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Rebecca Eastman's One-on-One Formula for Physical Fitness Keeps Her Fans Flipping

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Lily Tomlin needed help. Creating stage personas such as Trudy the bag lady or Agnus Angst the punk rocker was tough enough, but mustering the strength to bring the characters to life every night was even harder. Tomlin, who admits “I hate exercise,” quailed when faced with the demands of her one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, in which she jumps, tumbles, falls and gyrates throughout a two-hour marathon monologue. So 14 months before her Broadway opening, she put her body in the hands of Rebecca Eastman, a leggy Los Angeles-based personal trainer known for her rigorous regimens and fast results. “Lily told me she would surrender to her trainer to achieve a greater goal,” recalls Eastman, who with Tomlin created a program that incorporated stretching, rope jumping, yoga, running and weight training. The results were impressive. By the time Tomlin had to leave for New York, she was doing 90 push-ups and 300 sit-ups grunt free.

In the world of physical fitness, where more and more it’s personal trainers who are shaping the tummies and tushes of the future, Eastman, 35, has developed a flabless following that includes celebs Daryl Hannah, Jackson Browne, director Ivan (Legal Eagles) Reitman and his wife, Genevieve, and St. Elsewhere’s Cindy Pickett. In return for plunking down about $75 for a 60-minute session with the blond six-footer, they get a custom-made program that varies according to how the client feels that day. “We use yoga if someone is sore and hasn’t had enough sleep,” explains Eastman, “then stretch and walk for cardiovascular condition. But if a client is in top shape, we’ll do yoga, a little run or striding with ankle weights, some stomach work and weight lifting on top of that. In an hour,” she guarantees, “you do not stop moving.”

The younger of two children of a bridge builder and a secretary, Eastman hoped to become a ballerina, but the dream faded the taller she grew. “Wilt Chamberlain would have been my ideal partner,” she says laughing. She did perform for two years with the Merce Cunningham modern dance troupe before returning to Escondido, Calif, to care for her father, who had lost the circulation in one leg through atherosclerosis. Despite four weeks of intense exercising, the leg had to be amputated. Eastman was devastated, and it changed her life.

She sought out Anne-Marie Bennstrom, a preventive medicine expert who runs the Ashram, a no-frills spa outside Malibu. “Rebecca entered the school for her personal growth,” says Bennstrom. “When she came her knowledge wasn’t that great, but her love for people was.” Eastman was a fast study and soon was leading classes in aerobics and yoga. Her most important lesson, however, was learning to “read” her pupils’ bodies and their needs. “Anne-Marie taught me to see a reflection of myself in others,” she says. “I used to cry when the guests left. My feeling was we had started something. I wanted it to continue.”

The solution was for Eastman to go out on her own, something she did in 1983, with Bennstrom’s blessing. Working out of her West Hollywood home (she shares it with a cat, Geronimo) or making house calls, Eastman and her staff of seven offer a rounded program that includes exercise (three weekly workouts and a weekend hike are optimum) plus nutrition advice. Her own favorite dinner is a baked potato with onion, garlic and ginger and a salad.

Sounds easy? It’s not. “When we would go hiking, I’d be griping about the climb,” recalls star pupil Tomlin. “But Rebecca would keep it so much fun that even I could continue with it.” And she has. One of her first appointments after her return to the West Coast last month was with Eastman. Obviously her search for signs of an intelligent approach to fitness is over.