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.