In the three years since Jason Walsh opened his first fitness space, Rise Nation, in Los Angeles, the Missouri-born trainer’s become a fave amongst Hollywood A-listers—he’s the one that helped Emma Stone physically prep for her roles in both Battle of the Sexes and La La Land, for which she won an Academy Award last year. Jennifer Aniston, Minka Kelly (pictured with Walsh above), Lily Aldridge, Ashley Greene, Lady Gaga, Nina Dobrev, Hilary Duff, and Ashley Tisdale are all Rise Nation regulars, too. Becoming a trainer-to-the-stars, however, wasn’t exactly Walsh’s goal when he got into the fitness game.
“I hate that title,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of the people I train are non-celebrities. I just wanted to come up with something I thought was far more safe and effective than anything else out there.” Still, the fact that at least a handful of Hollywood heavy-hitters visit his VersaClimber-centric studio daily is a big part of why he’s been able to build the buzz he has in such a short amount of time (and why I reached out to him for an interview). And even Walsh himself recognizes the role its played in Rise Nation’s skyrocketing success: “Yeah, it’s cool when you get Lebron James in class—that’s validating—but it’s the moments when everyday people tell me I’ve changed their life or saved their life that keep me going. It’s not about the money or the expansion. It’s those reminders.”
“I just wanted to come up with something I thought was far more safe and effective than anything else out there.”
Walsh is known as the trainer you go to if you want to build strength and muscle—not necessarily lose weight (though the latter has certainly occurred for clients like Alison Brie, who credits him with helping her get into the best shape of her life). Similar things can be said for his clients like Emily Blunt, Jessica Biel, Matt Damon, and Bradley Cooper. Each one of them, in a way, has become a walking business card for what following Walsh’s philosophies can do.
“I was just talking to Alison Brie about that this morning,” Walsh said on the phone recently. “We were talking about how Emily Blunt came in to get in great shape for Edge of Tomorrow—she came in because Jessica Biel had come in—and she looked freaking amazing. It was a total-body transformation. She became this super-strong woman, and she was the hero in that movie!”
In 2018, however, it’s likely another title with usurp Walsh’s celebrity trainer status: fitness disruptor.
“I want to push the fitness industry in a new direction,” Walsh says. “I want people to think outside the box, to think about the client, and to make sure we’re all doing this for the right reason. If that makes me a disruptor, then yeah, I’m a disruptor. For years I’ve put my head down and done really great fucking work. I didn’t plot out how to get from here to a million—that doesn’t mean shit to me. That’s never been my goal.”
So, exactly how is he shaking things up? Well, for starters, while it’s pretty standard for boutique fitness classes to last 60, 75, or 90 minutes, at Rise Nation, all but one of them (the newly debuted Mile High Climb class, in which participants strive to ascend 5,280 feet), are just 30 minutes long. That’s all they need to be, Walsh says. The uber-effective total-body workout builds strength and endurance, and clients burn up to 800 calories in a single session.
“We’ve become so dysfunctional from sitting all day and having various injuries, that we’ve hindered our bodies’ abilities to move well.”—Jason Walsh
“The Level 1 class breaks down the climbing movement, which should be intuitive since it’s so primitive,” Walsh says. “But we’ve become so dysfunctional from sitting all day and having various injuries, that we’ve hindered our bodies’ abilities to move well. So the first time is going to feel really wobbly, but your body will adapt quickly once you get that confidence and stability.”
Yes, Rise Nation’s classes are hard, and your legs will be exhausted while your heart seemingly beats out of your chest. But the goal is efficiency, not soreness. Instead of incorporating tons of complex movements into his classes, Walsh uses one: climbing, which he says is as innate as it is challenging. “Climbing is a superior move,” Walsh says. “There’s not a lot of jarring impact, and the risk/reward ratio leads to a much higher reward.”
Ultimately, Walsh says he’s psyched people are working out at all, but that many classes reinforce bad movement patterns that can cause more damage than good. “This should just be about quality of life,” he continues. “You should be moving well and living pain-free. But oftentimes you go to a circuit-training class and the whole mentality is, ‘Let’s beat the shit out of you for an hour.’ There’s not always a method to the madness. There should be an order, a reason for it that’s based on physiology and kinesiology. Otherwise people get hurt.”
“Anyone can say they’re a fitness expert, especially if they look the part. But the reality is, there are very few really great experts out there.”—Jason Walsh
Sure, Walsh is outspoken when it comes to industry standards—but he’s backed by science and serious smarts. He holds a B.A. in Exercise and Sports Science with an emphasis in nutrition and physiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s also a NSCA-certified personal trainer and certified strength and conditioning specialist. So he’s understandably skeptical of the ever expanding “fitness expert” title popping up in Instagram bios. “There’s no real regulation,” Walsh says. “And most of these people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Anyone can say they’re a fitness expert, especially if they look the part. But the reality is, there are very few really great experts out there. So look to people that have education and years of experience. They’re the ones who do know what they’re talking about.”
As Rise Nation continues to expand—it recently opened studios in Cleveland and Miami, and a Dallas location debuts in February (there are also plans for a Melbourne spot in the works)—Walsh says the hardest part right now is just being patient. “I know we’re bringing something great to the world,” he says. “My life was pretty damn good when I was just training clients, and I was very successful in my mind. I could’ve just stayed there, but I took this huge risk in something I believed in. I took everything I had and rolled the dice. I’m definitely earning my gray hairs right now, but I’m so proud and overwhelmed.”
If you don’t live in L.A., Ohio, Miami, or Texas, DIY a Rise Nation workout by hitting this machine at your friendly neighborhood gym. Then make like Rise Nation regular Emma Stone and pick up some seriously heavy weights.