We don’t calorie count or any stuff to do with macros ... it’s about good, lean, healthy food
Signing up to personal training may evoke fears of calorie counting and careful totting up of macronutrients. Yet for Northern Ireland's top personal trainer Karla McAllister, her clients' emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical health.
The Dunloy woman has carved out a successful fitness brand after a career as an ice-skater that saw her become a member of the GB Olympic team and three times British champion.
Having since hung up her ice skates due to sustaining a bad injury while on the ice, Karla now draws on her time as a competitive sportswoman in helping others with their fitness journeys.
“I started skating when I was six years old and got onto the group and team at 10. I moved away from home when I was 14 and I have three British titles,” she says.
“I tried to adopt everything that I took from my sport and travelling and training, from all over the world, to enter into working with people and making them the best version of them.”
She runs her own fitness outlet, Karla’s Physical Excellence (KPE) Gym in Ballymoney, Ireland’s only official body shred fitness studio.
She expanded her business into prepared healthy meals, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, distributed by Apperley’s Butchers and stocked in nearly 20 stores.
“I provide my clients with personalised plans, particularly different ones weekly, and help them with nutrition,” explains the mum-of-one (33).
“You are talking lean and clean food. We don’t calorie-count or any stuff to do with macros. It’s all about good, lean, clean and healthy food. The ready meals are stocked across Northern Ireland and are doing really well.”
Like many business owners, lockdown forced the personal trainer, who beat more than 50,000 fitness instructors to be crowned best personal trainer in Northern Ireland at the NI B-Fit Awards last year, to adapt.
In Karla’s case, she switched to online gym sessions with clients.
“At the minute, I have a private online page on which we have up to 600 subscribers each month,” she says.
“It just keeps growing month by month. Everything can be done online, which we adapted to at the time of the lockdown.
“Before that, online was never anything that we’d have done. When there was lockdown and we had to close the gyms, I decided that I would go online and create a private Facebook page for anyone who wanted to take care of themselves over lockdown.
“I gave it for free for the first seven weeks. We did a live workout every single day online, made plans and then obviously I had to make an income.
“It helped give (clients) a structure and a routine. They got up and would do their work and then work out. They had exactly what they (needed). They kept their weight at a good target.”
Aware that many people were struggling in the pandemic, Karla made her services more affordable.
“People were losing their jobs and people were financially struggling, so I dropped my original price of £70 per month down to £25, which works out at 83p per day, so that people could look after themselves, their mental health and their physical health,” she says.
After gyms were given permission to reopen, Karla opted to keep the online option running for people who find themselves pressed for time.
“If there’s a day that clients can’t make it to the gym, then they can just stick us on online and watch us. They’re all pre-recorded, so they can do them in the comfort of their own home,” she says.
“I also do a mental health chat, covering all bases of depression, anxiety and how to react to situations when life throws curveballs at you.
“We’re very much into that side of it as well. It’s all about mental health as well as physical health.”
Keen to ensure her clients feel comfortable while building up a sweat, Karla has launched a fitness wear brand, KPE clothing, that’s suitable for both men and women.
“What I thought was missing from the market was practical sportswear for woman and mothers who don’t want to walk round in skimpy tops. It’s more about being comfy and extremely affordable,” she says.
“I think sportswear has just become so popular and fashionable — everybody likes to wear active-wear.
“I wanted the brand to be affordable and comfortable. I think it’s become so popular that prices have gone up a lot.
“People are so body-conscious, (so) it’s all about making them feel comfortable and confident.”
The most gratifying part of Karla’s job is inspiring others to transform their health, especially when it’s “women supporting women”.
“I have a client who is 30 and she had a stroke. She recovered and had to learn to walk and talk again, as well as having two children at home,” she explains.
“She joined during lockdown, was able to drop three stone and is now thriving in her whole life.
“One of the other big success stories was a lady who was trying to conceive. She dropped four stone and went on to conceive. She had a beautiful baby girl a couple of months ago and she’s still below her target weight.”
On a more personal level, Karla was absolutely over the moon when she was named Northern Ireland’s top personal trainer last year.
“You know, you do all the hard work and everything that comes with it, and to win an award that puts you number one out of 50,000 personal trainers in Northern Ireland — it’s huge.”
Karla also wants to be a positive role model for her seven-year-old daughter Macie Mae.
“I’m a mummy and I try to set a good example to her. Everything I do is for her. Every decision I make, every challenge I take on for myself, I do it so she can see that everything’s possible.”
And her advice for anyone keen to embark on a career as a personal trainer?
“Don’t get caught up in the gym trends. That is something I’ve always done,” she adds.
“Do your own thing and set yourself goals about what you want to achieve. Have a clear vision.
“If you’re passionate about what you believe in and take steps to make it happen, you’re going to succeed.”
For more information on KPE, see www.kpeclothing.com or search for Karla’s Physical Excellence on Facebook and Instagram. Alternatively, call 079 3456 2115