Acting is a much more physically demanding job than many people realize. For many television and film roles, actors are expected to completely change their appearance to fit the executives' image of the character. As a result, there are many examples of actors choosing to hit the gym hard for their roles. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, we had an abundance of male action movie stars that made incredible physiques the Hollywood standard for the action hero archetype. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger – who many consider having had the best physique in the world let alone movies – Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, and Dolph Lundgren all seemingly looked like action figures brought to life on the big screen. The typical action movie hero look is largely attributed to a strict diet and gym schedule. In amongst the men, there some women that stood out, however, Linda Hamilton who played Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 looked phenomenal, then Sigourney Weaver in the Alien film franchise. Over the years, it has become more and more common for women to also put on a good deal of muscle and change their bodies completely for roles.
Sarah Connor and Sigourney Weaver stood out, but they were few and far between and they often played second fiddle to male actors. Thankfully, in 2017 the women are proving time and time again that they can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any male action star both in the fight scenes and in the physique department. Here we are taking a look at 15 actresses that transformed their physique for specific roles and how they did it.
15 Mila Kunis - Jupiter Ascending
Fans of the Wachowskis were hoping that Jupiter Ascending was going to be the new film franchise that put them back into the same as they were after the original Matrix. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be because the film was met with heavy criticism and didn’t fare much better at the box office. However, that’s taking nothing away from the film’s lead actress Mila Kunis, who adapted to her action role incredibly well. To get into shape for the role she enlisted the same personal trainer that helped Gerard Butler get into shape for the film 300, Brian Abercrombie.
Abercrombie uses a system called the P.A.S.E., which stands for power, agility, strength, and endurance. Using this system, Mila’s workout consisted of six movements like front squats, push-ups, jump squats, sprints, and Arnold presses, all done in circuits for 40 minutes without rest, so the combination of explosive exercises with aerobic endurance movements is key.
14 Daisy Ridley - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
After the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley and other new young stars like John Boyega became overnight superstars. After bursting onto the scene as Rey. Daisy needed to spend a lot of time to prepare herself not only for the physicality required in The Force Awakens, but also for The Last Jedi and the unnamed episode nine to finish the new trilogy. To get into Jedi shape Daisy incorporated a lot of everything: cardio, bodybuilding, bodyweight movements, and martial arts training.
Her weightlifting movements consisted of back squats, deadlifts, and military presses using a drop-set technique and preacher curls, chest presses, dumbbell rows, tricep pushdowns, and weighted lunges using 3 sets of 10 reps for each exercise split over three days. She would then proceed to finish each workout using a 4-round circuit consisting of 10 burpees, 400m jog, and 5 box jumps in succession, resting for 90 seconds between rounds.
13 Olivia Munn - X-Men Apocalypse
The X-Men Apocalypse movie had its ups and downs but some of better moments came from Olivia Munn’s portrayal of the iconic Psylocke. Although Olivia was a great choice for the character, she admitted to struggling with the original outfit on the first day and told Cinema Blend that she needed to be oiled just to get into to the costume.
With help from the husband and wife duo martial arts trainers Karine Lemieux and Ken Tran at the DAX Gym in Montreal, she managed to drop 12 pounds in five months.
Even before she started her training, Munn was a black belt in Taekwondo. She adapted well to the sword training and focused on kicking techniques to train her legs and glutes. Her diet also consisted of raw foods like vegetables and fruits and she got her protein source from seeds and nuts.
12 Kate Beckinsale - Underworld
The Underworld film franchise was a big hit with fans and that’s a lot to do with its main star Kate Beckinsale and how she was able to perform the difficult action scenes as Selena the vampire Death Dealer that hunts werewolves.
To get into shape for her role as Selena, Kate worked out with her personal trainer 5 days a week, focusing on brutal high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for her cardio and circuit training so she could maintain the physicality needed for the fight scenes.
On one day she would perform 1 minute on a treadmill running at a high speed (5-9 mph), then another minute at a lower speed (2-3 mph) for a total of 20 minutes. Kate would follow this up with 3 rounds of bodyweight exercises like walking lunges, squats, bodyweight rows, jump squats, and burpees with a minute rest between rounds. Sticking to this formula, she would vary up the exercises on a daily basis, resting on the sixth day.
