The time is one o'clock in the afternoon. Eloise DeJoria is
taking a shower. There was a party last night, Girls' Night Out.
Eloise and her women friends dressed in extravagant clothes and
took a limo to a gay club in West Los Angeles, a good place to
dance and have fun because the men in the club wouldn't be
threatening, but then Eloise's husband, John Paul, showed up
late in the evening anyway, bringing Kevin Costner with him,
Girls' Night Out and gay club be damned, and....Eloise had
sprinkled some gold glitter on her body as part of the
festivities. She has to wash off the remnants of the glitter
before she can begin her workout.
Ray Kybartas and I wait in the kitchen in our gym shorts and
T-shirts and running shoes. The kitchen is approximately the
size of the stage at the Hollywood Bowl or at least the
basketball floor at the Great Western Forum. It is the biggest
kitchen I have ever seen, inside the biggest house I have ever
seen. The house is approximately the size of a suburban shopping
mall. The architecture and the furnishings are Spanish. A large
swimming pool, stables and a croquet court--trimmed to the same
specifications as the 18th green at Augusta National--are part
of the package. The house sits on the top of a cliff overlooking
Malibu Beach and the rest of the whole wide world.
"My wife and I went with John Paul and Eloise to Cannes for the
film festival this year," Ray says. "It was Eloise's birthday.
John Paul surprised her. He rented a yacht in the Mediterranean
for the festival."
"A yacht," I say.
November 4, 1996
"The yacht was so big that it had a seaplane and a helicopter on
board. The helicopter was terrific. You'd go up, fly around the
coast, look down at the beaches. Then land back on the yacht."
"How many people were on the yacht?" I ask.
"Outside of staff, there were only three couples. And Cher. She
came out and stayed for a few days."
The money and the famous names and places create a loud,
incessant buzz in my head. Ray does not hear the buzz. He moves
around the kitchen easily. He comes here six days a week, two
hours a day when Eloise and John Paul are in town--when they are
not at one of their other three houses or in Cannes or somewhere
else. I sit in my seat while Ray moves around. John Paul, a
tanned, middle-aged man who owns the company that produces Paul
Mitchell hair-care products, is talking on a cellular phone,
probably making a big business deal. His black hair is drawn
back into a ponytail. He is not wearing a shirt. Ray is out in
the courtyard, then back, constant energy. I sit in my seat.
"How'd you wind up working for Eloise?" I ask.
"She'd gone through a number of personal trainers," Ray says.
"She was looking for someone new, and she has the same
hairdresser as Madonna. Madonna's hairdresser told her about me."
I am with Madonna's personal trainer! I am with Eloise's
personal trainer! I am at the epicenter of a trend that grows
bigger by the day: people hiring other people to help them
exercise, sweat, diet, rebuild themselves into whatever they
want to be. I am at Ground Zero. The rich and famous sneeze, and
the rest of us say "Gesundheit" and blow our own noses. That is
how trends develop.
Twenty years ago virtually no one had a personal trainer. Ten
years ago there wasn't even a name for the profession. Richard
Simmons and Jane Fonda were the closest personal trainers we
could find, bouncing to the oldies across our television screens
and asking us to dance aerobically around the living room and
smile instead of grunt. Five and six and seven years ago we
began to notice that Hollywood stars and rock stars and wealthy
businessmen and a few athletes were adding trainers to their
payrolls, looking for a more direct, personalized approach to
exercise, listing payments to these new employees on their
expense sheets among outlays to tax lawyers and psychiatrists
and nip-and-tuck plastic surgeons. Now the woman downstairs from
my apartment has a personal trainer. I have a personal trainer.
Oprah and her personal trainer, Bob Greene, sell their book,
Make the Connection, across the landscape as if it were the
foundation of a new religion. Half the country seems to have a
Who are these people? What do they do? What's the deal? Where is
all this heading?
"Can I ask a question?" I ask.
"I'm not the father of Madonna's baby," Ray answers in the
middle of the buzz in the middle of the largest kitchen I have
ever seen in the middle of the largest house I have ever seen.
