Strong Human Coaching | Alison Zemanek | Longmont, CO

Meet Alison.

She is the mastermind behind Strong Human Coaching, an online kettlebell training program based out of Longmont, Colorado.

This awesome lady wears so many hats as mother, wife, business owner, coach, and friend to many people in the community. We designed her first personal brand photo shoot around 2 of her gym-related stories: Alison's own personal kettlebell fitness journey and her expertise as a coach.

Alison owns Breakaway Cycle and Strength Studio in Longmont, which was a perfect location to highlight her skills. In the morning, we captured photos of Alison and her husband Paul warming up together and doing some weight training.

Then she grabbed her kettlebells and I got some awesome action shots of her doing her favorite lifts. Side note - I knew nothing about kettlebell before this day, these moves are intense! I also captured detail photos and environmental shots to round out her photo album and give her plenty of images to work with on her website.

In the afternoon, Alison invited two of her clients - Becky and Erica - to join us for a coaching session. This is where Alison really shined. You can tell she loves working with people and getting to spread the joy of her favorite sport.

She guided Becky and Erica through several different strength training and kettlebell movements. I enjoyed watching how she interacts with her clients - instructing and improving their technique all while providing upbeat encouragement and positive energy.

I think that's what I enjoyed most about spending the day with Alison - her happy attitude and fun vibes.

Read more about Alison's journey and her new online coaching business below. Oh, and check out her awesome new personal brand photos!

Kasey: Tell me about your business

Alison: I'm a kettlebell coach based in Longmont, Colorado. I offer both online and in-person coaching for hardstyle kettlebell and kettlebell sport (GS Style) as well as general strength, conditioning, and mobility work. I’m also the owner of Breakaway Cycle and Strength Studio, an indoor cycling and group fitness studio that I opened about 8 years ago in Longmont, CO .

Kasey: What motivated you to get personal branding photos?

Alison: My goal right now is to grow my personal coaching business. I wanted someone to get me in my best light and show not just my work but also my personality. I’ve tried to take my own pictures, but they just don’t ever really come out that great.

I absolutely love my new photos! I've already put them up on my website and they look great!

I’m also excited to use my photos for social media and blog posts. I now have a variety of shots to be the visual to stories I’d like to tell. For instance, this one:

It's the perfect image for an upcoming post I’ll do about how and why we chalk our kettlebells (it’s not fun to be covered in chalk all the time, but when snatching the bell chalk is essential!)

Having these visual cues to help build stories or posts consistently on social media will help me to grow my name, get me more followers, and inspire more people to reach out to work with me.

Kasey: What makes your business unique?

Alison: One of things that makes my training unique is that I’m able to offer a very well-rounded program using mobility and kettlebell programming. Coming by these skills wasn’t an accident; the training that I do myself and what I’ve found to be essential to my resilience and performance has guided me to specific continuing education courses.

I’ve been training and competing Kettlebell Sport for about 8 years and have learned and grown so much! I’ve seen huge improvements in my coordination, mobility, strength, muscular endurance, mental focus and fortitude. Recently, I wanted to branch out and learn more about hardstyle kettlebell training and so I prepared for and took the StrongFirst Level 1 course.

While these two types of kettlebell training are very different, I feel like pulling certain elements from each methodology can help to keep training more interesting and balanced By combining sport and hardstyle kettlebell, I’m able to create a very complete program that covers both muscular strength and muscular endurance.

In addition to my kettlebell experience, I’m also certified as a mobility specialist through FRC (functional range conditioning). FRC methods of mobility training focus on helping people to “own” whatever ranges of motion the have statically. You can be very flexible and still be at high risk for injury if the control you have over that flexibility is not properly developed. Mobility training (in the style of FRC) is like strength training for the joints.

The training I offer isn’t just about strength and conditioning, it's about making sure that my clients are moving well (flexibility/mobility), moving often (general fitness and conditioning), and moving strong (kettlebell training). With these three focuses, my ultimate programming goals are to keep injuries at bay, to support consistent and strong performance, and to help my clients keep their bodies functional well now and in the future.

Kasey: Why did you start your own kettlebell coaching business?

Alison: Back in 2012, I was doing a bit of personal training out of my home gym. I was curious about kettlebell training and wanted to experience it for myself and see how I could use it to help my clients.

I took my first kettlebell course/certification with IKFF (International Kettlebell and Fitness Federation). With each certification, there is both a practical and a physical exam. In pursuing the Level 2 IKFF certification for kettlebell coaching, I needed to prepare for the physical exam by showing competence in both kettlebell jerk and kettlebell snatch.

I hired a coach (Slava) to help me with the preparation and once I completed the exam, he convinced me to try an actual competition. I was nervous about it and never really enjoyed competing, but I did it. My goal at this first competition, at Colorado Weightlifting Club in Denver, was to complete my 10 minutes set of OALC (one arm long cycle) without setting the kettlebell down.

I achieved my goal and it felt amazing! And, this competition was very different than what I’d expected. It wasn’t a competition in that I was focused on beating anyone else there that day, instead I was trying to prove to myself that I could reach the goal that I’d been working toward.

