The Life of L.A.'s Fitness Fanatics
Meet the celebrity trainers, nutritional gurus and wellness pros who run the self-described health capital of the world.
At My Pilates Body, a fitness studio on Los Angeles’ fashionable West Third Street, trainer Lori Sottosanti has just introduced me to the Power Plate, a vibrating workout apparatus with a circular base and chest-high handlebars. She explains that the vibrations stimulate three minutes’ worth of muscle contractions in one minute. Courteney Cox, Clint Eastwood and Sting praise the Power Plate. And so does Sottosanti. “Sometimes I tell the Power Plate, ‘I love you,’ ” she says, petting its handlebars.
I, myself, am a 30-year-old New York City fitness freak. My weekly regimen includes at least two days of spinning at SoulCycle, four six-mile runs in Central Park and two Pilates and yoga classes each at Equinox. I own more than a dozen pairs of running shoes and 32 workout pants.
Which is why I felt like I had died and gone to heaven when I was assigned to go to L.A. for a week to report on the city’s fitness scene. Finally! A chance to live among my people.
The first person I called was L.A.-based public-relations maven and fitness devotee Lara Shriftman, who gave me leads for trainers, specialty instructors, group-fitness classes, doctors and more. She also referred me to Jodi Guber (pictured above), daughter of legendary film producer Peter Guber and founder of the clothing line Beyond Yoga, who gave me the inside scoop on L.A.’s fitness trends. I exchanged 36 fitness-tip-related e-mails with friends who work for the biggest boldface celebrities in Hollywood—and friends who are celebrities themselves—then headed west to meet five trainers, take eight group-fitness classes and try a new diet every day.
Now here I am with Sottosanti, who begins my one-hour workout with a series of uncomplicated moves. Each lasts two minutes. I hop on and off the plate. I do sit-ups on it. And push-ups. But as my heart rate escalates, so does the craziness.
Thirty minutes into my session, I’m out of breath. My body is shaking, and not just from the vibrations. But Sottosanti urges me on. When the madness ends, she congratulates me on having burned about a thousand calories. “Don’t ruin your workout with food!” she jokes (I think?). “Eat water and air for dinner!”
It’s no wonder L.A. is home to innovative exercise gurus like Sottosanti: The city’s lifeblood is a multibillion-dollar global business built on showcasing buff bodies on the big screen. Celebrity is a powerful marketing tool, and all it takes to start a fitness frenzy is a headline: “Get the Bod: Gwyneth and Madonna’s Workout,” “How to Get Hugh Jackman’s Arms.” It’s been this way since the 1980s, when Jane Fonda burst onto the scene in her leotard and leggings. But we’ve come a long way since aerobics class. These days in La-La Land, a thriving subculture of fiteratis—the leaders and disciples of a fitness community that includes, but is not limited to, celebrity trainers, yoga and Pilates instructors, group-class workout teachers, hiking and breathing coaches, healers and fat melters (fat melters!)—has pumped up the pulse of L.A.’s health and wellness scene to a frenetic pace.
If there’s one guy in Hollywood who knows blockbuster talent, it’s producer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose 41 Oscar nominations, 105 Emmy nominations and more than $16 billion lifetime box-office gross have earned him the nickname the Man with the Golden Gut. Logic follows that the person responsible for looking after Bruckheimer’s abs, a handsome Dutch fellow named Jørgen de Mey, would be the best in the business, too. De Mey, whom I meet at a private studio in West L.A., has been training Bruckheimer for more than 20 years and has also worked on many of his projects, from helping Ben Affleck lose ten pounds in six weeks for Pearl Harbor to consulting with Angelina Jolie for Gone in 60 Seconds.
