An Interview with Tony & Joe Burns (Burns Gym)

Regular exercise is proven to have tremendous benefits for the elderly such as increased mobility, improved balance, and better joint stability. Unfortunately though, there are often considerable barriers preventing older people from maintaining an active lifestyle. Most exercise programmes require access to unsuitable equipment and are not geared towards common ailments suffered among this age group which, in turn, further exacerbates their health concerns.

Recognising a gap in the market, exercise gurus Tony & Joe Burns created a fully functional workout that the elderly can complete from the comfort of their armchair. They bring an element of fun by incorporating music – with hits from the Rat Pack, Elvis Pressley, Marvin Gaye, and many more – whilst also building confidence through their patient and empathetic approach. Unsurprisingly, their services have proven to be a massive hit with care home residents and the brothers are now a recognised supplier of elderly fitness workouts for NAPA and Scottish Care, who have more than 6,000 care home members between them. We spoke to the Glasgow-based duo to find out more.

Can you tell us more about your backgrounds as personal trainers?

TB: Fitness has always been my passion. I left school to study Sports Coaching with Development. I then qualified as a personal trainer with the Australian Institute of Fitness back in 2007. After qualifying as a personal trainer I landed my first full-time job in sports working as a sports coach and development officer at Hamilton Academical Football Club who are a professional football club in Scotland. Nine months later, I moved on to work in a commercial gym as a personal trainer, fitness instructor and spinning instructor. During this time I competed as a natural bodybuilder. I competed in the Scottish and British Championships which I totally loved. I spent three years working in the gym full time. I left the gym and joined the police force, serving eight years as a police officer for Police Scotland. So yes, a variety of jobs but I can definitely say I am back where I belong and the best part about this is I am able to follow my passion in running my own fitness business while helping people and also I get to work alongside my brother and best friend, Joe, every day.

JB: Like Tony, I have always been passionate about health and fitness. I come from a very different background. I started my career as an engineer for Scottish Gas before moving into the oil & gas sector as a project manager. While working in the O&G sector, I completed my personal training qualification. Tony and I already had dreams of opening our very own boutique studio in Glasgow. We took inspiration from small, luxurious studios in London. However, while writing our very first business plan, we realised that Glasgow is not London. The amount of money we would have to invest would not have been worth the return in investment. There are still no real boutique type places in Glasgow so we know we have made the right decision by diverting our attention and skill set to the elderly care home residents.

To echo Tony’s point, I love being able to combine my passion for business and fitness and come to work each day to live my dream with my brother and best friend. More importantly, we are making a real difference with the work that we are doing. We have some big plans for the future with regards to the elderly sector and we cannot wait to implement some of our future projects.

What inspired you to bring functional fitness exercise classes to care homes across the UK?

JB: The fitness industry is saturated so we had to think outside the box to try and create our own niche. When doing research we found the CAPA (Care About Physical Activity) initiative which is aimed at encouraging residents to become more efficient using exercise. With our passion for fitness combined with our love for the elderly (we have a very close bond with our grandparents) we decided to create a full body functional exercise class that can be delivered from an armchair. The workouts have continuously evolved as we continue to research to ensure we are leading the way.

Can you talk us through a typical class?

TB: We deliver an all over body workout focused on the resident’s strength, endurance, balance and coordination. The full session can be completed in the armchair and will target the upper, lower muscles and joints of the body. The class lasts roughly 30 minutes. The workout consists of a warm up, the main activity and a cooldown. We provide technique and instructor tips throughout the class to make sure everyone is carrying out the exercises safely.

The warm up includes dynamic stretching which will be pertinent to the main activity. This allows the muscles to warm up in a safe and timely manner. The main activity consists of a variety of exercises that target the upper, lower muscles and joints of the body. The cooldown includes static stretching to return the body to its non-exercising state.

How has Burns Gym adapted to the current situation regarding COVID-19?

JB: COVID-19 has had such a huge impact on residents in care homes. Unfortunately, due to the effect this virus has on elderly residents, really tough measures had to be put in place which was on one hand very sad but at the same time extremely necessary. We really had to work hard to think of ways we could reach the residents without actually physically visiting the care homes. We have fortunately now come up with a way to deliver our sessions remotely and it has been a huge success with clients. The sessions have been motivating, fun and most importantly, we are getting the residents moving.

To what extent do you tailor classes for those with limited mobility?

JB: One thing we always stress to the residents is to complete the workout at their own pace. Listening to your body is extremely important. We heavily rely on the wellbeing staff at the other end to help with this as we cannot physically be in the room to monitor. We have a range of exercises throughout each class and each exercise comes with an alternative. So for example if we choose a knee raise and some residents are unable to lift the leg through the full range of motion then we ask the residents to lift their leg halfway.

What are the most frequent challenges and how do you overcome these?

TB: Delivering sessions remotely can be difficult for many reasons. One of the main reasons being we cannot physically be present in the room while delivering our session. So our delivery has to be spot on. Safety technique tips and demonstrations of exercises have to be clear and concise while keeping the workout entertaining, fun and safe. The activities staff play a vital role in passing on our message to the residents too which we are always very appreciative of. You have to be aware some residents will have limited mobility in certain areas so it is extremely important that we try and include all residents by providing as many alternatives to each exercise as possible.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

TB: We want introduce our fitness sessions to as many care homes in the UK as possible. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with our mission yet. We are constantly researching, investing in this part of our business because we see first-hand how much of a positive impact it has on people’s lives. We not only want to be the face of elderly fitness in care homes in the UK, we want to change how people think of elderly fitness and give people a real understanding as to how vital it is.

Tony & Joe Burns (Burns Gym) have been named Personal Trainers of the Year by the Scotland Prestige Awards 2021. The judges were particularly impressed by the thoughtful elderly fitness workouts devised by the two brothers. Drawing on their extensive coaching expertise, the judges praised the trainers for providing fun, accessible and inclusive workouts that ensures positive results for all participants. For more information please visit