Heike Brunner


I qualified with the South African branch of The Fitness Professionals, specializing in Body Conditioning. I have been teaching since 1997, first in Johannesburg, then London and now Paris. As an actress and ex-ballet dancer, correct body alignment and posture have been the key to strong, fluid movement on a professional level.
I am the in-house fitness trainer for One World Actors Productions, as well as a founder member of In Mixed Company, a mixed company of bilingual actors from France and Anglophone countries.

How does coordinating a fitness program and teaching classes differ here from in your home country?

South Africa has a thriving fitness industry - belonging to a gym and doing sport is like breathing to many people, the approach is almost fanatical. In Paris it was a surprise to find that French people do not have the same attitude. That said, in the two years I've lived here, it does appear to be changing, although most of my clients are still Anglophone and not French.

It seems that in France the word aerobics is still synonymous with the 1980s Jane Fonda model of high-impact "go for the burn"-type exercise. Participants have expectations that are often not fulfilled as the fitness industry has moved on from that way of exercising! My first experiences in a French gym led me to believe that people here suppose that by a) being physically present in the studio and b) flinging themselves around a bit, trying not be perspire, would get them a sufficient workout. A very different exercise culture, in other words.

Even looking at fitness magazines here, it is noticeable that cover stories always emphasize diets; the focus is on how to stop eating rather than how to burn calories. It's a marked difference from English-language publications. The covers of Shape or Self magazine, for instance, never feature articles on diets - the lead articles concern new types of fitness or specific exercises. One also finds advice on how to beat cravings or eat healthily during the holidays, but with recipes for good eating versus the diet/starvation approach of many French books and magazines.

Marketing: Most of my clientele comes to me through word of mouth or through the Paris Fitness group (whose flyers end up in a variety of places). Once a year I advertise in Message, the mothers' association newsletter.

Client base: In group classes, we get 50% English speakers, 25% French speakers, and the rest are from just about everywhere else in the world, although it seems that the number of French clients at the American Church is on the increase. As far as personal training goes, my quota of French-speaking clients is almost completely represented by a well-known Belgian-born actress, so personal trainers are still the favored accessory of the Anglophone set.

Competition: Competition is growing from a number of anglophone trainers and group instructors, but is still minimal.

What is your teaching specialty?
Being a dancer, I focus a lot on posture and alignment, and stretching is a vital part of any workout I provide. My favorite class is an all-round body conditioning class, incorporating weight training exercises (either with free weights or using body weight), Pilates toning and strengthening, Callanetics, yoga-sculpt and the stability ball, which I am addicted to. I'd love to teach a group class on the stability ball, but don't have the facilities! Very recently I've started incorporating salsa movements into some classes.

What are your priorities?
Correct body posture and form. I'd rather people do less repetitions with better body awareness, especially of the upper body. Many people slump and I'd like them to carry the "long, upright spine" they have in a fitness class into their everyday life.