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Hollywood Buff

These days it seems like celebs are as chiseled and toned as fitness models. What’s their secret? Enter the personal trainer.

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in 'Fight Club'

It was one of the funnier moments of 2011 cinema: the scene in Crazy, Stupid Love when actor Ryan Gosling strips to the waist, revealing a ripplingly chiseled set of abdominal muscles, at which point actress Emma Stone does a pop-eyed double-take and says in amazement, “Seriously? It’s like you’re Photoshopped.”

But that’s the expectation these days when an actor takes off his shirt in a movie, or an actress wears a skimpy dress: that he or she will reveal a physique that’s toned and muscular, if not outrageously shredded.

And that’s where the celebrity personal trainer comes in. These days, actors don’t just work with experts when they need to be believable as a soldier or proficient in martial-arts and weapons skills; the personal trainer is a “must-have” for actors in TV and movies.

“The bulk of people who come to me are looking for a change in their aesthetic,” says Gunnar Peterson, who has trained Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, among others. “For a lot of performers, that’s just part of the overall package. Not to take anything away from an actor’s craft, but it’s about the image as much as the talent.”

Adds trainer Michael George, who has worked with Reese Witherspoon, Matt Dillon, Slash and Dennis Quaid, among others, “Film is forever. So you always want to look as good as you can.”

The field of celebrity training is relatively new, a product of ever-increasing scrutiny of celebrities’ physical appearance. Part of that has to do with the 24-hour-news cycle that turns any real-life celebrity outing into a photo op; part of it is the pore-by-pore close-up details that are a part of high-definition digital imaging in TV and movies.

“The idea of doing this as a profession didn’t even exist when I started,” says trainer Harley Pasternak, whose clients have included Lady Gaga, Jennifer Hudson, Halle Berry and Jim Caviezel. “I really didn’t have any role models for personal trainers. There was Richard Simmons and Body by Jake, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack LaLanne and Jane Fonda. That was it!”

Actors make more vulnerable clients, George says: “Their paycheck depends on their looks. We’re dealing with people whose entire existence is based on how they look before they even say a line. If an actor’s shirt is going to come off in a movie, he feels vulnerable—and a lot more motivated to work. And having a highly motivated client makes my job easier.”

Motivation can only take a client so far, however. Trainers must contend with an actor’s individual body type, his genetics and, most often, his schedule.

“You’re going through other people to arrange a time with the celebrity,” Peterson says. “Even then, there are 168 hours in a week and you’ve got them for three-to-six of those. The rest is up to them: If they eat right, get eight hours of sleep and do the work, you could see results in three weeks.”

When it comes to putting in the time—and the effort—to lose the weight, chisel the abs and pump up the biceps, celebrities are no different than anyone else: They want results in a hurry.

“There are no miracle workouts,” Peterson says. “I tell people, ‘You didn’t get out of shape overnight. And you won’t get back into shape overnight, either.’ ”

Given the schedules of most actors, trainers must be innovative in using the available time to sculpt a given actor in such a way that the camera shows him off as more buff than in reality.

“There are ways to cheat the camera when you’re sculpting someone,” George says. “It’s rare that you have three-to-six months to work with someone. Usually, it’s more like three-to-four weeks. So if I’ve got a guy who is taking off his shirt and I’ve got three-to-five weeks, I’ll focus on his upper back and shoulders and do a lot of lateral work with the shoulders. That way, he looks bigger than he is, more buff than he is. If he’s going to be wearing a tank, I’d concentrate on the biceps and triceps. You focus on the body parts that you’ll see the most.”

The kind of physical look that actors strive for—and which audiences seem to respond to—has changed significantly in recent years.

“When I was starting, during the Reagan era, the idea of the male physique was like a bodybuilder—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme,” says Pasternak, who recently taped the first episodes for a new daytime fitness show for ABC-TV. “I don’t want to say the look was ‘steroided up’, but close. Leading men today have leaner, more compact physiques—less like a bodybuilder, more like a swimmer. If you look at the actors who play Spiderman or several of the other superheroes, they’re not huge guys.

“For women, the look used to be a little more voluptuous, a more curvy body type. Now the women are fit, lean and strong—Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore, Jessica Biel. They all look like someone on the cover of a fitness magazine.”

Still, there’s only so much that can be done, particularly when dealing with aging stars: “I can take someone who is 50 and get him into the best shape possible—for a 50-year-old,” George says. “But you can’t turn back the clock. The body just doesn’t work that way.”

As for the field itself, it keeps expanding. To Pasternak, the term “celebrity trainer”—whether it refers to someone who trains celebrities or, as has become the case, someone who has become a celebrity by training celebrities—has lost its meaning.

“If you’re a personal trainer in a small town and you have the local TV meteorologist as a client, you can say you’re a celebrity trainer,” Pasternak says. “Even if you’ve only worked with a celebrity once, you’re the same as someone who has trained five Oscar winners, you’re a “celebrity trainer.” I wish the term didn’t exist. At this point, it seems like there are more celebrity trainers in the world than celebrities.”

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