Brian Keane’s 16th birthday present was a gym membership. The only snag – from a sheep farm in Maam Cross, Co Galway, the nearest gym at the time was 25 minutes away. However, for a young Brian this posed no problem at all, he hitched a lift every day after school.
“I used to thumb all the time, which is weird because you can’t do it now. Then my mum used to pick me up on her way home from work. I did that every day for my last two years of secondary school,” recalls Brian.
“It was the only one, there was no other gym. It was in Oughterard, a little tiny thing in the community centre. There are gyms all over now, but then there were very little. The next nearest was in Galway city.”
Such lengths were gone to on Brain’s behalf, because the gym, like Gaelic football, was something he was good at. Brian admits he never excelled in school. In later years, he found out he has dysgraphia, which affects writing abilities and made school quite difficult for him. However, he did conquer this in the end, going on to become a teacher.
As a teenager growing up in a footballing stronghold, sport was Brian’s main priority. He ate and trained to improve his performance for whatever teams he was playing on at the time, having been involved with Galway football underage.
From 13 he used weights in his room, as well as doing push ups and pull ups. Ever before this though, Brian was a strong child, which he puts down to working on the farm.
“I walked into a gym and I was strong from day one, but that was from pulling sheep and moving things around the farm. That’s why I think country GAA clubs, they always do well, because the lads are just different. I was physically strong – we all were, because nearly all of us were on the farm. That’s why I think I took to the gym and I still have that strength. It never left me.”
Now, living back where he first forged that strength, just down the road from his parents’ house, Brian has gone on to set up his own very successful personal training business, amass thousands of followers on social media, become an author, podcaster and motivational speaker, all under his Brian Keane Fitness brand. But the road to this wasn’t always straightforward.
Primary teaching to personal training
Having completed a business undergraduate degree in Sligo IT, Brian went to London to study to become a primary school teacher and subsequently taught there for four years. The last two of which he also spent working as a personal trainer at night, as he disliked the red tape associated with teaching and was toying with the idea of a career change.
“With teaching, I knew it was the weekend on Friday and I was going back to work on a Monday, which is something I don’t have now. For my last two years of teaching, I taught during the day and I worked as a personal trainer at night. I did both for two years and personal training never felt like a job.”
A move back home allowed Brian to dedicate his time and money to developing his fledgling personal training business.
“In 2014 I moved back in with Mum and Dad for six months. My sister gave me her little ‘00 Yaris, one of those cars you don’t know if they’re going to start in the morning, but I was grateful to her every morning for it,” reflects Brian.
“After six months as a personal trainer I had a waiting list. I was working out of Galway City Gym. I started up my social media pages and business just exploded six months in. The whole thing took off from there.”
Brian used his social media to grow his client base, posting up workout videos and programmes. So much interest was garnered in this manner, that eventually he moved his whole business to an online coaching model.
He has always catered for two types of clients; those who want to lose fat and GAA players who want to improve their performance while looking better. Being the first to market in providing GAA online coaching was a great platform on which Brian could build.
Importantly also, he not only provided clients with information on getting fit, but ways in which they could improve their mindset, so changes made would be permanent.
“A lot of the topics I cover on social media came from my personal training. My book The Fitness Mindset, that entire first mindset section is dealing with stuff that came up frequently with my clients. That’s why I wrote it initially, because I didn’t have a resource to send them.
“Most of them knew how to get in shape, they knew they should count their calories, but they didn’t know how to keep it up, or they didn’t know why they were getting in their own way. People’s own biggest enemy is living between their two ears. It’s all up here,” says Brian tapping his forehead lightly.
Moulding a mindset
Brian’s take on improving mindset has become one (if not the most) popular parts of the content he puts out. Much of his Brian Keane Fitness Podcast, which has attracted guests as high profile as Joe Wicks, is rooted in strengthening the mind.
Over a cup of coffee in Brian’s kitchen, looking out over the rugged terrain of Maam, Irish Country Living wonders what first sparked his interest in this space? Very openly, Brian replies that it’s because he realised he needed to improve his own mindset.
“I could always empathise with my overweight clients. I was never overweight, but I could always empathise with them because my mindset wouldn’t be naturally strong. I had to build that. If you’re using the genetically overweight person who got in shape, I would be the genetically weak-minded person who built their mindset.
“When I set up my own business I improved my mindset, because I didn’t really have to do anything with it before then, I was a big drinker. I trained during the week and I went out at the weekend. Life was just a blur.
“It was; go to work and the gym Monday to Thursday and go out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and a bit of cure on Sunday. I did that for nearly four years. So I never had to think about it, what’s anxiety if you’re go, go, go?”
Upon taking on the labour of love of setting up his own business, Brian realised that he had problems reaching his goals.
“I realised I had goals and I wasn’t hitting them; financially, business-wise, relationship-wise. You can only hit your head off the wall so often before you wonder why it hurts.
“I delved into that and I was like, OK cool, your mindset is really week. I read a lot of books, listened to a lot of podcasts and had a good network of people; I have some really close friends who helped me with it.”
Becoming self-aware was also spurred on by another momentous time in Brian’s life, the birth of his daughter Holly, who is now four. “There’s a lot of her in me and me in her. I remember thinking, if I’m going to understand her, I need to understand myself.”
Speaking about Holly, Brian lights up. Every week they have a Daddy-daughter day where it’s just the two of them and for this he always turns off his phone. For someone who is so driven in business, Brian is very clear that it is not his number-one priority.
“The business, you can take away all that in the morning, but if something happens to her, none of the rest of it makes any difference, none of the rest of it matters at all. It’s funny, I don’t put Holly on my social media or anything like that. The most important person in my life and no one knows anything about her, except for when I mention her on podcasts.
“I’ve got a few people; my mum, my sister, my daughter, my best friends, if they think I’m awful, what difference does it make about everything else?
Holly, Brian says, is a sporty girl, but she didn’t write away for that. From his own football training as a young lad, Brian himself has now moved more towards endurance sports.
He ran six back-to-back marathons across the Sahara Desert (carrying all his food and equipment), completed a race across the Artic and is now training for 100-mile ultramarathon in the US.
We’re tired (and a little bit in awe) just listening to these adventures, but Brian is adamant that achieving a goal is the same no matter how little or large it is.
“It’s relative – whether you’re trying to run 100 miles or whether you’re trying to lose five pounds, the process is different and the goals are different, but it’s the exact same thing in a way. What programme or plan do we have to follow? Can we stick to this? Can we get our head right and reset when we fall off track? Are we doing the right things consistently well every day?”
Since age 16 thumbing at Maam Cross, Brian showed commitment to what he wants to achieve, but more importantly, he has his priorities straight and is living in the here and now.
“I set goals every year, every month, every week and every day to a degree, but I’m focused on the process, as long as I can wake up every day and I still love what I’m doing, I’m good. You can’t be happy at a destination if you’re not happy on the journey.”