celebrity fitness – Behind the Scenes

Here is a glimpse into just some of the stories from behind the scenes of celebrity fitness training. We see them on-screen, on-stage, and even on the red-carpet, but what we don’t see is the work that they put into their bodies and into their health and well-being behind the fame and their art.

Contrary to popular belief, celebrities don’t have it as easy as people think. Yes, they can have drivers, personal chefs, assistants, and an on-going list of others who make up the rest of their entourage. However, they work long hours with a grueling schedule that is often decided only last minute just the night before. Their schedule is determined by people who rely on them to show up for wardrobe, makeup, rehearsals, press interviews, performances, and even more. With such a tightly packed and chaotic schedule, it’s easier just to put off working out. But as you will find here, they still dedicate and commit to squeezing in the time for their workouts despite a busy schedule. The bottom-line is that the work still must be done in order for them to sport the body that they want.

These stories of training are not your traditional workout stories that you are often likely to find everywhere else. These are the unique stories of my experiences with working with celebrities that touch on how health and fitness influences different aspects of one’s life and well-being. Many of these stories are fun, light-hearted and even entertaining. What you will also find through these stories is how for every person, the training experience is a different one.

Keenen Ivory Wayans (Emmy Award-winning Producer, Director, Writer, Actor and Comedian)

Keenen Ivory Wayans is a film and TV producer, director, writer, actor and comedian. His works include In Living Color, Scary Movie, and White Chicks, just to name a few. Keenen is an Emmy-award winner and is also a judge for the reality TV talent show Last Comic Standing.

Keenen brings with him his wit and fast-forward thinking into the gym where I got to experience first-hand the directing skills of this award-winning director. However, the irony is that this experience is not referring to his directing skills towards acting or film, but instead, is referring to how he directed the overall theme of our first workout to test my skills as a fitness trainer.

Keenen challenged me to come up with as many innovative exercises that I could to put him through a hard workout. The catch was that I couldn’t train him with any dumbbells or machines. This was back in 1999 when dumbbells and machines were the main devices used for training at the gyms.

This forced me to think outside the box. Looking back at it now, the exercises that we ended up doing were actually ahead of its time. Because the exercises were so unusual, the exercises looked or seemed “crazy”. However, there was always a method to the madness and each exercise fulfilled a definite purpose in the workout. The good news is Keenen was impressed.

As a creative genius and a proven trail-blazer, Keenen’s strong mindset is reflected in the way he likes to exercise. Like everything else he does, he likes to take things to the next or highest level.

After an hour and a half of innovation and whipping up exercises that even I had not done before, I met the challenge and was hired. This first hour and a half was like putting on our own version of “Le Cirque du Soleil” at the gym. Bystanders would stop to watch this new entertainment happening in front of their eyes since the exercises that we were doing were not what you would normally see at the gym. This was definitely a training session in which we both gained from the experience. From both sides of the spectrum, the envelope was pushed. Since the filming of Scary Movie in 1999, I have been training with Keenen every time he is in Vancouver filming a movie.

Jessie Farrell (Juno Award-winning Country Music Singer)

Jessie Farrell is a Juno award-winning country music singer. At the 2008 Canadian Country Music Awards, Jessie was nominated for seven awards and won three, including “Female Artist of the Year”, “Rising Star”, and “Top Female Talent of the Year”. I helped prepare Jessie to keep her fit and camera-ready for the filming of her music videos, TV appearances, photo shoots, and concerts, including her big 2008 concert tour with Toby Keith.

Jessie was often on the road travelling back and forth to Nashville and touring for her concerts. Staying in-shape while constantly on-the-go can be challenging if one does not have a structured workout regimen. We worked with light weights and high reps to tone the muscles while incorporating cardio sessions to build her stamina and burn higher calories. I got her doing her workouts on the road and in the stadium before her concerts. For example, she would do walking lunges and sprints through the hallways in the stadium and runs up and down the stadium stairs.

Every time I saw Jessie, I would emphasize the importance of breath and the power of breathing for the mind, body, and spirit. Not only is breathing important for alignment, posture and balance, it also helps to calm and center the mind, especially amongst an intensely busy schedule. Breath work also helps Jessie with her singing. “Breathe!” I would say throughout every session. Jessie and I would spend a fair time of our sessions just focusing on breath, stretching, posture, and centering. One day Jessie shows up to training with the tattoo ‘Breathe’ on her wrist. The message obviously resonated with her. Breath is life.