"That's a thing that everyone was getting wrong for a while. The
father of Madonna's baby is Carlos Leon, who is a personal
trainer but not Madonna's personal trainer. I introduced them,
in fact. I'm married, with two kids. Quiet. I'm asleep by nine
Three stories about personal trainers: Madonna's, Michael
Jordan's, mine. The epicenter seems to be a fine place to start.
"I was working at Gold's Gym," Ray says. "This was the original
Gold's Gym, in Santa Monica, before all the other ones were
built. I was a manager there and a weightlifter. This was
November 1981. One of Johnny Carson's lawyers came to me. He had
broken up with his girlfriend and was depressed. He wanted to
get back into shape. He offered me $25 an hour to help him. It
sounded like a good deal.
"He turned out to be the perfect client, because he was so
depressed that he had nothing to do except work out. Within
about six weeks he was going to business meetings and pulling up
his shirt to show off his washboard stomach. He was asking other
lawyers to feel his muscles. Pretty soon I was working with
about half the entertainment lawyers in Hollywood."
There was no career path for what Ray ended up doing. He had
never heard the term personal trainer. He improvised. He wasn't
a sports fan, wasn't even a jock. His brother, Ed, was a
football player, good enough to go to Arizona on a scholarship,
but Ray had stayed away from sports as a kid. He had been
overweight. Maybe he had been intimidated by his brother's
accomplishments. He still isn't sure what the reason was.
The change came--fittingly, because Ray would wind up with all
these movie people--when he saw a film called The Jericho Mile,
about a prison inmate who trains in hopes of becoming an
Olympic-caliber runner. Ray was inspired to start running. The
running made him lose weight, and losing weight made him look at
other aspects of physical fitness. He became a physical-fitness
junkie, reading everything he could find on the subject, working
out like a madman. "I remember I was hoping to become a
fireman," says Ray, who took courses in fire prevention while
working at Gold's Gym. "That was because firemen had so much
time off. I'd be able to work out more."
The fitness business pushed the fireman business out of the way.
Maybe, crazy as it sounded, Ray could work out and be paid at
the same time. He started booking clients as early as six in the
morning and worked all day and into the night. There were more
than enough clients, all with different goals and different
ideas about what a personal trainer should do. Some of the
people wanted no more than for Ray to help them take off a few
pounds before a party--or simply to appear at the party to be
introduced ("This is Ray, my personal trainer"). Some wanted to
Ray caught a break when one of the entertainment lawyers said
that Sean Penn needed to add 30 pounds for his role in the film
At Close Range. Could Ray help with something like that? Before
long Ray was on location in Tennessee. "We worked out in Los
Angeles, and Sean asked me to come along to Tennessee," Ray
says. "I remember saying that I'd need more money to do
something like that. I talked with the producer, and he asked
how much I needed. I summoned up all my courage and said,
'Fifteen hundred dollars a week.' The producer said, 'Done.'
'Plus expenses,' I said. 'Done.' 'And a car?' 'Done.'
"That's the way it's been with Sean. The movie company pays. He
says, 'Ask whatever you want. They have to pay you to get me.'"
Ray has worked with Penn on a string of movies, keeping him fit
as he built up or pared down his body, depending on the demands
of each role. Big for that first movie, slender and mean for
Penn's most recent release, Dead Man Walking. Somewhere in
between for Colors and Casualties of War. Each job has been
different, almost like working with a new person as Penn's
latest film character has slipped into his everyday personality.
The intensity of the movie always carries over into the workouts.
"For Dead Man Walking, Sean got a real tattoo," Ray says. "A big
one on the arm. I started to say, 'But when the movie's
over....' But I didn't. He's just intense. I met him one day for
a workout at a downtown L.A. gym before the filming. This was a
public gym. He ran barefoot on the treadmill wearing rolled-up
jeans, a T-shirt and a rag around his head. Everyone was
looking. He was just into it. He looked mean."
The work with Penn led to the work with Madonna. Ray worked out
with Madonna before and during her marriage to the actor. He
helped her find her own trainer. In late 1989, no longer married
to Penn, she was looking to change trainers, and she called Ray.
She asked if he could take the job: six days a week, three hours
a day. Year-round. He said he would call Penn. According to Ray,
Penn had no objection.
