Holly Rilinger is ready to share her life on “Work Out New York”

Bravo’s new docu-drama Work Out New York isn’t related to the original Jackie Warner series, but it does have a few things in common, namely a built, blonde, lesbian fitness guru at the top of the game. WONY‘s resident out and proud instructor is Holly Rilinger, a former professional basketball player turned Nike Master Trainer who is also one of NYC’s most-sought after spin leaders.

Holly2all photos via Bravo

On the premiere episode, debuting Sunday, December 6 at 9/8c, we meet Holly and the six other trainers who are the focus of the show. All at different levels of career and with varying ideas and motivations, it’s clear that the only thing they truly have in common is the industry, and that Holly is the one who takes her career the most seriously. But because she’s so focused on being the best at what she does, she doesn’t always take the time to make time for herself outside of the gym. When we meet Holly, she’s single and not necessarily looking, but that doesn’t mean the women in her classes at Flywheel aren’t taking notice of her.

We spoke with Holly about her decision to join the show and what she hopes will come from her participation.

AfterEllen.com: How did you get involved with the show? What were your thoughts on joining a reality series?

Holly Rilinger: I initially became involved just through a casting director. I met with him, I guess it was almost two years ago, and he told me about the premise of the show; it sounded exciting. I really didn’t know much more than it would feature some of the top trainers in New York. We shot the pilot with four trainers and Bravo decided there needed to be more cast members so then we came back and shot the pilot again and it was really a long process of thinking it might come together, and thinking it might fall apart, then thinking it would come together—it was a lot of highs and lows.

After we shot the second pilot and we heard Bravo was going to pick it up, we had to really, truly commit to the series and I’ve worked really hard to be where I am right now. I pride myself in what I stand for. I stand by brands that are proud of me, like Nike and Flywheel. I’ve worked really really hard to get here. I sat with Nike, I sat with Flyw heel, and I sat with myself and said, “Listen, is this something you wanted to do, knowing there’s a lot of inherent risks in reality TV?” And the question that really came down to it for me was, “When the show airs, if you’re not a part of the cast, are you going to be OK with that?” And my answer was no. I think it would have been really hard to see the show airing and to sit back and let that opportunity pass me by because as much as I can think there would have been more opportunities, this is chance for me to show the world who I am.

I have other friends who have been in reality TV, like Robert Verdi, for example. And one thing he said to me that stuck with me was, “They can’t use what you don’t give them.” I always had that in mind every day that I filmed. Am I representing myself well? Am I representing Nike well? Am I representing Flywheel well? So I went for it.


AE: What were your fears?

HR: Obviously it’s reality TV and nobody wants to watch us high-five each other for an hour, you know? That’s gonna get boring. There is going to be drama. And is that something I want to be part of? And how dramatic will it be? I sat down with executives at Bravo, and what made me more comfortable is that they said, “Listen, yes, of course. It’s reality TV. We want to see the highs, the lows, the drama—we wanna see everything. But we also want this to be an aspirational show. We don’t want to just sort of follow you around and watch you spend money and make mistakes. We want to see you live your real life and we also want to show that your passionate about what you do, you’re at the absolute top of your career, and you’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

So I had to weigh the two out and understand that, yeah, there’s gonna be drama. And I think really, what’s most important to me is that yeah, it is nice to see that people like us—trainers who live really healthy lives—sometimes we’re looked at as being perfect and I actually took the position of, I think it’s nice to see we’re not always happy and we don’t always eat right, and we fall down like anybody else does. We make mistakes and we fail at relationships and I think, for me, that was more interesting at the end of the day than maybe even landing like a Biggest Loser show or something like that where it’s just gonna be about me as a trainer. You actually get to see me 360 degrees in this show.


AE: I think that’s why people enjoyed the original Work Out series, too. Were you a fan of that or Jackie Warner at all?