Emmanuelle Vaugier (Actress)

Emmanuelle Vaugier is an actress whose popular roles include starring in Two and a Half Men, CSI: NY, and Saw II. Emmanuelle and I worked together for over seven consecutive years. During this time, she has been in many films and TV shows in addition to being on more than 16 magazine covers. Emmanuelle was listed in Maxim magazine’s “Hot 100” two times with 2006 ranked as #31, just right behind Uma Thurman, and ranking #5 out of 50 in Femme Fatales magazine’s “50 Sexiest Women on the Planet”.

Through these years of training, whether Emmanuelle played a comic book heroine in a sci-fi flick, a video game character in an Xbox ™ video game or needed to pose for her magazine cover shoots, we changed Emmanuelle’s workout according to her role. Each role requires a particular look in front of the camera. If she’s playing an action hero, we go with heavier weights and less reps. When she needs to look sexy and provocative in a photoshoot, we train for long lean muscles, working with light weights and high reps.

Emmanuelle is hard-working. We make the workouts fit in with her busy film schedules. We’ve had our appointments as early as 4am. That means that I’m up and out of bed before 3am to get ready for our sessions. We have even had to get the hotel security to give us access to the gym facility at 4am in the morning because we were working at such an unusual time.

From plyometric jumps to star jumps, lunges and leg lifts, the pace is constant motion from one exercise to another to get her into shape fast and efficiently. This keeps her heart rate up and makes the workout a lot more challenging. We train for an hour a day for five to six days a week; sometimes seven. We work on strength, posture, stamina, flexibility and stress release. The work involved is intense but the results are absolutely rewarding. The work definitely pays off when the results are seen on-screen by millions of people. Through our hard work, we are still able to have fun. Often times, we have even laughed ourselves to tears at the gym.

Wes Williams a.k.a. “Maestro Fresh Wes” (Juno Award-winning Hip Hop Artist/Rapper)

Wes Williams a.k.a. “Maestro Fresh Wes” is both a musician and an actor. He is a platinum-selling and two-time Juno award-winning hip hop artist. Wes achieved legendary status in the Canadian hip-hop industry from his debut album Symphony in Effect, released in 1989 which includes his highly-acclaimed signature hit single “Let your Backbone Slide”. In 2006, Wes was inducted into The Scarborough Walk of Fame.

For Wes, it was our stretching session that made him realize that he had tension and tightness in his body that he had not even known before. Stretching along with breath helps to release tension and tightness that may have even been stored in the body for years. Stretching helps bring clarity to the mind and renew the mind, body and spirit, bringing calm and peace into one’s whole being. When the mind is clear, it makes room for new insights, new thoughts, new inspirations, and new ideas.

A particular moment of insight and creativity came upon our session when I said a few words to Wes which I often say in my training. This was Wes’s first time hearing them. He paused when he first heard them and repeated them over a few times under his breath before he said aloud, “I like that! I like that!” He repeats my words over again and says, “I’m going to use that rhyme for my music!” I was in amazement and replied, “Sure! I would be delighted!” At the time, I actually didn’t realize how serious he was until two years later Wes repeated those same words of mine over to me and said “Ha, ha…I didn’t forget!” So for now, those set of words shall remain a secret until they are used. It would be a great honor to hear these secret words be a part of Wes’s rhythmical rap. And may it make it to be one of his many hits.

Keith Hamilton Cobb (Actor)

Keith Hamilton Cobb is People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People”. He starred as Noah Keefer on All My Children, Tyr Anasazi for Andromeda and as Damon Porter on TV’s #1 soap opera The Young and the Restless.

When Keith and I trained, we were training him for his character as Tyr Anasazi for the TV series Andromeda. We were training for more size, lean muscle mass and definition. Tyr Anasazi is a very muscular super-human warrior-type figure. It was exciting to train Keith for a role that would not only be seen on TV, but which a sculpture of him would also be made into action figure dolls sold in stores.

Keith’s dedication and commitment to training is profound. We trained for 2-3 hours a day for 5-6 times a week with very heavy weights, working with low reps and more sets.

