Sweating for justice – an interview with TotalFit Brighton

This week is a special interview…with two guests instead of one!

Ben and Felicity, could you start by talking about who you are and what you do? 

Ben: We’re married and part of the TotalFit movement which is all about promoting functional fitness and combining the mind, body and spirit. We started up our own gym in January located in our local church and have been growing it since! 

Felicity: Prior to setting up a gym, we both studied International Development at Sussex University and have a heart for social justice locally and globally, and we see our work within the fitness world as part of that. 

Ben and Felicity – the founders and owners of TotalFit Brighton

How did you get into Development and social justice? 

Felicity: I’ve lived all over the place growing up, so I’ve always been very much on the go and rarely settling for long in one place. I never thought uni was the route for me. I figured that I would get an internship with a charity which would then lead onto a permanent job and that would be my entry into the development field. God had other plans! I ended up taking a gap year and headed out to Bangladesh on the ICS Tearfund programme. I figured (with a little persuasion!) that having a degree would open up more doors for me, and studying International Development was the perfect fit.

My love for justice gave me the chance to help set up and pioneer Just Love Sussex (Just Love is a national organisation seeking to promote the Biblical call to justice within the student world). I felt called to set up a weekly prayer meeting to pray for the massive issues of injustice both on our doorsteps and on a global scale from homelessness to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. There were weeks when no one or a couple at best showed up, but it’s since gone from strength to strength. That is such a testament to God’s faithfulness.

Ben: I grew up in Sudan, a nation of extreme poverty and civil war so I was always aware of injustice and studying International Development was the best way to expand on that. I love the concept of combining justice and fitness, in fact that was what I wrote my thesis on. One of the biggest adventures was setting up a TotalFit gym on the island of Socotra (in between Yemen and Somalia) – we’d love to see this springing up across the world!

And you ended up setting up a gym and running a business! 

Ben: Yep! I originally got involved with TotalFit by coaching the rugby teams in strength and conditioning and then we got the idea for owning a gym at a church. We ended up converting one of the church offices into a small studio, crowdfunded, and the gym was born!

TotalFit is a one-of-a-kind approach. It provides holistic training so that it’s not just about sweating out a load of burpees and squats but developing a relationship with your trainers and being inspired in all aspects of your life. That’s why at the end of every class we share true stories like survivors of modern slavery who have learned to build up huge amounts of resilience and character. The aim is that by sharing these stories attendees have a takeaway to apply to their own lives. 

How do you combine the worlds of justice and fitness? 

Ben: The TotalFit vision is for optimal health for the masses. This is why coaches are trained up worldwide so that they can go home and use their training on the ground, be it in China or Ethiopia. We’re made up of more than bones and muscle; TotalFit exists to combine the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of an individual. We have a heart for trauma healing, how individuals can recognise and move forward from experiences of deep pain and hurt.

Instead of approaching a person with an attitude of ‘we want you to get over this mental thing’, we want to work together, through fitness, to enable conversations to start and it to be a long-term relationship. This is what makes TotalFit so unique. A standout moment was when one of our members opened up for the first time about his depression and suicidal tendencies after a tough break-up. This is what it’s all about – moving from the casual to the personal to the spiritual within our relationships. Our dream is to return to Sudan and work in refugee camps and make the TotalFit vision a reality there. 

Can you talk about some of the struggles you’ve faced? 

Ben: Starting up the business without a doubt! You come in with the expectation that it will be tough as you have to compete in a competitive market, and it can be demoralising when you don’t see the growth and expansion you had envisioned. As a culture, we are used to things being short and sweet. We like things to be quick without too much long-term investment but starting a business (especially in the context of a global pandemic!) is a marathon not a sprint. Hitting the profit margins to make a sustainable business is the slow and steady slog. 

Felicity: We often have this expectation that God delivers on the big blessings, and that blessings come with a sense that it will be plain sailing. But we’ve learned that just because it’s harder than we expected, it doesn’t make it any less worth it. We’re learning perseverance all the time and trusting that His plans are better than our own. 

Where do you envision yourselves in a years’ time and then five years’ time? 

Felicity: We see optimal health like the journey back to Eden: going back to the holistic world God had intended for us. We’re in it for the long-haul! I’m currently taking a course in helping women get back into fitness after having a baby, which can be a real challenge for so many. Our goal is to keep training coaches, and eventually equip multiple coaches to take over from our Brighton base. But overall, we’re here to love and serve the people around us. TotalFit is our tool to do just that.

Ben: We have a heart to set up a TotalFit gym in Sudan, so hopefully that will be within the next five years! I’d also love to compete in CrossFit and we plan to stay involved in our local church, Emmanuel Brighton. 

Incredible stuff. Thank you so much for all of your insight and fitness inspiration! 

You can see more of what Ben and Felicity are up to on their Instagram page – @totalfitbrighton.

Join More articles