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New York's Top Personal Trainer

How Mary Ann Browning is getting Manhattan’s Upper East Side into shape—one mogul at a time.

The first time I met the woman who’d change my life—along with my waist size, my diet, percentage of body fat, even the cut of my suits—it was 6:30 p.m., December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. We met at the Core Club, a stylish, membership-only outpost of exclusivity and power for newly minted masters of the universe, preferably hedge funders–cum–art collector types, on Manhattan’s East 55th Street between Madison and Park. She was already seated near the bar, iPhone in one hand, a Patrón tequila (“tall, on the rocks, with seltzer and lime juice”) in the other. “This is what you must drink from now on. No more martinis! And you can have two and still be able to train like a dream in the morning.” This she tells me, in between calls, and quite emphatically, as is her style in most matters.

I had been sent to Mary Ann Browning by Anne Buford, a smart thirtysomething girl about town who knows everything re how to do it, buy it, spend it, and live it Upper East Side style.

“Richard, I want you to meet this great trainer. She’s fabulous. Does all the big guys,” she starts telling me in that breathless way such girls talk. “She’s going to save your life. I swear to God.”

“But,” I manage to squeeze in, “I have a trainer and I like him and…”

“But you don’t have a Mary Ann Browning.”

And so I met the wonder woman of über-trainers, all five foot eight inches of her size-0, Donatella-blonde self. Dressed in a skintight black sleeveless—yes, and it was December, as I said—Azzedine Alaïa, smoky stockings, and Christian Louboutin stilettos, she managed to show to her advantage every attenuation and curve, or, in her case, angle, of a hard-body workout. She’s trained Paula Zahn, Vera Wang, and Frédéric Fekkai as well as a good percentage of every middle-aged mogul-in-training in New York City.

We chitchatted about this and that: how she had been a principal dancer in South Africa’s leading ballet company. “That lasted until I was all of 28, when my husband started opening a series of unsuccessful restaurants. His idea of work was to play cards all day and wait for divine intervention. So the famous ballet dancer was now a waitress and a dishwasher.”

As the conversation started winding down, I knew the time had come to do more than talk about me. She checked me out like one of those judges at Westminster looking for Best in Show. The only thing she didn’t do was lift up my tail and take a good hard look at my rear haunches.

“Five days a week, three months, and we’ll begin seeing some real results!”

Five days a week, three months! Forget it. Who has the time—and at $400 an hour?

“Let’s see: I am in the business for eighteen years, have two degrees, am certified in everything I could be certified in, and…I get amazing results. So if I were a top lawyer and you paid for my time, then I’m very cheap. Besides, you won’t train directly with me but with one of my trainers. As for the time, you’ll find it.”

And so I did, training with Effie Eleftheriadi, a 28-year-old Athenian, via a brief period in Los Angeles before joining Browning. Religiously. Seriously. And without missing or rescheduling once. I was at that gym at 6 or 6:30 every weekday morning, huffing and puffing, hiking and pumping my way into shape. Six months later I’m 50 pounds lighter and have gone from a size-40 waist to a 34.

What Mary Ann calls the Browning Method does not reinvent the wheel in terms of exercise. It’s heavy on cardio—running, fast-paced walking for those like me whose knees gave up on running long ago, biking coupled with light weights. Hard and lean rather than big and muscular is her motto. “But the key is working out at least six days a week,” Browning says. “Start slow, don’t get injured, and don’t burn out.”

The Browning Method is also about losing weight from areas where fat is stored. You can quite literally change the shape of your body. Browning strongly believes in cardio 45 minutes a day, at least five days a week, as a way of burning calories and shedding pounds. Only at that point do weights enter the program to build muscle and burn fat.

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