The new job opened the world to Ray. He has been everywhere with
Madonna. He has found that the best coffee is in Turkey, the
worst in Germany. He has done push-ups with a dancer on his back
on a stage in Tokyo after being called down in the middle of a
concert by Madonna. He has breathed the pollution in Buenos
Aires during the filming of Evita. He has escaped the paparazzi
for a run through Rome with Madonna. He has walked to a gym with
Dennis Rodman in tow. The National Enquirer pictures that show
Madonna in a blur, on the move, usually show Ray at her side. He
often is referred to as "a burly bodyguard." Well, maybe he
is--but not in the traditional sense.
Madonna, take away the hype and the mortar-shell brassiere and
the patent-leather motorcycle cap, has turned out to be the
perfect client, but not the way Johnny Carson's lawyer was. She
is after fitness, not cosmetics. She follows a workout schedule
that would make a middle linebacker think about another career.
The workout is as important as any other part of her day. No
matter where she is. No matter what she is doing.
Even as she approached the Oct. 14 birth of her daughter,
Lourdes Maria, Madonna still was doing an hour of workouts six
days a week. She cut down to three days a week in the last
month. She promises to return to her old schedule soon.
"Part of my job is to plot out the course for a run wherever we
are," Ray says of his work with Madonna. "We go eight or 10
miles, and I'm terrified of getting us lost. Two years ago, in
Cannes, we must have run with about a thousand people
surrounding us. Paparazzi. People wanting autographs. Policemen.
People on bikes, on motorcycles, in helicopters. I was in the
middle, yelling, 'Take the next right,' or 'Left at that
church.' The whole crowd would follow. One of the policemen kept
looking at me, wondering how I knew where to go. Then he saw me
look at a stone I had put on a corner, and he smiled. I had gone
out earlier on a motor scooter, figuring out the route, putting
stones down at the places where we had to turn."
For the first five years Ray didn't talk publicly about his role
with Madonna. He was anonymous and happy to be that way. He is
37 years old now, and his two daughters are growing toward
school age. His wife, a personal trainer who worked with Joan
Rivers, among other clients, pretty much has quit that job to
raise the kids. Ray has formed his own company, Kybartas
Fitness, and is thinking about infomercials and possibly a book
and a gym that would cater mostly to normal out-of-shape people
who want to become healthy. Not a traditional musclehead gym.
His goals for his clients are fitness and fun. The traditional
goal of looking good is a by-product of his workouts. Feeling
good is the first goal. The workouts Ray designs jump from one
activity to another, from riding mountain bikes one day to
Rollerblading the next, to swimming, running and weightlifting.
Diet is important. Madonna calls the daily workouts "going to
The pastor is ready to give the sermon to a bigger audience.
"We'll see what happens," Ray says. "I say to myself, What will
I be doing when I'm 50? There are days, with my different
clients, when I'll run 20 miles. Can I do that when I'm 50?"
This day in July is one of his lighter ones. He paddled in the
Pacific at 6 a.m. with four clients who included an actor from
Baywatch and another from General Hospital. He walked for an
hour with a business executive. He ran for an hour with Matthew
Sweet, the singer. Three hours on a mountain bike with Madonna
in the Hollywood Hills. Now, two hours with Eloise DeJoria.
Eloise is as serious about fitness as Madonna.
"Ray is the best," Eloise says. "I say he is Jim Carrey in
spirit, and he is the Jack LaLanne of the '90s, and he has
Arnold Schwarzenegger's body and Red Skelton's heart, and ... he
counts like Lawrence Welk. That's when he's making me work out.
One and a two and a three." The glitter is gone. Eloise has run
five miles with Ray through the foothills near the beach, in the
afternoon heat, and now she is back at the big house to do her
exercises. Ray is counting off the crunches and curls.
Then again, maybe the glitter is not gone. She is working out in
her own gym, the biggest home gym I have ever seen, with all the
machines and weights you would find in an upscale health club,
soon to be replaced by a new set of machines. The air
conditioning is working fine, and Ray's fee is from $125 to $150
MICHAEL JORDAN'S GUY
The attendant at the front desk of the Gold Coast Multiplex gym
on North Clark Street in Chicago is not sure if Tim Grover is on
the premises. The attendant looks past a group of senior
citizens walking on the track, past a number of stair climbers
and treadmill drones, past a field of Cybex weight equipment and
then through the large net around the basketball court. He
squints to spot his man. "Do you see the little guy hitting the
big guy in the stomach with that paddle kind of thing?" the
"Yes," I say.
