Entry Level: A day in the life of fitness guru Ilan Cumberbirch

A day in the life of trainer Ilan Cumberbirch, who gives biz and hockey pros the runaround

Credit: Courtesy of Ilan Cumberbirch

Vancouver native puts hockey pros and business execs through their paces

Like many good Canadian kids, Ilan Cumberbirch dreamed of playing in the NHL. The Vancouver native got closer than most but realized that his season with the Limburg Eaters in the Netherlands’ top league would be the end of the line. After coming back home a few years ago, the UBC kinesiology grad bought into his former downtown training facility, Factory Hockey, which specializes in working with professional players, including many Vancouver Canucks. Last November he founded Yard Athletics, his own personal-training brand for athletes and business executives, out of the same space.  

5 a.m. Days start early for Cumberbirch, who hits the alarm buzzer before even the crows wake up. He downs a bulletproof coffee, which for him consists of two double shots of espresso (he goes with Caffè Umbria, finding local roasters too acidic); MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil, which acts as a slow-release fuel source; a little bit of collagen; and a dash of protein powder. He needs it: after the drive to his Granville Street gym, he has three back-to-back training sessions, from 6 until 9 a.m.

9 a.m. Hockey players occupy the next four and a half hours, with specialized training for groups of four to six pros and amateurs. Past clients include NHLers like Victor Bartley, Landon Ferraro and Jeff Tambellini, who, like Cumberbirch, bought into Factory a few years ago. “With that first-hand experience–having played through the junior ranks, collegiate ranks and then professional, and done all the training that comes with that–there’s some credibility on my end,” says Cumberbirch of how he attracts high-end athletes.

Lunch Cumberbirch, who tries to eat around noon or 1 p.m., notes that lunch is almost always on the go: “I’ll do chicken or turkey—some sort of meat—and then a lot of roasted vegetables, grilled vegetables,” he says. “After my workout I try not to do gluten or dairy. So rice, potatoes, yams, quinoa—something like that that’s easily digestible.”

1:30 p.m. It’s time for the players to get their on-ice training, so Cumberbirch heads over to the Britannia Community Centre to lace up his skates. About a week before NHL training camps start in mid-September, the Canucks will come calling, and he’ll run drills to get them up to speed before they begin formal practices. “Hockey players require a lot of attention, and it’s very specific and quite demanding,” Cumberbirch says, pointing out that most pro players don’t make a lot of money. “If you’re playing in the AHL, you’re not clearing that much, and the AHL is just one step shy of the NHL,” he explains. “So to make a living off just athletes, especially in this market and in this city, is very difficult.”

3 p.m. It’s back downtown for Cumberbirch, who squeezes in his own workout. “I allow two hours for that, because there’s about 15 minutes where you unwind and get ready for your workout, and then you have to shower and change,” he says. Then he and his two Yard Athletics staffers kick off the night shift, welcoming clients every hour from 5 to 8. It’s tough work, but Cumby, as many of his trainees call him, is up for it.
“We’re not going to come in there and pet you and hold your hand; it’s not the most glamorous location, and we don’t have scented towels,” he says. “It gets a little loud in there, and it’s intense, and there’s a good energy. I think creating that culture and that energy is huge for the brand.”