Meet Ashleigh Kast, Founder of Sophisticated Strength [Interview]
Considering the fact that more and more adults in America need to increase their physical activity, it may seem like a great time to pursue starting your own fitness business. If that’s how you’re thinking, you are in luck. You can learn from other exercise entrepreneurs who have successfully gone before you and have thrived.
Today, we’re talking to Ashleigh Kast who will share her experience as an entrepreneur who combined her professional curiosity with personal connections to launch her career. Discover the strategies she used to grow her successful fitness practice.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Ashleigh Kast, Founder of Sophisticated Strength
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo for Exercise.com and we are continuing our interview series with fitness experts and today we have the pleasure of interviewing Ashleigh Kast who’s a renowned personal trainer and founder of Sophisticated Strength in the New York City area, correct?
Ashleigh Kast: Yes. In the isle of Manhattan.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s right. Well, thank you for joining us. Now, just give us a little bit of your background. How did you develop a love for health and fitness?
Ashleigh Kast: I think if I really had to pinpoint it, when I was growing up, my mom was actually a really great example to us. Funny enough, you could catch her every morning lacing up her sneakers, grabbing her light weights, and putting on Sweatin’ to the Oldies.
[Editor’s note: Watch Richard Simmons do his thing as he leads dozens of people in Sweatin’ to the Oldies in the video below.]
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome.
Ashleigh Kast: Hitting that one-hour cardio session with Richard Simmons. And I think, just watching her stay consistent with that, year after year, made me kind of just think that that was something I was supposed to do. I’m supposed to take care of my body and work out every day.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. Now did you grow up playing any sports?
Ashleigh Kast: I was a dancer. So I grew up doing ballet and then also jazz dance. And then about somewhere in middle school, I started picking up running. One of the few sports that we had available to us in middle school was cross country. So I started running cross country and then that sort of slowly took over. It was like, you got to join the company with ballet or you can keep running track.
And so I decided in eighth grade, know what my mom has spent a lot of money on ballet shoes and lessons and costumes and a lot of time. And she was going back to school at that time. So I was like, you know what, let me choose this running thing. It’s kind of fun. I don’t want to give it up. And so I became a middle-distance runner in track.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. So you must have incredible footwork with your background in dance.
Ashleigh Kast: It was super helpful. Like, back in the day, the pistol squat was like the cool party trick, right? And then I was like, “Oh this. My joints just move like that.”
[Editor’s note: Check out this pistol squat in the image below. Quite a party trick indeed!]
Schimri Yoyo: Now, as you decided to pursue health and fitness as a career, did you have any mentors within the industry or do you currently have any mentors within the industry?
Ashleigh Kast: Oh my gosh. I’ve had so many great mentors, but my real introduction to strength and conditioning was actually in high school. So I have been very, very lucky and privileged to the way that I got into strength and conditioning. My coach, my track coach in high school, was actually a personal trainer. And we didn’t have a teacher who wanted to take on the job.
So they had to hire someone from outside and he was just phenomenal. We had no idea that we were one of the few track teams that were in the weight room, strength training—we just, we had no idea. And so when I [finally] figured out how great it was, it was my senior year. And an art teacher who was fresh out of college wanted the job. And, unfortunately, he was green.
He was not a personal trainer and we got ran into the ground. So we went from running at the Penn Relays to stepping on the line and experiencing a lot of anxiety and burnout. And then we went back to my coach, Mark Liebowitz, and said, “Wait a second, what’s different?” And then that kind of sparked the whole interest in strength and conditioning.
Grow and manage your fitness business better with Exercise.com
And Mark became a mentor for me after that. When I was in college, I thought I was going to go premed. And then I was like, “Oh, I’ll just do personal training on the side.” That’s like a good job to have in college. It’s super flexible. You can make some good money.
And so Mark and I kept in touch, and I realized over the next couple of years that, “Oh, actually Mark does this for a living.” And he’s the put-you-back-together person for the New York Giants. And eventually, as I started asking him questions and he was helping me, [that guided] my education and career path.
Then, I eventually ended up working with him and then got introduced to his mentor who is Eric D’Agati. And Eric D’Agati happened to be one of the original instructors for Functional Movement Screen. So, I mean, just so serendipitous and lucky the way that I got introduced to strength and conditioning.
Schimri Yoyo: Very cool. Well, at least you probably have a much, much more flexible dress code being a personal trainer rather than pursuing the premed route.
Ashleigh Kast: And you know, it just like slowly took over as the focus. I realized I didn’t want to be on the reactive side of things. And I saw that what we were doing in the gym was very different than what I was learning at school, even when I transferred over to exercise science and athletic training. So, I actually dropped out of school and working with Eric and Mark became the full-time gig.
