Behind every rock star’s envy-inducing physique, there’s a powerhouse personal trainer. For Madonna, that trainer is Nicole Winhoffer. Born in New York City and having grown up in the Bronx, Winhoffer lived her dream of dancing on Broadway. Those gigs led her to win a coveted place in Madonna’s dance troupe for several tours, eventually rising through the ranks to become the superstar’s personal trainer.
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Before she began working for Madonna in 2009, Winhoffer discovered Eckhart Tolle’s book "The Power of Now." The message in the book informed Winhoffer’s private sessions with the performer, and she still listens to the audiobook for 20 minutes every morning before her group class. Tolle, she says, inspired her to blend intention with the movements she instructs. Read on to find out just how she incorporates this philosophy into her workouts.
I see successful, strong, alpha females that are so hard on themselves, and that reminds me that we all have our struggles and insecurity, and I see people sweating in their most vulnerable state.
Nicole Winhoffer, Madonna's Former Personal Trainer
LIVESTRONG.COM: With long-term clients like Madonna, they aren’t training for athletic ambitions like a 10K, so are you refining the same moves they already do?
NICOLE WINHOFFER: My workout changes every week. I might repeat a movement, but I change how it’s performed. For example, I might use ankle weights or a hula-hoop or hang from the ceiling doing the move. I’m always finding new ways to surprise or shock the body to avoid a plateau and maximize results.
LS: What provides better results, isolation or compound movements?
NW: I never isolate the muscle. So if a client wants a stronger midsection, I focus on the core [abs, back, hip flexors]. We do compound exercises. This connects the body as a whole in functional movements.
LS: How do you help women become more compassionate about their bodies?
NW: I help them to love themselves first. In my life, I have had eating disorders, I’ve repressed myself, I wanted 10-percent body fat. But through my career, I learned that when the intention is loving yourself first and being kind to yourself, as you would treat a child, then looking great and feeling sensual will follow.
LS: How has your fitness changed your life?
NW: I started to watch my thoughts, and I realized that every thought was critical. I’d heard myself saying, “You can get better” or “You can do more sit-ups” or “Why did you eat that?” Everything was about improving myself, but also putting myself down. That approach used to drive me when I was younger to make myself work harder. Then I realized I have a purpose to help my clients improve their lives. So why am I giving love to others in my classes, but I’m not loving myself? If you’re going through something in your life -- if you’re happy or you’re angry or there’s something that’s stopping you or you had a fight with someone -- I tell my students to put that [intention] into the movement. I believe fitness is about expressing yourself, being raw, being sensual and loving who you are.
LS: What do your clients feel during and after a workout?
NW: I want my clients to feel an emotional release. Through that, there’s freedom. After the class, people feel elated. I believe in people making a personal connection to themselves rather than making the goal of the workout about sets and reps. I want people to be free. I don’t want them to take no for an answer or think they can’t do it. So I ask them to make that connection about what they may be beating themselves up about or what is holding them back. Your emotions affect your workouts, your weight, your consciousness.
LS: What amazes you about training Madonna and your other clients?
NW: I see successful, strong, alpha females that are so hard on themselves, and that reminds me that we all have our struggles and insecurities, and I see people sweating in their most vulnerable state. I ask my students, “What do you do when something gets hard? Do you stop? What do you do when you are faced with a challenge? Do you fight through it even if it hurts? Or do you fix your hair and walk out of the room?” I see their courage to exercise through intention and trying to be present in a workout. That is a representation of their lives.