The secret lives of fitness trainers

Tales of saucy students, scandalous affairs, extravagant gifts and finding true love, as told to Aretha Loh.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Tales of saucy students, scandalous affairs, extravagant gifts and finding true love, as told to Aretha Loh.

Photos Getty Images & Corbis
Photos Getty Images & Corbis

Adam* has a chiselled body, the face of Chris Hemsworth and enough charisma to sweep a roomful of women off their feet. Plus, he wants to give you all his attention – because you’re paying him to do so – until you achieve that hot bod you’ve been yearning for. But after weeks of rubbing shoulders with Adam and gushing to your girlfriends about how hot he looks in that tight tee, a svelte figure isn’t all you’re lusting for – you want a piece of him too.

“What else do you expect when you mix adrenalin, raging hormones, hot bodies and bored housewives?” asks Jane*, a yoga enthusiast and gym bunny in her 30s. Jane divulges that Adam, a popular fitness instructor at a big gym in Singapore, was recently fired after he was caught sleeping with one of his married students – by her husband, no less.

Many of Adam’s gym fans pleaded for him to stay, but to no avail. And what happened with Adam is only the tip of a very huge iceberg. According to Jane, Adam is a well-known Casanova who has slept with many of his students. “It’s no surprise as many of the foreign male instructors at that gym are very popular with the ladies,” says Jane. She likens them to superstars who wield the power to get women to buy them expensive gifts, free meals and other perks regularly.

On top of that, many of these instructors tend to use their workplace to hunt for prey and sex. “I would know because I was hit on a couple of times when I first joined the gym,” says Jane.

Blurred lines

It’s a given that most fitness instructors have droolworthy abs and Ryan Gosling-like sex appeal, but what exactly is it that turns sweaty circuit sessions into steamy romps?

Friendship, says Eton*, a European personal trainer in his late 20s. “A personal trainer is not just someone who tells you how to diet and work out. He’s a friend you can trust and confide in. There are some sessions where my students spend more time sharing their personal woes than exercising, but I’ll listen to them anyway,” says Eton in between sips of his iced Americano. His gentlemanly disposition and killer smile urge me to blurt out the question: “Do many of your female students hit on you?”

His modest answer (“At times”) is disappointing. Upon further prodding, Eton reveals the modus operandi of his clients. “Some of them ask if they can join me when they see me working out on my own. Others will send me pictures of their bikini-clad bodies, asking if their physique has improved,” he says.

His students comprise single and married women in their mid-30s to late 40s. The more daring and wealthier ones have even bought him $1,400 shoes and invited him to spas and on holidays.

Eton confesses that the boundary between friendship and romance is blurry at times, but says he plays it safe by sticking to one rule: no dating. “I’ll accept their gifts, give them compliments about their bodies (if they really look good) and go on short holidays with them as a good friend would. But I would never date them because break-ups can get ugly and I might end up losing a customer,” he says.

Dating aside, he’s learnt that women can get jealous over the most trivial things. Just last year, he lost one of his students after she saw a Facebook picture from his lunch session with another student. It wasn’t even a picture of Eton himself – it was a picture of the food that he was tagged in – but it was enough to upset her so much that she switched personal trainers.

Eton claims he has never slept with a student (of course I had to ask), but admits that it’s a diff erent story when he gets hit on outside of work. He declines to reveal more, and flashes a suspiciously cheeky grin when I press for details, which makes me wonder how much he’s not letting on.

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“Divorce offers”

James*, a personal trainer in his late 30s, is a lot more candid when asked how aggressive his female students are.

He coolly shares that he’s been propositioned many times in the course of his career and has met women who tried to buy his love, literally. “One student was all ready to give me an apartment. She also asked me to quit my job, so there would be no risk of me falling in love with other women,” recalls James. His craziest experience would have to be with the married student who off ered to divorce her hubby so that she could be with him.

He’s heard similar horror stories from his fellow instructors, and witnessed clients wanting to end an instructor’s career by going public after the relationship turns sour. “There’s a very thin line between what you can and cannot do as a trainer. We’re constantly reminded by our employers of the risks, but it really comes down to how much risk a trainer is willing to take,” James says.

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“We got married”

Speaking of risk, James took a leap of faith and disclosed his relationship with a student to his boss about four years ago. While most teacher-student relationships end badly (someone gets sacked or someone’s marriage gets torn to shreds), James found true love with Linda*, 30, a regional brand manager. They tied the knot eight months ago.

The couple, who now live in Dubai, first met in James’ yoga class in the east of Singapore. “My friend, who was a regular at his class, asked me to join her one weekend, and I did. James was well built and had a gentle and kind personality, but I was too focused on surviving his class to notice him,” says Linda of their initial meeting.

It was only after James told her he liked her that they started spending more time together at social gatherings with mutual friends and gym-mates. Their first date was at an ice-skating rink.

Linda was aware that many women students were “going gaga over James” at the time, but treated their fawning as part and parcel of an instructor’s life. “A gym is a place where people from opposite sexes meet and adrenalin runs high, so relationships and hook-ups are bound to happen,” says Linda.

Naturally, there were mixed reactions and gossip when other students got wind of their relationship, but the couple remained calm about it. James continued teaching, and Linda continued attending his classes twice a week. “In class, I was just another student. There was no special treatment whatsoever,” she says.

Naysayers warned her that “gym instructors are players”, but that was not Linda’s main concern. The gym was her playground and she was more worried that she would not be able to work out there if their relationship didn’t turn out well.

Linda doesn’t deny that they’ve had a couple of big fights over specific instances of women showering inappropriate attention on James, but she shares that matters have become better over time. Once the spotlight shifted away from their relationship, things were a lot smoother.

It also helps that James handles such situations well. “Outside of class, he is no longer the crazy, outgoing gym instructor. He is a private person who doesn’t allow people to get close to him easily. Also, as a couple, we keep our social circle tight,” says Linda.

James is currently a freelance fitness guru because it gives him a more flexible schedule. Linda doesn’t keep tabs on him or question him about his women students, simply because “it doesn’t cross my mind”. She reckons that there will always be a group of women who hit on their fitness instructors, regardless of their marital status, but trusts that James knows what to do.

“A gym is a place where people from opposite sexes meet and where adrenal in runs high, so relationships hook-ups are bound to happen.”  Linda*, 30, regional brand manager

*Not their real names.