Shaping the Stars

updated 01/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

If Academy Awards were given for Outstanding Body Redesign, competition would be stiff among the year's top contenders, who include Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito's Way), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) and Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do with It?). And the Oscar goes to...their personal trainers, who created these physique phenomena on as little as 30 days notice.

Hollywood hard bodies like Sly, Arnold and Demi, and sylphlike stars like Julia and Daryl, are setting ever higher standards of sleek. Now, even movieland heavyweights have to firm up, and their studios are happy to help, whether by providing personal trainers at home or fitness-to-go gyms-in-a-truck on location. After instructor Dan Isaacson helped John Travolta bulk up for 1983's Staying Alive, Paramount Pictures invited Isaacson to design a corporate fitness program. Last April, Sony Pictures (Columbia and Tristar) opened a health center run by him on its Culver City lot, where Silly-Crystal spent up to 45 minutes each day while filming City Slickers II and Hanks sweated off 30 pounds to play a lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia.

"For us, the person is the objet d'art," says trainer Michael Thurmond, who helped Paula Abdul lose weight before touring with her in 1992. His company, Thurmond's Makeover Programs, specializes in 'crash" fitness for celebs. "We reshape bodies for album covers and movies," Thurmond says. "If you want to look a certain way, we blueprint the way to get there."

"Stars may only have six weeks before they have to do a love scene," says astral yoga expert Siri Dharma Galliano, who uses astrology "to get to know a client's personality and psychology more quickly" and then applies the less heavenly disciplines of mountain biking, swimming and stair-machine workouts to render the client more lovable. "Linda Gray is a Virgo—an Earth sign. She loves the outdoors. She'd rather swim or hike in the hills," says Galliano, a Sagittarian. "To get a Gemini like Lou Gossett from 245 to 208 pounds, he needs to be diverted, and I change his program from day to day. Whereas with Jessica Lange, a Taurus, all I do is make her walk."

Priscilla Presley, in search of something new, consulted trainer Tony Cortes, who introduced her to slideboarding, a speed skating-type exercise performed in nylon boots on a plastic board. "It's become one of her favorite things to do," says Cortes.

For specific movie work, Cortes actually reads the script before designing a program. To help turn Linda Hamilton into a tautly toned, machine-gun-toting mom in Terminator 2, Cortes had her cross-training three hours a day, six days a week. "One-and-a-half hours each of aerobic exercise and weight training each day," says Cortes. "If you need a hard body in 13 weeks, that's the drill."

Even though she no longer needs to squeeze into her Batman Returns catsuit, Michelle Pfeiffer has daily sessions with Kathy Kaehler. "Having exercise be fun and enjoyable is a key element to keeping it consistent," says Kaehler, whose home-fitness video, Kathy Kaehler's Workout, boasts an all-star class of Penelope Ann Miller, Jami Gertz, Beverly D'Angelo and Justine Bateman, plus a testimonial ("She worked my butt off!") from Meg Ryan. "Even without step equipment or weights, you can still get a good cardial workout at home," Kaehler says. "Picking a program and sticking to it is how you'll get results. I do a lot of hiking with people. I do a lot of different things with Michelle Pfeiffer, like running, Life Cycle and step workouts, so we don't get bored."

Love had nothing to do with Angela Bassett's transformation to play lean machine Tina Turner. But dieting did. When Disney offered Bassett a personal trainer to shape her up for the role, she chose David Sinnott, who had transformed his own body from 250 to a muscular 175. Sinnott took Bassett off dieting powders and turned her on to complex carbos—potatoes, pasta, starches—served with fruits, vegetables and protein-rich chicken or fish. "We didn't train, like everybody thought, for six hours a day," says Sinnott, who spent a mere two hours, two days a week with Bassett at Gold's Gym in North Hollywood. "We trained smart."

Rob Parr, who has trained Madonna and Demi Moore, will do crash programs for a role or tour but prefers that his clients "make a long-term commitment versus quick fixes." He also feels "a gym environment gets pretty boring for you—and your muscles," and takes people on 50-mile bike rides, 10-mile runs and cross-country skis with them.

According to top trainers, smart exercise means cross-training—cycling one day, running the next. The most effective fat-burning exercises use large muscle groups—running, swimming, cross-country skiing, says Isaacson, who recommends 45-to 60-minute workouts four or five times a week for anyone's fitness program. "Beyond that, you're going into a new category—Madonna and Jane Fonda, for instance, who are at another level of fitness."

All the trainers warn against overdoing it. "If you overtrain," says Thurmond, "you'll eat up the muscle tissue, and your body's not going to change." Adds Sinnott: "One hour every other day is all most people need. There is life beyond the gym. It's not how much you can do, but how little you can do and look your best."

KIM CUNNINGHAM
F.X. FEENEY and LOIS ARMSTRONG in Los Angeles

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