We’re not in Kansas anymore. A paparazzi angles his obnoxious lens toward the black, tinted glass nestled on the quiet corner of Renwick and Canal Street in New York’s hipster enclave suburb of Soho. Ahead of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the photographer’s subject is inside arguably the most famous gym in the city (if not the world), The Dogpound; a runway unto itself of beautiful and influential people getting fit.
Walking inside the fitness factory ahead of a training session with the man at the helm of it all, CEO and founder Kirk Myers, is like stepping inside an Instagram story; high octane personalities fly past with encouraging high fives, jacked trainers help clients tackle battle ropes and Lais Ribeiro – the VS angel who wore the US$2 million-dollar fantasy bra in the 2017 spectacle in Shanghai – is stretching out her long limbs on a black mat.
And yet there, set against the tough black landscape is Myers; a reserved – almost meek –man with tattoos to the neck, purple toe-nail polish, a mohair bum bag and slides that read “Kirk”. Within minutes of meeting him, you can tell he is completely unaffected by just how tremendously successful this whole Dogpound thing has become. “So what is it exactly you’d like to work on today?” he asks, his quiet voice barely audible over Estelle’s I Can Be A Freak. “It’s not usually like this in here, but it’s Friday. We’re excited for the weekend,” he adds of the vibe.
I tell Myers I’m here to understand just how hard the Victoria’s Secret models train. What does a typical workout look like? How many abs do you need to warrant the use of the hashtag #TrainLikeAnAngel? After all, since the apparel giant’s inception in 1995 (where slinky slips and cardigans were sent down the runway at The Plaza Hotel in New York City), there’s a been a seismic shift from ‘thin’ to ‘athletic’. We begin with repetitive cycles of movements, to the count of 15, using resistance bands, sliders, ankle weights and my own body weight. Every squat, sit-up, plank and bridge seems do-able. Heck, if this was training like an angel, VS creative director Ed Razek better be ready to meet his first 5 foot 5 angel. Unbeknown to me at the time, however, I would not be able to laugh, sneeze or stretch in the coming days given how torn up my internal stomach muscles would feel. (Myers later tells me he pushes the models “a little harder” than he pushed me! I laugh, in pain nonetheless.)
The travelling lingerie juggernaut by which 1.4 billion people around the globe tuned in to watch last year – the largest number of viewers attached to a fashion event of any sort – is a client goldmine for the right trainer. With its huge fanfare comes a spotlight on the person responsible for those Amazonian figures. That trainer is Myers. But get to know the Kansas City native and you quickly realise his famous client base in a mere off-shoot to a far more interesting backstory, one that bred his shyness and imperturbability and pinches far worse than any Victoria’s Secret underwire.
“I have what some people call an addictive personality,” Myers confesses with a slight Southern drawl on select words. “I would call it a passionate personality. I get really into things, which is really good if it’s something good but it’s really bad if it’s something bad. As a teenager, I got into chocolate milk. I drank up to two gallons (7.5 litres) a day.” Myers says while he had a good upbringing, he was uneducated when it came to what he was putting into his body. The chocolate milk was labelled ‘skim’, there was no fat in it, so what damage could it possibility be doing? “By the time I was a sophomore in high school I was weighing in at over 300 pounds (136 kilos). I was 15-year-old. I wasn’t miserable but my self-esteem wasn’t right and I wasn’t very confident. I’m kind of a shyer person anyways.”
At 21-years-old, Myers was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition whereby the heart is enlarged and thus it’s function is low and cannot pump blood around the body easily. Untreated, it can lead to heart failure. “They say a third of people get worse, a third get better and a third stay the same,” recalls Myers. He decided to take control of his disease and started studying nutrition and exercise. He began losing weight, first 20 pounds (nine kilos), then 40.
As I watch and listen to Myers speak, I find that whenever he is referencing the cumulative result of something – whether it be how he built up his client base, or how many tattoos he has (his upper body is covered) or how much weight he lost – he speaks in numbered increments, multiples of one another. It’s as though counting calories or numbers on the scales is so engrained in him. “I lost 20 pounds, then 40 and then you get compliments and start to feel better,” Myers recalls. At 23, he decided to become a trainer, got his certifications and started out by helping his friends exercise and get their meal plans in order. “Out of the gate, I started my own business because I already had people who wanted to do it. It caught on really quickly in my hometown. I had two clients, then four, eight, 16, 32,” he relays.
Three years later things began to fall into place. “I was doing really well. I was making good money, I had a fancy car, a nice place, I thought I was really cool,” he says with a little side smile. “I looked fit, I felt fit, I had girlfriends. But basically what happened was, I got a little cocky. I started going out, started partying and I got into some drugs and that also went south because I got passionately into that which is not good. I ended up getting sick again at 30 with my heart. But this time, it was much more severe and intense.
“I couldn’t work and I lost everything.”
It is the human experience that when one reaches rock bottom, special people in our lives – the ones who love us unconditionally – reach out to pull us through. For Myers, that person was his sister in Tennessee. “I notice this with a lot of people and I noticed it with myself,” begins Myers. “You can get into this victims mindset where you’re like, ‘Why me? Why is this happening to me?’ It’s such a negative mind space to be in.”
