Powerful performers

Times Staff Writer

In Hollywood’s competitive climate, accolades often go to performers who either pack on the pounds (think Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones or Charlize Theron in “Monster”) or let their frames waste away (Christian Bale in “The Machinist”).

There’s another category that will be hard to miss at the movie theaters this season: the phenomenally fit.

Jessica Biel is a vampire slayer with deltoids to die for in “Blade: Trinity,” Hilary Swank shows off a chiseled back as a boxer in “Million Dollar Baby,” and Jennifer Garner sports tightly toned abs as an action hero in the upcoming “Elektra.”

The actresses won’t get much praise, though, from the general public, whose sentiment runs along the lines of: “If I had a trainer and a personal chef, I’d be in the best shape of my life too.”

Not so fast, say the fitness consultants to these stars. It’s true that celebrities enjoy lots of perks, such as private training and nutritionists, and have plenty of time and motivation -- such as big paychecks and costumes that leave nothing to the imagination.


But, the consultants say, the Laws of Physiques aren’t suspended for the rich and famous.


Combination workouts

Biel, Swank and Garner got their bodies the old-fashioned way: eating right and exercising. A combination of cardio and weight workouts were central to all three actresses’ regimens.

As for diet, all three women ate three moderately sized meals and two or three snacks per day, kept a close eye on portion sizes and drank plenty of water.

Having a trainer at your side is nice, said fitness consultant Bobby Strom, who helped whip Biel into shape for “Blade,” but “I can’t get on the machine and work out for Jessie. I can push, but she has to do it. She has to make the commitment. She has to choose what she’s going to put on her plate.”

Biel echoed the same. She recalled that at the height of her training, women were pulling her aside to ask, “What’s your secret?” It was a question that Biel identified with -- and resented just a bit.

“I was, like, ‘Secret? You want the secret?’ The secret is, there is no secret,” Biel said. “There’s no pill, there’s no diet, there’s no magic drink. I know how hard it is.”

The trainers agreed to describe their clients’ workouts for their big screen roles to show that there’s nothing easy -- or particularly mysterious -- about getting in shape, whether you are a celebrity or not.

And you don’t have to spend as much time in the gym as the stars do, they said, adding that an hour’s time, five to six days a week, will make a difference.

With evidence that the low-carb diet craze is fading, the fitness experts say they are hoping that 2005 will bring a more moderate approach to diets and exercise -- and perhaps a different definition of beauty.

“They’re strong, but they’re still feminine,” said Strom.

“We’re talking about girls with meat and bones and athletic, healthy-looking bodies, not these 105-pound sticks. I like that. I think that’s a good message.”

But pop culture expert Robert J. Thompson of Syracuse University isn’t as certain.

“Anyone trolling around for some New Year’s resolutions already had a tough bar to reach. Now there’s this whole other category of Hollywood stars taking the impossible dream and making it even more impossible.”

But Kristin Perrotta, beauty director at Allure magazine, added that the “take-away” lesson for women at home is an important one: “You can get into shape and transform your body. There is something inspirational in what these actresses have accomplished physically.”


Biel as vampire vamp

Before her latest role as a take-no-prisoners vampire slayer in the new movie “Blade: Trinity,” Biel, 22, already had a body most women would covet.

Strom’s assignment went beyond simply getting Biel into shape for a grueling, physical shoot in which the actress would perform her own stunts.

He also had to transform her lithe athletic body into that of a hyper-stylized vampire assassin with an hour-glass figure.

“I wanted her to really bulk up; I wanted her really, really chiseled,” said David S. Goyer, the writer and director of “Blade: Trinity.”

A soccer player and gymnast for much of her youth, Biel already exercised regularly, whether it was running or taking ballet classes.

But getting into shape for her role required a radically different regimen.

First, there was weight training -- something she’d never really done before -- and she had to rev up her cardio activity with martial arts and kickboxing.

The toughest tasks, Biel said, were Strom’s torturous jumping squats, which tightened up her legs and core muscles.

In all, she was working out and training about two hours a day, five to six days a week, including her fight training for the movie.

“I was just coming home and crashing. I had never really worked out that hard before. I don’t think I dreamt once, I was just so tired,” Biel said. “I was thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ ”

A few weeks into the new regimen, Biel felt her body changing from the inside, but fretted that she wasn’t seeing similar changes on the outside.

Eventually, she got a glimpse of herself on film.

