Fitness and Coaching

The Truth About Personal Training for Celebrities

Top coaches share what it’s like to work with high-profile clients

John Fawkes
Nov 1 · 10 min read
Photo by nicoletaionescu

I get a surprising number of people asking me how many celebrities I train, and what it’s like to train celebrities.

I suppose people just assume I’m a celebrity trainer since I’m fairly successful and live in Los Angeles; the truth is, though, that most of my training these days is done online, and most of my clients are from the tech industry.

But celebrity training is something a lot of people are curious about, so for this article, I interviewed two people who have been training high-profile actors, models, singers, and businesspeople for over a decade, and asked them how they do it.

Gunnar Peterson is a Beverly Hills-based personal trainer whose clients include celebrities, professional athletes, and everyday people. Gunnar is also the Los Angeles Lakers’ Director of Strength and Endurance. He is widely recognized for his expertise in functional training and his commitment to developing and implementing innovative fitness techniques.

With a client list as diverse as his training methods, Gunnar emphasizes strength training modalities that can be transferred from the gym to daily life, from training camp to championship game.

Leading personal trainer, executive wellness coach, and podcaster Ted Ryce has overcome a tremendous amount in his quest to live a legendary life. Ted has worked with Fortune 500 CEOs, busy professionals, and celebrities, including Richard Branson, Robert Downey Jr., and Ricky Martin.

He helps his clients develop and stick with high-performance habits that help them manage stress and adversity to lead more successful lives. His philosophy is that being a high-performance person — one who chases and achieves their biggest goal — isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity to survive and thrive in the modern world.

The Interview

Ted: I’ve worked with Robert Downey Jr., Sir Richard Branson, Ricky Martin, Pauly Shore, and a few others I can’t name because of NDAs. I’ve also had dinner with Gary Busey, done shots of Patron with Russel Simmons, and talked about health with Fat Joe.

Ted: I think the biggest thing that separates training celebrities versus a non-celebrity is they are more vulnerable. So they need to trust who you are as a person. That trust is just as important as your training, skills, and knowledge. They need to be 100% sure that you’re not going to violate their trust and run off to TMZ when you learn about their personal life.

Gunnar: Scheduling them! HA! The people I work with are pulled in so many different directions, their schedules are in constant flux. Fitting in the workout is a logistical challenge! Their bodies, however, respond the same as everyone else. Except for the superheroes, of course, but you knew that.

Gunnar: I’m in the right city for it (Los Angeles). Celebrities find you, you don’t find them. Someone from within a celebrity’s circle of trust recommends you and it goes from there — assuming you are on your game.

Ted: The number one rule to follow if you want to work with celebrities is to live in a location that celebrities live and/or travel to. You’ll never work with celebrities if you live in Marfa, Texas or Wilderness Waterway, Florida.

As far as my story, I was never looking to work with celebrities. I worked hard to be the best personal trainer I could be while I was working in the hottest gym in Miami Beach at the time. That caught people’s attention and led to some amazing opportunities. Ricky Martin’s manager said that he liked the way I was 100% focused on my clients when I worked with them. I wasn’t distracted and I looked liked I enjoyed what I did.

Gunnar: Their schedules and training splits depend on their real-world schedules. We work around their work, their kids, their other commitments, etc. It’s case-by-case. Sometimes it’s MWF, sometimes it’s 2 on, 1 off, 2 on, 2 off, sometimes it’s M-F with weekends off. So many variables to work around; we are happy for what we get and we don’t stress about what we don’t get!

Ted: In many ways, celebrities are easier to deal with than professionals or entrepreneurs. They have to maintain a certain image, and staying in shape is usually part of that. So they’re more dedicated and motivated to get in shape compared to non-celebrities.

As far as training schedules, we would keep a 3–4 day per week schedule and ramp things up if there was a special event they had to get in shape for. For example, I helped Ricky Martin get in shape for his tour. So leading up to that, we’d do 5–6 days per week to make sure he was in top shape for it.

I worked with Robert Downey Jr. before his first Iron Man movie. He was back and forth between Miami Beach and L.A. so we’d work hard while he was in town.

As far as training splits, we’d do an upper/lower, total body, or push/pull/legs split depending on the schedule.

Ted: For celebrities, they need to have a certain look, but I also found that they needed to be mentally challenged too. So I had them do a lot of hypertrophy work while adding some skill work like agility drills and medicine ball exercises and using a “finisher” at the end of their workout.

In other words, I trained them more similar to what I’d do with an athlete in the off-season than a bodybuilder or powerlifter.

Gunnar: Again, case-by-case. The focus is on strength work, with cardiovascular components, as well as functional movements, flexibility, mobility, and stabilization. We try to be as comprehensive as possible without losing sight of the goals.

Gunnar: Again… case by case. There is no ‘most of them’ when it comes to high achievers like this! Sleep is a challenge during hectic work schedules, but they understand the importance of it and make it a priority as best they can.

The people I work with aren’t really the part of the party crowd as they are pretty slammed schedule-wise and that’s hard to pair up with partying. Travel is always a part of it, but we plan for it — with workouts to travel with or by connecting them with a local trainer that I know. Always happy to liaise when I can!

Ted: While I’ve partied with celebrities and had clients who loved the nightlife, the celebrities I worked with didn’t go out much except for dinners. At the time I was working with them, there was a lot of travel and stress, so their lifestyle was geared towards relaxation and recovery. Massages, saunas, and using a workout to do something fun, like a bike ride or park workout, were examples of things we did to avoid burn out and keep them mentally refreshed.

