For Allyson Sullivan, fitness started as the perfect escape. As a stay-at-home mom of two young boys, exercise equaled alone time and helped combat the fatigue that came with chasing kids all day.
In 2013, she started attending a group exercise classes in her hometown of Fairfax, Virginia, and was impressed by how quickly her fitness improved. She lost 12 pounds and had more energy. But after two years, Allyson hit a rut. She wanted to push herself more, but she wasn’t quite sure where to start.
“I wanted to learn how to get strong,” she says.
Allyson joined Gold’s Gym in 2015, agreed to a fitness assessment, and requested a trainer who could help her learn Olympic-style weightlifting. That’s when she met Josh, a personal trainer with experience in strength training and bodybuilding. They clicked, and she trained with him once a week for four months, perfecting basic weightlifter moves like deadlifts, snatches, cleans and squat lifts. Under Josh’s guidance, she dropped 3 percent of her body fat and, she says, got much, much stronger.
“I didn’t realize what I was capable of before working with him,” she says.
Josh made Allyson feel more confident in the gym. She was struck by how knowledgeable he was, and she learned so much in their time working together that she began to feel empowered to teach other people. The two also had very open lines of communication, which allowed Allyson to really hone her form.
“I’m very thankful I met him. He really inspired me and encouraged me to get to where I am now,” she says. “Josh taught me so that I’d be comfortable doing the exercises on my own.”
Passing it on
Allyson enjoyed her fitness experience at Gold’s Gym so much that, as she improved and reached her potential, she began helping her friends grow in their own workouts. At this point, her kids were approaching school-age, and she was thinking about finding a career. She couldn’t help but wonder if the answer was right in front of her. When she told Josh in passing that she thought it would be fun to be a trainer, his response was immediate: “Do it.”
Spurred by Josh’s support, Allyson talked it over with her husband, and then enrolled with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She studied while her kids were asleep, scraping together hours in the early mornings and late evenings to prepare for the test. The work paid off, and she passed her certification exam in March 2017. She also earned a women’s fitness specialization certification, and when her boys started school in August, Allyson went to work for Gold’s Gym in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Building trust, then muscle
As a trainee-turned-trainer, Allyson wants her clients to enjoy an experience like her own, with a working relationship built around communication. A typical first session involves a lot of talking, Allyson says. She performs a fitness profile and GOLD’S 3D™ body scan, and then discusses her clients’ goals and what she can do to help them reach those targets. She wants the people she works with to feel comfortable and understood.
“I tell them, ‘If anything is ever hurting you, or you need to stop, just communicate with me. I’ll never overwork you, or make you power through if something’s hurting,’” she says. “Having that conversation really eases people’s minds.”
For a second session, Allyson builds a baseline workout that focuses on functional movements and helps her assess what a client needs to work on the most. She creates a new program for each subsequent session, building off what was done in the previous session and helping her clients become more comfortable in their movements.
The workouts can include endurance training, high-intensity internal training, strength training or some combination, depending on what best serves each individual. Allyson also gives “homework” — exercise moves for clients to use on their own — and assists with nutritional guidance. She works with about 30 clients, many of whom are moms, like her.
Nell Evans, a client who has been working with Allyson since October 2017, sought help in recovering from a neck injury. Under Allyson’s guidance, Nell focused on increasing strength in her neck, back and shoulders. Allyson, constantly aware of Nell’s injury, is always careful to make sure Nell is doing things properly.
“I’ve had tremendous results,” Nell says of their sessions together. In December, she recalls, her doctor told her, “Your posture’s amazing.”
In addition to technical knowledge, Allyson brings energy and joy to every workout. “Allyson is always in a peppy mood,” Nell says. “She makes working out fun. I don’t ever look at the clock, and I look at the clock all the time when I’m by myself. The time goes by so fast when I’m with her.”
Plus, Nell says, Allyson always knows how to push her. Nell likes countdowns, and when she gets to the end, Allyson has a way of prodding her for a few more reps. “She’ll give me a little look that says, ‘Come on, you can do more,’ ” Nell says. “I love working with her.”
The best job
Because personal training affords a flexible schedule, Allyson can be there for her boys when they need her, and she’s able to spend more time with her husband, who often joins her for workouts. What started as an escape has led to a great career fit, and she couldn’t be happier.
“I love working out, I love teaching other people to work out, and it’s a good environment,” Allyson says. “I’m so thankful for what I get to do every day.”