Nonna Gleyzer: Flex and flexibility

Nonna Gleyzer’s West Hollywood Pilates studio has seen the sweat of Natalie Portman, Kerry Washington and a parade of Victoria’s Secret models. Gleyzer has been lauded as “Hollywood’s secret weapon” for body sculpting, and her fitness tips have been praised in magazines including Women’s Health, Marie Claire and Shape. 

Gleyzer’s petite frame is strong, but Gumby-like flexible. While refreshingly genuine and chatty, she is entirely no-nonsense, evidenced by her motto: “If I don’t like you, I won’t be training you.”

“People know me in the industry for the fact that I get rid of A-listers,” she said. “I came to this country to be free and be respected. I’ve experienced enough abuse where I’m coming from.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s actress Amy Adams or a regular Jane off the street looking for a private lesson; Gleyzer said she treats everyone with respect as long as they return the favor. Now settled in Los Angeles, Gleyzer is light-years away from where she grew up in the Ukrainian city of Lwów, during a time when anti-Semitism reigned and signs reading “Kill Jews, Save Ukraine” were posted across town.

Gleyzer’s athletic career began when she was only 6 years old, when a rhythmic gymnastics coach came to her school to recruit promising young athletes.

“My coach came to my school, put me against the wall, started lifting my leg, and my leg went straight up, 180 degrees,” she said. “And that was it.”

With the encouragement of her father, Gleyzer worked hard and was eventually accepted to the Junior Ukrainian National Team. There was only one problem: She’d have to identify as Jewish on her passport, and this could cause major problems when she tried to travel outside the country. Although Gleyzer recalled begging to change her name to her mother’s Polish surname, her mom refused.

“You’re not changing your last name,” she remembered her mother saying. “You’re Jewish, and you’re always going to be Jewish.”

This was a blessing in disguise, Gleyzer said, because at the age of 18, she, her brother and her mother were able to immigrate as refugees to the U.S. with the help of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Once in the states, Gleyzer and her family lived on about $20 per week. They’d wake up at 5 a.m., stand in line at the Social Security office to claim their food stamps, and then head to the market for simple staples of pasta, chicken thighs and oranges. 

Gleyzer set her sights on trying to make the U.S. National Rhythmic Gymnastics Team, but soon injured her back from the intense training and her nutrient-poor diet. On the recommendation of a friend, she began doing Pilates as a way to rehabilitate her body, and inadvertently discovered her life’s work. Gleyzer began an apprenticeship at The Pilates Studio in West Hollywood (which has since closed), where her relationship with the A-list began.

“I barely speak English and here I am helping Jodie Foster, at The Pilates Studio, to train,” Gleyzer said with a grin.

Now 44, Gleyzer has worked on both coasts, has been flown all over the world to work with actors and models on set, and has always been her own boss. She’s also taken courses in physiology, giving herself a boost as part-trainer, part-physical therapist.

Cookie Johnson — clothing designer, HIV-awareness advocate and wife of basketball legend Magic Johnson — has been working with Gleyzer “religiously” for about five years. Johnson had ongoing problems with her knee and Gleyzer figured out a way to help her that Johnson’s doctor couldn’t. 

“I really think Nonna has a gift,” Johnson said.

Gleyzer genuinely cares about her clients, Johnson said, and if she tells you to go home and ice an injury, “She’ll text you to make sure you did it!” 

Model and actress Stacy Keibler is also one of Gleyzer’s devoted clients. Keibler had wanted to know who trained supermodel Gisele Bündchen when she was in L.A., and learned that Bündchen was connected to Gleyzer. 

“She is more than just a trainer. She knows the body so well, she knows how to rehab old injuries while toning and tightening,” Keibler wrote in an email to the Journal.

Gleyzer’s studio is well equipped to handle her A-list clients, with a private restroom inside the one-room studio and a covered entrance for those skirting the paparazzi. Although Gleyzer has longstanding friendly relationships with many of her clients, she’s not over-eager to rub elbows with them outside of work (unless they ask).