"The little guy is Tim Grover."
The big guy is Juwan Howard, 6'9", 23 years old, soon to be paid
$105 million to play basketball for the next seven years for the
Washington Bullets. Grover is thumping Howard in the stomach, on
the back and across the ribs with a sponge-rubber cylinder
mounted on a plastic stick. The contraption looks like something
Moe might have invented to keep Curly in line. While Grover
bangs away, Howard tries to make alternating layups and putbacks
on the right and left sides of the basket, catching the ball as
it falls out of the net each time.
"Concentrate," Grover says.
"Keep your rhythm. Keep your rhythm."
This is performance training. Everything is geared toward
playing basketball and enduring an NBA season. There is no
feel-good, happy-time approach here. An overcoat of muscle is
being added to Howard for the long athletic winter to come. The
paddle simulates the bumps and pushes and whacks of NBA life.
Grover is six feet tall at most. He needs an equalizer to handle
the big men he trains.
"That's the challenge," he says. "To give these big guys work
that will matter when they have to face other people their size.
I can't do it by myself. I can't push a seven-foot man around. I
can't block his shot. I need help." He has a canvas bag full of
tools that he takes to the gym every day. Among the tools, in
addition to the boffo paddle, are a 15-pound basketball; a
harness, which Grover uses to pull his clients backward and
forward; and a basketball robot that he invented.
The robot, something like a hat rack on steroids, has three long
arms that fan out. Fat metal hands are at the end of each arm.
The player must shoot over the hands and be wary of the robot's
midsection, which has a padded mechanism that delivers a shot to
the stomach. Grover can make the robot move left and right and
the arms move up and down. If he could get the thing to run up
and down the court, he'd have a billion-dollar first-round draft
choice. "I've spent over $50,000 building prototypes and trying
to get a patent for this thing," Grover says. "I'm still working
on it. Maybe it'll be on the market someday."
Grover developed his tools during seven years of almost daily
workouts with Michael Jordan. He is Jordan's personal trainer.
(Michael Jordan's personal trainer! Another buzz.) He equipped a
gym at Jordan's old house and then a larger, state-of-the-art
gym at Jordan's new house, which includes a full-sized
basketball court. Grover has worked out Jordan's exercise
program. From scratch.
"He hired me in 1989," says the 32-year-old Grover. "I was a
trainer at the Lake Shore Athletic Club in Chicago, working with
businessmen clients. Michael was coming out of the playoffs
against the Detroit Pistons. He had been pushed around pretty
good and had been bothered by little injuries: ankles, sprained
fingers, wrists. He wanted to see if he could find someone to
help him work against that. I was friendly with the Chicago
Bulls' doctor. He put Michael and me together. Michael said we'd
try it for six weeks and see how it went. We're still working
Grover put together exercises for Jordan's fingers using rubber
bands and bowls of uncooked rice. He designed exercises for
Jordan's ankles and wrists. Jordan had never lifted weights in
his life. Grover came up with a set of exercises in which Jordan
lifted weights, concentrating on the muscles he needed for
basketball. Everything was geared toward playing that one sport
"You're looking to do different things in different sports,"
Grover says. "Take baseball. When you throw a baseball, you're
trying for a low, flat trajectory. You want to get that ball
from one place to another as fast as possible. In basketball
it's totally different. You're looking to throw up a shot with a
high trajectory. Different muscles. That's why, when Michael
came back from baseball, he had problems. We'd been working
different muscles. Even he was surprised. He thought it would be
a lot easier. I told him it was going to take a year, and it
did. Different muscles.
"Do you know all those stories that said Michael had been
planning to come back to basketball way before he did? They're
just not true. He hadn't done one basketball exercise until a
week before he came back. I think, honestly, if there hadn't
been a baseball strike, he'd still be playing baseball, and he'd
be in the major leagues. Baseball wasn't just something he
thought about in a minute. After the Bulls won their second
championship, he asked me to prepare a baseball program. He was
ready to go a year earlier than he did. I think the Bulls'
management and his father talked him out of it. He worked very
hard for baseball."
