Today, Ryan Hughes is one of the most recognizable names in fitness. His accomplishments include being an IFBB Men’s Physique Competitor, BSN Spokes Model, International Fitness Cover Model and New York City’s Top VIP/Celebrity Trainer. In addition Ryan owns or holds equity in 5 companies, created one of the industry’s hottest training systems (the Blast Training System) and has built a network including some of the most powerful people in New York City, but the road to get there wasn’t always smooth….
“So, where do I begin….I am from West Chester, PA, a relatively small town just outside of Philadelphia. My first time weight training was freshman year at Henderson High School. I was 6’0” roughly 140lbs and wore 4-5 layers to school per day to give me some size (seriously). From there, I continued to workout, learn and gain size. When I graduated high school, working out was a part of my daily routine. I spent hours on end researching, learning and training. I weighed around 190lbs when exiting high school and had a whole new set of goals for myself entering college.
I stayed local for college and went to West Chester University, mainly because they had a good business program and they were “affordable” in relation to the much larger state schools. At the end of my freshman year, I competed in my first Body Building competition with the OCB organization at age 19. I took 1st in the Novice division and 3rd in the Men’s Open Lightweight division, weighing in at around 175lbs on stage. The competition was in Pittsburgh, so it was about a five-hour drive. I still, to this day, vividly remember that drive home. The drive through central PA, which for those of you who don’t live in PA, isn’t all that exciting. I spent the entire drive just thinking….it’s the summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college, what am I doing? What do I want to do?
When I got home from that trip, the next chapter of my life began. At that point in my life, I loved two things; fitness and business (entrepreneurship). I was currently working at GNC at the time, but decided to begin personal training. I had a ton of knowledge regarding training, nutrition, supplementation, etc. from all the research I had done for the past 3 years, so it seemed like the natural progression. I bounced around for a few years and never really found exactly what I had envisioned when I set out to be a trainer.
In my Senior Year at West Chester University I had an opportunity to take an internship at SAP, a business software company. The internship was completely unrelated to fitness or even what I envisioned myself doing in the business world, but it was paid and was the “smart” move career wise, so I took it. I spent my senior year working with computers, software, etc. in the laptop center at SAP. I still continued to train, diet, etc. and live the fitness lifestyle, but something was definitely lacking in my life. I graduated in 2010 and was offered a full time position at SAP with my own cubicle, work station, etc. It was a solid job and coming out of college were wasn’t many solid jobs to be found, I decided to take it.
At this point, I was 22 years old. I had just graduated college and was still living at my parent’s house. I got up at 5:45am Monday-Friday to be at work at 7:00am. Every morning, I would walk in, grab some coffee and say hello to the other few people that started early, sit down at my desk, turn on my laptop and handle any hardware or software issues on my floor. At that hour it was annoyingly quite. The only sound I heard was the buzzing of the overhead lighting and the faint clicking of someone printing on the other side of the floor. I remember sitting there the first day and asking myself, what now? I graduated college, I got a job, I get a paycheck, now what? For the past 16 years I was in school, this moment seemed so distant and now its reality.
I had a mini breakdown at that point in my life. On one hand, I was grateful to have a job and a degree, but on the other hand, I wanted more. I wasn’t ready to be at this point yet. So, I once again turned to fitness. I had kept up with my workouts, nutrition, all of that, but somewhere I lost that drive to improve. Working out was part of my routine, but I wanted it to be part of my life. I decided that I was going to do another body building competition. I picked a date roughly eight months away and went to work. I brought every meal with me to work and went right from work to the gym. I began to feel like I was “doing something” again. I took a lot of heat at work, as you could imagine there weren’t too many “tech guy bodybuilders.” I don’t even know how the hell I became a “tech guy bodybuilder,” but I was going to be the best.
I continued to grow and at around 12-15 weeks out it was time to cut down. This was a bitch. I got up every day at 4:00am to hit my fasted cardio, went to work from 7-4pm, and then went from work to the gym to train. I did this for the entire prep, never slipping up, never quitting, and never slowing down. I ended up placing 3rd in the Men’s Open Heavyweight division, weighing in at 203lbs on stage. I was outsized for sure, but loved every minute of competing. This was an important day in my life and this was the day I mentally made the move to pursue fitness as a career. The next week I went up to New York City to meet with Adam Silver at Silver Model Management. I spent the next 4-6 months going up to New York City as often as possible to meet with photographers, shoot and build my book. For the most part, everyone in my life thought I was crazy. I was still working at SAP, so basically all of my free time was spent in the gym or traveling and shooting.
Finally, after spending thousands of dollars on travel, shoots, and competitions, I was at a crossroads. This was my moment. At this point in my life, I had put together a portfolio and booked a few small jobs that paid a few hundred bucks and I had just competed in my first Men’s Physique show, which at the time was a brand new category. I did one of the very first local shows and placed well enough to qualify for Nationals. On the other hand I still had my job at SAP. To be successful in either one of these, I had to pursue one full time. There was my passion and dream of being a fitness professional and there was my quality, safe job with a paycheck and room to grow. I remembered the last thing my grandfather said to me before he passed away and that was “no matter what you choose to do in life, I know that you will be alright.” At the time he said that to me, I didn’t know what to make of it, however it always sorta stuck with me.
