Our weekly Q&A session continues this week with a spotlight on Dan Isaacson, a renowned fitness trainer for Hollywood’s acting elite and now SportsCouncil’s newest addition to our mentoring team. Some of Isaacson’s high profile clients include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Depp, John Travolta, Tom Hanks & Denzel Washington to name a few.
SCSV: Dan thank you for joining us this week. To begin, could you please tell us about your background how you got your start as a Hollywood fitness trainer?
Dan Isaacson: I grew up in Quincy, Illinois. I received my B.S. from Western Illinois University and M.S. degree from the University of Illinois. Following graduate school, my first professional job was Manager of Sheridan Swim Club in Quincy, Illinois. At the time it was one the largest competitive swim facilities in the Midwest. I implemented one of the first fitness/swimming testing programs for men at the club and one of our swimmers, Nicole Kramer made it to the finals of the 800m freestyle event and set an Olympic record during the semi-finals of the event. She was 14 years old the youngest and smallest swimmer on the team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. As Manager of the Sheridan Swim Club, I was asked to go to the Olympics and also act as a sports news reporter for WGEM TV in Quincy reporting live from the Olympic swim venue. That was the start toward working with celebrities five years later.
My work with celebrities and personal training is one of many milestones in the history of the professionalization of the fitness and sports fields.
SCSV: You spoke of fitness and sports milestones you were a part of. Could you elaborate on a few of these examples?
Dan Isaacson: I was a partner and part owner of one of the first full-service athletic clubs built in America which was part of early booming club business in the late 70’s and early 80’s, which created the base for today’s club chains Equinox, 24 Hour and Lifetime Fitness. I formed my own company Sports Management International and was the fitness consultant for the Snowmass Club in Aspen Snowmass, CO where I met John Travolta and he asked me to train him for the 1983 movie Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. His on-camera dance performance showcased his personal physical transformation and it launched Hollywood and celebrity personal training and opened the door to an entirely new business called-“personal training”. It was the most anticipated movie sequel at the time and made national and international news (Watch Geraldo Rivera interview with Stallone and Travolta here where Dan appeared).
The movie launched personal training in Hollywood and I opened the first personal training center in the world on a studio lot at Paramount Pictures in 1986 and in 1991 developed the first new fitness, sports and personal training center at Sony Pictures working with then CEO Peter Guber. Today, Peter Guber is CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, which includes ownership of the Golden State Warriors, LA Dodgers, and the new Los Angeles Football Club. I developed the first science-based personal training method and program designed to work specifically with actors. I became the first Fitness Editor on network television for Good Morning America and served as the Executive Director of the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, I have worked on over 100 movies and television productions since 1983.
Going back to my debut in Hollywood, after working with John Travolta on “Staying Alive”, my second big project in Hollywood was with Mickey Rourke to get him ready for his movie 9 ½ Weeks. Mickey had to lose 40 pounds in 3 months. Also, I worked with Tom Hanks on the movie Philadelphia, which had a weight/fat loss program designed to guarantee a regular fat loss of 2-½ lb./week since the film was shot in sequence following the script as it was written.
In 1985 I worked with Danny Sullivan, the first personal trainer to physically train an Indy car racer who won the Indy 500! The program was designed to increase core/upper body strength and aerobic endurance so he could physically perform at a high level for 500 miles turning the same way under 5g’s, which is like your body withstanding 5x your body weight!
These were some personal key milestones for me in getting started in Hollywood.
SCSV: Among all the Hollywood actors you worked with if you had to pick one actor who loves working out and one actor who does not, who would they be?
Dan Isaacson: All actors working out for a film role, in my experience, are diligent and very professional. They were all willing to do whatever it takes to transform their body for a specific character role in a focused, short period of time. I equivocate their training regiments like athletes preparing for a season of competition. When not training, many actors I have worked with like Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Michael Keaton, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mark Wahlberg, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, George Clooney and Billy Crystal are all involved with maintaining a lifestyle of healthy living with regular fitness regiments and sports activity.
Appearance, health, and performance changes specific for a role on screen are the key physical goals for any performer when preparing for a music tour, film, stage, or television performance.
SCSV: You mentioned that when you worked with Tom Hanks to prepare him for the movie Philadelphia, you had to put Tom on a very strict diet. Out of curiosity, what kind of diet and exercises did he have to do?
Dan Isaacson: Tom lost 40 pounds and would burn 1200 calories every day after work. I have to say that Tom was one of the most disciplined actors that I have ever worked with. The movie Philadelphia was mostly shot in sequence so his weight loss had to be 2.5 lb./week until the “shirt off court scene” was shot. The calories he ate during the day were burned every night after shooting working out on a treadmill, cycle and stair climber. The academy award winning film was released in December 1993. I also trained Tom for Forrest Gump after Philadelphia and he won two back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor. Today, I’m the only personal trainer to work with a back-to-back Oscar winner since Spencer Tracy in 1938 and 1939 and I don’t believe Spencer had a personal trainer in 1938!
The comic book movies today have become the big moneymakers in Hollywood and fitness has become imperative for the stars of today. So fat loss, strength improvement, increases in cardiovascular endurance, speed, agility, balance, and coordination including sports skill development are all a part of the actor’s program when preparing for a film or television role!
SCSV: Looking back in your career, how far do you think we have come in terms of technologies used to improve fitness, recovery, and prevent injuries?
Dan Isaacson: In terms of technologies used for fitness training we have come a long way. In the early 90s, there were only two fitness devices used for measurement. The Caltrac calorie counter and Polar Heart Rate Monitor were the only research-based products. I was the first to introduce and sell them to the QVC audience.
The real turning point was the emergence of apps with the iPhone in 1997 that eventually allowed trainers and users to track things like heart-rate and calories on their iPhone. Then Fitbit came out and now in just 3 years, since 2014, we are seeing another revolution with new wearable fabrics that can track hydration, muscle fatigue, stress, lactic acid, electrolytes and even prevent injuries before they happen. My point is that we have seen a tremendous amount of innovation in the last 3 years alone. We have witnessed more innovation in the last 20 years than every before in our generation. Today technology is the new frontier in fitness and sports training. Fabric technology, medical sensors and virtual/mixed and augmented reality are leading the charge in the 21st century. The pace of innovation has increased dramatically and will continue to accelerate.
SCSV: As a mentor for the SportsCouncil, what goals do you want to accomplish? Discover new technologies for fitness? Build a bridge between Hollywood and the tech community? Be part of the next wave of innovation? Bring new wearable technologies to help kids in America get in better shape and have fun while exercising?
Dan Isaacson: All of the above. I want to be a pioneer and an advocate in this new field. I also want to create connections and bridges to get projects visible and have the media recognize the need to promote new technologies.
Maybe it’s time to develop a television/internet media platform just to showcase and share the great stories of how the tech pioneers today in sport-fitness and health are changing our world for tomorrow!
Galileo said, “You can’t teach anyone, anything; you can only help them find it within themselves”.
SCSV: Thank you for sharing a bit about yourself. We really look forward to working with you on elevating the bridge between fitness and technology. For more information on Dan Isaacson, please visit his website at www.danisaacson.com.