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Your Trainer’s Secret

The flawless form you attributed to all those crunches may in fact be the work of a plastic surgeon. More and more fitness pros are turning to liposuction to lose those love handles. And only a fearless few are admitting it to clients. Shocked? Suck it up.

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Go for the burn? Fat chance. These days, it's just as likely to be . . . go for the epidural.

Personal trainers, as a golden rule, have fearsomely perfect physiques and tend to reel off their minuscule body-fat percentages as eagerly as if they were peddling low-interest mortgages. After all, their bodies are their calling cards. So if, after you've spent several months pumping up and working out under their tutelage, your handles are still lovey and your thighs still have dimples, the thinking goes, you have only yourself to blame.

At least, I always thought so. Until the other day, when I was moaning to my trainer during my umpteenth set of crunches. Every time I sat up, I was treated to the sight of another trainer across the room inspecting/admiring his six-pack in the mirror. "Why can't I have abs like that?" I growled. My trainer looked around furtively, then made a sucking sound, as though taking a long sip from an imaginary straw.

"What's that?" I asked, slow on the uptake. "Some wonder steroid drink?"

He rolled his eyes at my naïveté, leaned forward conspiratorially, and murmured the magic word.

"Lipo."

Let's assume, then, that your trainer has no qualms about baring her supple thighs or his rippling stomach. That doesn't mean she or he isn't hiding something: a teeny, tiny liposuction scar.

You already see dermatologists who have offices in gyms," says Dr. Wilder, predicting that in the future, gyms will have affiliations with plastic surgeons. "It's hard to achieve society's idea of perfection without surgical intervention -- or airbrushing."

You heard it here first. Prominent Manhattan plastic surgeons report that liposuction is regularly performed on personal trainers, aerobics instructors, and sundry other fitness pros, athletes, and bodybuilders. Official stats don't exist, but one surgeon, Dr. Helen Colen, says that such fit-for-life types make up nearly 20 percent of her business.

"I always thought great athletes had great bodies," recalls the ultracritical Colen. (Within minutes of meeting me, she told me that the only way I was getting rid of my love handles was lipo -- and I had all my clothes on.) "But the truth is that you can be in extremely good physical shape, and still have all the fat in your body concentrated in your thighs and nowhere else.

"Trainers are people who are obsessed with their bodies," she adds. "Obsessed! So you better believe that they're going to want to have liposuction."

Dr. Todd Wider, another Manhattan plastic surgeon, whose near-perfect clientele includes a closely guarded list of models and actresses, also does a brisk business in personal trainers and fitness instructors. "Trainers have a hyperacute sense of their body image, which I guess is an occupational hazard," says Wider. "They make very interesting patients. They're appreciative but at the same time very demanding, because they're so concerned with their appearance, and they know what they want. It's a nice challenge."

So it was three weeks ago that Lia Sanfilippo, a personal trainer at the Trainer's Place in Manhattan and a physical-education teacher in the New York City public-school system, went to the cushy Fifth Avenue offices of Dr. John Sherman and permitted him to draw all over her with a magic marker. Making himself a map, Sherman would soon go where no exercise regime or diet had gone before: into her saddlebags and love handles.

"I trained like crazy," Sanfilippo said before the surgery. "I did everything -- teaching classes, taking classes, dieting -- and those areas never went away."

Sherman was only too happy to help. In little more than an hour, he suctioned out two pounds of fat, fore and aft, on the trainer. And then all there was to do was wait. "It takes about a month for you to see the results, and about three months for everything to look really perfect," says Sherman. (If you're gearing up for the beach, in other words, you're too late for this summer.)

Doctors say trainers are among the best candidates for liposuction -- since usually they have good cardiovascular health, need the least fat extraction, and recover most quickly. And plastic surgeons love them as clients, since they're the most likely to maintain their bodies. All too many clients, says Colen, come back to her in a year to complain. "They say, 'Look where the fat went!,' " she says with a laugh. "I tell them, 'The fat didn't just go there -- you have to eat it first.' And you know, you take it personally if they ruin your work."

But whether trainers are good candidates or not, the fact that more and more of them are indulging in liposuction underscores the dramatic shift that the procedure has undergone in the popular consciousness. Only five years ago it would have been sacrilege: Liposuction was seen as a cop-out for people who didn't care about physical fitness. And in the workout world, the predominant thinking was that if you still have fat on your thighs or around your middle, well, you're just not dancing fast enough.


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