HR: I was a fan in the sense that it was one of the first very visible lesbians in reality TV. I thought—obsessed might not be the word, but I wanted to watch, “What’s your life like? What’s it like to live in LA and be a trainer and be a lesbian?” And “Wow, this is on TV!” This was back when The L Word was just starting. Jillian [Michaels] wasn’t really out—of course we all knew she was gay. You know, she wasn’t out. So to be able to look at other people living similar lives to mine—and my career was nowhere near where it is now back then, so I looked to her: “Wow. That’s what I wanna do.” So I enjoyed the show in that sense.


AE: I don’t mean this to be rude to the other cast members, but you come across as someone who takes a very serious approach to your brand and very serious about personal fitness and the people you’re reaching out to in a less narcissistic fashion. What do you think sets you apart?

HR: I know what you mean. I would say first of all, I haven’t had a lifelong dream of being a reality TV star. I think for other cast members, this is something they’ve maybe dreamt of doing; they’ve always been interested in doing that. For me, my goal has always been “What’s the platform I can reach as many people as possible?” Naturally, that’s TV. I didn’t know—would it be a Biggest Loser format? What would it look like? So, for me, it’s “How many people can I reach.”

I was professional athlete, so I was pretty serious about what I was doing at, like, six years old, you know? I just have a certain personality of when I’m going to go after something, I do it in a serious way and I’m very driven to the point where I’m sometimes like, “Alright, chill out a little bit, Holly. You don’t have to be so serious all the time.” But it’s just my nature and when my basketball career ended, I was really, really depressed. I actually had this theory for a moment that maybe we’re only allotted so much passion in life and I had had a good run at it; like 20 solid years of waking up excited about what I was doing.

When I left basketball and I started training, I didn’t like it right away. I had a very hard time transitioning from being a player to being essentially a coach. I left for a while and I felt very lost—I felt lost for a good six/seven years. I tried selling real estate and when I finally came back, what I realized is that everything I’d done for 20 years—the failures, the hard work, the discipline, the disappointment, the camaraderie, the teamwork, the being a player—all that stuff was so key in what I could now share with other people.

And that’s my gift, I believe, to give to other people now. I knew very well how to inspire and motivate myself—I didn’t need anybody. I had inspirational phrases on my wall. I knew how to do it. And now I really believe that to close the circle of my life and to really feel fulfilled is to now take all of that and give back to other people. And I experience it in my spin classes. I experience it here in New York City. I can see the power, and for me, it’s so important to me to now have a bigger platform to be able to do that. So when you see me on the show and you see me doing that, it’s not just about the show for me. This is my chance to reach as many people as possible.


AE: What will we see of you outside of the gym? Will you be dating? Do you find love? What can you say?

HR: Even in the first episode you’ll see I have been very, very focused on my career. And in that, I have failed to take a little bit of time for myself and date. Although I’m very happy, years ago, I didn’t know how to be alone. I needed someone to be around all the time. I bounced to the other side and I’m very comfortable with being alone now. But I would like a relationship. I think you’ll see on the show that I try. A lot of the other cast members are like, “You’re so good at what you do, but what about love? What about having a little bit more balance in your life and a little bit more of a personal life?” And I start to, I guess, be more open to going on dates and being set up and I am more willing.

I think it’s sometimes hard for me because I’m so driven and I’m so focused, and it’s very easy for me to keep my eye on the prize, and a lot of times even letting my guard down and going out and dating is a.) I’m so tired I either want to be alone now or with friends when I have a moment. I don’t want to talk about my background and that stuff. I’m tired! But, you know what? I really want to make a vow to myself to try to be more open to experiencing love because I experience love in so many different ways with clients and with my job and it’d be really nice to be able to share that with somebody.


AE: Jackie Warner had a legion of straight women professing crushes on her after her show aired. Are you prepared for that?

HR: [laughs] I’m totally prepared for that. 


AE: It’s probably already happened in your spin classes!

HR: That might happen from time to time. [laughs]



Work Out New York premieres Sunday, December 6 at 9/8c on Bravo. Check back Monday for the recap of the first episode right here on AfterEllen. Follow Holly on Twitter: @hollyrilinger