11 Michelle Rodriguez - Fast And Furious
Michelle Rodriguez is a regular in the action movie genre, with starring roles in Avatar, Predators, and perhaps most notably, the Fast and Furious franchise as Letty. While she’s always been in shape, Michelle put some extra muscle on for her role in Furious 7 where she performed a fight scene against former UFC women’s champion Ronda Rousey.
To make sure she didn’t look outmatched against the UFC star, Michelle put a ton of work into her professional level boxing training, and extra time in the weights room, incorporating exercises like the dumbbell bench press, deadlifts, back squats and pull-ups. In addition, she ran 2.5 miles on a daily basis.
Michelle stuck to a clean high protein vegan diet to meet the demands of the resistance training, and in doing so, she gained 25 pounds of muscle.
10 Blake Lively - The Shallows
The Shallows starring Blake Lively was a surprisingly good survival horror movie featuring a surfer played by Lively who had to use her wits and instincts to survive an attack by a great white shark while stranded 180 meters from shore. In order to look the part of a surfer with the ability to be able to survive such an ordeal, Lively had to get into super fit condition.
She was rained by Don Saladino, the same man that helped Ryan Reynolds get into such spectacular shape, and she only had two months to prepare. He had her training for 5 days a week training her upper body and lower body on separate days using jump, carry and throw movements like squat jumps, running for 40 yards with a weight. In addition, Saladino focused on basic pressing and pulling weight movements along with kettlebells, pool work, and outdoor running.
9 Gal Gadot - Wonder Woman
In 2017, Wonder Woman more than exceeded expectations. It was received well by critics and fans alike, had excellent numbers at the box office, and is considered by many to be the best film set in the current DC cinematic universe.
The film's success had a lot to do with its star Gal Gadot. After complaints that Gadot looked far too much like a supermodel than an Amazonian superhero, she proved her doubters wrong with hard work in the gym.
Her workouts consisted of martial arts training, indoor rock climbing, and yoga on active resting days. However, Gadot developed her muscle mass through resistance training by combining several weighted bodyweight movements like pull-ups, kettlebell swings, step ups, air squats, and lunges in a round of 25 reps on day one. On days two and three, she performed five rounds of 800m runs, 15 dumbbell presses, 10 dumbbell snatches and 5 burpees.
8 Katheryn Winnick - Vikings
Katheryn Winnick rose to fame as the Shield Maiden Lagertha in the critically acclaimed TV series Vikings on the History Channel. The physically demanding role of the legendary figure in Viking history was already well-suited to Winnick, because of her legitimate martial arts background. After obtaining her black belt at age 13, she was running three martial arts schools by the age of 21. She has been working hard at her body and fitness for a long time, and she definitely makes sure to stay fit.
In addition to her martial arts training, Winnick incorporates a lot of resistance exercises with cardio. Her resistance movements consist of deadlifts, chest presses, military presses, dips, and dumbbell rows, sticking to the 3 sets of 10 range. Her cardio consists of training like a mixed martial artist, which includes tire flips, flutter kicks, with additional sword fighting training for the show.
7 Charlize Theron - Mad Max
With roles in Fate of the Furious, The Huntsman, Hancock, Prometheus, Mad Max, and more recently Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron is another regular in the action movie genre. She kicks butt and always looks incredible doing it. Being a veteran actress, she’s made a career out of changing her body to a specific job. She can switch from looking like a supermodel for her regular advert appearances for Dior to a full-blown future road warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Theron’s training background comes from ballet, so in keeping with that mindset, she only uses very light weights. With the weights, she performs one set of 60 curls and side laterals with 5-pound dumbbells and bench pressing movements with an 18-pound medicine ball. In addition, she does yoga, plays tennis, and practices martial arts on the days that she’s not in the gym. Charlize clearly takes her health and fitness very seriously.
6 Tessa Thompson - Thor Ragnarok
Tessa Thompson is a busy actress; she’s had starring roles in Creed with Michael B. Jordan, Heroes, Westworld, Dear White People, and perhaps most notably, in Thor: Ragnarok. In her latest film, she looked notably different, as she was sporting a new fit physique.
To get into to the fantastic shape she showcased as Valkyrie, she gained 15 pounds of muscle for the role. The routine Tessa used combined a basic weights routine of squats, benching, pull-ups, and deadlifts with Pop Physique training, which is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic training performed for around 10 to 15 minutes.
