If you saw the Grammy’s this year, watch music videos, seen Vogue’s April 2011 cover, or have ever been to one of her concerts, then you know that Rihanna’s body is truly a work of art. But as beautiful as she is, as young as she may be (24), and as hard as she must work out, much of her results are due to the skills of three-time black belt holder in Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Kung Fu, New York-born personal trainer, Ary Nuñez.
Nuñez, who's family is from the Dominican Republic, is part of an elite group of Nike-sponsored trainers, and the only one of those who's a martial artist doing the kind of fusion training she's created. She lives and works by the credo of a tattoo scrawled across her forearm, “I say, I do, I am”. For the last four years, Nuñez has worked with Rihanna, using a unique system, designed to give the young singer the killer six-pack abs, perfect rump, flawlessly sculpted arms, and the kick butt attitude she’s now known for.
On call 24/7 for team Rihanna, Nuñez says, “Whether we’re on the road or in NY, my main concern is to keep workouts interesting for her and all my clients. I use a mixture of dance, martial arts, and Pilates like calisthenics. I work from the core to the extremities. It’s a Darwin meets spirituality approach. I want clients to be able to lift their own body weight. That takes discipline. And shouldn’t we all be able to carry our own weight physically and metaphorically,” Nuñez asks.
She grew up in New York in a family of six. Her father, a cab driver, was mugged and killed while working in New York City when she was 10 years old. She says the loss made her the over-achieving, tough-as-nails woman she is today. She said it made her determined to give back to her Latino community and mentor Latina girls.
Nuñez is currently working on a TV pilot with the working title “Project Classified”. A three-part series eventually airing on MTV Tr3s, the show will feature three Latino athletes and the youngsters they mentor. A pass it forward concept, the youngsters are chosen because they themselves look to mentor others in their communities.
“Growing up, I didn’t know what poverty was until we lost our dad. My mother was living with extreme depression after that. I relate to Latina women through the pain and strength I live with everyday.”
Nuñez’s training tips are not the average limit calories or exercise more. They’re more of a philosophy of believing in yourself—being a student of “Best You University”. She does say, however, that one should watch portion size.
“Latino food is rich and full of flavor. We don’t need as much to get full. Find balance in your life. Making daily exercise and a healthy diet a priority because you’re important. Don’t hate on yourself. Stay curvy, but also tight,” Nuñez says.
Her story of becoming a Nike sponsored athlete is one of persevering through rejection. Nuñez contacted Nike during the time she was teaching an uber-popular fitness class at the exclusive Upper West Side gym, Equinox.
“People would wait and sign up. The classes were always packed. It was kickboxing before people knew what that was. I wrote a letter to Nike and asked if they would fund the production of a fitness video with me as the trainer. They said no. I saved the rejection letter as motivation. I put together the money myself. Shot the video, and a few months later, Nike contacted me,” Nuñez says.
Though Nuñez has many well-known clients, Rihanna is her most well known. The two met after Nuñez had been training Rihanna’s attorney, manager, and finance guy. The guys reported back, and after a couple of sessions working with the young pop star, Nuñez got the call to go on the road.
“We hit it off right away. An artist is a gem. She’s a young girl, but she’s powerful, and smart, and magical. I love her. She’s stunning. We get along because we’re honest with each other,” Nuñez says.
Nuñez won’t comment about the on again off again saga of Rihanna’s personal relationship with pop singer Chris Brown. Brown was convicted of physically assaulting Rihanna in 2009 and sentenced to serve five years of probation and 1400 hours of labor-oriented community service. The two recently released two singles together.
The trainer to the stars has recently added a new celeb to her roster. The talented 24-year-old, Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Ester Dean. Dean has written songs for Brittney Spears, Rihanna, Chris Brown and many more, as well as the soundtrack to LeBron James’ documentary “More Than A Game”.
“All my clients are celebs. This is a moment of revival for women taking care of ourselves. I’m not motivated by money or fame. My goals are to empower women. And I’m an artist whose platform is fitness”, Nuñez says.
Rebekah Sager is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.