While attending James Madison University to study theater and musical theater, Katie Culligan took a course in kinesiology to fulfill a mandatory Ged Ed requirement. It was in that class that she discovered her affinity for fitness–especially strength training. After launching her acting career in 2007 on stage and on screen, she became a certified fitness trainer through the Athletics & Fitness Association of America (AFAA) in 2009 and began working as personal trainer at the now-defunct Vantage Fitness in Falls Church. Since then Culligan has gotten certified in several disciplines including SPIN, perinatal fitness and group exercise and received a certificate in health coaching from Georgetown University. The pandemic has upended the entertainment world and her acting opportunities; here’s how she’s staying focused and successful.
What services do you provide as a trainer?
I currently train as an independent contractor out of my home gym, clients’ houses and virtually–especially these days. Some clients are weekly and others are biweekly, depending on their schedule and fitness needs. I also teach group exercise at McLean Racquet and Health Club in-person along with virtual classes through BodyMoves Fitness, Virginia Hospital Center and other corporate classes.
My services are individualized and I pride myself on being flexible; knowing effective and safe ways to train and work with each person depending on how they are feeling each session. I also provide “exercise homework” to each of my clients that gives them a safe but challenging routine to work on in between our sessions.
How much of your time is spent acting vs. being a trainer, and how has that changed since the pandemic?
Pre-pandemic I would say it was split 50/50, as I would book contracts with shows that often rehearsed/performed at night or on weekends and sometimes took me out of town for a month or two. I’ve done several commercial shoots in the past year, but acting work and even auditions are very light these days. One reason I initially got into fitness was the flexibility the job gave me to make my own hours and work directly with clients in scheduling our sessions. Now with live theater on hiatus–several of my show contracts were canceled in 2020 and no shows are being booked during this time–I have much more time open for me to consistently teach and train.
At-home workouts are all the rage right now, so I’ve worked much more with bodyweight movements in my fitness routines, for those who may not have weights or fitness equipment at home. For several months during the pandemic, I did a series of 38 at-home fitness videos on YouTube titled “Katie’s Quarantine Trainer Tips” which simply broke down one movement per video that you could do from the safety of your own home.
How does acting help you in the personal trainer realm and vice versa?
My extensive background in short-form, long and sketch improvisation has helped me remain mentally flexible in fitness. I feel best when I can create a freeform class or workout routine during the session; a set routine gets stale quickly for your mental state, and your body eventually adapts to it and stops seeing results. My fitness background has often helped me on stage with stamina and keeping my body healthy when it can be stretched to its limit with anywhere from four to eight shows a week. I do a lot of physical comedy and that involves nuanced body awareness, and the more in tune we are with our body, the more we can safely use it to create strong, specific performances.
How do you spend an average day?
I usually wake up an hour before my first class, meditate for 15 minutes, have a small granola bar and a shot of espresso or two and then teach a High Intensity Interval Class (HIIT). After my first class, I shower, eat a late morning snack with protein (often involving eggs and fruit) and make sure I hydrate. My downtime often happens in chunks throughout the day, so if I have an afternoon window, I will do household chores, other computer-based work, watch my latest Netflix show or read before heading to my next class. If I teach more than one class per day, I am careful to check in with my body so I don’t overdo certain muscle groups. Oftentimes my clients train after their work in the evening, so I prepare my home gym by sanitizing and getting music ready for our sessions. When I work with my clients, we check in during our warm-up about how the homework has gone, how they are feeling today (any aches and pains/energy level) and what their goals are for the session. After an hour-long session with my clients, I wind down by eating dinner with my husband–he’s a great cook and I’m great doing the dishes. We often cozy up with our sweet Siamese Cat, Toby, and chill out to a funny show or movie.
What do you find most rewarding and most challenging in the personal training world?
I love working with people, building professional relationships and even friendships with my clients and group exercise students; to see each person progress in their fitness and health over time and be the one helping guide them towards that while also holding them accountable is a wonderful part of the job. Mid-pandemic, I find the virtual aspect to be the most challenging. While it’s an amazing resource to be able to safely teach and train, teaching a class while not being about to see everyone and feel their energy can be tough on my extroverted nature.
What goals do you have for yourself and your career for 2021?
I would love to build up my client base a bit more and even get back to some health coaching. I hope to continue teaching group exercise and maybe even add on more classes! With acting, while unfortunately I don’t foresee theater back in my life this coming year, I do hope more film opportunities will arise and I will continue to work towards that goal. Most of all, I hope to stay positive, healthy, open and ready for whatever happens next in my life!
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