“I’m trying to figure out how to live my life, how to fix my life. So the last thing I need to try and figure out is to how to live their lives,” Gleyzer said.

Working Out Solo Not Working Out

I’m an exercise addict who does it all — hiking, running, spinning, dancing, aerobics and Tae Bo. I run the Santa Monica stairs and jog the UCLA perimeter. I’m hooked on Pilates DVDs, "Buns of Steel" tapes and hit the gym three or four times a week. But this September I hit a wall. I no longer found my workouts challenging or effective. I wanted to do more than lose five pounds. I wanted to sculpt my abs, firm my figure and mold my Jew.Lo tush. So I settled down and started seeing a personal trainer.

I’d experimented with a few trainers in the past, but each was more underwhelming than the last. The sessions felt more like a Stepford tour of the gym than a custom-tailored workout.

Marcus was different.

"What are your fitness goals?" he asked.

"I want Jennifer Garner’s body. But I’ll settle for wearing a smaller pair of Seven jeans."

Marcus laughed and said, "This is going to be fun."

After reviewing my exercise history, Marcus explained that my current workouts were building muscle, not burning fat. If I continued these routines, I would always look toned, but never get thinner. To decrease my measurements, I needed to keep up my heart rate during resistance training, ditch the weight machines and use my own body as resistance. He created personalized interval workouts, alternating three-minute cardio bursts with 10-minute resistance sets. Cardio, legs, cardio, arms, cardio, stomach, cardio.

Marcus challenged and encouraged me. He was fun, supportive, and my bod looked rockin’. But after eight weeks of whipping me into shape, Marcus broke off our relationship.

"Carin, I’m sorry, I can’t see you anymore."

"What? Just like that, you’re leaving me? You’re leaving my abs?"

"Something personal came up."

"Something or someone? Is it another client?"

"No, it’s another woman — I’m going on ‘The Bachelorette.’"

In Los Angeles, men usually ditch a relationship for a hotter woman or 10 minutes of fame. Marcus was leaving me for both. He was leaving for two months and taking my goal of looking hot by the holidays with him.

I was crushed. I was dependent. I felt totally abandoned. Marcus made me sweat and burn and push myself beyond my own expectations. Even during my off-day workouts, I felt his presence over my shoulder. My "looking really sexy now" shoulder.

How could I workout without him? I got great results from our sessions together and didn’t believe I could sustain those results on my own. I’d get zaftig and soft and I’d never wear my skinny jeans again.

After my disaster with past trainers, a trade-in trainer was not an option. So I went cold turkey. I sweated it out solo without a patch or a 12-step aerobics class to help with the transition. At first, I suffered from trainer withdrawal; I felt less motivated and quit each set a repetition or two early. But slowly, I regained my discipline. I diligently followed the workouts Marcus choreographed for me. I recalled his tips and hints and tried to emulate our sessions.

My solo workouts were fairly effective, and I mostly maintained my slimmed down shape. But now I’m jonesing for the real thing. Marcus’ small adjustments to my form resulted in huge changes to my body. His specialized workouts addressed my specific needs and our scheduled appointments made me take responsibility for my habits.

So when Marcus returns from his reality show stint, I’ll work with him weekly until I meet my fitness goal. I know, I know trainers can be addictive and my weekly fix is a wallet drain, but this bachelorette is falling off the wagon. ‘Cause I never know when I’ll need to look svelte for a rose ceremony.

“Pups” Have Nose for Terror

"Our standards are so high that only one in 1,000 qualify," Mike Herstik said. "Those accepted get their college education here and then go to Israel for graduate work."

Herstik is not the admissions officer at an Ivy League university, but carries the title of director of canine operations for Pups for Peace, an innovative project to train explosive-sniffing dogs to foil would-be suicide bombers in Israel.

