Through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Gstaad Palace’s fitness room I see stretching out before me a panorama of snow-covered peaks: the Swiss Alps, whose massive scale dwarfs the town’s whimsical pine structures dotting the valley floor. Even being a West Coast girl, raised in a ski-in-the-morning, surf-in-the-evening culture, I have never seen mountains like this—they are almost comically tall and craggy, the summits disappearing into the clouds. The scene connotes climbing expeditions, thrill-seeking slalom skiers, ice caves. Surely a workout in the comfort of this temperature-controlled room will be a cakewalk in comparison.
I’ve come to the Gstaad Palace, a century-old alpine escape for the rich, famous, and royal, for more than star spotting or night clubbing (though their GreenGo glass dance floor, which lowers from the ceiling and rests inches above the swimming pool, is a sight to behold). I’m here to meet Gady, the Palace’s newest hire, a Nike Master Trainer from Paris who’s available for one-on-one sessions with guests for several weeks during the summer and winter seasons.
To be a Nike Master Trainer is on par with being a Nike sponsored athlete—think Olympic sprinters Allyson Felix and Tianna Bartoletta, or international golf superstar Rory McIlroy—except on the other side of the equation. Fifty elite trainers lead a network of some 600 trainers worldwide, experts in the field whose job descriptions range from designing Nike+ Training Club App workouts to leading Nike sponsored group events around the world. Gady is one of four Nike M.T.’s in France, where he heads up events like “We Run Paris,” the Nike-sponsored 10K, and “Dare to Zlatan,” a training campaign inspired by professional soccer player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Gady’s client roster ranges from big-time athletes like Kobe Bryant to French actors Alysson Paradis and Guillaume Gouix.
I should be intimidated. And yet when Gady walks into the Palace’s recently expanded fitness room (wearing head-to-toe Nike, of course), he’s so confident, so comfortable that I’m both put at ease and ready to roll. My competitive nature—the one that cost me a number of college boyfriends—emerges. Back in New York I rock climb regularly. I bike to work. I decide to prove to Gady just how in shape I really am.
Our workout is based on H.I.I.T. (high-intensity interval training). H.I.I.T. is most simply described as very short, but very hard workouts, the point being that for a brief period of time you push yourself outside your comfort zone. According to Martin Gibala, author of One-Minute Workout, “You don’t have to reach any set percentage of heart rate. You just need to feel some brief discomfort.” No sweat, right? Except that Gady’s not about to let me off so easy. His specialty is a longform, full body version of H.I.I.T. that will last forty-five minutes. I document our session with an audio recorder so I can listen to it later, when I will discover that the only thing worse than listening to your own voice is listening to yourself workout.
Gady presses play on his iPhone and on comes Madonna—fitting, since she stays at the Gstaad Palace every Christmas—and by the second verse of “Living for Love” my ego is somewhere at the bottom of the Gstaad Palace pool, from where two Italian teenagers are laughing at me through the glass. I muster enough strength to throw the plastic ball we’re volleying back in Gady’s general direction.
“Encore!” he yells. He throws the ball back, and it hits me in the face. Either Gady doesn’t notice, or he chooses not to.
“Enjoy the pain,” he says, smiling. “It’s easy for you!”
Gady keeps his encouragements light. Less “you-got-this” and more “why-wouldn’t-you?” Actually, my legs are on fire, and I’m wondering how I’ve been doing the New York Times’ seven-minute workout so wrong.
We move into the corner where Gady has me work my triceps and shoulders by lifting free weights above and then behind my head. After five reps my arms are shaking uncontrollably and Gady has to change me to a smaller weight. He helps me finish the last rep, which I apologize for.
“You got this, Rachel! You look like a tank!” We make eye contact in the mirror. “When you workout,” he corrects himself. We both laugh.
After many more circuits and lots of mini water breaks—“Little sips, little sips,” Gady calls them—we stretch it out. He takes my foot in his hand and extends my leg above my head, further than I thought it could go. While I wince, realizing the next few minutes will be a different kind of torture, Gady talks comfortably about why he got into this business. He explains that his parents immigrated to France from Haiti before he was born.
“When I was young, I wasn’t poor, but my parents weren’t rich. The only thing I had to do was play soccer, which I did every day, all day. Sports were easy for me, so when I saw that it was hard for some people, to practice, to workout, I just wanted to help them.”
This isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially in Paris, where Gady is stationed when he’s not in Gstaad. “In New York there are a lot of different gyms, different workouts, it’s not the same in Europe,” he says. “Training is not yet completely understood by the people.”
When it came to finding a job, Gady was determined to work for Nike. He tells me about his first interview. “You’re gonna laugh,” he says. “I’m not a pretentious guy, but I know my value. I told my interviewer, ‘We’re gonna do a test. If I do a training session, and it works out very well, you’ll keep me. If it doesn’t go well, you won’t pay me, and you’ll never hear from me again.’” Gady smiles broadly. “After the session, everyone there asked for my card.”
He was hired by Nike Running, and after two years was asked to become a personal trainer. “The difference between Nike and other brands,” Gady says, “is that Nike isn’t afraid to make mistakes, to innovate. They want to do better every time, it’s an obsession.”
Despite Gady’s high profile, he remains humble. If anything, it’s refreshing to see someone still thrilled by a dream come true. And from the looks of Gady’s Instagram, which include panoramic videos taken at first light in Gstaad, he’s also pretty stoked to be at the Palace.
“We chose Gady because he’s really a complete package,” Kirsten Gau, the Spa Manager for the Gstaad Palace, tells me over the phone later. “We’ve had personal trainers in the past, but they did things like swimming lessons, yoga, pilates. Gady is more athletic. He’s someone who has a lot of energy and power.”
Gau goes on to explain that the winter season in Gstaad usually attracts a younger, more athletic type of person—clients who come for the Swiss powder and whose primary focus is to prepare their bodies for strenuous outdoor activities free of injury. In the summer, Gstaad has historically been more about relaxation, but Gau says that in the past few years they’ve noticed that hotel clients want to think about fitness all year round.
Gady and I round out our time together with a “cool-down” on the elliptical. Our exchanges grow even shorter. I can no longer form complete sentences, and I realize that this is what triathlon training plans mean when they measure intensity with “talking is hard” versus “cannot talk.” If I’m honest with myself I’ve never before pushed it to “cannot talk,” and I realize that this is what’s most valuable about working with someone like Gady: being driven further than you’d ever go on your own. There is no doubt that if I trained with him three times a week (what Gady believes should be the minimum for a regular client), I’d actually have a shot at those washboard abs I’ve always wanted.
“Strong woman, you are! How do you feel?”
“I’m dying,” I manage between inhales.
“Do you hate me?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“It’s easy! You don’t feel anything!”
Finally I am allowed to collapse onto the floor. We’ve reached 45 minutes, and I no longer care if Gady thinks I’m strong or not. “This is. So. Much harder. Than rock climbing,” I say, sweat pooling beneath my face.
Gady smiles down at me, crosses his arms. He seems pleased. “It’s good, lying on the floor like that. It’s very very good.”