When you have Keith in the gym who is 6’5” and has played a heartthrob on a soap-opera, not to mention People magazine’s “50 most beautiful”, it is sure to attract immense attention. There were always fans lingering around us. Those who had the courage would even interrupt our training just for a chance to meet Keith. Women especially would even come up to us and ask if they could work in on the exercise machine that we were using even if there was another of the same machine over on the other side of the gym or if the rest of the gym was available. My experience with training Keith was split between being a fitness trainer and a bouncer all at once. It naturally becomes part of the territory when training a celebrity. Though, it was he who was carrying all the muscles.

RYAN ROBBINS (Leo Award-winning Actor)

Ryan Robbins is a previous circus performer and now a notable actor. He is a five-time Leo Award winner and is known for his roles in The Killing, Sanctuary, and Battlestar Galactica. We began training in 2003 for his guest star role in Smallville and we continue training today with his latest works in Warcraft and his leading role with John Travolta, Kate Bosworth and Sharon Stone in the movie Life on the Line to be released in 2015.

Ryan is an actor who plays diverse characters. In the world of storytelling, the characters must be real and believable to the audience. Ryan embodies the character role that he is playing through his acting and crafts his look to give the finishing touches. His haircuts and looks vary as much as the body types that he needs to sport for his starring roles. My job is to prepare his body for his roles and also to undo the impact that he encounters from the occasional stunts that come along with his acting like taking a punch, falling, and even being body slammed by a guy dropping from 12-feet above.

When Ryan’s roles go from losing weight to gaining weight and having to drop weight again, the training needs to be changed up to meet the requirements. We fine-tune the techniques according to how his body responds. Different body types for his varying roles require different training. Whether it is to be skinny, be more built, or to be “ripped”, overall what all the roles have in common is that they require energy to endure long hours of work and to maintain mental alertness and focus for him to act in addition to taking on the physical demands of the characters that he plays. With Ryan Robbins, you can never guess what role he will be playing next. But one thing that is for sure is that the hard work that he puts in is the reason why he is such an outstanding actor.

Michael McDonald a.k.a. “The Black Sniper” (Professional K-1 Fighter)

Michael McDonald a.k.a. “The Black Sniper” is a professional K-1 fighter and is a three-time winner of the K-1 USA Grand Prix Championships. At the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas, Michael fought and won his third title in front of a packed house of 6,000 fans. This award was presented to him by Muhammad Ali accompanied by Mike Tyson. Michael’s fights can be found on YouTube and have well over a million viewers. Aside from Michael’s extraordinary fighting skills, he speaks fluent Japanese and comes with very proper Japanese etiquette and mannerisms from his years of living in Japan.

As a professional fighter for practically his entire life, Michael needs no help with his fighting skills, discipline or motivation. He is phenomenal in these areas and these traits are an innate part of him from his decades of self-discipline and dedication to his sport. Michael came to me looking for ways to reduce his chances of injury and to help him further improve his fighting.

Kickboxing is an extremely high-impact sport that puts great stress on the body. Because it is such a dynamic sport, chances of injury are high and can even be debilitating if the body is not correctly prepared. I studied Michael’s fight training closely, paying particular attention to the movements involved in the sport. I came up with a strategy to give him a strong solid foundation to not only be able to endure the high-impact of forces in his fights, but to also be able to overcome these forces while reducing his chances of injury.

We worked on balance, strength, function, and flexibility. I focused on strengthening and balancing the muscles around his joints for strength and stability while ensuring he still has full range of motion and that his flexibility is not limited. These points are extremely important to keep him quick, flexible and mobile while being strong. Core exercises were included to maximize his powerhouse and functional exercises were mandatory to give him the proficiency and efficiency that is needed for his movements. We worked on the balance of his overall structure which is really the key to a solid foundation. There is also a meticulous strategy designed to the order and the structure of the conditioning. The conditioning is customized specifically for him and to his sport. When working with an athlete of his class, every detail must be addressed and refined for improvements to maximize performance.

Along with our body conditioning, Michael has his own specific disciplines such as Qigong and fight training which includes pad work, technique and sparring. He also has a strict diet and lifestyle regimen which all revolves around his training, rest and recovery. Michael does two practices a day with one of them body conditioning and the other fight training. Both of these are done six days a week with one full day of recovery. The total is the formula of what makes a great fighter.

Many battles are fought in the lifetime of a professional fighter. A fighter can win or lose, but in my opinion, true winning is really defined by the ability to still be standing even if one is beaten so he can live to fight another day.