Results are required if you want to earn the title of America’s most sought after trainer, and for nearly three decades, Gunnar Peterson continues to check this box by helping hundreds if not thousands of people, from average Joes to professional athletes from every league to Hollywood’s leading performers create their own transformation stories.
Gunnar Peterson has been in the game for nearly three decades, coaching and training everyone from A-listers like Tom Brady and Sly Stallone to weekend warriors like you (and us).
At 60, Peterson hasn’t slowed down at all, though he sticks to his old-school ways of doing things. Meaning, no virtual visits or AI-driven programs; he’s a pad and paper guy, writing each client’s workload by hand. He does, however, encourage one type of digital communication: “Texting makes it so much easier to keep things in line,” he says.
If you put it in football terms, in an industry increasingly dominated with highlight-reel, Saquon Barkley-like flash, Peterson still chooses the John Riggins ground and pound, three yards-and-a-cloud-of dust approach to moving the yard markers. It’s all about a steady march toward the goal.
“I’ve always been a plodder,” Peterson says. “If I were running back, I’d average 2.8 yards per carry. But I’d want the ball 40 times a game. I would always bring it and just outwork everybody.”
To get his start, Peterson would regularly start his day at 4 a.m. and end it as late as 10 p.m. to ensure he got his training in and assisted clients. Weekends were an extension of the workweek: teaching spin and hustling all over Los Angeles to training clients.
Between all of that there’s the marketing side of things to drum up more business, and digging into journals and magazines to say on top of new trends and changing science. “I passed the ACE test by reading Muscle & Fitness,” he says.
For years, decades even, it was a 24/7 job to rise above the competition. But the sacrifices and relentless pursuit to excel has no doubt paid off. Few people boast of his clientele and can say they were the director of strength and endurance for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Most recently, Peterson was named chief of athletics with F45, the boutique fitness franchise backed by actor Mark Wahlberg and soccer great David Beckham.
He’s also lent his name and backing to MitoQ, a capsule backed by $60 million in research funding to help alleviate cell stress to boost energy levels, immunity and recovery support. He does the research to keep his name on point. “It penetrates the cell well that gets into the mitochondria—your powerhouse,” he says. “To me that plus hydration, nutrition, and training, I feel like I’ve got like I’ve got all the bases covered.”
Still, roughly 30 years into a career in the fitness industry, he attacks each (early) morning with same vigor as that rookie trainer in Year 1 who found his first client by chance after the guy’s gym partner skipped out: “Soon after his buddy joined, and then another person joined in the afternoon, and just like that I was training three people three times a week, and earning more than my 40-hour a week job. So I quit.”
Peterson’s Winning Strategy has an old-school feel with a timeless message: Love what you do and work as if you love what you do. His influence has paved the way for the personal trainer business going from being a luxury niche for the wealthy into a $12 billion industry in 2022. He hopes today’s generation take advantage of his blood and sweat by putting in the work necessary to not be more informed but more in tune to give clients an experience greater than three sets of 10.
“I’d return any calls, any messages, anything,” Peterson says. “And I would just track down, chase down, hunt down anything because it may have led to something down the road, and I wanted to make sure I never left anything on the table,” he says. “I don’t want to judge today’s generation, but some trainers don’t have the capacity for want to make that type of commitment. In the end, do you view this as your career or just a job?”
Love What You Do
I love this profession. I just moved to Nashville, and not to say that I’ve abandoned all the house work and renovations, but I’ve spent most of my time working on my gym because to me, this is my powerhouse, my mitochondria.
When I wake up, I think about exercise. I think about what I’m going to do when I get to the gym. I look at the workouts for my clients and maybe make some tweaks. The training part to me is like taking a shower. It’s just something you just do and don’t necessarily need to talk about. You just do it.
It’s being with the people that’s most exciting. Remember, I’m seeing different people every day who have their own multifaceted lives. I’m processing so much interesting information to me, and working with people who are highly driven, highly motivated, inspirational. There’s so many factors that make this great, I love it.
There was an old saying that still resonates with me: You don’t have to, you get to. I look at training like that. I don’t have to train seven, eight people every day, I get to train them. How lucky is that? That this is something I like doing. And you know, again, knock on wood, it keeps coming at me. So I get to do it. And I’m not walking away from something like that. I’m not gonna go try to open a restaurant or a car detailing business or whatever else you can think of. This is working for me, and I couldn’t be happier.
