As the phone rang for me to connect with celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson, so many thoughts went through my mind – ‘How will he sound?’, ‘Will he be nice?’, ‘Hope he doesn’t cut me off after 5 minutes’. After all, I was interviewing him while he was doing his morning cardio.

I was not entirely surprised that he was multi-tasking, with an impressive client list like his, Gunnar no doubt has a day filled with Hollywood A-listers and pro-athletes to put through their paces.

When he finally answered, he was friendly and seemed happy to get stuck in to the interview. However barely into answering my first question, he puts me on hold, as his wife was calling him and was 39 weeks pregnant at the time and could go into labour at any moment. As the line went quiet, I thought, that’s it, he cut me off, his not coming back – but he did and in fact had a message from his wife to ME, “My wife says ‘hi’ and says to tell you that she has visited Cape Town a couple times and she loves it, it’s beautiful.” – I was so relieved – ‘ice broken, yay!’ – I knew this was going to be a good interview.

With 27 years under his belt, Gunnar Peterson is THE go-to-guy in Tinsel town with pro athletes in the NBA, NHL, NFL and NCAA as well as celebs like Khloe Kardashian, Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Jackman and Sofia Vergara just to name a few, all turning to this seasoned professional.

Training Khloe

Wardah Hartley: How did you start out in the fitness industry?
Gunnar Peterson: “I was leaving gym one morning early and a guy asked me if he could train with me and I was trying to figure out if he would be a decent workout partner and he asked me what I charged and I went from there. At first I was just a workout person, I worked out a lot, I read all the muscle magazines, I was a big sports guy, and then when this person asked me, I thought I could try this, I could do this before work and make some extra money and then after a week, somebody else asked me and somebody else, I started to add it up and thought I can make more money doing this than I can with my little job, so I did it that way and then after about two months, I started getting calls and everyday it was a new referral.”

WH: Did you eventually do any kind of formal training?
GP: “I got certified first through ACE (American Council on Exercise) then through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and started attending seminars every weekend I could, I would fly to Chicago for a weekend, fly to Arizona for a weekend, fly to Orlando for a weekend and I still try to attend 3 to 4 seminars a year.”

WH: Who was the first pro athlete and celeb you ever trained?
GP: “My first actress was Kelly McGillis, from Top Gun, and it was a very positive experience, she is a lovely woman, she was there for the right reasons, she was fun and cool to be around. It was a great experience with someone of note, it wasn’t off-putting, she was no ‘diva’, there was no nastiness. My first athlete was Kurt Rambis, who played for the LA Lakers, who ended up becoming a very close friend and godfather to my first son.”

WH: Fast forward almost three decades later and you’re THE trainer behind some of the hottest bodies in Los Angeles? What is your secret ingredient to retaining your coveted client list?
GP: “If you look at the lives of people in that rare, rare space, everything is moving, everything is in flux, everyone is pulling at them in one direction or another, so if I try to be the one constant in their lives, if I try to be the eye in the storm of their life and the gym looks the same, smells the same, feels the same, same temperature, same music, if there’s something reliable, something they can count on, something that puts them at ease and is comforting them and that may sound corny but it works for me.”


WH: How do you typically like to train your clients?
GP: “Its multi-joint movements, it’s sequencing movements in a way, sequencing strength movements in a way that will keep your heart rate elevated, creating an aerobic effect with what would traditionally be known as anaerobic movements – and if that’s too technical – it’s taking strength stuff and creating cardio with it.”

WH: People see your clients like Khloe Kardashian on the red carpet looking amazing, but don’t always see the hard work it entails to get there, how much time was she committing to the gym?
GP: “Khloe trains five to six days a week, she goes at it for an hour and then she may do extra cardio, she watches her diet.”

WH: Do you think it’s harder for you to be a personal trainer to the stars as opposed to someone doing what you do in any other part of the world?
GP: “I don’t look at it as hard. I think I put more pressure on myself than anybody in the town could. I don’t know if it’s harder anywhere else, I think level of difficulty is perceived. I am the one sitting up while my kids are doing homework writing my workouts as opposed to walking in (at the gym) and winging it.”

WH: You seem quite disciplined and methodical when it comes to training your clients, are you the same with your own training?
GP: “I get here (his gym) at 4:30 in the morning, I clean up emails, and then I turn out the workouts I had written the night before and emailed to myself and then I train with two good friends that are trainers, Brad and Alfonso and we start with cardio, and then we stretch and then we hit the weights and we do it, anywhere from an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. It’s one day a little more focus on cardio and one day a little more focus on weights and we push ourselves but not in a crazy militant way. We’re passed the age where we’re trying to cripple ourselves. Each one picks a movement and we go through it three to four times.”

WH: This level of dedication and self-imposed discipline that you put on yourself, do you take the same approach with your kids with regard to health and fitness?
GP: “I set the example. My kids know I get up at 3:45 in the morning, my kids see how I work. My kids know that I workout every day, to be candid, if I don’t workout I’m an asshole and I know that and they know that. They all play sports. I don’t push them and say, ‘you’ve gotta workout’. But if there’s a down day, I’ll say, ‘guys, I want you to do something physical today’, if it’s an off day and they’ll say ‘like what?’ and if they can’t come up with it, then I will.”

WH: Do you have any vices or indulgences?
GP: “One hundred percent, one hundred percent, and everybody knows it and I am without apology. I don’t mess with dark chocolate, I would stab a relative for milk chocolate, and I would stab a relative in public for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and also I show that to my kids, we would go and get a frozen yoghurt with peanut butter cups topping on it and I don’t apologise because I don’t have it enough for it to be a bad thing. I make healthy choices all day long.”

Gunnar Peterson Image 2

WH: We live in a society of so much excess and temptation. So many people are desperate to make a change to a healthier life, but don’t know where to start – what would be your advice to them?
GP: “Anybody embarking on their fitness journey, I would say, don’t try to go six workouts a week, reduced calorie diet, gluten free, no dairy, eight hours of sleep, no drinking, no smoking, it’s too much, it’s an overhaul very few are capable of making and it feels restrictive and in a relatively free world, you know it’s self imposed and at the end of the day you will rebel. Where if you take on the one that is most manageable, whether that’s adding in a couple workouts in the week, whether it’s starting the diet and then hopefully over time, you see how they all play into each other.”

WH: What can people expect from you in the future?
GP: “There are a couple book ideas, there’s some TV stuff in the works, we’ll see what happens. The key is to be able to do them without selling out, so that you get a good message, a healthy message of fitness out there and then more of the same, working with more motivated, driven, ambitious people than fuels my motivation, drive and ambition.”


Wardah Hartley
Happy Healthy Fabulous

Photographs – Supplied & sourced online