Keighty Gallagher

Founder of Tight Club Athletics, personal trainer & coach

Our conversation with Keighty Gallagher left us ready to take on the world – and if not the world, at very least one of her renowned workouts. A business student and university track athlete, her journey into entrepreneurship and business ownership is a tale of taking leaps, trusting the support of her community, and weaving 100% of herself into every fibre of her business, which she runs out of her one-of-a-kind studio space in Vancouver’s Chinatown. When it comes to doing things her way, Keighty’s got it dialled.

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We start every workout with a check-in question

Regardless of how big the class is. Finding your voice is such a big part of building community.

If the Juice Truck opened on Union street, my life would be complete!

Their team are always so welcoming and give me the best advice. Their smoothies aren’t too bad either 😉

My community: family, friendship, accountability

It’s everything and all I need in my life to keep me inspired, empowered and happy.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got started?

I couldn’t stay awake sitting in front of a computer writing in a voice that wasn’t mine. It was a realization I had when I was working two jobs: one that ate up all my time during the day, and another that prevented me from hanging out with friends.

I was working at an awesome brew pub – The Alibi Room – with people who didn’t work in my other world—marketing—or the business industry. It surrounded me with people who had super open minds and who were super creative, and it allowed me to network and to help them change the way they felt about fitness.

I had a few rules: I can’t make them feel like they’re coming to the gym, and I wasn’t allowed to use words like ‘sculpt’ and ‘flex’ and other typical ‘workout words’. With this, I sort of fell into this beautiful little opportunity about four and a half years ago…and that’s where it all started.

You’ve decided to become a trainer and then opened a brick and mortar dedicated gym space; how’d that transition happen?

The outdoor training group I started at the Alibi Room was just a fun thing to interact with the people I worked with, and a nice outlet from the other jobs I had. Once it started to catch on, I realized I was spending more and more time developing workouts, and coming up with themes that people were jiving on. That’s when my boyfriend Henry said “Keighty, stop what you’re doing. Just get out and get your personal training certificate and let it rip.”

I took a personal training course and the moment I got my certification, I remember walking home and feeling like my whole life was in front of me, and from there I had the opportunity of choice. At the time I never would’ve dreamed I would be here in a studio. I feel like I hear it all the time, but staying true to yourself and to who you are has been really important for me. It’s obvious and kind of a no-brainer – but only when you’ve got it. It can be a difficult concept to live by when you’re trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do and have no idea, which was about the point I was at before I started Tight Club.

While I was working hard, I was also spreading myself too thin, and as I packed on too many things the pressure kept building up. Thankfully in my case it was like forming a diamond: all the pressure applied resulted in a gem. Remembering not to give up, that something would come out of it all, has been one of my guiding rules; it’s something my Grandma used to say, and I’ve kept it close to my heart.

When did you realize that fitness was the perfect industry for you?

I realized it was truly my passion when I stopped thinking about how much time I was putting in, or how much money I was making per hour. I truly lost all sense of how much I was making; I honestly didn’t even care. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking up new ways to involve people in this community and make their experiences better.

Thinking about the impact Tight Club has had in the Vancouver fitness scene, do you feel you’re contributing to something larger than you?

I’ve definitely heard from people that I inspire them to live in a healthier, happier or more fulfilling way. I’ve never thought about it in the way of contributing to something bigger, but I would love to be an ambassador in creating an image and lifestyle around health and wellness where you don’t have to be a super regimented, A-type personality constantly counting carbs or obsessing about a single donut going straight to the hips.

I feel like I represent the type of active lifestyle that focuses on balance; it’s really just work hard, play hard, or eat well and then eat like crap. It’s important to love yourself and to create control, but know that a donut isn’t going to kill you. It’s also crucial to not to be scared of putting yourself out there in terms of a workout; don’t be afraid about movement or the burn, as it’ll all be over in a matter of minutes. It’s definitely how I live, and if I have the opportunity to be the ambassador for that kind of a lifestyle then totally, I’m all for it.

Being at the helm of a business takes confidence; have you always had the self confidence it takes to lead and inspire others, or is that something you’ve had to cultivate over time?

Self confidence is something you almost always have to earn; it takes time. Back when I was first starting, I felt bad even charging people $20.00 because I was a brand new trainer. I didn’t feel like I had the experience or knowledge to charge a rate on par with the rest of the city. Then, as I spoke to more people in the industry, I realized that you’ve got to fake it ‘til you make it and really put the time in to gain that confidence.

I definitely was not the trainer or person I am today four years ago; it’s absolutely taken time and having a community of cheerleaders supporting me. In addition, I’ve noticed that when I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing, I’ve been less likely to look back or doubt myself; as long as I’m having a good time, my confidence flies.

Could you pinpoint a self esteem game-changer that’s made an impact on Tight Club’s success?

Having some big brands back us has been a huge ego boost. In the past 4 years, we’ve become friends with brands like lululemon, Nike, and Herschel – great local and super global brands.