Two weeks later I moved to New York City. I found an apartment in Queens, a few miles outside of the city for $1,500/month and took it. I had $3,000 in my bank account, had never lived away from home and no clue what the hell I was doing. In addition, I was actually had planned to compete the same week of my move (excellent timing I know). I left my apartment in shambles to head down to South Carolina and compete in the 2011 Junior USA’s, the first National Men’s Physique show. I placed 1st in the Tall Class and took home one of the first two IFBB Men’s Physique Pro Cards! My fitness career was finally going somewhere or at least I thought so!
When I got home, I figured my life was about to change, I mean I was one of the first two Men’s Physique Pros! Unfortunately, no one came knocking on my door in Queens. No random paychecks floated down from the heavens. Instead, I sat on a mound of boxes and debated my next move. I decided I would travel into the city every day. I figured, if I am going to make something happen, its going to be there and not in Queens, so I mind as well put myself in the right position to be successful. I literally didn’t know a single soul in New York City, other then my girl friend that moved with me and my agent. At the time, I was doing some demos for Gaspari Nutrition and would book an odd job or two per month and was making roughly $1,000/month. If you do the math, I had about two months before I would be broke, so I started personal training again. I figured this would probably be one of the hardest cities to break into the training world, but if I were able to, it would probably yield the largest return. I was right.
Every day I came in and introduced myself to someone. It could have been the guy who owns the restaurant next to the gym, the guy who owns the supplement shop down the street, etc. I made sure to put myself in front of any and everyone from day one. I shook as many hands as I could and told anyone that would listen my story and finally after about 3 months of living here, I had my first client. I priced my sessions higher then all the other trainers because I was willing to go above and beyond for every client. I structured their diet, supplement regimens, made house calls, answered texts at 10pm at night, I ensured their success, period. After a few more months, I had built a small book of 3-4 clients, but they were successful people who loved the fact that I catered to every need and got them results at all costs.
While I was building my clientele in the city, I was also building my online presence using the knowledge I had gained working with software and computers over the past 2 years. The job at SAP actually prepared me for my next step, which was my online business. I remember thinking how crazy it was the way life works out sometimes. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, I felt there was definitely someone guiding me. As I picked up traction in the training world, I also began to book some magazine work and small paid jobs. I was making progress and no matter how little, I kept telling myself that if I continue to bust my ass, something will hit; something will take off!
At the end of year one, my lease renewal came, I signed and continued on. I hadn’t saved a dime, was living paycheck to paycheck, but surprisingly I didn’t care. I felt like I was doing something and while small, it was something. New York City was my office and the gym was my cubicle. I promised myself I wouldn’t give up until I was broke or dead, so up I climbed.
Around the time I signed my second year lease, I parted ways from Gaspari Nutrition. This gave me more time to focus on my business and seek my true fit for a supplementation sponsorship. I knew I needed to stand out and bring something to the table to be sponsored. The stars aligned and the Blast Training System was born. I actually began writing my workouts down after training just to keep track of what I was doing. After a few months of doing this, I had compiled quite the collection and decided to put them into a book, which others could benefit from.
I launched the eBook with immediate success. People loved the workouts! I was receiving hundreds of emails from men, women, everyone saying how much they loved the challenge. From there I decided to continue to share my workouts and it really helped me pick up some traction on social media. With the help of my agent, Adam Silver, I was able to leverage this into a contract with BSN Supplements! Two months later, I shot my first cover for Fitness Rx and my first TV Spot for ABC’s 20/20. The eBook, supplement sponsorship, cover shoot and 20/20 spot all happened within a 4-6 month period and I felt like finally after 2+ years of pursing this full time I was actually making real strides.
2013 rolled around and I had just launched my second eBook, Blast for Mass. My cover was about to hit shelves and my training business was beginning to really pick up steam. I continued to head into the city every day, still meeting as many people as possible. I also began going out at night and putting myself in the same locations as the types of clientele I wanted to train. I can honestly say; the most crucial factor of my success has been networking. I hit every popular restaurant, bar, nightclub, etc. I would sometimes go with clients, who would then introduce me to their friends and so on. Every single opportunity I had to go somewhere, meet someone or do something, I took it. I went to cocktail hours, charity events, weddings, parties, corporate events, seminars, you name it, I went.
Earlier this year, a few weeks before my lease was up for the second year at my apartment in Queens, I was out at one of these events at a rooftop bar in the city. I remember looking around at the skyline and seeing all the lights from peoples apartments 30, 40, 50 floors up and just imagining what it would be like to actually live in Manhattan and not take the train 45 minutes to and from four times a day. I thought to myself, imagine how many more opportunities I would have putting myself in the heart of New York City. My lease was up in May of this year and I decided to take the jump. I have risked just about everything nearly every day for the past two years, so what’s another risk, right? I ended up moving to center city Manhattan, 43 floors up! I am now in my third year since I made the decision to pursue my fitness career full time. The first year was probably one of the most mentally challenging years of my life, but without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am nowhere near satisfied. I am nowhere near done. However, after three years I am that much closer to my dream and no matter how mentally, physically or emotionally challenging my career and life can be, I wake up every day to do what I love….and that is truly priceless.
- Ryan Hughes
IFBB Men’s Physique Pro / New York City VIP Personal Trainer