Grover, a onetime point guard at Illinois-Chicago, was part of
Jordan's baseball adventure. He moved to Birmingham with Jordan.
He lived in Jordan's six-bedroom rented house. He went to
Sarasota, Fla., with Jordan for the Birmingham Barons' spring
training camp. He worked with his client daily. Just as he does
when Jordan plays basketball.
During the NBA season Grover works almost exclusively with
Jordan. They do basketball exercises and basic exercises, and
they lift weights. They run. Jordan weighed 190 pounds, with an
amazing 3% body fat, when he started with Grover. He now weighs
215 but still has only 3% body fat. The extra pounds are muscle.
"I think he was the first superstar athlete to have his own
trainer," Grover says. "Now there are a lot. It's logical. A
professional basketball player, even on the days he practices,
has maybe 21 1/2 hours off. His biggest asset is his body. Can't
he work two more hours on his body? Even then he still has all
that time off, and he isn't going to have to do this stuff once
his career is over. Don't you think any athlete would work this
During the early part of this summer, after leading the Bulls
through 108 games to another NBA title, Jordan took time off to
heal. He headed for the golf course. Grover trained other
basketball players. He saw each of them for two hours daily,
devoting the first hour to exercise on the court and the second
hour to the weight machines. His clients included 1996 draft
picks Priest Lauderdale of the Atlanta Hawks, Amal McCaskill of
the Orlando Magic and Antoine Walker of the Boston Celtics;
second-year man Sherell Ford of the Seattle SuperSonics; and
Howard. Most of them worked with Grover during the day, then
played in pickup basketball leagues at night.
"I wanted to work with Tim when I was a senior in high school,"
Howard says. "I'd read about him in some paper, and then I saw
him working with Michael at a gym in Chicago. I figured, if
Michael uses him, then maybe I should too. Right? I talked with
Tim and found out, first of all, that I couldn't afford him, and
second, that I was too young. He wanted my body to mature before
I started working with weights. As soon as I got drafted, I
could afford him."
Howard says this between bench-press sets in the Multiplex gym.
He sits on a machine while a middle-aged man grunts on the next
machine and a woman in tights stares at herself in a full-length
mirror. Grover, a compact man with a weightlifter's chest,
checks a watch. He favors fast repetitions rather than the usual
slow lifting. Basketball workouts for basketball muscles. Howard
will be tired by the time this workout is done.
"You always use a public gym?" I ask.
"It's O.K. during the day--not too many people," Grover says. "I
use public gyms with Michael, too, on the road during the
season. We use a different gym each time. I don't want a crowd
waiting for us. I don't call ahead. We just show up, pay
whatever the fee is, do our workout and go home. The playoffs in
Seattle this year? We went to five different gyms during that
The workouts, it should be noted, seem to have worked. I ask how
much Jordan pays. Grover says that is confidential. I ask how
much I would have to pay. Grover smiles and says he probably is
"one of the most expensive trainers you're going to find."
"You should work on a percentage basis with your clients," I
say. "Don't you think?"
Tom Clear doesn't want the high-priced athlete as a client. He
wouldn't mind the rock-and-roll diva, but he doesn't think he
will see someone like that, either. He specializes in ordinary
folks. The more ordinary the better. This is good. He is my
"Do you know what my biggest satisfaction is?" he says one
afternoon at the Cambridge (Mass.) Nautilus gym. "Helping
someone relieve pain. Physical pain. Emotional pain. I don't
care about some guy who just wants bigger biceps or bigger pecs.
I want to help with bigger problems."
He had a woman client who felt pains in her left side all the
time. He solved her problem with his opening questionnaire. What
did she do for a living? She was a flight attendant. What were
her duties as a flight attendant? She served people on the left
side of the airplane. The left side. She was turning left all
the time, creating an imbalance. He gave her exercises to
strengthen her right side. End of imbalance. End of pain.
"Things like that," Clear says.
