If you’ve ever hired a personal trainer, bought a workout video you saw on TV, or done curls with a towel, you have Jake Steinfeld to thank. While he rarely gets mentioned in the same company as more famous fitness personalities like Jack LaLanne, Jane Fonda, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steinfeld deserves as much—or maybe more—credit, having introduced Hollywood royalty to resistance training and made fitness look—get this—fun. The infomercials you remember him in have faded from TV, but Steinfeld is as active as ever and still on a mission to get you in the shape of your life.
The buff guy with the big smile and New York accent began, he says, as a fat kid from Long Island. When his dad got him weights when he was 13, “I kinda looked down at my Twinkies and said, ‘No, not for me, Dad,” he recalls.
But one day he spotted an EZ-curl bar in the laundry room. “I started doing curls. I was listening to Sinatra’s ‘My Way,’ and afterward there’s this applause for Frank, so I imagined it was for me, doing curls.”
It wouldn’t be the last time he worked a crowd. Determined to become Mr. America, Steinfeld started bodybuilding and, after a stint in college, moved to LA in ’77. He placed second in a Mr. Southern California contest, but his career peaked there for one reason, he says: “I didn’t take steroids.”
Steinfeld worked as a bouncer till a chance meeting with an actress changed his life on the spot. “I was sitting by a pool, and she came up and said, ‘You’re in great shape—can you help me get ready for this Club Med ad?’” Once he’d said yes, she asked how much it would cost. “I said, ‘Cost for what?’” And just like that, personal training was born.
In the early ’80s, weights weren’t embraced by the Hollywood elite, who feared big muscles would hurt their careers. So Steinfeld created fun, functional, half-hour routines using broomsticks, towels, and chairs. He became a sensation with A-listers: “I knew about bodybuilding but also about listening, and that really opened doors for me.”
His work with clients like Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford helped get him cameos in films like Coming to America; it also got him a call from Ted Turner to do a show on the new CNN. And soon—decades before YouTube—he was being seen on the Fitness Break by Jake all over the world.
Naturally, with Steinfeld’s warmth and positive attitude, product spots, ads, and even a sitcom followed (remember Big Brother Jake on The Family Channel?), and finally FitTV, the first 24-hour fitness network, which he sold in 1997 for a fortune.
Today Steinfeld’s committed to giving back to the community, especially husky kids like himself. As chair of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, he brings fitness centers to poor schools, an outreach that fights child obesity, raises test scores, and ups attendance.
His latest project, the app Kumu (teacher in Hawaiian), hooks users up with a wellness coach, who’s “a psychologist, nutritionist, and physical educator,” he says, and “gives you the tools, inspiration, and plan to succeed.” Average response time from a Kumu coach: just seven minutes. (getkumu.com).
Steinfeld, 57, still works out most days at 3:45 a.m., doing his traditional 100-rep sets to “help keep the boyish figure.”
“Every day I trained Spielberg, I’d say, ‘Harrison Ford did 100 pushups today.’”