At a fenced, high-security training camp in the Los Angeles area, Herstik put Nitro, a black Labrador retriever, through his paces for this reporter, the only journalist granted access to the facility.

After he was given a command, Nitro bounded down a row of identical wooden boxes, then stopped, sat and pointed to the one box containing a can of smokeless shotgun powder. As a reward, Nitro received a toy from the trainer.

Throughout the camp, which has been built to resemble an urban setting but whose location is secret, some 20 young Israelis, mainly soldiers and police personnel, were in the midst of a two-month, six- days-a-week course to bond and train with their canine partners.

The Pups for Peace project can serve as a textbook example of what one man can do to transmute a deep emotional shock into pragmatic action.

That moment of shock came on March 27 for Dr. Glenn Yago, an economist at the Milken Institute think tank in Santa Monica, when he heard the horrifying news that a suicide bomber had walked unchallenged into a hotel in Netanya and killed 29 Israelis attending a Passover seder.

Yago, 51, a native of Shreveport, La., who had spent five years in Israel studying at the Hebrew University and living on a kibbutz on the Golan Heights, said, "I became obsessed by the idea that if there had been an explosive-sniffing dog at the entrance to the hotel, this tragedy could have been averted."

His first step was to scour the Internet for an experienced dog trainer. He saw that Herstik’s name kept popping up. He learned that Herstik had 23 years of experience on the job, including programs for the U.S. military and Los Angeles Police Department, and had specialized in explosive detection.

As a son of Holocaust survivors and strong supporter of Israel, Herstik was motivated to take a sharp pay cut and accept Yago’s offer.

There remained only such details as convincing top Israeli security and military officials to approve the project and the active participation of their personnel, raising some $700,000 locally for the initial pilot project, and finding a secure training facility.

Yago, who credits a solid core of similar-minded activists for turning the concept into reality, played his Israeli and American connections and was met with enthusiastic support.

Israel’s Public Security Minister Uzi Landau became an instant advocate, the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership program and the Golan Fund backed the project and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles allocated $250,000 through its Jews in Crisis Fund.

In late August, 45 carefully selected dogs and the first contingent of Israeli trainers-in-training arrived at the Los Angeles site. "Graduation" of the first class is set for early November.

"The dogs are getting their foundation training here and then will have a month’s ‘post-graduate’ scenario training at a camp on the Golan Heights," Herstik said.

To qualify for the program, each dog has to conform to a physical and psychological profile. "To pass, a dog must be very athletic, have no fear of strange places and be obsessive about getting a toy reward," Herstik said. "All of our training is play-based — find a bomb, get a toy."

There are no exclusions based on a dog’s breed or gender — "We’re neither racist nor sexist," Herstik said — but those chosen so far are mainly Belgian Malinois, a variety of Belgian shepherds, followed by Labrador retrievers and German shepherds.

The project’s leaders are emphatic that they are not training attack dogs who will lunge at or bite a suspect. "The dog’s job is to recognize the odor of an explosive material and then sit and stare," Herstik said. "It’s then up to the handler what action to take."

Once the pilot project has proven itself, Yago is looking toward a training program of unprecedented scope and size. "We want to cycle 1,000 dogs a year for use at Israeli schools, airports, bus stations, railroad depots, malls and discos," he said.

Once the Israeli need is met, Yago visualizes supplying trained dogs to Jewish and general communities throughout the world to aid the war on terrorism. "As an economist, I never thought I’d be involved in something like this," he said. "But I’ve come to realize that if you don’t have physical security, then economic security goes to hell."

With the cost of training one dog and its handler running at $10,000, Pups for Peace and its supporting organizations are embarking on extensive fundraising drives.

The first such event was held recently in New York, at which Gov. George Pataki told participants, "We support the people and the State of Israel, not by building bombs and taking lives, but by trying to provide security and hope."

To show his appreciation to the governor, Herstik formally changed the name of his prize Labrador from Nitro to Gershon, a Hebraized version of George.