Working with huge brands towards mutual benefit definitely builds self esteem; it’s strengthened my confidence and allowed us to really do whatever we want with the bonus of having some awesome big brands high fiving Tight Club along the way.

On a more personal level, the support from our community, especially during the time we were building the studio, was really phenomenal. We ran an Indiegogo campaign and raised over $40K, purely through donations. All the work that went into launching the new space and providing the services we do was so appreciated; it really helped us feel confident in creating a company that the community welcomed and hopefully benefited from.

Tell us more about the community of friends and family that Tight Club is comprised of; do you have advice for how to find or grow such an excellent support network?

Be consistent; it’s so important. I remember back in the winter of 2012 when Henry and I were doing our run club “The No Fun Run” – we were so new, nobody knew about us and the people who did know about us weren’t people we knew well. There were days when we’d be finished work, sitting at home, and we’d know we had to go outside in the rain to see if anybody would show up for that night’s run. Sometimes, no one would show up – but that didn’t deter us from coming back the next week, and the next.

When people rely on your consistency it keeps you accountable, and knowing that you’re putting yourself in a leadership position and being responsible for your environment – which in turn keeps the community accountable – really helps with gaining traction and getting the snowball going; it did for me at least!

How’d you figure out how to structure training sessions before you were certified as a professional trainer?

I was a competitive track and field athlete, and from an early age I was practicing hard; leading was also always something that came naturally. In high school I took over management of our track and field team when our coach ditched us. Then, in university, I volunteered at a local high school training the high jumpers.

I had this bank of exercises that we did on the track team that were easy to do outside in the field, and was able to pull from my history and incorporate those movements into the workouts I was leading. However, it wasn’t until I got my certification that I really knew how to create proper progressions for clients, help rehab them, and apply a much stronger foundational knowledge.

There’s a huge creative element to your business and specifically to your workouts. Where do you draw inspiration from?

A few different places, but one is just taking classes. I’m a firm believer in getting out there and travelling, trying to take classes wherever I go at studios big and small. That said, I don’t believe it’s right to cruise around to other gyms and take ideas without giving credit where credit is due. I respect the integrity of the workout and who has put it together. Our team is very careful of that kind of thing – there’s always reference and respect there.

I also get inspiration from going out – dancing and clubbing – especially when I’m doing outdoor workouts. I’m super influenced by CrossFit too. A lot of people bash the cult-like nature of the CrossFit community, but I think that’s one of the most beautiful parts of what it is: how tight they are. Looking at Tight Club I can definitely see it being called a sort of cult and I’m cool with that. Strong community is so important.

Lastly, I spent some time with lululemon as a fit model and I saw the way their design team works together. I know they go through training on leadership and on learning how to create a level communication plane, and it really showed. I was inspired by their communication skills, and learned so much that helped me while becoming a manager; seeing how people in high level jobs interacted with their teams there was really helpful.

Vancouver has a well-established and competitive fitness scene; what do you believe differentiates Tight Club?

First, our style and design, our look and feel. Since the beginning, I wanted a logo that was wearable; Henry designed ours and it’s on pretty much everything I wear these days. Stemming from the logo is our website; we work with an awesome creative studio called Make Studios. Sarah Tesla (of Make Studios) started coming to my classes and was totally hooked. We worked together to create a website that lived, breathed and felt like you were actually in a class. Someone told me recently that when they were walking through the studio it felt like they were walking through the website, which is pretty cool.

I think we’re unique in the sense that we definitely have our own language and a seamless design, from our Instagram to our website to our social media presence and voice. Our youth probably contributes to the relaxed approach we take; about 85% of our clients are under the age of 40, which is definitely different and is visible in our class makeup.

The music we play is the music that we listen to when we go out or when we run; it’s not the cut up fitness tunes you get in some places. We’re being authentic and so everything we do comes from the heart – not from a template.
Next, the staff that I’ve hand picked from the mix of Vancouver trainers are people who I feel are super welcoming, there for you, and there to create an experience that is unlike any other. This is crucial, and is paired wonderfully with a super fair price point for a unique, boutique studio.

Lastly, we start every class with an ice breaker question. Tight Club feels that if you have a voice, it helps build community. If you can get people speaking up in public—whether it’s asking them what kind of dinosaur they’d be, or allowing them to brag about themselves with a question like ‘What’s your best trait?’—instigating a connection through verbal communication is part of the reason our community is so strong.

Before the studio - when Tight Club was only an idea - did you seek any advice or mentorship from your network, the business community, investors, or anyone else before launching into entrepreneurship?

To be totally frank, I had no network; I didn’t know anyone. I had just moved to Vancouver, I was 23 and I’d just graduated university. I didn’t know to seek people out for mentorship so I really just relied on the support of my boyfriend, the people I worked with, and the positive affirmations I was getting.

As for finances, I didn’t talk to an investor; I very nervously approached my parents, who also helped me out with business school. Surrounding myself with people who were encouraging really helped me make the leap and take it to the next level; I just needed my community to believe in me.

