Erin Reilly was raised in Boonsboro, Md., where she began weight lifting in high school. She took up cooking in a German restaurant at age 13. After high school, she went to the CIA. That would be the Culinary Institute of America, one of the nation's best-known schools for chefs, located just up the Hudson River from Hyde Park, N.Y.

Having begun with that combination, she now runs her own fitness gym out of a converted garage in southern Stafford County, and also is a private chef. She tells clients both what to eat and how to exercise, and if they complain, she tells them to do push-ups.

Reilly's boot-camp approach has elicited testimonial statements such as this one: "I have never been as motivated as I am now. I have lost 20 pounds and I owe it all to her." Said another woman: "I was a size 12 and just wanted to lose 15 pounds. Four months later I was a size 6 and had lost 20."

One of her male clients said: "When I first met Erin, my initial thought was, 'Here's a really cute, really ripped woman who seems pretty shy.' She told me to drop and give her 20 push-ups for being late for class. When I complained, she told me to add 10 more for whining. OK, strike the 'shy' part off the list."

When Reilly graduated from the CIA in 1995, she "knew an inordinate amount about fish" and felt "squishy" from eating all that good food. Students at the culinary-arts school not only help run four restaurants for the public at the institute, they also eat what they cook in class. She needed action.

Action followed quickly in Hollywood, where she got her first chef job feeding casts and crews on movie sets.

She got her professional trainer's certificate in 1998. She also learned how to teach. "There's a difference. You teach a class. You train an individual," Reilly said. She taught in a series of gyms, working her way down the East Coast, through New Jersey to Baltimore, to Washington, to Woodbridge in 2005. She qualified to teach 10 different exercise regimens. She also learned gym management.

Meanwhile, she took up muscle competition and got her body fat down to 8 percent. The normal ratio for a healthy female is 20 percent. And along the way she continued to be a private chef for affluent customers. She now cooks for three or four families in the Stafford area.

This year she struck out on her own as a personal trainer. Over the summer, she found "the perfect house" on a back road in southern Stafford, where she lives with her two English bulldogs, Miles and Dexter (for trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Dexter Gordon). The 125-year-old farmhouse, in her favorite color--yellow--came with a wing added 75 years ago and a two-car garage.

That garage has now been converted into a posh 600-square-foot gym, mirrored and outfitted with the usual exercise machines, benches, barbells and a wall full of dumbbells (weights range from 5 to 100 pounds). She opened for business Nov. 1. Her clients, a dozen so far, some of whom followed her from Woodbridge, range in age from 16 to 60.

"Everyone should get out, should move regularly," Reilly, 34, said. "I also tell them what to eat. You can't trick me with your food stories." She added: "All this stuff is very basic. I train people the way I train myself: free weights, cardio ('the sweaty stuff'), flexing and diet."

She draws a distinction between the service she provides and bodybuilding.

"This is not bodybuilding," she said. "But men and women should look athletic. They should be strong."

She said that teaching a class is fun. "Training," however, "is work. You've got to be willing to do the work."

One client wrote in an e-mail: "I admire how she pushes me out of my comfort zone, both mentally and physically. She reminds me that I'm stronger and capable of much more than I ever thought possible. I'm still learning, growing and succeeding."

Said Reilly: "Not everyone wants to do it. But you'll get used to it. If you really want it, you'll do it."

Hugh Muir: 540/735-1975

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