As a result, de Mey has secured his place in the top tier of personal trainers or, in L.A., “celebrity trainers.” These special fitness savants don’t operate out of chain gyms. Instead, they favor house calls or workouts in private trainer-only “studios” (gyms that let in only one trainer or so at a time). It’s in one of these studios, in West Hollywood, where I find myself getting my butt kicked by Andrea Orbeck, the artiste behind Heidi Klum’s supermodel legs. After walking for a few minutes on the treadmill at a killer 15 percent incline—“think long and lean, like Barbie!” Orbeck says of my walking form—I’m now lying on my side doing leg-lift repetitions using the Hipster, Orbeck’s special glute and thigh–toning resistance band. “I invented it as a workout solution for my girls on the road,” she says of the tube-shaped tool that comes packaged with her Supermodel Series DVD.
Like Orbeck, most celebrity trainers have something to sell besides their fitness methodology. Harley Pasternak has built a veritable empire (books, snacks, DVDs, equipment, meal delivery) on his 5-Factor plan: Eat five meals a day based on five ingredients and work out five days a week for 25 minutes. This is how Pasternak transformed Halle Berry into Catwoman in five weeks in 2004. Stars, kings, presidents, sheiks and oligarchs have been lining up ever since.
But don’t get Jason Walsh started on the celebrity trainer craze. “I hate the phrase,” says the former NCAA Division I assistant strength coach when I meet him at his state-of-the-art Rise Movement studio, in West Hollywood. “?‘Celebrity’ just means ‘popular.’?” Walsh is all about cutting the crap. No workout fads or crazy diets. Just the basics: exercise, nutrition and rest. It’s an honest ideology that’s turned him into one of the most popular trainers in L.A.—a town where not having a marketing gimmick can actually be considered one.
It’s 11 a.m. on a Monday in Brentwood, and I’m at Pilates Platinum, lying on a version of a Pilates Reformer, a twin bed–sized machine that looks—and, after an hour-long session, feels—like a medieval torture device. Jessica McTighe is leading me and four women in their early forties through toning exercises: “Squeeeeeeze those inner thighs!” “Scooooooop the belly in!” Jodi Guber is the reason I’m here. She invited me to her private Pilates class to experience McTighe’s magic.
Guber is the embodiment of the fiterati disciple. In addition to her Pilates instructor, she has a celebrity trainer and favorite yoga, spinning and group-class instructors. This is what the fabulously fit do—they create their own teams of experts and plan their lives around these gurus.
The fiteratis get especially culty when talking about L.A. yogis such as YogaWorks’ Vinnie Marino, Power Yoga’s Bryan Kest, YogaHop’s Matthew Reyes and Maha Yoga’s Steve Ross. “I am obsessed with Maha and YogaHop,” says one blonde Bel Air bombshell. “They both do yoga to really fun, upbeat music—everything from Jay-Z to Bob Marley to random yoga chanting to Coldplay.”
The instructors at the city’s many group-class temples—Cardio Barre, Barry’s Bootcamp, Physique 57, SoulCycle, Made in LA, The Bar Method, Burn 60, Brick CrossFit—are a fiterati fixation, too. “You must meet Pixie,” says a friend, referring to her famous Hollywood husband’s spinning teacher, Pixie Acia, at SoulCycle. Adds one producer’s assistant, “My group-Pilates instructor, Alisa Wyatt, teaches Olympic-level beach volleyball players.”
At the LifeSpan Medicine offices in Santa Monica, Dr. Dominique Fradin-Read (lifespanmedicine.com), a French-American lifestyle, antiaging and regenerative-medicine guru, is explaining the five pillars of optimal health: “Stress reduction, sleep, light, healthy exercise and healthful food,” she says. The latter is what I’m particularly interested in, as fiteratis tend to be apostles of food fads—organic, vegan, gluten-free, raw, juicing, locavore, sprouted and vintage (i.e., home-canned and pickled)—and I wonder if my newfound obsession with Pressed Juicery juice and BodyFactory protein shakes is all that healthy.