It’s interesting then, I point out, that the more one feels like a victim, the more self-destructive they become. “Exactly,” Myers says. “You start attracting that as well. What I’ve realised, in my life, if you break it all down, every time there’s been something that’s happened and it’s seemed like the worst thing that could happen, it’s a blessing in disguise every time.”
“In moments of extreme hardship, it’s what’s made you,” I interject. “It helps to change your mindset,” Myers responds. “Coming from where I’ve come from and facing a life or death situation, you realise that nothing is that big of a deal, right? People go through worse things every day and it makes you have a bigger appreciation for what you have.”
While an Eastern sea-change breathed new life into Myers, unbeknown to him at the time, there was something bigger waiting on the horizon. The trainer’s renewed magnetic energy was attracting a gust of wind pointing North East; New York was calling. He moved to the city to visit his brother with whom he had recently fallen out with. “I was just going to stay for the summer. I really had no money, no anything,” he says. “I started liking it here, I started feeling better. I started training here in a small gym in the city and stayed for a year. My brother works in the film industry. He had an opportunity for me to work with these people and then I had two clients, and four, then eight. Then I reinvented myself. I had my second chance. And it was in New York.”
“I realised at some point if you’re going to be the best trainer you can be, you have to have your own space.”
“So with next to nothing, how did you save up for the space?” I ask. Admitting business isn’t his strength, Myers surrounded himself with the right people who could get him face-time with investors. “This is why New York is so awesome because there’s so much opportunity,” says Myers. “Every hour I’m with someone crazy smart or crazy good – and I met some business guys.” Armed with a presentation and one of the fiercest work ethics I’ve ever seen in a personal trainer (to put it into perspective, in 2017 Myers worked a mammoth 3600 sessions), he was able to convince his investors to dig deep. He raised well over a million and was able to open The Dogpound in 2015 – fondly named by Australia’s Hugh Jackman after the actor and his friends would bring their dogs down to the gym in the mornings with Myers to train. “Hugh’s like an animal in the gym,” he says.
Myers also became friends with iconic art director and ex-editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine Fabien Baron who helped him design Dogpound’s logo. “I wanted it to be tough and look cool. I wanted it to be like, intimidating,” says Myers. “I’m a big Raiders football fan. They wear all black and are typically the misfits, they are rough. Fabien did this times ten, he gave my idea an edge.”
Working in so many gyms, Myers knew the lay of the land when it came to trainers becoming territorial of their clients and vice versa. To combat this, at times, toxic nature, Myers implemented “trainer teams”. “While we were just working out today, I introduced you to a tonne of trainers,” he explains. “The idea is when I’m done training you, I invite you back and say, ‘Next time, you should train with Hannah, she’s amazing and is really good at this,” and you’re sold on Hannah. It becomes easier for you to book a session because you have multiple trainers and you get a mix of different styles of training which is really good.”
Three years ago, the clientele was 70% male to 30% female. Now it’s done a switch and it’s thanks to one model in particular. Myers helped celebrity hair stylist Marty Harper lose 40 pounds and he is turn recommended Myers to Victoria’s Secret’s Jasmine Tookes. “Jasmine really liked what we were about and the next week she brought Josephine [Skriver]. Then Sara [Sampaio], Romee [Strijd] and Elsa [Hosk] came.” It was the beginning of a new level of success for The Dogpound and a by-default marketing plan. “My Instagram isn’t that good at the moment but we’re lucky to have clients that tag us,” Myers says playing down the huge digital growth his company has earned since keeping star clients happy and healthy. “At the moment, it comes down to the right place at the right time. That’s the whole thing, we have the right clients.”
Ribeiro shoots a smile my way. Myers doesn’t take on any new clients so for me to be training with him, I’m either somebody or mega wealthy – his current rate for an exclusive one-on-one is US$500 (AU$693). “Where I’m from, it’s an outrageous price point but you’d be surprised how many people will pay it,” says Myers. “I think I’m going to stop doing exclusives. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not worth that much per hour and at this point, it’s about the building the brand, not how much money I can make.”
Myers is hell bent on making his trainers investment in the gym worth their while too – they have opportunities for pay increases and health benefits which means they remain loyal to Myers for the long haul. The Dogpound pitched to investors again recently which has allowed the company to expand from Renwick and Canal in New York to Melrose and Robertson in Los Angeles.
That plane ride from JFK to LAX will fly across Kansas City. When I ask Myers how he feels when people call him a success story, he gets a little uncomfortable. “It makes me feel proud,” he begins, looking down. “It makes me feel good – I should have a better word than that. It’s very encouraging.” His passionate personality has meant he not only counts pounds and tattoos but goals too. “There’s something to be said about this sense of accomplishment. It’s just part of being human. When you reach one, you want to reach another.”
And for now, the kind and humble Kirk Myers – the man who once had it all against him – is sitting sky high.