Celebrity trainer Mike Ryan helps Hollywood stars shape up for the big screen
By Kamala Kirk
Hollywood stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are admired for their impressive physiques, which require hard work to achieve and maintain. Longtime Venice resident Mike Ryan is a renowned fitness expert and personal trainer who has worked with Johnson and many other celebrities and athletes to get them in top shape for film and television projects.
Originally from Peabody, Massachusetts, Ryan was encouraged by his father to start working out at a young age. Together, they would lift weights in the cellar of their home.
“My dad was my role model and had adopted the principle that if you have a strong mind and a strong body, you can accomplish anything,” Ryan says. “One day he pulled me aside and said that I needed to start working out since I probably wasn’t going to be very tall when I grew up. I started working out seriously when I was 12 and haven’t stopped.”
Ryan attended the University of New Hampshire on a football scholarship, where he played alongside Chip Kelly, then played professionally in Europe after college. When he didn’t make the NFL, Ryan returned home and got a job as a high school teacher, also coaching football and lacrosse. In 1990, Ryan decided to drive out to California for a visit during his school’s Christmas break—and never went back.
“I had always wanted to go to California and when I arrived, my first thought was that I needed to check out Gold’s Gym, which I had read about in fitness magazines,” Ryan shares. “Next thing you know, I got a membership and started training there. I told the school I wasn’t coming back. I realized that training and fitness were my passions which ultimately led to the career I have now. I had driven out to California by chance and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Ryan spent the next few years working as a bartender and also trained and worked at Gold’s Gym in Redondo Beach. On his days off he would train at Gold’s Gym in Venice and was eventually offered a job there by the owners. He started at the front desk and worked his way up; in 1992 he was promoted to general manager.
Over the years, Ryan became a corporate spokesperson and brand ambassador for Gold’s Gym, appearing in ad campaigns and catalogs, and was the go-to health and fitness expert for various media outlets. Athletes, celebrities and up-and-coming stars worked out at Gold’s Gym, where Ryan met many of his friends and clients that he continues to work with to this day.
“All the icons trained at Gold’s Gym, it’s trademarked as the mecca of bodybuilding and was featured in the 1975 documentary ‘Pumping Iron,’” Ryan points out. “I bring all of my clients there to work out. At Gold’s Gym, there’s this mutual respect. It’s a very humble atmosphere. I met Arnold Schwarzenegger at Gold’s Gym years ago and he remains one of my close friends to this day.”
For years, Ryan was a spokesperson and the head of VIP marketing for EAS, a nutrition brand and supplements distributor. He later became a spokesperson for Men’s Fitness and made his first appearance on the cover of Muscle Media Magazine in 1996.
“I had done a shoot with them then went home for Christmas,” Ryan says. “When my plane landed in Boston, I saw my cover on newsstands and my photo was in every vitamin shop. A lot of people would come up to me and say that they recognized me, but they didn’t know from where.”
As the head of VIP marketing, Ryan worked with many athletes including the Denver Broncos, as well as celebrities. One of Ryan’s first clients was Dwayne Johnson, who brought Ryan along to oversee his meal plans and workout routine when he landed roles in films like “The Mummy Returns” and “The Scorpion King.”
“On the first day of the “The Scorpion King” shoot, I met with the director and told him that Dwayne needed to eat every three hours,” Ryan says. “He was eating two steaks, a couple of baked potatoes and a big bowl of greens. The director was fascinated. After I got back, I went on tour in Europe with Mickey Rourke for six months.”
The calls kept coming in and Ryan remained in high demand by Hollywood’s top stars. He worked closely with Ed Norton for his roles in “American History X” and “Fight Club,” was contracted with Mickey Rourke for films including “Sin City” and “Domino,” and created Brad Pitt’s nutrition plan for “Snatch,” among others.
Because of his work on “Fight Club” and other blockbusters, Ryan began fielding calls from Bollywood’s biggest stars including John Abraham, and most recently, he worked with Ricky Whittle for the Starz show “American Gods.”
“With each client, the first thing we do is look at the script and then devise a specific program,” Ryan says. “Nutrition is key and they have to learn how to eat.”
Ryan limits the number of clients he works with so that he can dedicate plenty of time, effort and energy to help them achieve their goals and desired results. Some clients he goes on the road with for months at a time, others he’ll train at the gym or their home—each client’s needs are different.
With film and television projects postponed and gyms closed due to COVID-19, Ryan has built an outdoor gym at his home in Venice where he safely trains with some of his clients. He has been taking advantage of the extra time at home to stay committed to his personal fitness during the pandemic, waking up at 3:30 a.m. daily to work out.
“I do between 30 minutes to an hour of cardio and I often wear a weight vest to really push myself,” Ryan shares. “Then I’ll hit the weights for another hour after that. I love that I get to challenge and push myself. I also like to lead by example for my clients. I eat clean all week long, then on the weekends I enjoy myself.”
Ryan’s favorite indulgences include beer and pizza while watching sports on TV, and he always eats a big dessert on Sundays—his favorite is cheesecake. While everyone is spending more time at home these days, Ryan stresses the importance of remaining active and taking care of one’s health during the pandemic.
“We need fitness and exercise to help us build our immune systems,” he says. “The best part about exercise is that you get an actual physical response; your body releases an endorphin rush that makes you feel good. Everyone should do some type of activity at least once a day, whether it’s going for a walk, riding a bike, playing with your kids or chasing your dog. If your fitness level isn’t as good as it should be, start out with moderate exercise and gradually increase it from there. Don’t put it off and wait for the new year—the fact of the matter is this pandemic isn’t putting anything off. If the virus is going to attack you, the best thing you can do is be ready for it.”
Follow him on Instagram: @mike_ryan_celebritytrainer