personal-trainer

Gyms all around America are swarming with people trying to get that perfect beach bod before summer rolls in. Coaxing that last bench press out of clients in these crowded workout rooms are personal trainers who are paid an average of $75 an hour for private sessions. And it’s pretty easy to spot them too, since they’re usually wearing shirts with “Personal Trainer” labeled boldly on the back.

Then there’s a whole other category of trainers, most likely not wearing shirts with identifying labels. These individuals train stars, professional athletes, musicians, and the rest of the rich and famous – and they charge up to $500 an hour to serve as their pseudo-lifestyle consultants.

Celebrity training has emerged as an industry of its own within the last half-decade. The new category of fitness pros fuse training and celebrity with “stars” like Gunnar Peterson—who works with Bruce Willis and Jennifer Lopez—and Tracy Anderson—who works with Madonna, Shakira, and Gwyneth Paltrow. They market their approach by specializing in certain styles of exercise to stand out among Hollywood’s hottest. Because Peterson and Anderson are affiliated with big-screen superstars, they’ve become celebrities themselves, full-fledged with managers, publicists, and social networking engineers. “The media interest in celebrity news has pushed personal trainers into the limelight,” according to a press release by MotivatePT, a personal training company.

So what motivates some trainers to hike the treacherous terrain to celebrity status? Is it that fat stack of cash? Is it the prestige and high honor? Is it the name and the fame? Most trainers, according to Joe Antouri, celebrity trainer and CEO of the Private Trainers Association, enter the fitness industry not intending to work with celebrities. So where along the path does that change, and what does it take to get famous?

Fame is transferrable. It can rub off little by little from celebrities to the average Joe. So it seems that just by being in the right place at the right time, and with the right people, anybody can catch their fifteen minutes. But sometimes, that short glimpse isn’t fully satisfying—it’s just a tease. And for those people, chasing stardom becomes the next step. “People like being paid attention to, for tangible as well as intangible reasons” said Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, author of “Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity.” “They want public adoration, and they want the economic benefits as well—the money!”

Currid-Halkett published her book in late 2010, after two years of research and writing. “I always wondered, ‘How do the really successful ones get that far?’” she said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to understand it. People had studied fame as a social phenomenon before, but not so much the economic mechanics of it.”

To be a part of the celebrity culture, Currid-Halkett says, it “completely matters” to be connected. When a trainer works with a celebrity—and can claim credit for her fabulous body up on the screen or stage—he or she becomes much more attractive to the public. “Then you start to get your own media attention, and you’re inclined to start craving more of that fame.”

Celebrity trainers often feel this way. They highlight their star clients’ names in their resumes, and then, using that secondary fame as a foundation— “trainer for so-and-so star” —they pursue their own stardom by writing fitness books, pitching stories to be featured on TV programs and radio shows, selling workout DVDs, CDs, exercise clothing and equipment. Anything to get their name out there.

And it works, because celebrity endorsement is effective. After all, who wouldn’t want to have Jessica Alba’s bikini body? Or Ryan Reynolds’ buff arms? We all want to do the same workout routines as our idols, in hopes of achieving comparable results. “Celebrities are often viewed as the most in-shape and attractive people on the planet,” Currid-Halkett said. “If you’re responsible for making them look like that, your name already has a pretty good chance of selling some products.” A study published in the Journal of Economic Psychology in 2009 aimed to investigate whether or not “celebrities are more persuasive than (equally attractive) non-famous endorsers.” And it found that with celebrity endorsement, “positive affect is transferred from presenter to product,” or in other words, consumers think positively about products that are recommended by celebrities or their trainers.

But how do trainers even get that far in the first place? It can’t possibly be that they jump from getting their training certification to working with stars.