“I said ‘Wait, that’s me?’ ” Biel recalled with a laugh. “I felt like it happened overnight. I was working out and eating right, and working out, and nothing was happening. And then, boom, overnight, I had muscles!”


Eliminating sugar

For Biel, the biggest change was in her diet. Sugar was one of the first things that Strom stripped out of her diet, said Biel, who admits to having a severe sweet tooth.

“I really went into withdrawals,” she said. “I felt like I understood what it must be like to be an addict.”

Eventually, those cravings eased, although Biel occasionally indulged her yearning for sweets.

“I absolutely ‘cheat,’ and I don’t apologize for it,” said Biel.

“But I do plan for it, I make up for it [with a few stricter meals], and then I don’t have to feel guilty about it at all,” she said.

With the “Blade” shoot behind her, Biel has eased off the training, but still makes exercise a priority.

Now, though, she ratchets up the intensity and incorporates weight workouts into her routine -- “I like the muscles.”

She also follows the guidelines of Strom’s nutrition program, especially when it comes to making healthier choices when eating out.

“I was really eating all the wrong stuff,” Biel said. “This completely changed the way I eat.... It’s really a way of eating that I can use for the rest of my life.”


Swank’s role

Swank walked into the gym model thin, and struggling to keep weight on as she spent hours each week in a ring with boxing coach Hector Roca, preparing for her role in “Million Dollar Baby.” Shooting was just nine weeks away.

“There wasn’t a moment to lose,” said Grant Roberts, who was hired to focus on Swank’s nutrition and weight training. Swank, 30, was practically a vegetarian too. “Honestly, I don’t know how she was standing up, with all that boxing.”

He immediately revamped Swank’s diet so she could add the weight she needed to convincingly play a boxer, and give her the strength to get through workouts that sometimes lasted more than four hours.

While Garner and Biel were consuming just under 2,000 calories a day, Swank was eating up to a whopping 4,000 calories a day, nearly all of it carefully calculated protein and essential fats.

She often had to wake up in the middle of the night to down another protein shake to meet her caloric goals.

Swank said the biggest change was not in her body, but in her mind.

She credits her trainers with helping her to change her attitude in an old-school way, one that has long worked for boxers who need to conjure up the ferocity to fight.

She’d fire herself up with an internal pep talk while she imagined the fearsome boxer she wanted to look like.

“I’d be lying in bed, thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to get up’ and then I’d start telling myself: ‘If you want to grow, you’ve gotta get up.... This is a great experience. You’ve got here to get in shape and change your body,’ and I’d really, really think about what I wanted to look like,” she said. “By then, I’d jump out of bed.”

She did the same thing with her weight training, which she found particularly challenging. She realized that when she found herself thinking ‘I can’t do this, I’m too tired,’ she dragged through the workout.

But when she took the time to change her attitude, or, as she puts it, “get out of my own way,” she ripped through the same workouts with greater ease. “The mind is a very powerful tool,” she said.

While the diet for Swank is too severe for the average person, Roberts points to it as an example of how powerful a tool food can be.

By the time the cameras began rolling, Swank had gained 20 pounds, nearly all of it lean, hard muscle.

Roberts doesn’t endorse any diet in particular. Instead, he suggests that people who want to overhaul their diet look for ways to eliminate high-calorie carbs, such as sugary foods and fried snacks.

Then, find ways to add more lean protein to your diet. You don’t have to do it all at once, he said.

“Look for simple changes that are simple to make,” such as cutting back on certain foods, and adding fresh vegetables and more water to your diet.


Garner gets an early start

Garner struggles just like everyone else to fit exercise into a hectic routine, said Valerie Waters, who has been training Garner for years for her TV series, “Alias.”

But the actress often solves this problem by doing it first thing in the morning.

Even if that means waking up at 3:45 a.m.

When Garner was shooting for “Elektra,” the action movie that comes out later this month, she had to be ready for hair and makeup by 5:30 a.m. Filming was unpredictable, and often went far into the night, so night workouts weren’t an option.

Instead, Garner would practically roll out of bed to meet Waters at 4 a.m. The workout lasted 60 minutes, from warm-up to cool down, giving Garner just enough time to shower before dashing onto the set.

“You don’t need to spend all day in the gym,” Waters said.

Along with concentrated workouts, Garner is a big believer in Waters’ nutrition plan, and eats every three hours like clockwork.

The actress typically cooks for herself, so she knows precisely what she’s eating and can keep an eye on portion sizes.

Meals revolve around small servings of protein and high-quality carbs, Waters said.

