The Clintons’ personal trainer, Ralf Hennig of Bedford
Having a Ball with Bill and Hil
The Clintons’ personal trainer is no fan of gym machines, yoga, or medicine balls. Or, for that matter, sneakers.
by John Bruno Turiano
When Bill and Hillary Clinton outfitted their Chappaqua home with equipment from the Gym Source in Manhattan, they asked the owner to recommend a trainer. Ralf Hennig, they were told. “Word of mouth is how I get many of my clients,” says the 47-year-old blonde-haired Hennig of Bedford.
And he’s got some impressive clients: Sanford Weill, former CEO of Citigroup, Chevy Chase, and plus-size model Emme. And now the Clintons.
His training program (he avoids calling it an “exercise program” or “workout”—“We’ve been using those words for decades and haven’t succeeded in getting people healthier”) consists of 40-plus movements performed with a four-pound Durafoam-stuffed latex ball. “It’s soft like a sofa cushion,” says the 6-foot 3-inch, 175-pound Hennig, “and different from a medicine ball, which is too hard, too heavy, and too big. That’s how you get hurt.”
He’s no fan of gym machines either. “The machines are designed to focus on large muscle groups,” he says. “Small muscle groups that support joints such as the shoulder, knee, wrist, are ignored. These joints become weak and joint integrity suffers and then the problems come—rotator cuff injuries, elbow injuries, back issues.”
Yoga doesn’t do much for him either. “It’s too slow
and stagnant,” he declares. Nor, it turns out, does he favor shoes while training. “Barefoot training brings strength to the feet,” he maintains. “Strong feet give better stability to the knees and hips.”
He apparently has many fans. Among them, Bill Clinton. “I have been interested in fitness for more than thirty years, during most of which I was a regular jogger,” says the former president. “I have tried all kinds of routines. The work I have done with Ralf is by
far the most effective and enjoyable exercise regimen I have ever had.”
Hennig, who grew up in Hofheim am Taunus, Germany, didn’t start out his career as a trainer. “I was into fitness as a teenager, but there were few opportunities in the field. My first profession was as a chef.”
From age 15 to 18, he apprenticed in a Frankfurt hotel and then worked in a series of hotels and resorts in Switzerland, Malaysia, Bermuda, and Saudi Arabia. “Not only was I able to see the world, but I lived in different climates and could do different activities and sports, including skiing, windsurfing, and scuba diving.”
He came to the U.S. in 1985 and, one year later, landed a job as head chef at the Arch in Brewster, where he toiled for three years. But noticing the fitness industry growing and tiring of working in restaurants, he enrolled in the necessary certification classes. “Fitness was a passion of mine. It was something I loved doing more than cooking.”
Hennig worked as a trainer at clubs around Westchester and Fairfield counties, including the Ivan Lendl Grand Slam Tennis Center in Greenwich, Connecticut. “This is the time when I started developing my fitness philosophy and met many sports celebrities like Steffi Graf, Pat McEnroe, and Mats Wilander.”
Hennig also began designing specific routines for the sports programs at a few private schools in Greenwich. Eventually, he built up a long list of well-to-do clients. He was doing so well that in 1997 he built a 2,000-square-foot personal fitness facility on his Bedford property, where he lives with his wife and three kids. His rates today are $200 to $300 a session. He sees a number of his clients at his facility, the most notable exceptions being the Clintons.
In the time Hennig has spent at their home, neither Bill nor Hillary, he says, has asked him if he was a registered Democrat. “We never discuss politics. During my hour with him, we sometimes talk about the local community and also sports. He really loves sports. With her, it’s health-related topics, and the community as well.” Due to the Clintons’ hectic travel schedule, Hennig has no set time for working with them. “I’ll just get a call and go over. It’s a president, and perhaps a future one, after all.”