Being a good trainer is the first step. “Clients want to see results, and that comes from good training” Antouri said. “Time, experience, and education make trainers become great at what they do.” Next, it takes that initial step of getting a celebrity client. This is where the roads split into two, and the significantly narrower path is the competitive field of celebrity training. “A lot of times, it’s your luck,” said Scott White, author of “How to Become a Celebrity Personal Trainer.” “You’ve got to know somebody who knows somebody who knows a celebrity.” In a recent phone interview, White mentioned a friend who went from being a regular trainer to a celebrity trainer just by pure luck. “My friend got into a car accident and had to see a chiropractor, who happened to know some celebrities,” he said. “They talked, they got along. My friend told the chiropractor that he’s a trainer, and the next thing you know, he started training most of Dave Matthews Band.”

White also said that it takes a little bit of “putting yourself out there.” Where a trainer lives and works matters—metropolitan areas are more likely to be populated with celebrities than towns in Iowa. Who a trainer associates himself with also matters—talking to doctors, managers, publicists, or producers can open up doors of opportunities. Then, once that initial step is achieved, trainers need to promote their name. And that takes marketing, publicizing, and networking. Ultimately, the goal for many of these trainers is to create a brand for themselves—for both the recognition and the money.

“Generic fitness trainers are a dime a dozen,” author Steven Van Yoder said in a recent interview. “The market can’t distinguish one from another when they do not take steps to meaningfully differentiate themselves from competitors.” In his book, “Get Slightly Famous: Become a Celebrity in Your Field and Attract More Business with Less Effort™,” Van Yoder wrote about the importance of media attention, of leveraging the Internet to its full potential, and of building public awareness. “Getting slightly famous makes clients, customers and other influencers see you as a credible resource and generous contributor to your industry.”

Marketing digitally, networking, and a building a social media following can get people noticed. And visibility is crucial in fame, even slight fame. “One key to succeeding in the marketplace is to have your message out there, if not continuously, then often enough to keep your name alive in customers’ minds,” Van Yoder wrote. “In today’s ultra-competitive business world, you need to find ways to really stand out.”

Take Nikki Kimbrough. A celebrity fitness trainer in New York City, Kimbrough branded herself to become a nationally known fitness expert and star in a popular web series. She started training celebrities while working as a “national spokesperson” for Bally Total Fitness from 2002 to 2008. But after Bally filed for bankruptcy, she decided she wanted to work independently and create a web series.

And she did just that with “Get Fit w/Nik.” It started out small, but is now a popular web series that airs on Centric-TV.com. Kimbrough builds her fan base by being active in her online presence – she markets the show and chats with her viewers on social media. “I interact with my fans, answering their questions and conversing back and forth, or even Instagram-ing a picture to keep motivation going throughout the day,” she said. “It’s fun! And it allows me to see and personally understand people’s wants and needs.”

Kimbrough was a theater kid when she was in school – she loved singing and dancing. Recently, she performed with the national tour of “Dreamgirls.” While on tour, she began networking within the theater industry, and is now a well-known Broadway cast trainer. “During our tour, I continued to build my business by training my cast mates, and that opened up the path to training Broadway stars,” she said. “It was unplanned, but I love it.”

Since her entrance to the world of stardom, Kimbrough has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Fox National, the Tony Danza and Wayne Brady shows, Better TV, BET, Good Morning America, and The Early Show. “I pitched stories to the networks and they brought me in,” she said. “They liked the information I gave out to the public and ended up bringing me back on a few times.” She then began training some of the people on those shows. So Kimbrough never stops networking.

She has also been a fitness contributor for Fitness, Essence and Shape magazines and is a member of the notable Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute, a leading “think tank” with top fitness and health experts. She serves as a perfect example for a personal trainer who went from training celebrities – Meredith Viera, Soledad O’Brien, and more – to being somewhat of a high-demand celebrity herself. “As a spokesperson for Bally, I was recognized all the time,” Kimbrough said. “’Oh my God, you’re the Bally girl!’ People recognized me from the commercials on TV, and now because of Get Fit w/Nik.”

And according to Scott White, “there is an innate desire in everybody to become somewhat famous.” While achieving that level of fitness fame is not always so easy, it can happen with luck, opportunity, and persistence. “There is a very small percentage of people who end up achieving the status of celebrity trainer,” said Joe Antouri. “The way you do things, the way you get involved, how hungry you are, and being in the right place at the right time—it all matters.”