Boston’s Best Personal Trainer: Talking Fitness with SCLA’s Stephen Allison

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Posted December 11, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Downtown Boston
Top Trainer: Stephen Allison was recently named "Boston's Best Trainer" by "The Improper Bostonian."

Stephen Allison helped me reach my fitness goal in 60 seconds.

To be fair, it was a modest goal. I’m at my first session with Allison, recently deemed Boston’s Best Trainer by The Improper Bostonian, at Sports Club/LA next to the Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common. I explain that I once practiced yoga three times weekly; then, I could turn myself into a pretzel. But long out of practice, I’m back where I started. That’s clear as I bend over and notice that my fingertips are swinging well above my feet. I want to touch my toes again.

“Take this,” says Allison, handing me two small rubber balls. I follow his instruction: to put them under my feet, find where it pinches, and let them knead that spot for a minute. Then I hand them back, and reach down again. My fingers touch my toes. Holy — he did it!

Allison smiles, and explains something about muscles, tendons, feet, and hamstrings. All I knew was that he’d helped me reach — literally — the first step in a fitness goal. Suddenly, the rest didn’t seem so daunting.

There’s a reason for Allison’s reputation as one of the Hub’s top health gurus. His approach, honed through years of experience in everything from weight lifting to yoga (and coupled with many professional certifications), encourages clients to understand that trying to reach a goal isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And this Boston’s Best Trainer offers encouragement and education along the way.

What made you decide to pursue it as a career?

In high school I had a great cross-country coach who instilled such a love of overall fitness. It did so much for my self-esteem. My parents would always say I was a different person during track season! I’d be much happier, and it’s the same now. If I don’t exercise for two days, I just don’t feel right. As a career, fitness was a way that I thought I could bring joy into people’s lives.

What’s the biggest key to getting in shape?

It’s all about finding the time in your life. People are busy, and there are lots of things thrown at you every day. Make fitness a priority. That’s not easy for a lot of people, but my goal as a trainer is to help them move, enjoy it, be repetitive enough that they pick up basic concepts, and inventive enough that there’s something new for them every day.

I bet finding time is tough for Sports Club/LA clients. There are many power brokers here!

I like to joke that I’m the only person who tells my clients what to do! [Laughs] They have very busy schedules, but it’s not hard if you break it down. Work hard 30 minutes a day, five or six days per week, and you’ll be in shape. And as you get older you’ll move better, be mentally sharper — it affects every area of life.

And your fitness is something you can always control.

That’s something I tell my yoga classes all the time: when you’re on the mat, you control the mat. You control the breathing. You control the pose. If we can start with 12 square foot of mat space, it will spread to the office and your personal life. Fitness helps you take control.

Sports Club/LA

Sports Club/LA located on 4 Avery Street in the heart of Downtown Boston. Photo Credit: Jason Balla

What keeps you motivated?

We have some of the brightest minds in training here at SCLA. Just keeping up with the people that you work with. You learn by doing, by education, and by having people around you who expose you to what’s out there and make you raise your game.

What makes your training different?

You can email me ten times a day and get a reply. I won’t breathe down your back or ram things down your throat; I’m subversive but consistent. I read a book by Stephen King on writing, and he said: to be an author, you need to know a little about a lot. As a trainer, I know a little about a lot of different modalities: weight lifting, yoga, running, Pilates. I can cobble all that together to give you the right workout. And my number one rule is: do no harm. I teach people there’s good pain and bad pain. It’s not about my ego, it’s about your health.

Have you ever been injured, and has it affected your training style?

A couple years ago I fell off my bike and banged up my whole left side. Then I went on a cruise for a week. I was eating unlimited food, was totally inactive — and gained ten pounds. I used all the things I tell people, and within three weeks I lost all the weight. It helped me be able to say, “see guys? I can do it too! I walk the walk!”

Any training approaches you don’t like?

I don’t like that show The Biggest Loser. Sustainable weight loss is about one pound per week. For that, you want to burn 500 calories more per day than you consume. That’s doable. On that show, people lose the first 20 pounds just because they aren’t eating poorly all the time. Eventually they need to get into the groove of a sustainable lifestyle, and they don’t. And I don’t like the way Jillian Michaels yells. If I did that, I’d be gone in a week!

Really? That’s the key to losing four pounds per month?

Yes, and four pounds of fat is about the size of my size-13 shoe. If you lose that on your body, it’s going to show! And that’s just one month. It’s not starving yourself. If we ran outside for half an hour, that’s 400 calories right there. If you did that, and got a salad instead of a burger every day, you’d be on your way. It’s about doing a little something every day — and don’t worry if you cheat one day! We all do. Just keep at it.

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