L.A.’s fiteratis often off-load cooking responsibilities to private home chefs, meal delivery from services like Sunfare or Paleta or healthy restaurants such as Akasha in Culver City and Huckleberry in Santa Monica (where waits can be longer than the lines to run the Santa Monica stairs). But they do cook, too. So I decide to pay a visit to Jennifer Aniston’s private home chefs, sisters Jewels and Jill Elmore, in Santa Monica (jewelsandjill.com). They have also been home chefs for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver and John Travolta and Kelly Preston, and authored the cookbook The Family Chef (Celebra Hardcover, 2009).
“You have to make time for cooking, but be realistic and don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Jewels says. “Start with something small, like breakfast at home. Or make a batch of quinoa on the weekends, then throw together a quinoa salad during the week.” “Pick an ingredient to explore for a week,” adds Jill, “then switch it up.”
Popular perception might be that the L.A. fitness scene is crazy—that it’s all about being tight, toned and ultra-skinny. I didn’t find that to be the case. Rather, all of the fiteratis I met and the classes I took embodied a palpable emotional and spiritual energy that make one feel part of a community, and it’s that energy and community that create a fanatic scene—plus the fact that Pressed Juicery delivers nationwide.
The Little Black Book
Where to Go
Brick: No trendy routines or fad diets can be found here, just trainer-approved fitness centered in solid sports science.
Top Pick: CrossFit classes that stimulate metabolic and cardiovascular function. Classes start at $20; brickcrossfit.com.
Cardio Barre: The low-impact, ballet- and weight-based classes claim to eliminate 5 percent body fat in eight weeks.
Top Pick: The advanced classes with owner and former Chippendales dance captain Richard Giorla. From $20; cardiobarre.com.
Power Yoga: Yogi Bryan Kest’s back-to-basics, meditation-based experience focuses on healing the body and energizing the soul.
Top Pick: Classes led by Kest himself—but show up at least 20 minutes early. Donations only; poweryoga.com.
YogaWorks: With the tagline “For Everybody,” YogaWorks offers nearly 50 classes tailored to every level, even for children, at nine locations in the L.A. area.
Top Pick: AntiGravity Yoga, incorporating dance, Pilates and calisthenics—in a trapeze-like hammock. From $25; yogaworks.com.
Maha Yoga: Founder Steve Ross brings his relaxed, feel-good philosophy to Maha.
Top Pick: The rhythm-based flow-style classes taught by Ross. From $20; mahayoga.com.
Physique 57: This New York–based studio opened its first L.A. location in 2010, featuring the same barre-based workouts and spa-like amenities.
Top Pick: The 57-minute Signature class, using weights and the ballet barre to tone and stretch. From $30; physique57.com.
SoulCycle: Inspirational cardio through spinning (cycling in an indoor studio).
Top Pick: The 45-minute classic with master instructor MB Regan. From $25; soul-cycle.com.
YogaHop: A combination of West Coast cool and Eastern philosophy, with a Top 40 sound track and small, intimate studios.
Top Pick:Yogi Matthew Reyes’s super-challenging Summit classes. From $20; yogahop.com.
The Bar Method: At three L.A. locations, interval training, isometrics, dance and physical science combine to create the Bar Method body—sculpted arms, flat abs and long legs.
Top Pick: The hour-long Mixed class for beginners and experts alike. From $20; barmethod.com.
Pilates Platinum: State-of-the-art Megaformer machines with sliding platforms, handlebars, bungee cords and springs take traditional Pilates to the next level.
Top Pick: Platinum 30/30, half an hour each of Megaformer Pilates and high-energy cycling. From $25; pilatesplatinum.com.
Barry’s Bootcamp These classes target a different muscle group every day.
Top Pick: The hour-long Full Body classes, held on weekends. From $25; barrysbootcamp.com.
Burn 60: Treadmill-based interval training meets kettlebells, plyometrics, bars and bands in a 60-minute workout designed to maximize calorie burn—up to 600 calories per class.
Top Pick: Perpetual Burn, which uses agility ladders, ropes and treadmills. From $30; burn60.com.
Made in LA: A full-service gym in downtown Hollywood that’s custom-made for hard-rocking, tattooed fitness aficionados.