Kettlebell training appealed to me because it was a lot of fun at that first competition, but it was also the clarity and efficiency of my training cycle that I loved. I enjoyed having this very specific goal, a very specific path, and still having time to spend with my family, which is super important to me.

I’d tried team sports and never liked them (I think I worried too much about letting my team down) and I had raced in running events and triathlon, but this was also not my thing due to the anxiety I’d always feel on the eve and morning of the race, and because the training took me away from my family too much.

For me, Kettlebell sport has offered a sweet spot, providing me with a goal and structure, without the huge time commitment, the fear of letting others down, and the pre-event anxiety and nausea. I was definitely convinced after that first competition that this was my kind of sport!

My goal now is to help grow the sport! I know there are others out there who shy away from competing for the same reasons I’ve always had. I’d love to share kettlebell sport with those people, in hopes that, like me, they might find it to be the perfect challenge!

Kasey: What’s it like working with an online coach?

Alison: Online training is a great option in situations when a client has a foundational knowledge of the lifts. In these cases, it provides access to coaches and programs that otherwise wouldn’t be accessible.

The communication structure is super simple and straightforward. Programs are written weekly and shared online; client and coach either meet in a monthly video chat to check in, or the client provides video footage of a lifting session that can be analyzed to help make improvements to technique.

I’ve had 2 online coaches for kettlebell, which allowed me to work with two of my kettlebell idols! Lorna Kleidman was my first online coach. She’s based in New York City, so the only opportunity I would have ever had to work with her was online. I’m so lucky to have had that opportunity. Lorna coached me to my very first big win in 20kg OALC (winning wasn’t actually the goal, but it does happen sometimes and that’s pretty cool!).

My second online coach was Abi Johnston, from Scotland. Abi is an amazing athlete and coach and this was another very unique opportunity that I wouldn’t have had without online coaching options. Abi coached me to my goal of reaching CMS (candidate master of sport) ranking in Biathlon and Long Cycle (5 min). This ranking was always the goal for me - so I was thrilled with my results!

Having these positive distance coaching experiences, I realized that a coach doesn’t necessarily have to be with you in person to help you achieve your goals. Your coach can be halfway across the country and it can still be very effective.

I believe that what most people need from any coaching relationship are programming for results, feedback on technique and movement issues that need sorting out, a sense of accountability to someone other than themselves, and the knowledge that they have someone in their corner.

Kasey: What types of clients do you work with?

Alison: I think the clients who seek me out are looking for something quite different than the typical gym (or even personal training) experience. My coaching strength is helping people to improve movement and technique. My approach to training is to focus on the process rather than the goal.

Those who are looking to reach a specific number on the scale, for instance, may not be my ideal clients. Ethically, I find that I have a hard time supporting this sort of weight, numbers, and “ideal body” obsession because I don’t believe that it can lead to a truly positive outcome. I personally spent many, many years obsessing over my weight and all it did for me was lead to constant self-criticism, disordered eating, depression, and very low self-esteem.

What I learned from that experience, is that when we place our focus on something that we have absolutely no control of in this moment (like a number on the scale or having the abs that we saw on some woman in a magazine), all we can feel is powerless and frustrated. But, when our focus shifts to actions…purposeful actions that can be done right now, that is when we truly possess the power to make positive change!

What I want for my clients is to help them to develop that power to focus on and trust the process, and then watch how that naturally leads to strength, vitality, confidence, success, and self-appreciation.

Kasey: What’s your favorite client story?

Alison: One of my favorites is about a client who worked with me as a personal training client and was also a member of the BreakAway community. Becky and I met at the Local Rec center when she enrolled in one of the TRX class sessions I was teaching there. She enjoyed my teaching style and continued to sign up for more of my classes.

Becky is incredibly friendly and so we connected quickly. When I moved on from the Rec center to open BreakAway, Becky came in one day to check out the studio and decided to stay! We’ve been training together ever since (both in studio classes and one on one).

Over these past 7 years, Becky has had some very tough times. First was her double knee replacement (both at the same time). This is a big deal, but you would hardly have know that by her actions, because she was back in the studio after only about 8 weeks, spinning at her own pace until she fully healed (we appropriately played “Titanium” at her first class back to celebrate her new knees).

Becky was very grateful that she had worked on both her cardio and strength in the years leading up to the knee replacement. She credits her quick and full recovery to all the hard work we’d done keeping her legs strong prior to surgery.

An even tougher time for Becky was more recently when her husband, Chuck, was diagnosed with stomach and esophageal cancer. Becky mostly never missed her regular classes or training appointments during this time. She says it’s because these were some of the things that kept her going.

BreakAway is a very special community and everyone was very supportive; that support was exactly what she needed during this hard time. Indoor Cycling was also a good way for her to focus a bit on herself, even when so much of her time after class was focused on caring for Chuck.

When Chuck passed away, many from our studio community were there at his funeral for support. After Chuck’s death, Becky took a break and we didn’t see her for a bit, but it wasn’t too long before she was back.

I often bring up Becky in stories because she is just amazing! She wants to be strong, she wants to move well, she wants to age well, and she is willing to do the work. My ideal client!

