Trainer to the stars Harley Pasternak on keeping people motivated

“Real motivation comes from within. You either want to succeed or you don’t.”

Harley Pasternak in the gym

Harley Pasternak: “Move throughout the day. Walk to the watercooler, walk to get lunch. Just keep moving.” (Colin McConnell/Toronto Star/Getty)

The personal trainer to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and a bestselling author on diet and fitness several times over shares his secrets to keeping people motivated, how to choose a partner for new business lines, and taking branding advice from Oprah.

You’ve trained some of the most famous people in the world—Halle Berry, Katy Perry, Robert Downey Jr., Kanye West. These are not people who are accustomed to taking orders.

Well, it helps that they come to me, so it’s not a case of bossing anybody around. I’m not the kind of trainer who’s showing up at someone’s house and dragging them out of bed. Most of the people who come to my office are already highly motivated.

I would imagine working as a trainer is a bit like being a turnaround CEO, in that people come to you when they need to make a change. Do you have a standard “time to get real” spiel?

It’s not really a spiel, so much as I want to find out about a person’s behaviour. That’s the way to make a change. I’m meeting with a very successful business person later today, one of the top chocolatiers. We’ll go over movement habits, eating habits, sleeping habits. And then we’ll talk about very simple, basic changes. People tend to get excited about the simplicity of what I ask them to do.

How do you motivate people?

I don’t believe you can motivate another person in any sustainable way. Real, lasting motivation comes from within. There’s extrinsic motivation: Maybe someone’s paying you to do something or you have a job coming up. Part of the reason I enjoy working with the clients I work with is that they are more motivated than the average person. Most of us want to look and feel better, but if you’re about to do a sex scene the whole world is going to see, you’re probably more motivated than a school teacher.

So if we all signed on to film sex scenes, everyone would get fit?

Exactly! Really, if somebody doesn’t show up for their workout, if they don’t eat the right things, there’s nothing I can say to make them do it—you either want to succeed or you don’t.

You also work with corporate honcho types. What are the specific challenges there?

It mostly comes down to sitting. Business people tend to sit more. And then there are the business lunches, business dinners, business drinks. None of that is good.

What about the fact that the suit and tie crowd can’t squeeze in midday yoga classes or what have you?

So move before work, move throughout the day. Walk to the watercooler or to a coffee shop that’s a block or two away. Walk to get lunch. Just keep moving—there’s always a way.

You are a huge supporter of the 10,000 steps revolution.

It just makes everything so simple. People have so many questions—which machine? What intensity? How often?—and that becomes off-putting. You just need to move as much as you can from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed.

How did you break into the world of celebrity training?

I was doing some local training for film people in Toronto when I got a call from someone who was producing the movie Gothika in Montreal. He said Halle Berry wanted to work with me, but they were only budgeted for a local trainer. I didn’t even ask about the fee. I just packed up my car and went. Two weeks in, Halle asked if I would train her for Catwoman in California. It really blew up from there.

You later got a lesson in branding from Oprah?

Right. I developed my program while I was working as a scientist for the Canadian military. I called it multiple variation training. One day, I got a call from Halle. She said, I’m here with Oprah. She wants to talk to you. Oprah got on the phone and asked me what my program was called. I told her and she said, ‘No, it’s not.’ It was after that conversation that I came up with the 5-Factor Diet .

Now you have snack bars, Xbox games, fitness equipment, running shoes. How do you decide which brand opportunities to pursue?

I have certain rules. I won’t endorse weight-loss pills or quick fixes—anything that doesn’t jell with my brand or my philosophy. Lately I have been trying to make all of my partnerships synergistic. So when I’m considering a new partner, I think about the other brands I am already working with: What would they think of this company? Would they feel comfortable having their product at the same event?


Your latest product is the Harley Pasternak Power Blender . I take it you’re on team smoothie in the juice versus smoothie war?

Oh, yeah. No one’s dying of juice. Juice is not dangerous. But what it is is a sweet, delicious dessert. It has no protein, no fibre, no healthy fats.

Even the ones that taste like gross, liquefied salad?

Yes. It’s such a waste of food. Smoothies are such a great way to get whole nutrition, all the parts: the skin, the seeds, protein, fibre, healthy fats. You drink a juice, you’re not full.

When you were young, your idol was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who do you idolize today?

I don’t think idolize is the right word. I definitely admire certain clients of mine, and I’m inspired by how they never rest on their laurels. I had breakfast this morning with Kanye West. I’ve been travelling a lot, I’m finishing a book, designing another kitchen appliance. Here I am, thinking I’m so busy, and then I hear what he’s up to: producing three albums, designing a fashion line, learning a new instrument, writing a film. He just never stops.

Who would you love to train?

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie. That would be a significant transformation.

Does it ever bother you that your gravestone could read something like, “Here lies the man who created Jessica Simpson’s behind”?

I recognize the importance of celebrity in terms of selling product. I don’t fight that. People say, “He’s the one behind Megan Fox’s body.” I’m not: That’s mostly Megan Fox’s parents. But if working with her makes people want to buy my books, then by all means.

Harley Pasternak’s new book, 5 Pounds: The Breakthrough 5 Day Plan to Jumpstart Rapid Weight Loss (and Never Gain It Back), comes out in early 2015.