Getting it all worked out: Homegrown face of fitness goes from Winnsboro & Blythewood to Hollywood

Although she grew up in Blythewood and Winnsboro, Alison Davis-McLain is now familiar to the world as one of The FIRM’s top video aerobics instructors.

Peppy Richard Winn graduate Alison Davis-McLain spent her formative years in Blythewood and Winnsboro — but she’s since moved on. Way on. Today, Davis-McLain, 31, is familiar to fitness enthusiasts around the world as a popular instructor featured in The FIRM’s powerhouse aerobics videos. Recently featured in Shape Magazine’s German edition, Davis-McLain is known for her clear, effective and fast-paced workouts.

But all of that was still in the future when Davis-McLain attended her first aerobics class at The FIRM studio on Harden Street in Columbia in 2000. Then a sophomore at Columbia College, she had decided to pursue a career in speech pathology rather than a career in ballet.

“I’d been dancing with the Columbia City Ballet since about the time my family moved to Blythewood from Winnsboro, when I was 12,” she said. “I loved performing – dancing had always been my thing. So I really missed it, and I was searching for something to take the place of ballet.”

Then she discovered The FIRM.

“I fell in love with the workouts and how they changed my body,”she said. “I was becoming fit and healthy – the results hooked me.”

After taking classes for a year, she auditioned to become an instructor.

“I liked the combination of performance, fitness and helping other people achieve their goals,” she said. “It brought me a lot of satisfaction, because The FIRM’s methodology works so well.

“When the program was created in 1979, it was one of the first fitness systems to incorporate both cardio and weight training for women. Most women were still doing the Jane Fonda style of exercise – just cardio, cardio, cardio. But it’s the addition of strength training that really makes you toned and lean.”

During her senior year in college, she auditioned for one of The FIRM’s signature infomercials, and was selected as a cast member.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “We were flown to Los Angeles to film, and it was great. One of my best friends was also a cast member. We were thrown in with celebrities and were really just starstruck by all the glamour of L.A. – we felt like Ellie Mae of the Beverly Hillbillies!”

During that trip, she was also selected as the lead instructor on a bonus 10-minute video featuring abdominal work, and the following year she was picked for another video shoot.

“That’s how it started, and it’s a job that has stayed with me – through graduate school, when I got married, when we moved to Raleigh and then Washington, D.C. for my husband’s work. Now we have a 4-year old and a 15-month old, and it’s just a normal routine for me – have a baby, start FIRMing, lose the weight, get back on camera, have another baby, start FIRMing again, etc.,” she said, laughing.

“Sometimes people recognize me – I’ve actually been asked for my autograph! A lady once stopped me in a grocery store parking lot and said, ‘Oh, I just worked out with you this morning!’ and then her little girl in the backseat said – ‘but she can’t keep up!’”

Davis-McLain said the DVD production schedule keeps the team busy.

“Other than the annual infomercial shoot, we also do retail shoots – for instance, Target might ask us for a dance workout video or a cardio-with-weights express workout. So then we get to work creating what they need using The FIRM methodology.”

Constantly fine-tuning the program, she says, keeps it fresh and keeps the moves effective.

“For instance, I’ve just returned from New York, where we shot a new DVD program for The FIRM that will be released in the fall,” she said. “I can’t spill the beans about it, but it’s really exciting!”

Now living in Columbia with her husband Alexander, a biostatistics professor at the University of South Carolina, and their two children, Davis-McLain is a speech pathologist at a rehab facility. She says the best part about The FIRM workouts is that you don’t have to be a gym rat to see results.

“We’re just real people with real jobs,” she said, adding in amazement, “but these shoots we do are crazy, it’s like a different life — like being a movie star for a week. I love it!”

The 3 most effective moves

With more than 10 years of experience as an instructor for The Firm, on videos and at The Firm studio in Irmo, Alison Davis-McLain said there are three moves that are the most effective when it comes to getting fit and losing weight.

 SQUATS – Either with or without weights, this is great resistance training for your lower body, and can be modified to target different areas. “You would not believe the infinite variations of squats that there are!” she said.

 PUSHUPS – You can start against the wall, and then eventually move to the floor, either supported on your knees and or on your toes. Pushups are terrific upper body work.

 BRISK WALKING – cardio is a critical fitness component that can be worked in during short periods throughout the day.

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