Sadly, Becky recently moved out of Longmont and so we are not doing our regular training sessions together and she’s no longer on her bike early mornings each week. Before she left she was deadlifting 95 pounds no problem and she’s in her sixties.

I have no doubt that she’s going to find something in her new home of Parker to keep herself strong; after all, she’s got kettlebells at home and she knows how to use them! Becky has been my longest training client and I’ve grown very close to her.

Kasey: What do you like best about kettlebell coaching?

Alison: What I love most about kettlebell coaching is watching someone when they have some sort of “aha” moment.

Suddenly they realize that they’ve not just gotten stronger and fitter, but they are now more coordinated, which makes them a bit better at everything they do outside the gym.

They realize that they’ve learned how to remain strong and relaxed during serious discomfort and struggle.

They get excited about training toward a target; knowing that the key is not killing every workout, every single time, but rather keeping the work varied and consistent, so that everything comes together at the perfect moment.

And finally, when they realize that all the very cliche talk about how failure is essential to success is actually true; they’re now living that cliche and trying their hardest to “fail faster"!

Kettlebell training changes people in so many positive ways and that is always exciting to watch!

Kasey: What do people not know about you?

Alison: I am not and never have been a morning person, and yet for much of my life I’ve somehow ended up working jobs that require me to arrive at 5:30 am (or earlier). Oh yes, I have overslept (over the years…I won’t mention how many times)!

I’m currently setting 3 alarms to make sure I get up on time to teach my 5:30 am cycle class at the studio on Mondays.

Also, every single morning (without fail), I make myself a cafe mocha (and it’s better than anything I’ve been able to find at any coffee shop). I have a Chemex coffee pot, a frother for the milk, and I use either Dagoba or Antelope Trading Company drinking chocolate.

If my family goes on vacation, all of this comes with us! And, (god forbid) if I run out of my chocolate, I seriously consider just staying in bed all day! I don’t drink a lot of coffee…but that one coffee in the morning is my lifeline.

Kasey: What’s it like raising a family while running a full-time business?

Alison: Actually, running a full-time business of my own has been great while raising my boys! I used to work retail management, which meant lots of late nights, weekends, holidays, and overtime. I enjoyed my job then, but it was rough on all of us.

When my second son was born, I decided to leave retail (I was the General Manager of the Boulder Borders Bookstore at that time). For a while, I didn’t work at all, but that was never going to last very long with my personality. So, I started researching the Indoor Cycling studio business for several years while I did just a bit of personal training out of my home.

When my studio finally opened, it was a lot of working on behind the scenes stuff and also teaching a ton! Definitely tough looking back at it now, but it was still more flexible than my previous job, so we all rolled with it. The kids would come with me to the studio sometimes (in their pajamas on the mornings that I taught at 5:30 am and had to bring them along because my husband Paul was out of town). They were good sports about it. Setting up the studios (painting, carpet, etc) was a team job; mostly my husband helped, but the boys were there a bit too.

Even now, although I’m running the studio and my coaching business, it is not at all just me making it happen. Thanks to my amazing team at BreakAway and my awesome family, I have always had the help I need with the business.

My family hasn’t really taken to indoor cycling or kettlebells the way I have. They were all initially big soccer players. My husband still plays soccer 4 or 5 times/week, but the boys have moved on to skateboarding and are both really enjoying that.

I have definitely tried to convince them all that kettlebells are cool, and there was a glimmer of hope with my youngest for a second, but ultimately he lost interest. I guess I am still “Mom" and will never be the trendsetter for my pre-teen and teen boys!

Since doing more with hardstyle kettlebell, I’ve grown more interested in barbell and olympic lifting. This is something my husband and 16 year old son are also interested in. So, Paul and I have been working with the barbell together at the studio on Saturdays for about 2-3 months now.

My son is currently healing from a skateboarding injury, but when he’s ready, he and I are hoping to do some training together with Olympic Lifting coach, Nico Rithner, of Colorado Weightlifting Club in Denver. I’m trying to get the whole group of us to go together since we all seem a bit interested in the same thing for once. Sounds like the perfect way to spend our Saturday mornings together, doesn’t it!?

Kasey: What are you most excited about right now?

Alison: I’m very excited to do more kettlebell training, both in person and online. I love talking with people to learn what it is they’re looking for from the fitness world, introducing them to sport and/or hardstyle kettlebell, and for those who find it to be the perfect fit, waiting to see more of those amazing “aha” moments!

The Details

Alison Zemanek

Like what you see? Check out my personal branding photo gallery or send me a message below to learn how your business can benefit from a personal branding photo shoot.

Sending good vibes and love! ​​

- Kasey, Fractured Frame Photography

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Kasey Grim |  Denver, Colorado

©2019 by Fractured Frame Photography

5908 Gunbarel Ave, Boulder CO 80301

Denver Photographers | Denver Photographer | Portraits + Personal Branding


Denver photographer, Kasey Grim, is one of the few Denver photographers who specializes in working with entrepreneurs and small businesses.  Kasey loves to work with clients who appreciate the "not so corporate" natural look and lifestyle portrait photography. She serves the Denver and Boulder area of Colorado.