This trainer-to-the-stars has his feet on the ground
Harley Pasternak has trained just about everybody in Hollywood.
Well, not really everybody. But it sure looks that way. A-list names like Lady Gaga, Bono, Alicia Keyes, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, Kanye West, Megan Fox ... well, you get the picture. This guy’s the real deal.
So, you’d figure, he must really have some new technique that no one has ever heard of, some magic way to get all these A-list names in shape that only the rich and famous have access to.
Nope. Because while Harley Pasternak may be one of the most successful people in health guru-dom, one thing that he is decidedly not is trendy.
I met up with Harley during his book tour, and found him charming, well-spoken, and knowledgeable. And, as advertised, not trendy. “I’ve had a scientific background that includes 11 years of health science nutrition study at university, and I’ve applied that knowledge to myself and my clients for 20 years,” he says, explaining why he sticks with tried and true techniques. “I’m not interested in fads,” he says. “I’m interested in three things: doable, sustainable, and effective.”
Take Halle Berry, for example, long a Pasternak disciple. “With Halle, we would start with 5 minutes of cardio, then an upper-body circuit, a lower-body circuit, some abdominal exercises, and a five-minute cool-down.” This led to Pasternak’s best-selling (and aptly titled) book, The Five Factor Diet.
“Fifty-two percent of Americans think it’s easier to do their own taxes than to figure out what to eat,” says Pasternak. “I try to make the whole thing very user-friendly. With Halle, it was five short phases, done five times a week. Period.”
Given that I’m a big believer in biochemical individuality—which basically means that one size never fits all—I asked him the obvious question: Do you train everyone the same? Does Amy Schumer, for example, get the same routine as Kim Kardashian?
His answer was thoughtful and thought-provoking. “We’re all different,” he says. “But we’re more alike than we are different. Sure—we all have preexisting muscle imbalances, injuries, and health status. And you have to take that into account, of course. But for the most part, everyone wants to lose body fat, be more toned, and be more fit.”
“Most of us have the same muscle imbalances,” says Pasternak. “We sit, we drive, we do push-ups—all stressing the front side of the body, what we call the ‘mirror muscles,’ because that’s what you see first when you look in the mirror. So with almost everyone, I pay special attention to strengthening the anterior (rear) muscles—like the back and hamstrings.”
What does he think of the newer, trendier training modalities like high-intensity interval training? “It all depends on the client,” says Pasternak. “There are a lot of exercise modalities that work. But there’s a risk-reward arithmetic that you have to look at. If I’m working with a client who’s shooting a $150 million film, it’s
going to be disastrous if shooting is delayed because I pull their hamstring, or throw their shoulder out, or make them lightheaded. We just can’t take that chance.
“Look, if you do several things with moderate intensity, the overall impact is going to be greater than doing one thing at 100 percent intensity. I used to do Olympic lifts, fartlek training, interval training—all these great, effective things. But as I got older, I started asking—how many clients have pulled hamstrings running sprints with me? How many clients have thrown up after doing super-intensive training with me? What’s the hunger factor after doing ultra-intense workouts? (It’s high.)”
In a nutshell? Pasternak sums it up this way: “Do I need my clients to be in pain in order to feel like they got something done? No. I want them to think ‘Hey this was easy and I can’t wait to do it again.’”