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04th Jun 2018

Superhero Workout Series: how top film stars get into shape

Ever wondered how top actors transform themselves into the superheroes you see on screen?

Alex Roberts

Ever wondered how top actors transform themselves into the superheroes and mutants you see on the big screen?

JOE has teamed up with David Kingsbury, a film personal trainer with a reputation for superhuman results. David is best known for his work behind the scenes on films from The Wolverine and X-Men, to Assassins Creed and The Huntsman.

This four-step plan provides you with the tools to sculpt your own red carpet results.

Step 1 – Set a goal

The constraints of training an actor for a film mean that goals simply have to be set in stone. David says:

“When I am working on films, one of the reasons we are so successful is we have very clear and defined goals, as well as a time frame set by the director, producers or the studio.

“Specific goals mean we can be well-focused with our training and nutrition and everything can be designed to be highly effective.”

The main influence on whether you gain muscle or lose fat is the calories and macros that you consume.

Decide what it is you want out of your training plan, in the same way that an actor needs to gain muscle or lose fat in accordance with their role.

If your goal is to gain muscle mass, you need to eat enough food to hit your calorie surplus. However, if your goal is fat loss, you need to ensure calories are low enough for you to burn the weight off for energy.

“If you don’t make concise decisions at this stage, the chances of any major changes are slim.”

Step 2 – Pick the right training plan

Training provides the stimulus to drive muscle gain or fat loss. Selecting an individualised workout plan is crucial for gaining results in a timely manner.

“When working on films, we don’t have unlimited time to train – this is one of the biggest myths I see about training film stars.

“The truth is, time is limited and so we need to be super-focused with our training to achieve our goals.”

David asserts that results are still possible, even if you are presented with the least possible workout time.

“More training doesn’t mean better results. I did a survey on my social media recently and the results were incredibly interesting.

“I train just 3 days per week – but was amazed how many people said 6, 7 or even 8+ times!”

You shouldn’t just exercise for the sake of it. Each workout should feature as part of a wider plan.

This becomes particularly important if you have to cram in a workout around work, family and social life.

David, who has trained some of the world’s leading A-list actors, claims that:

“A lot of people just end up training for the sake of training, with sessions not aiding their progress.

“There are two key things that need to be considered when planning your training:

1. Every session needs a clear purpose

2. Your training and nutrition need to be balanced perfectly for you and your goals.”

You don’t need hours and hours of training to see amazing results, but you do need to implement methods of tracking your progress, so every session counts.

Keep a training log. You don’t necessarily have to train with a paper, book and pen like many used to.  

Nowadays, it’s perfectly possible to enter into your phone the weights you’re lifting, exercises performed and rep range used.

Step 3 – Create your ideal diet

Planning and tracking are particularly important in the context of your diet and nutrition. Kingsbury states:

“Occasionally, on film projects we do have the luxury of private chefs, but “healthy” eating alone doesn’t mean progress.

“It’s not just about eating healthy, however. You can lose weight eating healthily, but you can gain weight too.

“What matters more than anything is eating the correct number of calories to achieve your goals.”

A diet only works if you do. The best diet is one you can adhere to.

Calculating your calorie needs is where to start, but this is often missed by many. It is the the base point from which film stars base their diets.

“Most people massively overcomplicate the way they eat”, says the Pinewood Studios-based PT.

“People go paleo, cut out bread, intermittent fast, go keto, or swap meals for horrible meal replacement shakes”.

These are all extreme methods, but if you get the basics of calorie intake nailed, you can enjoy a fairly balanced and flexible diet.

“Just make sure you are consuming the right amount of calories for your goals. Then, the next most important factor for nutrition is your macronutrient needs.”

The three main macronutrients are protein, carbs and fat.

You’ll need the right ratio of these to build your ideal body, as David states:

“Get your calories right and your weight will move in the direction you want – but get your macros right and your body composition will change in the way you want.”

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight each day, in order to build muscle.

Even if mass gain is not part of your wider plan, a high protein intake is optimal for fat loss as it is the food group which burns the most fuel when digested.

Step 4 – Stir positive pressure

When training actors for a Hollywood film, Kingsbury uses positive pressure as a vehicle to achieve results.

“A concept I use with actors is – If I told you that your shirtless torso would be on billboards in every major city how would you feel?

“This would usually keep actors pretty focused, to say the least. This type of pressure may seem quite extreme, but a certain amount goes a long way.”

A certain amount of positive pressure goes a long way – here are some ideas for you:

  • Weekly check in with a coach for accountability
  • Publicly announce your goals
  • Publicly announce your progress
  • Use social media for progress updates and to keep you on track
  • Partner up – train with someone to create competition and accountability
  • Set a challenge with a fixed date – photo shoot, obstacle race, marathon, holiday, whatever it might be

Use this list and the training and nutrition advice to make superhero progress.

For more information on David Kingsbury, his film work and online personal training visit