There are few among us who can claim to have sculpted an A-list celebrity's famous posterior or helped America's favorite action hero get into fighting form. But personal trainer Gunnar Peterson is the workout force behind many big-name stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, and Ben Affleck, as well as top athletes Pete Sampras and players from the NBA, NFL, and NHL.
Today Peterson has the kind of muscular build you'd expect of a man who is a certified fitness expert. But as a child, Peterson was overweight, even attending Weight Watchers meetings when he was ten years old.
Then at Duke, Peterson became friends and frat brothers with football players, wrestlers, and other varsity athletes. Working out with them "lit a fire," he says, turning him into a bona fide gym rat. By graduation day, he jokes, "the only thing I'd lettered in was the Bryan Center."
After college, Peterson tried out new cities and different jobs. But he always kept up his workout regimen. Five years after graduation, he was living in Los Angeles and had a job as a production assistant in the entertainment business when he was approached by a fellow gym member who asked Peterson to train him. Within a week, he was earning double his salary and his phone kept ringing.
"That was eighteen years ago, and I've never looked back," says Peterson.
From the start, Peterson has taken an academic approach to his training by getting certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Council on Exercise, and keeping up on the latest literature, videos, and classes. He's also been a shrewd businessman, continuously scaling up his operation so that today he conducts training sessions at his own luxury 5,000-square-foot Beverly Hills gym, complete with a putting green and climbing wall.
He's also branched out to develop fitness products and videos, star in infomercials, and endorse products for Adidas, Gatorade, and others. He's released two books-G-Force and The Workout-writes a monthly column for Muscle and Fitness, is a contributing editor for Glamour, and is regularly interviewed by outlets ranging from US Weekly to CNN.
If you're ready to take some Peterson-style steps toward health but don't have a Hollywood address, his website has tips that range from sculpting six-pack abs to tightening glutes. You can also view video clips of Peterson demonstrating key moves and get a glimpse of his fully equipped fitness studio. Even if you're not quite ready to master a staggered squat or reaching lunge, you'll have a window into how picture-perfect bodies begin.
Peterson says he's one of the lucky few to turn a personal passion into a career.
"I get to learn every day within my job," he says. "I am always interacting with dynamic, achievement-oriented people. And I get to stay healthy-it's like a rule."
He says he has had clients who have spent life on the fast track, becoming rich and successful but to the detriment of their health. It reminds Peterson how happy he is to have found a job where he doesn't have to make that choice.
"I am thankful to have found something where I could pursue what I wanted to do business-wise and I didn't have to push that pause button on my health," he says.
Gunnar Peterson '85
Fit for life
June 1, 2008