Tips from Hollywood trainer Harley Pasternak

We caught up with Harley Pasternak, best selling fitness and nutrition author, while in Toronto promoting his on-the-go fitness bar, The HarleyBar.


1. What is the one piece of equipment I should invest in?
“A comfortable, supportive pair of running shoes allows you to make more active decisions. You won’t hesitate to take the stairs or walk that extra distance if you’ve got comfortable shoes on. For me, it’s the New Balance 993 running shoe.”

2. What is the one exercise I can do that will yield the best results?
“Walking. You can do it anywhere, any time, regardless of your fitness level. Great for building bone density, walking has a low risk of injury and fatigue.”

3. If I only have 15 minutes to work out, what should I do?
“It’s always good to do some form of cardio warm up for a minimum of five minutes. A warm up could be walking, skipping or jogging, anything that gets your heart rate up. Next, take two different resistance-training exercises and perform them back-to-back for 20 reps each. If you have time, finish with a few minutes of cardio. The other option is to do 15 minutes of cardio, but I think a resistance training component is important in your day.”

4. How much cardio should I be doing and how often?
“I think cardio, to some extent, should be done every day. Cardio doesn’t necessarily have to be cardio exercise; it can be resistance-based exercises without rest at a high enough intensity that you’re getting your heart rate up. I would never suggest more than 30 minutes of intense cardio.”

5. How many times a week should you participate in a scheduled workout?
“Five days a week. The 5-Factor Fitness workout, [Harley’s fitness plan that encourages you to work out less and eat more] calls for five workouts per week with each lasting 25 minutes. Combining strength training and aerobics in five five-minute intervals helps people stick with the program over the long haul.”

6. Is it important to take a day off exercising?
“I think psychologically it’s good to have one day a week where you’re not doing structured fitness, but it doesn’t mean you need to rest on that day.”

7. The gym offers multiple classes, what the best one for me to do?
“It’s important to have a combination of cardio and resistance, which is why I’m a fan of circuit training classes, especially ones that are not too technically demanding. You want to focus on building your fitness level up rather than learning new skills.”

8. Is it possible to get a good workout at home instead of at the gym?
“Of course, I’m a big fan of that. If you’re someone with a lot of distractions at home then the gym might be right for you, but if you can get a minimum of 25 minutes of uninterrupted exercise at home, then great.”

9. I’d like to purchase a few sessions with a trainer. How should I go about finding the right one?
“Find a trainer who has an up-to-date certification. I suggest either the ACSM [American College of Sports Medicine] or the NSCA [National Strength and Conditioning Association]. Don’t be shy to ask for the actual certification or to contact the organization yourself. Look for referrals from other people who have used them and for how long. If you’re lucky enough to find a trainer with a university degree in health sciences or kinesiology that would be great.”

10. How important is stretching?
“It’s not. We now know for a fact that stretching prior to exercise does not reduce the incidence of injury. In fact, studies show that stretching prior to exercise can theoretically increase your chance of injury or muscle soreness. Stretching is useful if you’re involved in a sport that requires a wide range of motion, such as ballet and figure skating.”

11. How do I ensure I stay hydrated during a workout?
“You should be drinking a minimum of three litres of fluids each day. This number increases with your activity level and the humidity outside. I recommend drinking sparkling or regular water, tea or low sugar or sugar free beverages before, during and after exercise.”

12. Should I inform my physician that I’m beginning to exercise?
“I think it’s important before you embark on any exercise program to have a detailed medical done. I think all the systems of your body need to be checked.”

13. How much discomfort is normal after working out?
“I don’t think pain should ever limit your function. If you’re embarking on your first exercise program or you’ve been sedentary, almost anything will make you sore. But, the pain should never last more than a few days. If there’s swelling or discolouration, that’s a warning sign” [and you should consult your doctor].

14. How do I stay motivated to workout?
“I don’t believe you can motivate someone. Any extrinsic motivation is short lived. A well thought out, efficient, long-term program that takes into account your goals and schedules is the best motivation of all. The process should be the goal, not the end. You never reach the end of a fitness program.”

15. Should I focus on a goal as I enter into an exercise program?
“Weight is often used as a goal and there are so many variables that are out of your control and can get in the way of achieving your goal, such as your hormonal cycle. I don’t let my clients weigh themselves, I always say to them ‘whatever you start doing make sure it’s something you can continue to do every week for the rest of your life.’”

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