In Hollywood, where six-pack abs are practically a job requirement, trainer Harley Pasternak is known as the man behind the body.
Case in point: When actress Halle Berry, considered one of the world's most beautiful women, faced the daunting task of fitting into a skin-tight leather suit for the new movie Catwoman, nobody but Mr. Pasternak would do.
His client base reads like an Oscar party guest list: LL Cool J, Stephen Dorff, Angela Bassett, to name a few. But Mr. Pasternak didn't grow up among L.A.'s rich and famous -- he was born and raised in Toronto, and his passion for fitness is rooted in the great Canadian tradition.
"I was a hockey player growing up, just like every other good boy," Mr. Pasternak said. "At some point, I became more excited about the working out, than the hockey."
That excitement translated to an honours degree in kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario and a masters in exercise physiology from the University of Toronto. While completing his work at U of T, Mr. Pasternak started his own company, Bodiworx Health & Fitness.
He concentrated on developing an exercise program based in his study of physiology, rather than the latest trends. About five years ago, he got work training actor James Caviezel for the movie Angel Eyes, and word of mouth eventually led him to big-time Hollywood producer Don Carmody ( Chicago, Gothika). All of a sudden, he was being crowned the fitness guru of Hollywood North.
"I was intimidated at first, because here I am, this little Canadian guy, and they're coming from L.A., the hub of fitness," Mr. Pasternak said. "But then I realized that education [behind training methods]wasn't as big there."
Clients trusted his technique, Mr. Pasternak said, "because it wasn't just a fad in a muscle mag. . . . They said it was like working with a doctor."
The 30-year-old now owns two studios in Toronto, and one in L.A., where he spends most of his time. And the old excuse of "I'm too busy to get to the gym" is useless for his New York clients -- for them, Mr. Pasternak brings his mobile gym, a 53-foot tractor trailer complete with a studio's worth of equipment.
When it comes to staying in shape himself, Mr. Pasternak practises what he preaches. He calls his program Five Factor Fitness: It encompasses five workouts a week, each one consisting of five phases at five minutes a piece, combined with five meals a day that should take no more than five minutes to prepare.
He starts with a five-minute cardio warm up, moves to three muscle-strengthening exercises (one upper body, one lower, and one for core strength), and finishes with a fat-burning cardio session. He varies the muscle-building exercises daily, and from week to week, changes the number of repetitions and sets.
Variety is a key aspect of his regimen -- keeping the body guessing accelerates results, and is good for the mind as well, he said.
Most important, the program keeps the sessions short and the intensity high -- which means he's guaranteed to fit workouts into his hectic schedule, and his clients can take advantage of short breaks on the set.
Depending on the amount of cardio involved, a workout with Mr. Pasternak lasts 25 to 50 minutes. "Everybody has 25 minutes," he said. "You don't dread coming to the gym, because you're there such a short while."
And while Mr. Pasternak may jet-set with A-list celebrities, he's human, just like the rest of us. "I'm the biggest chocolate freak in the history of the world," he admits. "Not a day goes by when I don't have copious amounts of chocolate with me."
Though he now spends most of his time in L.A. and New York, Mr. Pasternak is planning a trip home soon to check on his Toronto studios, and visit his parents' cottage in Muskoka.
The city is also home to a client whom Mr. Pasternak credits as his most rewarding to date: A 73-year-old woman who is hooked on Mr. Pasternak's program. "Seeing how excited someone is who had never exercised in their life . . . to see how she can all of a sudden really get into doing bicep curls and squats -- that motivates me. I should have paid her to come to my studio."
With demand growing, Mr. Pasternak can't be everywhere at once. But he keeps in touch with clients over the phone, and seems to embrace the fast track he's landed on. "I want to be like the straight, maybe a little more serious, Richard Simmons," he said.