My clients who partied like rock stars were club and restaurant owners. Those guys were insane.

Ricky Martin would stay up late in his home recording studio, as that’s pretty typical of musical artists. But most of them were in bed on time except for occasional dinners. In Miami Beach, dinner starts at 9 pm or 10 pm. It’s a late-night culture there.

Ted: Most of the celebrities I worked with wanted a long-term training relationship. It’s hard to find people that they trust. And since you end up learning a lot about their life and lifestyle, that seemed the most important thing to them. Wouldn’t want the paparazzi showing up every time they left their house to do a workout in the park or to go shopping at Whole Foods.

Gunnar: Hmmm… great question! I’ve had people come for a month before a movie and then I never see them again. I’ve had people come 2 weeks before they start filming to tune up and stay with me for 3 years. I’ve had someone come during downtime between projects and stay 20 years.

The entertainment industry is its own animal which makes working with people in that industry just as unpredictable. The good thing is, it’s always fun and exciting!

Ted: The workouts were the primary focus. But I also coached them on sleep hygiene and took them food shopping as well. We’d go to wherever they liked to get their food and went over how to eat to achieve their goals. And as I mentioned earlier, keeping stress levels in check was important as well. I take a holistic approach to training all my clients. If you want a deep dive into my approach, I cover all of this on my podcast.

Gunnar: I stick to the workouts, as that’s my field. I am happy to give broad stroke suggestions regarding nutrition, but when they are really ready to get serious about food, I send them to Dr. Philip Goglia, who creates food patterns for them based on their metabolic blood type. Way more efficient than my throwing darts.

Gunnar: Everyone comes to my gym in Beverly Hills. I’ve done the in-home model as well as some outdoor hiking with people, but I have found that it’s easier to have a home base from a continuity and a results standpoint.

Ted: I worked with Ricky Martin at his house in Miami Beach. But we’d do a lot of outdoors workouts at a local park, too. With Robert, we worked together in an exclusive condominium complex he was staying in. It had a beautiful gym and astroturf area outside to do athletic drills, sled drags, and more. With Sir Richard Branson, I worked with him and his wife Joan inside their condo in Miami Beach.

Ted: The key to individualizing a client’s program is to ask them about their goals, their medical history, what exercises they like, what they don’t like, and then develop a plan that delivers it all.

If they have a high resting heart rate, high blood pressure, and/or feel stressed, we’ll focus more on aerobic conditioning and adding some fun into the program until we get measurable improvement. If they have some chronic injuries, I’ll make sure to put in some exercises that address their limitations while making sure the other exercises in the program don’t re-injure them.

If their main goal is body composition, we’ll focus on dialing in their nutrition and doing exercises to muscular fatigue while minimizing everything else. We also make sure their lifestyle is optimized for their goals. I have them track their sleep and nutrition to see what changes we can make. Lastly, we’ll look into supplements based on their needs.

Gunnar: I base it on their goals, weaknesses I see, their sports history, their injury history, and what they are going to do in addition to coming to me.

Ted: I’ll share a few with you. When I first met Richard Branson, I walked into his condominium at 6 a.m. in the morning and he said, “Well aren’t you a fit bastard.” I laughed and took it as a great compliment.

When I was training Robert Downey Jr., he was into Wing Chun, the martial art you see him doing in the Marvel superhero and Sherlock Holmes movies. At the time, I was a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and I suggested that I teach him some jiu-jitsu moves to see how he liked it. Then, out of nowhere, he got into a Wing Chun fighting stance and came at me like we were going to spar.

I immediately reached down, grabbed the ankle of his lead leg and performed a single-leg takedown that landed him on his ass. We both had a good laugh. I also had some deep conversations with Robert about life, making mistakes, and redemption. Out of all the celebrities I’ve trained, I enjoyed working with Robert the most. If you want to hear the whole story, I shared it in this podcast episode.

Here’s What You Should Take Away From This Article

So, celebrities are mostly in great shape because they work really hard, and they’re extremely consistent about it. If you were expecting to learn about some secret “tricks” that only the elite few know about, you might find that a bit disappointing. Sorry.

Nonetheless, there are three big lessons you should be taking away from this.

First, hard work and consistency are king. Since those are things anyone can do, this should be viewed as good news.

Second, people who are in great shape live healthy lifestyles, especially if they’re over thirty. In particular, they prioritize sleeping on a regular schedule and balancing stress and excitement. That means very little late-night partying, and if they live high-stress lives, it also means they make a concerted effort to de-stress by scheduling relaxation activities.

Third, celebrities are in great shape in large part because their careers depend on it. Intuition says that they’re famous because they’re good-looking, but the reverse is equally true: having greater stakes attached to being in shape motivates them to stay in shape.

On a related note, celebrities aren’t in perfect shape year-round. They tend to make an extra effort when preparing for something, like a movie or photoshoot.

You can use this yourself by finding ways to attach stakes to your health outcomes. Make a bet on meeting your fitness goals, keep a public journal, or even sign up for an amateur powerlifting contest, or schedule an amateur photoshoot, to give you a specific deadline to get motivated for so you can’t make excuses to put things off.

After all, you don’t need to be a movie star to train like one.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

John Fawkes

Written by

Los Angeles-based personal trainer, online fitness & nutrition coach, and health & fitness writer. I also sing a pretty sick cover of The Poison Heart.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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