He is 44, a bachelor, and most days he rides one of his three
bicycles from client to client. He is a former taekwondo
teacher, a former student of modern dance. His training business
is booming. He says the personal-trainer industry is like the
auto industry at the end of World War II. There is as much work
as a man can handle. Most days he works eight hours. On
Saturdays he works 12. His clients are mostly middle-aged
people, mostly successful in stress-filled jobs and able to pay
the $40 to $60 an hour he charges.
"I like to work with the middle-aged woman who never has had a
sports experience in her life, who grew up when that wasn't a
part of a woman's life," Clear says. "I like to work with the
guy who had a bad experience as a kid with a coach or a gym
instructor, who turned away from athletics because of that. I
want to get them back to using their bodies, to sweating. I like
to take them to a high school track on a nice day, when there's
all that activity--dogs barking and kids throwing Frisbees,
people running around.
"I had one middle-aged woman, I took her to the track at Newton
North High in Newtonville, and she said, 'I never knew all this
existed.' She runs 10K races now. She's an absolute jock. That's
satisfaction to me. Another woman, she said she always had been
afraid of gyms because all she saw was 'a sea of steel.' Isn't
that a threatening picture? She lifts now. I had a guy whose
goal was, 'I want to look good.' What was he really telling me?
'I want to be loved.' I worked on making him look good
physically to fulfill his needs emotionally."
The workout is different for each client. How can one set of
exercises work for everyone when everyone's body is different?
Clear stresses integrated workouts, getting all of the muscles
to work together, especially the muscles in the torso. He goes
against the buns-of-steel and abdominal isolation workouts and
machines. He wants to spit at his television whenever the
ab-roller advertisements begin. How can you work the abs but not
the neck? This creates an imbalance.
In his workouts he uses sticks and balls and towels, as well as
free weights and some machines. He improvises. He judges the
client's disposition before deciding what the workout should be.
Is the client stressed? Tired? Clear might give him a massage
before beginning the workout.
"There are all kinds of trainers out there who will tell you to
do all kinds of things," he says. "There's no regulation at all
in this industry. Anyone can be a personal trainer just by
saying he's a personal trainer. You have to watch out. I've been
involved with physical culture all my life. I'm still learning
about this business. I'm learning now, really, how much the mind
is part of it."
This is only my third session with Clear. We have met one hour
each week. In the interview I told him that I sometimes throw
out my back carrying bags through airports. He said we could fix
that. Goals? I said that I could use some flexibility, that I
had become about as flexible as a steel pole. He said we could
fix that. Anything else? I could use an upper body; I have
always had the upper body of an 11-year-old boy. No problem.
We spent the second session on the banks of the Charles River in
Boston. Rollerbladers, young lovers and small children watched
in fear as Clear held one end of a towel and I pulled the other
end in a series of exercises. In this third session, at
Nautilus, we do exercises on a large inflated rubber ball. Clear
rolls through the exercises as if he were a seal in a circus. I
do the same exercises as if I were the clown. "I have no
balance," I say. "I have no strength. I have no speed. I have
limited endurance. Outside of that, I am in wonderful shape."
"You're getting better," Clear says. "You'll get a lot better."
The weight machines are old-timers. The blue paint on them is
flecked. Some of the benches are cracked. The exposed, greasy
chains look as if they were used when Wilbur and Orville started
to fly. Clear shows me which machines to use and which machines
not to use. He shows me the proper way to work the machines. I
pump iron in the sea of steel.
"How often do most people see you?" I ask. "What's the average?"
"Hard to say," Clear says. "I have one guy, I see him for an
hour a day, four days a week. He says that's the only way he can
work out. Most people, I'd advise to see me once a week after
working out a couple of hours each week by themselves."
I think of Ray Kybartas, all those hours with Madonna each week.
I think of Tim Grover, all those hours with Jordan. How would I
be if I worked out for three hours a day, six days a week? How
would any of us be? How would we find that kind of time?
The epicenter is long gone. I am out here in the normal part of
the trend: 60 bucks an hour. One day a week. I had my car tuned
this week. The labor charge for that was $62.50 per hour. Am I
as important to myself as my car?
"Try to give me 15 curls," Clear says.
"Arrrrgh," I grunt as I lift the surprising amount of weight. I
will be carrying those bags without pain in no time.
"I ask how much Jordan pays. Grover says that is confidential. I
ask how much I would have to pay him. Grover smiles."