Jason Walsh has come a long way from his Springfield beginnings to land in the enviable position of a fitness trainer who can count Hollywood A-listers Matt Damon, Bradley Cooper and Brie Larson among his clientele.
It’s something the Queen City native and 1994 graduate of Logan-Rogersville High School didn’t set out to achieve. The Los Angeles resident first visited there while in a relationship with a woman in Southern California. Although that didn’t work out, he decided to stay in the place he describes as “the mecca of personal training.”
His famous client list was built entirely by referrals, starting back when he began personal training facility Rise Movement in 2010. He recalls his first celebrity client was actress Jessica Biel. Her husband, Justin Timberlake, signed up shortly afterward.
“I’m not self-promoting and I don’t do endorsements or anything like that,” Walsh said in a phone interview from LA. “I let my work speak for itself.”
The referrals led to his first big Hollywood studio opportunity when Walsh was asked to train Damon for the 2013 film “Elysium.” The work has been steady since, with some of his training projects involving getting Cooper ready for “American Sniper,” Emily Blunt for “Edge of Tomorrow” and Larson for “Captain Marvel.”
The big names draw attention, but Walsh said 75% of his more than 100 personal training clients aren’t celebrities. “Word spreads and either you’re good or you’re not,” he said, declining to disclose annual revenue. “It happened pretty quickly for me.”
Walsh said he hasn’t left his hometown in the rearview mirror, as he returns to the Queen City at least twice a year to visit family. He most recently returned for Thanksgiving weekend.
On the grow
Walsh is part of a growing fitness trainer and instructor industry, which is projected to grow 13% between 2018 and 2028, well above the average growth of 5% for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry had 357,000 jobs in 2018, with a median average wage of $39,820. BLS data reported the highest 10% in the occupation earned more than $76,090. In Missouri, the average mean wage ranges from $39,010 to $45,540.
Springfield-based personal trainer Pamela Hernandez turned her business, Thrive Personal Fitness LLC, into a full-time venture in 2011. Previously, she worked in banking for 15 years, most recently with a Springfield branch of Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC). As the economy struggled during the Great Recession around 2008, she began looking for a new gig.
“It started as a side hustle in 2009, because I was waiting for a pink slip,” Hernandez said. “It never came, but I made the leap eventually.”
She currently trains around 30 clients from her studio in the Ollis/Akers/Arney building at 2274 E. Sunshine St. The space was built when she moved in, which Hernandez said is not a typical situation for those starting a fitness practice. It saved her money, noting her total investment was around $3,000. Her marketing budget was nil, as she chose to use a blog and social media to promote her business. That decision led to a connection via Twitter with KY3 anchor Paul Adler.
“That came organically from a social media chat,” she said of the television station’s Fit Life segments on which she has regularly appeared over the past seven years.
“It’s one of the best things that could have happened to me,” Hernandez said.
‘Bet on yourself’
Both Walsh and Hernandez are nationally certified personal trainers. However, she said the certifications don’t teach anything about starting a business or marketing.
Fifteen years in banking gave Hernandez a great education in business, she said.
Walsh didn’t have a business background, but he took a chance starting Rise Movement during the Great Recession, as commercial real estate in southern California was bottoming out. “You bet on yourself if you truly believe in your abilities,” he said.
His next risk came in 2014, when he founded Rise Nation, a West Hollywood-based studio. He said it was born from a desire to provide a fitness program for clients in a boutique-style setting that was safe and efficient.
“If I can’t do something that’s super safe and effective, then I’m not going to do it. But I’m going to give it a shot and this is what I came up with,” he said, estimating he invested about $750,000 in the venture.
It’s paid off, as Rise Nation studios have since grown to nine locations, including Miami, Denver and Melbourne, Australia.
He said all studios are corporate owned, and billionaire Mark Cuban came on as an investor in December 2018. He declined to disclose Cuban’s investment in the company and annual revenues, but noted the operation is debt-free. Additional locations in LA, Dallas and New York City are on the docket, he said, though his hometown is not currently on the radar.
Walsh said word-of-mouth has been his best promotion in California. With two companies and a consistent clientele to serve, his schedule is constantly busy. “Being from Missouri has a huge influence on who I am and how I stand out in the industry. People understand I’m authentic,” he said.
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