Waters recalled going to a movie recently with Garner, where all around, people were munching on popcorn and candy and slurping sodas. Midway into the movie, Garner, 32, pulled out a baggie she had packed with carrots and hard pretzels.

In other words, don’t tell Waters that celebrities have it easy.

“Do you think that she really wants to get up at 4 in the morning? No,” Waters said. “It’s just as hard for her to get up after a few hours sleep as it is for everyone else ... you still have to not eat the cookies; you still have to not have that glass of wine.”

Today, Garner’s overall regimen remains pretty much the same, a mix of cardio and weights, for 60 minutes, five to six days a week. And whenever possible, it’s done first thing in the morning.

Though much of Garner’s motivation comes from needing to look her best, the actress is also propelled by something that everyone can appreciate, Waters said.

“She just feels better, and that is very powerful,” Waters said. “When you work out the first thing in the morning, you tend to be more consistent. You feel more alert, strong and it’s very empowering


A losing plan

Waters said the biggest pitfall she sees in her work is people who go several hours without eating as a way to lose weight. But after several hours of hunger, it is inevitable that they’ll be ravenous, Waters said.

“Then, your body is no longer OK with a healthy salad and chicken breast,” she said. “Your food cravings will override anything at that point, and your body will want sugar and fat, so you’ve chemically set yourself up to eat bad.”

In many ways, Waters said, Garner’s approach amounts to taking good care of yourself, and that is something that can be easily incorporated into the average lifestyle.

She recommends a lifestyle change that involves working out, eating healthy and getting a good night’s rest -- because plenty of sleep means you can wake up early the next morning, ready to hit the gym.

“There are a hundred reasons to stay in bed,” she said, “but you just do it [work out]. You’ll always be glad you did. No one ever leaves the gym and says, ‘I wish I hadn’t worked out.”

While this may be bad news for folks looking for a quick fix, the fitness consultants -- not surprisingly -- all touted the benefit of personal coaching, and encouraged beginners to seek qualified experts with reasonable fees to help guide them to an exercise and dietary plan that will last.

The basics are the same for everyone, said Roberts: “Getting in shape is a science, but it’s not rocket science.”



HILARY SWANK / From lean to fighting machine on 4,000 calories a day

The goal: Sculpt Swank’s slender body into that of a boxer, with a wide, full back and a boxer’s round shoulders, a transformation that plays out on the screen in the current film “Million Dollar Baby.”

The workout: Two hours of boxing practice daily with trainer Hector Roca provided Swank with a great cardio workout as the actress prepared for her role by sparring and hitting the heavy bag and speed bag. So trainer Grant Roberts and Swank focused exclusively on weights and nutrition to help her build up her light frame. Their workouts varied, focusing on single body parts, upper- and lower-body workouts, and opposing body parts. A key to the workouts, Roberts said, was “training beyond failure” using drop sets: For example, Swank would take a pair of 35-pound dumbbells to perform as many shoulder presses as she could, with Roberts spotting her to safely squeeze out the last few reps. Then she’d pause just long enough to pick up a lighter weight, say 25-pound dumbbells, and perform more presses until fatigued. She would continue to work her way down the weights until 15-pound dumbbells felt like a ton of bricks. Because Swank was playing a boxer, there were no froufrou touches. How, for example, did she finish off a typical leg workout? A little move that Roberts likes to call “pushing the truck”: He would take Swank outside and have her literally push an SUV in neutral gear across the parking lot. “Sounds crazy,” Roberts said, “but it’s a very good finisher for polishing off the legs.”

The signature move: Pull-ups, to sculpt her back and biceps. Swank couldn’t do a single one when training began. Nine weeks later “she could bang out 10 reps, easy,” Roberts said.

The diet: High protein, low carb -- more extreme than Roberts would recommend for the average person. Swank consumed about 4,000 calories a day, or more than twice what the average woman would need, but an amount that allowed the actress to build muscle weight even as she was burning substantial calories during her vigorous gym workouts. Breakfast: usually a protein shake blended with egg whites, oils, vitamins and minerals. Similar protein shakes were used as snacks throughout the day. Lunch and dinner: fish and lots of green vegetables. There was little variation, and on most days Swank’s carb intake was a stingy 50 grams or less. “I’ll be honest. It was not a pleasant diet,” Roberts said.

The results: Swank gained nearly 20 pounds of muscle and impressive abs. She also earned the admiration of “Million Dollar Baby” director Clint Eastwood, who has bragged about Swank’s transformation, noting that the movie billboard and posters that show Swank’s rippling back muscles needed no photographic touch-up.