Schimri Yoyo: Nice, well, many different paths, right? A lot of successful people have dropped out of school. So there’s no stigma in that. When you’re not training or running your business, what are some of the things that you do in your spare time for fun? And I’m talking pre-COVID-19.
Ashleigh Kast: Right. It’s different now. Well, I really love to read, so I’m constantly reading a lot of fiction. I’d love to tell you, I read like all kinds of self-help nonfiction stuff. But at the end of the day, you can catch me with some 18th-century literature.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. Who doesn’t love to read great fiction? I certainly do.
Ashleigh Kast: And then just working on a couple of different hobbies. Right now, I am trying to actually do a better job at the work-life balance. When what you do is also what you love, you tend to spend a lot of time doing that in your off time too. So I’ve been working on learning how to surf, how to skateboard. Those are interesting adventures for me.
Building Resiliency through Consistency and Proper Technique
Schimri Yoyo: Nice, nice. Now, speaking of your practice and just your business philosophy, what one word would best describe your philosophy of training?
Ashleigh Kast: I think resiliency. It’s a tough one, right? Because you have to boil everything out, down into one word. And I really feel that I’m like a generalist when it comes down to it. But resiliency is a word that comes up for me a lot. Being who we were, right? Like a lot of our athletes would go down the street to Joe DeFranco’s for all the sports performance training. And then we’d be the people who were working on Brian Cushing’s hamstring, right?
So the way that I was taught is that you need to value this person’s career and your job is to make sure that this person can continue doing what they love to earn that paycheck and stay on the field as long as they possibly can. And then, that sort of translated well into my actual work with my general population clientele, because we all know consistency is key, right?
So resiliency is important there. Making sure that these people can continue to train for years and years and keep the consistency they need to hit their goals.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh, well, that’s a beautiful way to put it, so thank you for expounding. Now you had mentioned it a little bit earlier, but can you describe your approach to functional training?
Ashleigh Kast: My approach to functional training? I mean, I’m always thinking about that first, right? The resiliency, and then making sure that people can move well, making sure that they can load those movements, making sure that they’re able to do all the things that are required of them in their daily lives as well. To me, those are the things that kind of define functional training.
Schimri Yoyo: Good. And now, how do you see the relationship working between the strength and conditioning, injury prevention, and then also rehabilitation?
Ashleigh Kast: I see them [functioning] all in one. I’m also very lucky that early on in my career, I had Charlie Weingroff to call up whenever I needed some help, too, which was pretty cool.
And so his whole thing is: “Training equals rehab, rehab equals training.” That was a principle that I adopted very early on.
Schimri Yoyo: How do you help your athletes to be proactive both in their training and in their recovery?
Ashleigh Kast: How do I help them do that? Well, I mean, that’s something that has evolved over time. And now, currently, I use a system of these metabolic markers to kind of determine – you have these two or three hours a week with me and we’re trying to create change, but you have all these other hours in the week that you’re not with me. And there are so many other factors besides the work that we do in the gym that matters.
So in trying to get people to understand that what they do outside the gym is almost more important than what we’re doing in these short hours of the week, I have them monitor these metabolic markers to get a sense of “How am I doing? How am I feeling? How is my metabolism working? How are my hormones doing?” And to get them to realize that those need to be in a certain place in order for us to create change, to have a foundation for change.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, how do you have a discussion about nutrition with your clients when it comes to their personal training?
Ashleigh Kast: In the same way. I start with that journaling experience and we’ll add in food logging as well. And then they’re logging all of these different metabolic markers along the way. So they’re also providing, not just like what time you ate things, what you ate, all that jazz, but also, how did you feel after you ate that stuff? Like right after a session, “How did that impact what you ate next?” and guiding them to the next—to what needs to be changed on their own.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. And as a coach, how are speed, strength, and flexibility related? And which should be a priority for an athlete?
Ashleigh Kast: I think all of those need to be a priority. I mean, it’s kind of like the analogy using the FMS system all the time. You can’t put a Maserati engine on wobbly wheels, so you need to make sure that your stability and your mobility are in check in order to put more complicated skills on top of it, in order to load things. Right?
But I consider my job to not necessarily start in one place, but to look at my athlete, look at my client, and determine what needs to be brought up to par from there. What do they need to focus on? So an athlete comes in, maybe for some of them, we’re going to need to focus on more strength. They need to have more power. But for some, we need to get them to move better first. So it just depends on who walks in the door.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. And now you talked about your experience with a novice coach while you were in high school, how it affected you and caused some burnout.
What are some ways that you help your athletes to strive for their physical potential or their peak performance without also subjecting them to burnout?
