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Darien trainer inspires others to get fit

John H. Palmer, Darien News-Review
Updated 4:33 pm, Sunday, July 31, 2011

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  • New Canaan native Tom Holland, a fitness consultant and regular contributor to several fitness publications, performs a squat on a Swiss ball at 360 Degree Fitness in New Canaan. - Photo by John H. Palmer Photo: File Photo
    New Canaan native Tom Holland, a fitness consultant and regular contributor to several fitness publications, performs a squat on a Swiss ball at 360 Degree Fitness in New Canaan. - Photo by John H. Palmer Photo: File Photo

 

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You can't help but feel a little tired after talking to Tom Holland.

Personal trainer types tend to do that -- always motivated.

Have a seat with him, and he doesn't invite you into a comfy chair. He throws you a Swiss ball. Instantly, you feel your core muscles tighten up and your back posture straightens up.

He's done his job, and you don't realize it.

Holland, a 42-year-old New Canaan native, has made a career out of motivating others to get fit and stay that way. He's worked his way up from being an unhappy guy who spent his nights drinking and hanging out in comedy bars to a highly sought-out fitness consultant and trainer nationwide.

He'll make you feel old, even if you're young. At mid-age, he doesn't have a strand of gray hair, he is built like a 20-year-old athlete and his energy level reminds you of a high schooler. Dressed in a tank top, sneakers, and a pair of shorts, he seems right at home in the gym.

"I was always doing fitness things," he said. "I always say if you want to know what you are passionate about look at what you were doing in seventh grade."

What he was doing back then as a schoolboy in New Canaan was admiring the great Herschel Walker, a football player who was in incredible shape and claimed that he never lifted a weight. Instead, he said he used to do 300 sit-ups and pushups a day. So Holland tried to emulate his idol.

"I had my makeshift gym with the weights filled with sand and the pull-out poster in the basement," he said.

In high school, he played football and hockey, but said he spent a lot of time on the bench because of injuries he received because of the wrong kind of training -- something he was always frustrated about but seeks to prevent in his high school clients today.

After graduatng from New Canaan High School in 1987, Holland attended Boston College, where earned a degree in communications and television production in 1991, and then later tried to follow his father and five brothers into the finance world of Wall Street in New York City. That was short-lived, as he found the corporate world stifling.

In a move many would find interesting at best, Holland quit finance to pursue acting and stand-up comedy in the New York scene. While playing the drums in a band and doing a guitar parody bit on the comedy circuit, he found himself taking odd jobs such as waiting tables and bartending just to make end meet.

"Just making money wasn't the goal -- it just wasn't satisfying," he said. "No matter how crazy my life got, I always found the money to go to the gym. Even after I got out of work at 3 a.m., I would go over the Johnny Lats and work out."

Let's talk about that workout mentality. This is not a guy who does a 30-minute cardio routine and then goes home. Considered one of Powerbar's "Team Elite," Holland has done 19 Ironman triathlons, which has participants ride a bike 112 miles, run a 26.2-mile marathon and then swim two miles -- all on the same day. Holland has done several of them in less than three hours, and in locations such as South Korea, Hawaii, and Australia.

"I remember once thinking how stupid is it to do that to yourself, but it was an amazing experience," he said, adding that his first triathlon was done to celebrate his 30th birthday. "That's when I learned about goal-setting. When you come out the other side by setting a goal that it seemingly unattainable. Nothing fazes me."

Even after a major comic told him he thought he had a great future in comedy, Holland decided he had enough of the late nights and smoky bars and followed what he said is his life's passion. He moved back to Connecticut, where he started to train clients, and went back to school. He attended Southern Connecticut State University, got his masters in exercise science and sports psychology and went on to pursue every strength and conditioning certification there is, with a goal of becoming a well-known fitness expert.

It worked. In 1998, he formed his own venture, Tom Holland Athletic Club, and began to take on private clients. At some point, fitness publications such as Oxygen Magazine, Men's Health, Women's Health and Runner's World started calling him and asking him to contribute articles. And as it turns out, his background in TV didn't hurt him. He was asked to become host of a DVD series called "Supreme 90-day," a knockoff of the popular P90X workout series.

"I was hired to be the Tony Horton of this new thing," he said. "I hustle every single day of my life, but I want it that way. I need to be passionate about what I do. I sell fitness for a living."

Holland has since moved to Darien, and has been spending a lot of time on the consulting circuit and writing books. His latest book is called "Beat the Gym: Personal Trainer Secrets without the Personal Trainer," which came out this year. He also runs a two-week fitness camp for adults in Nantucket that he has built from 10 people to a highly popular 80 to 100 people and has sponsors such as Gatorade helping him out.

"Nike has it half right -- not only do it, but do it consistently," he said, revealing that his best advice to people is to work out regularly and eat right. "It's much easier to keep 500 calories out of your mouth than it is to work it off."

Holland lives in Darien and has been married to CNN producer Phillipa Holland for 17 years. The couple has two sons, Tommy, 5, and Cooper, 2.