Source: Trainer Grant Roberts,


JENNIFER GARNER / A physique that’s long, lean--and powerful

The goal: Lean down Garner’s athletic physique into that of a “Ninja-like superhero -- silent, quick and graceful,” for her role in “Elektra.”

The workout: Ten-minute warmup on the treadmill, followed by a “movement prep” workout, including light stretching, leg swings, lunges and squats, created by trainer Valerie Waters. Garner alternated between a cardio workout and full-body circuit training. The cardio workout typically centered on about 30 minutes of interval training: running hard for two minutes, then one minute of walking, before picking up the pace. When circuit training, Garner would combine a series of upper body, lower body and ab exercises. For example: a set of chest presses, followed by a set of lat pull-downs, squats and then crunches on a stability ball. She would complete the circuit three times with little rest, then follow with another series of exercises for the same muscles. After three more rotations through the circuit, Garner did some light stretching and was finished. Garner worked out 45 to 60 minutes a day, five or six days a week.

The signature move: Reverse lunges with a medicine ball to work legs, glutes and abs. Holding a 4-pound medicine ball in front of her, Garner would take a large step back with her left leg while bringing the ball down to her right hip. After eight repetitions, she would switch to the other side.

The diet: A combination of protein and carbohydrates every three hours, keeping a close eye on portion sizes. Garner’s breakfast typically included an egg-white omelet chock-full of vegetables, with a single serving of fruit -- ideally blueberries, says Waters. Other breakfast options were high-protein Kashi cereal with soy milk, or oatmeal mixed with protein powder. Three hours after breakfast Garner had a mid-morning snack, such as an apple and almonds, or fruit with yogurt. Lunch was a salad with chicken, or a turkey wrap made with a whole wheat tortilla and lots of vegetables. For dinner, she usually had chicken or fish, with more vegetables. Garner limited her starchy carbs, such as breads and pastas.

The results: Garner, is now long, lean, powerful -- and tight: “People are going to be blown away when they see her,” says Waters. “This is the best body she’s ever had.”

Source: Trainer Valerie Waters,


JESSICA BIEL / She’s one very buff vampire slayer

The goal: Carve Biel’s muscles so she looks like a vampire-slaying comic book character sprung to life in the film “Blade: Trinity.”

The workout: Five-minute warmup on the treadmill, followed by three to five minutes of light stretching, then a weight workout that changed from week to week. Sometimes Biel and trainer Bobby Strom would isolate a single body part, such as her shoulders. Other times, Biel focused on opposing body parts, such as chest and back, biceps and triceps, or quadriceps and hamstrings. This allowed Biel and Strom to keep rest time to a minimum and work muscles until they were fatigued. Next, a tough cardio session: at least 45 minutes a day, six days a week, with Strom keeping close tabs on Biel’s heart rate. They rotated between using routine cardio equipment and martial arts, kickboxing and plyometric circuit training drills.

The signature move: Plyometric jumping squats. Biel would squat on a balance board, use a burst of power to leap into the air, then land back on the board and resume the squat position. She did 12 repetitions of this demanding move. “She loved it,” said Strom, “but she hated it too.”

The diet: Three meals and three snacks daily. Breakfast: oatmeal with diced apple and cinnamon, and a side of protein (typically one egg scrambled with three egg whites). Lunch and dinner: about 4 ounces of protein (fish, chicken or lean red meat) with a vitamin-rich salad (spinach, asparagus, broccoli) dressed with lemon and a teaspoon of olive oil. Snacks varied but included soy-based protein drinks made with nonfat milk, protein bars or an apple and a dozen unsalted almonds.

The results: Although Biel was in good shape to begin with, she lost 10 pounds and reduced her body fat by 10%.

Source: Bobby Strom,



You may not have as much time to dedicate to fitness as Jessica Biel, Hilary Swank and Jennifer Garner. But their trainers say these celebrity workouts offer some basic tools that everyone can use. Pages 6-7

Grant Roberts [Hilary Swank]

“Getting in shape is a science, but it’s not rocket science. Forget the fad diets and pills. The most potent weight management drug on the market is in your market -- it’s food.”

Bobby Strom [Jessica Biel]

“We’re talking about girls with meat and bones and athletic, healthy-looking bodies, not these 105-pound sticks.... I think that’s a good message.”

Valerie Waters [Jennifer Garner]

“You don’t need to be in a gym all day. Find exercises that work more than one body part to save time. Do it consistently and with intensity.”