was at university at the time and LDN got really big during my second year there. I really enjoyed doing it, so it was then I realised my degree in Geography and Urban & Regional Planning probably wouldn’t be that useful!
Tom: I actually still work for a bank at the moment so it can be tough fitting LDN in. I imagine I can only sustain everything for a few years! But I am quite lucky I can nip out of my job during the day and train, as there is a gym in my building. Otherwise I’m not sure I could fit everything in. My training session normally lasts only 35 minutes, a brutal 35 minutes though! It’s enough to keep in shape, and now I am ‘in’ shape, it’s actually easier for me to maintain everything.
There seems to be a lot of online coaches and other fitness brands doing similar things on social media, what makes you guys stand out from them?
James: First and foremost, we are one of the originals. When we first started we thought it was quite a novel idea. Our ethos was also ‘just four normal guys’, which was different as to just one person doing this. Also being two sets of brothers with different professional backgrounds was different as well so we got a good demographic of people supporting us who thought we were quite normal. Also we’re saying something a bit different from all the supplement companies, instead of just getting young kids to buy into false expectations. We just wanted to say ‘look, this is what we look like after years of training. Granted we’re not monsters or freaks but if you want to look like this, this is genuinely how you do it.’ We didn’t sell out to a supplement company and in fact, it’s why our supplements are the last thing we bought out – it took time to source high quality products, undercut the biggest companies in the market as well but its more of a service as we still say “look, if you eat right then you won’t need these”.
Is that your main message then, in regards to supplements? “If you’re eating well, you shouldn’t need these?”
Max: Well, yeah. They are exactly what they say they are on the tin. They are to ‘supplement’ a good diet. And can be effective along aside a good diet plan.
Lloyd: One of our strap lines is actually ‘supplementing performance’. It’s not ‘creating performance’. We have always said that diet is the main thing.
James: Half the stuff other companies sell, we would never take ourselves and wouldn’t dream of charging other people for them.
Max: If someone comes to me and says “what shake should I take to get lean?” Well, you shouldn’t need a shake to get lean. You can have a shake to compliment your diet but you don’t need to be drinking it the second you come out of the gym or upon entry, but if you are on a lunch break heading back to your desk like Tom, it’s better to down a shake if you don’t have time to eat!
James: And, all the fat burners – something we don’t stock – are the products with the huge profit margin. Because we’re about the ethos than commercial gain which is another reason we don’t stock them!
Ok, so what core products do you rely on? The guides?
Lloyd: We have three main guides out. For men there the Bulking and Cutting Guides and for women there’s the Bikini Guide. Men tend to just want to get big! Or shred body fat where as women tend to mostly want weight loss, but there’s elements of muscle gain in the bikini guide too!
James: Very few women want to gain weight at all!
What advice would you offer to a guy who is a total newcomer, who had zero experience at the gym but wanted it all, to get bigger but also remain lean?
Max: We get this all the time! So we’d ask “what’s your main priority” as it’s good to have one, generally as you get to your goal faster but if that person asking is over a certain body fat percentage then we see it as we should bring the body fat down unless, but the basis is the same key points, which is if you want to build muscle you need to drop fat. It’s about finding that balance.
James: They are actually in a really enviable position, being a newcomer. They have the capacity to both muscle build and drop fat for a period of time but we’d suggest the cutting guide first! It should be about health, so let’s get the body fat down first before building muscle.
Max: Our cutting guide has beginner, intermediate and advanced in it as well so you don’t step in and in five sessions you’re burnt out!
James: And we’re always on Twitter or Facebook answering people’s questions if they need advice. All a part of our ethos. We’ve seen people come and go trying to do the same thing and they do for about two weeks but then they disappear because they see the man hours needed to do what we do!
Because of that you’re advertising a lifestyle as well, by looking amazing, do you find that being an influencer comes with a lot of pressure?
Max: Never found it a pressure, no. From the beginning we’ve always shown the map of our progress. There hasn’t been a dramatic change in any of us, it’s taken us a long time to look the way we do. And we’ve always said it’s not about fitting your life around fitness, it is about fitting fitness into your life. And that for us has never changed. Which hasn’t been a pressure. We always have to stay lean, but if you manage it correctly it’s fine. We do go out at weekends!
James: We do say in our guides “don’t stop drinking alcohol!”
Lloyd: I had a pizza Friday night and then when out with my friends for a drink. Then had a McDonald’s!
If I was to ask what your weekly gym routines involve, would it be insane?
Max: Training wise, I train five times a week and I do tend to split the muscle groups up so I aim to then hit the same group twice a week. Instead of spending one day on an area of my body and not working that again for seven days. I dial down my cardio during the winter, but I also play football so I swap that in for cardio! I tend to in a week chest, shoulders, arms, legs and back – then repeat!
Men, gay and straight suffer with new body pressures every day. I’ve covered the subject of body dysmorphia and bigorexia before and I can have my moments from suffering from it if I am honest. What are your opinions, or advice for men suffering with this?
Lloyd: Find a fitness role model, I guess?
Max: But even then you need to be wary of putting yourself up ‘against’ them because your situation and genetics might be slightly different anyway but using someone as a legit target rather than someone who has gone from a normal physique to a gargantuan size and all veins. Needs to be a realistic goal.
Tom: For me and James it has taken about seven years. We’re not hulks, we’re not massive but that is quite an unsexy thing to sell to say “look, we’re not that big and it’s taken us fucking ages” – that’s quite hard to package up and sell people but unfortunately that it what people DO need to listen too as there’s so many people our age, 29, or a lot younger who are enormous. Putting all their meals in Tupperware and saying “this is how I did it” but you know as well as we do, there’s a lot of juice flying around.
Max: Now you get reality TV stars coming out and saying they’ve had steroid addiction. It’s really common and doesn’t help other people who look up to them.
James: If you asked me now, or any of us here if we had fitness role models we’d probably say no-one.
But then in a way you’re setting yourself up as role models?
Tom: I just hope people take on the message that we don’t ‘think’ we’re enormous, we are the shapes we are and that’s around seven years of eating smartly and training when we can.
James: It’s funny because we used to all buy the really expensive supplements and wonder why it’s not working for us, like some of the guys around us had shoulders so big but then suddenly we realised, it was juice. Everyone was doing it.
Max: Same with Hollywood stars, they balloon up for the part and then come down to hideously small sizes afterward.
James: It’s funny because you get guys now in the gym who want that size, instantly. Now. And get chatting to someone at the gym and buy something unregulated and it goes wrong, they probably do more than advised because that’s the nature of human beings and the rest is history. They get really ill.
Tom: And without sounding bitter, a lot people are on gear in general. I won’t name names but there is a guy on social media who preaches about fitness but takes a lot of steroids and can’t go out for dinner with doing a line of cocaine in the toilets. It just spirals into a bigger issue.
Lloyd: It’s funny because you do see people who post online saying “I put on 20kg of muscle in two years” and that’s sort of impossible without “help”. It’s a lot of the reality stars and social media personalities now who draw in a younger crowd who want to look like them, but the sizes are insane. If you look like a superhero, it’s safe to say you’ve people done something.
James: We’ve trained with guys who have done steroids over the years, and it affects their bodies and mental health in such a negative way. It’s like they’ve taken eight steps forward, they come off it and they’re four steps back. But they’re still three steps ahead of us because they are still monstrous but in their heads, they cannot deal with it.
This article was originally printed in Gay Times magazine.
Picture credits: Michael Chapman.