What is your personal daily health and fitness regime like?

On a day when I’m working, I’m up at 4:20am. I always start my day with a hot shower, and I brush and floss my teeth in there every single day – partly as a reason to stay in the hot shower longer. Whatever I can find to do for myself, I try to do in the shower.

I always write out my workouts in the morning, usually with a cup of hot matcha tea to get my brain going. I walk to the studio; it’s important that I’m walking just to wake up – to see, smell and feel life before the club gets crazy.

Usually by the time I’m finished three or four classes I’m starving. These days a cup of hot coffee is really nice and, if I have time I’ll run to the Juice Truck and load up on something delicious there, like their Acai Bowl, Green Smoothie, or Green Protein Smoothie.

I like to take the 9:30 classes here at Tight Club; it’s a nice little break from teaching a ton in the morning. I’ll usually take Andrea or Rachelle’s Tight Sweat class or maybe Michael’s Booty Luv class.

Lunch is usually a date; Henry will come meet up with me and we’ll catch up and chat. We usually just head down the street to our favourite spot, Harvest. Between lunch and dinner it’s work work work: head down, music on, planning.

If there’s anything going on at night that’s part of our outdoor program – a run or a bike – I’ll jump into it. I just recently bought a road bike and we formed the Tight Bike Cycle Club. We’ve been meeting up every Wednesday, building up our endurance towards riding 100km. Actually, we just did that recently and it was awesome; we had 16 girls come out. I’m finding the more time I’m spending in the studio, the more time I need to be on that bike because it’s what’s making me happy right now.

I love to end the week with the class ‘The Club’ on Friday nights. We finish it off with a couple beers; Strathcona Brewery just opened around the corner and I’m stoked to be introducing Tight Club to their beer. We’ll often end up at the Boxcar or Tuck Shop for a meal. If I eat a salad, I have a beer. If I have a burger, I’m going to have a water. I find balance in that kind of stuff; I’m still indulging – but indulging in a balanced way.

Have you always had that kind of mentality around balance with your nutrition?

Totally. This is kind of weird, but it reminds me of something I heard either Beyoncé or her mom talk about:

When her mom was designing costumes for her, they had this rule: if she’s going to show the top, she’s going to cover the bottom & vice versa.

There’s something about that concept that has stuck with me. I totally think about that when I dress myself, and it shows in how I approach nutrition as well. I’m a sucker for sweet things, and because I’m super sensitive to sweets, I crash pretty hard after I eat a cookie. If I’m going to eat something sweet, I make sure it happens at night so I can sleep. Right now I’m eating out all the time; I’m not making time to cook at home. My life is busy – that’s my excuse and I’m owning it – but at least I’m trying to abide by Beyoncé mom’s rules, right?

What about balancing your time between work, friends and family?

In a recent discussion I had I was told that at any given time in your life, you tend to be good at 2.5 things. I started thinking about the things in my life I’m excelling versus not excelling at, and definitely one of them is making time to be with my family, boyfriend and friends.

For example, I feel that the Tight Club crew are my family and friends, and I often hang out with everyone here, but then ignore my recently engaged sister’s 200 text messages a day.

Actually, my personal life is either the half or maybe not even in the 2.5 at all; I’m such a workaholic, I’ve put myself last whenever I can. In the next year as I build my team up, I’m really ready to step back and focus on rearranging what my 2.5 priorities are by trying to put myself and my inside crew first for a change.

What skills, training, certifications or courses would you recommend people take if they’re interested in personal training or a career in the fitness industry?

I went through InfoFit; it’s a local company founded by an awesome trainer who created a curriculum for the BCRPA Certification. It’s an educational program that helps prepare you to take any of the number of personal training certifications out there. I took the course to prepare me to take the ACE Certification. I didn’t go to university for personal training or Kinesiology—I have a business background—so the ACE was the most appropriate certification for me.

A nice way to ease into the industry is to volunteer or work the front desk somewhere. We’ve recently been doing that at Tight Club, as one of our newest team members just finished her personal training certifications. When she applied to work here we didn’t have any training spots open, so we started her working at the front desk and getting to know our community; that was a couple months ago and she’s now taking over a bunch of classes.

Fitness is often strongly linked to goal setting; how do you set goals or visualize achievements?

I am very driven by goals, yet I don’t do it in mood boards or a beautiful painting kind of way; I love sitting down and writing out smart goals. I find it really important and so whenever I work with clients, it’s how we figure out why they’re here and where they want to go. I ask those questions a lot in my classes, actually.

With goals in general, it’s important to know that it’s okay to give up or move on. It takes time to figure out what you’re meant to do, and you’re never going to get it totally right the first time. Don’t be afraid to leave something if your heart isn’t in it. You’ll know when you’re just having a bad day – a bad day will blow over – but you need to trust yourself to also know when it’s time to move on.

Any parting words or advice for budding trainers or entrepreneurs?

Never give up; be consistent; be as clear as possible; own whatever you’re doing.