Even when she isn't preparing for a superhero movie, Tessa’s diet consists of a lot of natural foods and healthy fats from rye, olive oil, avocado, almonds, red grapefruit, and other nut and seed-based protein sources. Tessa seems to embrace a healthy lifestyle all the time and not just to prepare for her film and television roles.
5 Milla Jovovich - Resident Evil
Milla Jovovich is no stranger to action movies. She had her breakout role in The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis, and she also starred in Ultra Violet and the Resident Evil film franchise. It’s fair to assume that the actress already knows what needs to be done to prepare for a demanding action role. At this point, not many people can portray a female action hero as well as she can, and that is largely due to her dedication in the gym.
For her most recent portrayal of Alice in the final Resident Evil movie, Milla managed to lose 75lb after giving birth by hiking, running, weight training, and doing martial arts. She trained daily using Jeet Kun Do, Filipino Kali, and Maphilindo Silat.
Milla also combined basic weighted resistance movements such as deadlifts, squats, chest and shoulder presses, sticking to 3 sets of 10 per exercise.
4 Uma Thurman - Kill Bill
The Kill Bill franchise was Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the Hong Kong martial arts genre. The fight choreography was fantastic and the work that went into perfecting some of the most memorable fight scenes in Hollywood cinema history was astounding.
To prepare for Kill Bill, Uma Thurman had to train for 8 hours a day for 5 days a week with martial arts and sword training. In order to handle the weight of the sword, Uma developed strength in her shoulders by using resistance bands daily in addition to weights to maintain range of motion in her deltoids and hit her muscles from all angles.
In addition, she used a bodyweight circuit consisting of jumping jacks, high, knees, push-ups, lunges, and tuck jumps. Her weight training routine consisted of an all over body workout consisting of pushing movements like dumbbell bench presses and shoulder presses. She combined this with pulling movements like dumbbell rows, pulldowns, and cable rows.
3 Anna Paquin - True Blood
Fans of the X-Men movies will remember when Anna Paquin played the life absorbing mutant Rogue. However, it was for her role as Sookie Stackhouse in the vampire TV series True Blood that she developed the look of a superhero, or in this case, a half-blood fairy that attracts supernaturals. Fans of the series might remember that Sookie, despite being a small town waitress, was incredibly fit and sported an amazing physique. We are not sure why Anna got so fit for this role, but the hard work she put into it really paid off, and she looked incredible.
To get into shape for the role in True Blood, she incorporated a lot of explosive fat burning techniques like box jumps, kettlebell high pulls, kettlebell cleans, planks, lunges, pushups, and squats. In addition, her trainer got Anna to do a lot of swimming and boxing using the bag.
2 Elodie Yung - Daredevil/The Defenders
Elodie Yung is an action film and TV veteran. She has appeared in G.I Joe: Retaliation, Gods of Egypt, The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Marvel fans will know her as Electra from the Netflix series Daredevil and its combined universe show The Defenders. So it goes without saying that she knows her way around a gym room and she’s no stranger to martial arts, having begun at the age of 9. She is truly an athlete in the way she approaches fitness, and it shows in her work.
For her role as Electra, she trained for five months, working out 5 five days a week. Two of those days she focused entirely on her martial arts. For the three days, she combined calisthenics and weight training. Elodie would combine rope jumping, front squats, and light bench presses and perform them in rounds of three with a minute rest in between. This lady clearly knows what she is doing in the fitness department.
1 Katrina Law - Spartacus
Katrina Law got herself into incredible shape for her role on the Starz Tv series Spartacus and did so again as Nyssa Al Ghul in CW’s Arrow. Clearly she is no slouch when it comes to the action genre, and she has the workout routine and physique to prove it.
Although she kicks butt on Arrow, it was her training routine for Spartacus that helped get her into true warrior shape. Following as similar boot-camp style that the actors used in the movie 300, Katrina utilized a team based circuit using medicine balls, sandbags, and some indoor track work.
She would perform a circuit round containing a 200m jog and sprint, followed by dips, push-ups, weighted lunges, and squats. Each circuit is performed in rounds of three with a one minute resting time. Evidently, her work paid off, as she is incredibly fit and looks amazing.