Ashleigh Kast: Again, it kind of goes back to that whole journaling thing. I just think journaling is so powerful. Because you can tell people things, right? They’re like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, cool I need to recover. I need to make sure I’m fresh for the next workout.” But if you can show them that things work better, if they recover better. If they sleep better, if they eat better, all that stuff, it becomes that much more powerful.
Schimri Yoyo: Documentation, yes, it’s a powerful tool.
Ashleigh Kast: Yeah, journaling is a major tool for me.
Entrepreneurship: A Constant Work in Progress
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that makes total sense. Now, how do you juggle, or how are you learning to juggle, your time between being the trainer and also being the entrepreneur?
Ashleigh Kast: I mean, I feel like that’s a constant work in progress for me, especially right now, how things have shifted so drastically [due to the Coronavirus Pandemic]. For me, a big part of having to move everything online is having to come up with new, useful programming online. And then also [adding] the marketing that goes with that.
I’m currently working with a little bit of a copywriting coach to kind of create some good copy and some good offerings and email sequencing and all the stuff that you need on the backside to get the clients first. Right?
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s good. Now, take an opportunity to brag about yourself and your work a little bit. What makes your approach with Sophisticated Strength unique?
Ashleigh Kast: I think the way that I approach personal training, always whether it’s in person or online, is not only to train people to get them the results they want but also to get them to a place where I don’t need to train them anymore. I have clients that I’ve been training for five to 10 years now, consistently.
And I like to think that they just continue training with me because they like hanging out with me. But if I need, or if they needed to go and help a family member or help a friend, start their own fitness journey, I like to ensure that my clients are ready to do that. So I want them to feel like they don’t need me. I want them to feel self-sufficient. I want them to be able to take agency over their own training and their own health.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s nice. It’s like teaching to fish rather than giving the fish.
Ashleigh Kast: Correct. I would like to be your spirit guide through all of this.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. What have you learned being in business for yourself that you wish you would’ve known when you first started?
Ashleigh Kast: I wish that I had taken more business classes. I wish I had learned that aspect of things a lot earlier on. What else?
That’s really like the biggest thing for me. I wish I had started on my online journey even a little bit earlier, too. But other than that, I’m not really sure. I feel, honestly, I feel very lucky the way that I got started in the industry. So it’s hard for me to look back and say, this should have been different.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s good. That’s good. You know, it’s all about learning and experience. So you’ve had a great journey.
Now you mentioned a little bit about being online and having to transition. Can you talk a little bit more about how you’re using technology and social media to promote your business?
Ashleigh Kast: Sure. So I consider, in terms of like my one-to-one business, my in-person business, my Instagram is more like a business card for me. And then online I’m using it more of like a direct funnel, too. So I’m trying to essentially offer people some really good information and also offering some really good programming to entice them to start training.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, you’ve been great. This has been a great conversation and I thank you again for your time, Ashleigh. Just one more question regarding your professional development or ways that you’re enriching or improving yourself.
Are there books, magazines, podcasts that have been beneficial to you, and that may be a benefit to our audience?
Ashleigh Kast: I think in more recent years, my clientele has definitely shifted whereas early on in my career, I saw a lot of athletes. I saw a lot of post-rehab and that’s certainly still a major part of my business for sure. But in more recent years I’ve been seeing a lot of women who are experiencing different issues along with this like metabolic dysfunction kind of spectrum, even autoimmune diseases like PCOS and Hashimoto’s, so a lot of my current research is done in those areas so that I can serve those clients better.
I’m also working with professionals who specialize in that, too. Most recently, I’ve been learning a lot from Dr. Jade Teta. His metabolism certifications last year were really excellent. And then Justin Janoska, who is an autoimmune specialist. And those have been, those people and their content, have all been really great resources for me in the past year.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s awesome. So you know your niche market, you’re improving yourself to better serve your clientele and those who you’re in contact with.
Ashleigh Kast: Yeah, totally. Whatever I’m doing professionally always kind of like guides [my business strategy]. Who walked in the door guides what I’m going to go out and seek next.
Schimri Yoyo: Wow. Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you again for taking the time during this COVID-led quarantine. And I thank you for enlightening us about your practice and we’ll look forward to hearing from you again. Good luck throughout this time. And you know, hopefully, your business continues thriving despite the social distancing.
Ashleigh Kast: Thanks. I was happy to do it. I think it’s an opportunity.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Schimri Yoyo is a writer for Exercise.com and a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses. In a past life, he covered Villanova Men’s Basketball and Big East Football for Examiner.com. Schimri has also produced freelance copywriting, editing, and proofreading for various websites and online publications for over a decade. He is an avid sports fan, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco 49ers. Schimri is an educator and a storyteller who is eager to assist individuals and families to stay financially and physically fit.