No Nonsense Fitness with Mary Ann Browning

Written & Photographed by A Wild Dove

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“Never be a diva.” It’s the simple piece of advice that Mary Ann Browning, the athlete-meets-mogul behind New York and South Hampton’s buzzy Brownings Fitness gyms is quick to deliver. And it’s that real, no-nonsense attitude that attracts Manhattan’s highly coveted elite, from designer Vera Wang to Estee Lauder president John Demsey, in search of a trusted resource. “People like Vera and John act so unfamous—they are so real, kind, and generous like family to me, I’m truly blessed.”


An Iron-Bound Ballerina

Browning is also quick to speak openly about all things body image and workout-centric without sugar-coating her real opinions. “Live life as if we did not have cell phones” and “no talking, just train” are just a couple of the stripped-back pieces of advice that she rolls out monthly on her short, stream-of-consciousness blog posts that cut straight to the point about everything from her experience with food issues to finding a work-life balance. And that experience is vast—Principal Ballet dancer in South Africa’s Pact Ballet Company was just the first step in a life of body work. “I was always athletic, but it made me very disciplined,” Browning notes, adding that she actually prefers to have muscles, eventually even becoming an Iron Man competitor years later. “People are scared of muscle. To me, it’s the holy grail to a great body and flexibility,” says Browning. “You only get big if you eat too much, and too much protein— which most Americans do.” In her opinion, our country’s entire lens on body image and nutrition is skewed. “I would like to go to schools all over America and educate the children,” she shares of her ultimate goal. “It’s my plan, but trying to help their parents is my current project.”

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The Broader Focus

At 44, Browning become a trainer for a cool 38 dollars per hour (“before tax”) and started racking up work loads of about 60 hours per week. She eventually realized it was time to step back, evaluate her life, and look at the bigger picture. “A client suggested it was time I made a plan so I didn’t have to be the only one making money,” Browning shares. “I still work more than my staff, but it’s a good back up plan.” For a time, her fitness empire had a staggering nine locations, but over the years she pared it down to her two stars, Manhattan and South Hampton, choosing a better quality of life over financial gains. “It’s more efficient to have less,” she says simply.

And on a physical level, to achieve her personal goal of “growing younger” she relies on rest, nutrition, and flexibility—not to mention an attitude that’s as firm-but-fair with herself as her clients. “I tell myself not to get soft. Push more. Try more.” This means running regularly (even after a knee replacement), golfing, biking, walking, and especially weight training. “I am a huge believer in weights, I lift very heavy,” she notes, with the ties between bone health and weight training offering further motivation.

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A Higher Power

Courage, gratefulness, and discipline are the three values Browning calls out as the mainstays that carried her through every phase of her career in the fitness space. But still, there’s more to Browning’s success than just rock bodies. “I’m a big believer in a higher power,” she shares candidly. “I believe it gives me the strength when things are tough. If you don’t have somebody to rely on, the only other place is to be depressed. Fortunately for me, I don’t look at the glass as half full, I look at the glass as full.” It’s this innate positivity that shines through in Browning’s attitude. Even the power of a smile is something that she speaks of often. Perhaps the only time she isn’t encouraging that extra push for maximum muscle engagement is via this simple, joyful expression. “It takes about 72 muscles to frown and just 13 to smile. Let’s save our energy on our face muscles and only smile.” And most importantly? “Be kind. Stay grateful and positive.”

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Say it Straight

In the spirit of forthright conversational style, we teamed up with Browning for her exclusive list of personal YES’s and NO’s as a final takeaway for personal life training:

YES: At-home selfcare. “I paint my own nails.”

NO: Drinking smoothies and juices

YES: Eat your food

NO: Coffee after 2pm

YES: H2O “I believe in drinking a lot of water.”

NO: Seamless delivery “I don’t do takeout.”

YES: Flexibility “I book yoga or massage at least once a week.”

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NO: Too much protein and fat

YES: Incorporating more complex carbs “I eat them every day.”

NO: Skipping breakfast

YES: Veggies and brown rice

NO: Dieting

YES: Homemade no-sugar banana bread. “I eat it every day.”

NO: Red meat

YES: L-Carnitine 2000 mg supplement “I believe it helps burn fat.”

NO: Television in bed

YES: A little tequila “Sometimes I’ll have one ounce every single day with my soda and lime juice.”

NO: Burning the candle at both ends “If I start at 6am working late at night is a no-no.”

YES: Naps. “I certainly do believe in a catnap.”

NO: Patience or time for facials. “I decide where I spend, I prefer a pedicure, blowout or massage.”