Work Like You Love What You Do
I still print up workouts for every person, every day. I can’t go into a gym and wing it—I don’t think that’s fair to the person. I’m sure some trainers make a killing doing it that way, but that’s not my style. So I write those up the night before and I come into work in the morning, and I’ve got them all right there. However, I reserve the right to edit it on the fly assuming something’s not fitting in or working. But I think organizational skills are important. It’s like any good coach. They step out on the field with a clipboard filled with plays and an idea of how he’s gonna run the practice of the game. That’s how I treat this.
I do my scheduling by text. I’ll just text everybody over the weekend and say I’ll see them next week. I was a paper guy up until about six, seven months ago—I would still keep it on paper like I needed that. But being able to text, there’s no mix up. It just makes it it’s easier for the people coming to train, and it’s definitely easier for the trainer. You can now budget your time properly for the rest of the things in your life that are also important.
Make Social Media Your Friend
I was at a conference in May. And I’d say almost every speaker took a shot at social media. I was sitting with Jen Widerstrom, and I told her, “Next time I present, I’m going to give social media so much love.” It’s a terrific tool.
People have to remember: Social media is voluntary. You don’t have to go on it. So what you’re whining about is really self-inflicted. Unless you’re defending your platform, dispelling myths or breaking down something you feel is misunderstood in the world, I can’t imagine taking the time to write a negative comment. That just blows me away.
For the casual user, there’s so much information you learn about. You can learn training techniques from top people, you can learn about equipment, supplements, nutrition, protocols and things you simply didn’t know. And there’s so much to be taken from it, obviously, you have to put it through a filter system—and that’s your own to do—but there’s so much good stuff.
Remember back in the day how long it would take, exercise-wise, to get and gather all that information—now, just like that, it’s right there. Think about trying to get powerlifting information from Ed Coan, or find out what Jay Cutler or Phil Heath are doing—you can go right now and see it on Instagram. You want to know about a supplement or a protein powder that you heard about, go on their social profile. See the people who are tagged—you can go down all these rabbit holes and come out with knowledge on supplements and ways to train that you could never back in the day. It would have been like writing a thesis back then.
Put Your Name on What You Believe
I always have to do my research. I need to know that the people I’m working with are cool people who I want to know. I don’t mean hang out at the beach kind of cool, I mean they’re in this for the right reasons. Because I’m in my job for the right reasons, I think I want to know that this isn’t some sellout or hit and run move. They’re not just trying to dump a bunch of product and get out of the business and go on to the next product. I also want to know that the product itself is sound. That means I want to find out how the trials went and to read about the research and the money that was put behind it. Money does talk. Do they really research it or they do it like in a frat house. I want to see really what went into the trials and the results.
And I want to try it on myself—I always try it on myself. I know that’s focus group of one, but if I’m taking it, and I like how I feel or notice a difference in performance—and that it’s legal.
I’m too late in the game to sell out—it would look too desperate. I said if I were to sell out it should have been 10 or 15 years ago. Now it would look like an act of desperation, and I don’t want any part of that. So I’ll write it the way I’ve written it and stay with quality partners and products that I think are effective. I like taking MitoQ. It’s got so many antioxidants that are out there that that do work that are good for you.
Make Every Client Feel Like an A-lister
Someone told me years ago that I should raise my prices for celebrity clients, and I was like, What are you talking about? And they go, “You know, if you’re charging X, you have to charge like, X plus 20%.” I asked why you would do that, and he replied by saying that they can afford it and that they’re used to it.
I told him that’s flawed and just crazy. If I owned a restaurant, and I said, a steak is $28, but oh, I’m sorry, I just saw you in a film recently. For you. It’s $36. Are you crazy? you can’t do that to people, you will kill your business.
Everybody’s the same and I try to make the experience the same for every person—same allowances, same prep. When you start spending the time and the man hours around them, you see every celebrity just as regular people. Yes, it’s unbelievable what they’ve achieved and how they impact your life. You don’t even realize it’s so and so who did this film or TV show and here you are still quoting the joke from it 20 years later. Now that person is in your gym, but that doesn’t mean they get a better workout than anyone else. To me, everybody’s the same—in a good way. I tried to have everybody up there. Everybody is a celebrity in their own world.