Working With Celebrities
Discover the nuts and bolts of training high-profile clients.
Accompanying a famous actor to a red-carpet movie premiere. Jetting around the world to cities in a style you’ve only dreamed of experiencing. Mingling with Fortune 500 executives. These benefits are just some of the reasons that working with celebrities can seem like the ultimate in glamour.
Interested in working with celebrities? Here are some strategies for meeting them; some pros and cons of serving this clientele; privacy issues to consider; and suggestions for how best to meet these clients’ needs.
How do fitness professionals who train celebrities start to work with them? Here are some ways:
Through the Quality of Their Work. Since 1980, personal training pioneer Dan Isaacson of Sports Management International fitness consulting firm in Los Angeles been working with celebrities, including Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson. His entry into Hollywood came when John Travolta was looking for someone to train him for the physically demanding role of a dancer in the film Staying Alive.
Isaacson’s company had developed a training center for a resort in Colorado. According to Isaacson, Travolta recognized the excellence of this center and looked to Isaacson to train him. “John’s physical change was so dramatic and demonstrated that an actor—not recognized as a former athlete—could make [such a] change though exercise, dance and nutrition,” says Isaacson. “I ended up creating the first research-based fitness program used with actors in Hollywood and training many more actors for Sony and Paramount Pictures.”
Through Referrals. Michelle Streif, MA, CPT*D, of WellBound Health & Fitness, LLC, in Omaha, Nebraska, trains Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and some “local” celebrities. She works with many clients over the age of 75 and receives referrals from various physicians.
Through Word of Mouth. In other instances, celebrities hear about fitness pros from satisfied customers, or trainers come into contact with famous figures because they exercise where the trainers work. Both have been true for John Lewis of Scottsdale, Arizona, who has trained many celebrities, including former director of Monday Night Football Craig Janoff, renowned athletes, famous artists and cover models.
Through One Good Source. A chance meeting turned into an unbelievable career opportunity for Vicki Van Hoosen, who trained stars in Hollywood for 9 years before moving home to be with family in Fresno, California. “I was lucky,” says Van Hoosen, who trained the kids on the set of Home Improvement and worked with dozens of other TV and movie actors. “I was working at the Golden Door® Spa and trained Carol Burnett when she visited. She asked me to train her in L.A. When I did, she talked about how children on TV sets don’t exercise much, yet need the benefits of activity. She set up a meeting for me with a production company, and that launched my training kids in Hollywood.”
Training the rich and famous often means stepping into an exciting world that is filled with rewards:
Unusual Experiences. Van Hoosen received many perks from the actors she trained. “I went places with them and got treated in a manner that I would not have experienced on my own,” she says. “I went to the MTV Music Awards, NBA All-Star Games, and movie premieres where I sat in the first four rows. I also was flown via private jet to places like London and Paris and got to experience them in style!”
Business Benefits. Working with celebrities can also help your career and be financially rewarding. Lewis became a trusted friend to Janoff and his fiancée. “I can’t tell you [how many] contacts, doors and opportunities [opened up through being their trainer],” Lewis says. “I also can’t explain fully to you the height of professional pride and confidence that came from the faith these individuals placed in my ability.”
Professional Satisfaction. Some fitness pros relish the opportunity to train clients who are highly focused and driven to make physical improvements. “Because of their dedication to the roles they are playing, the highly visible actors I’ve worked with [have been] extremely dedicated to reaching their fitness goals,” says Isaacson. “It’s so rewarding to see them, through your guidance, achieve tremendous physical results.”
While working with celebrities can bring many perks, it also has some downsides.
Clients Aren’t Steady. Van Hoosen cautions that it can be challenging to build a business on famous clients. “Celebrity training is tough,” she says. “You may work with clients for 3 months, and then they’re gone 3 months. They are not consistent and may not always be there when you need to make money.”
Impact on Noncelebrity Clients. If you travel with celebrity clients, you may have to put off your regular clients when you are gone, and that can anger them. “This was true for me until I hired some other trainers to train my regular clients when I was away,” says Van Hoosen. “Then they were happy with this arrangement.”
An Unstable Schedule. Training stars often means that you need to be flexible with your schedule. “Actors want options because they have limited availability,” says Isaacson. “If they think they’ll have to fight with you about when you can see them, they’ll go to another trainer. I’ve been adjusting to clients’ schedules for almost 20 years! That’s the name of the game when training actors. You may end up missing revenue you could have received from booking another client in the actor’s time slot if he cancels or reschedules.”
Confidentiality is key when working with celebrities. “Breaching the confidence of a celebrity client would tank a fitness pro’s career in a millisecond,” says Lewis. “You can live by the glitz, and you can die in an instant unglamorously.”
Van Hoosen adds that once actors see that you can keep information confidential, you’ll get more work. However, know that celebrities vary in their attitudes about the extent they want you to be private. Some don’t want you even to mention that you are training them, while others are comfortable with your telling people as long as you ask first.
“Any time media would interview me for a big story, I would ask my clients ahead of time if they minded my using their names,” says Van Hoosen. “Most actors are glad to be associated with exercise, and my clients were always supportive of me and my career.”
What’s the bottom line when working with celebrities? “When in doubt or when you get nervous, just be a human being,” says Fred Hahn, who has worked with many famous personalities at his business, Serious Strength Inc., in New York City. “Remember that the physiology of these notable people is the same as yours. Their feelings, goals, fears and desires are no different [from anyone else’s]. I’ve had people like Bill Moyers, Gloria Steinem and Cynthia Nixon walk right into my gym and say, ‘Hi! Saw your sign, read your brochure, and it sounds great. I’d love to start.’ My response was and always is, ‘Wonderful. So glad you’re here. Good for you for taking such a bold step in the right direction. Let’s get ya going!”
Think you’d like working with celebrities? Consider these suggestions from fitness pros who have done so.
Connect With Key People. One strategy for reaching celebrities is to train people close to them. When Vicki Van Hoosen first moved to Los Angeles, she trained some celebrities’ assistants for free. “If the assistants liked you, you had an instant ‘in’ with the celebrities,” she says.
Be Down to Earth. If you do get to pitch your services to a celebrity, don’t under-value your work. And avoid getting overexcited. “Don’t gush,” advises Van Hoosen. “Be professional. Just talk about what you do as a trainer. Don’t oversell them, as they have people doing this all day long.”
Be Comfortable Setting Limits. If you want to work with celebrities in a fitness facility environment, you must be skilled at running interference. Terri Snyder of Getnufit in Carson City, Nevada, has trained a number of stars. “Celebrities do require some special considerations in a club atmosphere,” Snyder says. “People will recognize them and try to get an autograph or talk to them. While you have to be understanding, you have to let them know they are interrupting a private session and that maybe afterward your client will give them his autograph or answer their questions, if he has time. The celebrity client will expect you to take control of the situation as politely as possible without hurting anyone’s feelings.”
Ask About Interactions With Fans. Stars may or may not want to talk to fans, however. “Have a long conversation with your client to find out what type of person she is,” says Snyder. “She may be private and expect you to ward off any intrusion of her time without having to get involved. Or she may be happy to engage in conversation with fans. If she is the type who is happy to talk, remind her that she is on the clock and has a job to do [training], so you may have to get the session back on track.”
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