Top Pick: The 6:30 a.m. edition of The Ride, a fast-paced rock-and-roll spin class. From $20; madeinlafitness.com.
Where to Eat
Akasha: This warehouse-style restaurant features comfort food gone green: Chef Akasha Richmond uses only local, organic food in her chicken wings, sliders and pizza.
Try: The jalapeño-spiked turkey burger with a side of sweet potato fries drenched in paprika aioli. At 9543 Culver Blvd.; 310-845-1700; akasharestaurant.com.
Huckleberry: A rustic, artisanal restaurant and bakery, Huckleberry offers a super-popular weekend brunch.
Try: The green eggs and ham with prosciutto, arugula and a maple-bacon biscuit. At 1014 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-451-2311; huckleberrycafe.com.
Paleta: Chef Kelly Boyer sources each meal from local, sustainable farms and fisheries, with a low-carb focus on meat and vegetables.
Try: The Lifestyle Market Menu, which includes three meals and two snacks. From $45 per day; paleta.com.
Pressed Juicery: These juice cleanses are packed with veggies, from kale to mint to aloe vera, and are available for delivery or pickup at three locations.
Try: The introductory Cleanse 1 program, which includes eight bottles freshly squeezed and delivered to you each morning. Juice cleanses start at $70 per day; pressedjuicery.com.
Sunfare: Healthy, customizable menus encompass everything from filet mignon to cinnamon-apple pancakes, delivered daily in the L.A. area.
Try: The popular Signature Diet, ideal for maintaining healthy blood sugar. From $25 per meal, monthly plans start at $55 per day; sunfare.com.
Who to Call
Andrea Orbeck: She’s known as the Supermodel Secret Weapon, and for good reason: Orbeck is a glute-and-thigh expert who has trained Karolina Kurkova, Kimora Lee Simmons and Heidi Klum. Prices available upon request; andreaorbeck.com.
Harley Pasternak: The privacy-minded Pasternak provides personal training in his secluded West Hollywood studio, hidden in a two-story house on a residential block. Prices available upon request; 5factor.com.
Jason Walsh: His no-nonsense approach to physical fitness uses progressive training to ensure Walsh’s clients are always improving, not just maintaining. Prices available upon request; 424-245-4052; jasonwalshtraining.com.
Jørgen de Mey: With a client list that includes Tom Brady and Penélope Cruz, de Mey offers his trainees a personalized nutrition and exercise plan. Sessions start at $125; 310-869-8388; demeytrainingsystem.com.
Lori Sottosanti: This personal trainer claims she can transform your body in just five days, thanks to her prodigious skills and high-tech equipment like the muscle-stimulating Power Plate. From $120; 310-926-5495.
Yada, Yada, Yoga: Pilates and yoga instructors, massage therapists and personal chefs, among others, come to your hotel room or villa through this full-service “lifestyle agency.”
Try: The Hollywood Hills hike with views of the coast and an up-close look at the famous sign. From $150; 310-274-2665; yadayoga.com.
Where to Stay
Hotel Sofitel: The sunny SO Fit gym at this hotel offers at-hand personal trainers, 34 cardio and strength machines, plus saunas, steam rooms and rain showers for a post-workout wind-down. Rooms start at $300; 8555 Beverly Blvd.; 310-278-5444; sofitel.com.
Mondrian Los Angeles: Only a few doors down from SoulCycle, this hotel has a small but swanky fitness center as well as a rooftop pool. From $280; 8440 Sunset Blvd.; 323-650-8999; mondrianhotel.com.
SLS Beverly Hills: Its 2,500-square-foot, 24-hour fitness center is complete with the all-in-one Kinesis Personal fitness station. From $350; 465 S. La Cienega Blvd.; 310-247-0400; slsbeverlyhills.com.
The Redbury: Located on the iconic corner of Hollywood and Vine, this hotel is perfectly situated for long hikes through the Hollywood Hills. From $260; 1717 Vine St.; 877-962-1717; theredbury.com. —Jamie Wiebe
Member of Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas.