Health Scene

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Aaron Williamson is a health advisor and fitness trainer to the film industry. He has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He recently finished molding Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke into legendary action heroine Sarah Connor for Terminator: Genisys. Find out more at aaronwilliamson.net.

The character of Kyle Reese was portrayed by Michael Biehn in James Cameron’s classic film The Terminator, which came out in the early 80s. What’s in your mind when you think about crafting the physical look of the new Kyle Reese portrayed by Jai Courtney in Terminator: Genisys?
Jai is a genetic freak. He’s probably the most genetically gifted person I’ve ever worked with and I’m very jealous of that! He can naturally be a big guy but for the character of Kyle Reese, he doesn’t need to be a big guy. So the goal is to bring him down in weight and lean him out so he doesn’t look like a Terminator. We needed to soften the look a bit so it looks more realistic. Someone who trains, but trains like he’s in the field training, where your workout might be pushups or pull-ups and crunches, or just carrying about heavy stuff all day.

Yeah, Kyle Reese is this guy from a future where they don’t exactly have gyms to join.
A lot of his physique comes from weapons handling and constantly running from point A to point B. It’s that kind of functional stuff that we try to emulate in the training. Traditional weight training was completely out of the question because if he touched the weight, he just got big. We had to be very careful about that. His diet was very strict, very low carb, lots of vegetables, lots of avocados and nuts, good fats. He was eating anywhere from five to six meals a day. He actually started leaning out before he even came to New Orleans. He was set up on a program back in L.A. to get him prepped to come in because he was bigger coming off of his last film. Every morning, he’d get up and hit the treadmill right out of bed for an hour and he was taking some simple supplements – beet powder, l-carnitine, CoQ10 – just things that were good for the heart, good for the immune system and help with recovery and fat burning. He got here a little bit later than Emilia, so we had about two weeks of training before production began. We focused primarily on plyometric work, a lot of bodyweight training and TRX work. Anything that had weight and resistance, we had to be very careful about.

Usually you’re trying to bulk them up, so this must have been unusual.
Yeah. The goal was trying to bring him down to a weight that would resemble the Kyle Reese that everyone knows. And we definitely pulled it off. I can’t wait to see everyone’s reaction to him because he looks good, but he doesn’t look like he’s spent all day, everyday in a gym. It just looks real.

Once filming started, he’s doing very physical work on set. How did that affect training?
There were probably a few weeks where he would literally be running around barefoot. And if you’re running around on concrete or some type of hard floor barefoot take after take, it’ll beat the hell out of your lower back, your legs and knees. That was just one obstacle we had to work through. This production was very mentally and physically taxing on the actors. I’m pretty sure there were days where the last thing he wanted to do was see me in the gym! Haha.

It’s a real physical challenge on these action films. When you see someone running in a movie, that may have required the actor to run for hours a day for weeks on end at full speed. And being barefoot doesn’t help!
No, it doesn’t. Jai and Emilia both did a lot of deep tissue massage work to keep their body in check. It was a very stunt heavy film. Jai did some wire work where he’s strapped into the wire getting yanked around, so there were days when he’d come in just sore everywhere. I might have a plan, but that would have to go out the window and I would have to say, “We’re going do this instead.” Just being able to adapt was important so that we didn’t hurt him. In many cases we would incorporate the Concept 2 rower, the Stepmill and battle ropes into the training routine for the day. All very heart rate centric exercising.

What was the schedule like during shooting?
We started off five days a week, spending about an hour at a time. As filming went on, we dropped down to four. He was dedicated to staying in there, and occasionally we’d makeup sessions on the weekend, sometimes twice per day.

Did you work with him on set at all?
We would do a little bit here and there if we needed to, mostly some pump up work. But there wasn’t a real need to even do it. I just can’t even express how genetically gifted he is. It blows my mind. It’s almost like training a natural athlete. They just have it. Plus, he just knows his body. He did a lot of training for Spartacus, which was very physical, so he’s very familiar with what he can and can’t do.

Let’s talk diet.
He was dedicated. Egg whites in the morning, maybe an egg white omelet with some veggies. Lots of chicken and fish. Lots of mixed nuts. And Catering was excellent: they were good about getting his meals every few hours and just loading up the lean proteins for him, which he needed.

What else stands out in your mind from working with Jai?
Just the fact that he’s a solid guy and cares about everyone around him. It was fun to watch him work and it was fun to train with him. I can’t wait to see the film.

For more health and fitness tips, read the Health Scene online at health.sceneent.com and visit Aaron’s website at aaronwilliamson.net.

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Aaron Williamson is a health advisor and fitness trainer to the film industry. He has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He recently finished molding Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke into legendary action heroine Sarah Connor for Terminator: Genisys. Find out more at aaronwilliamson.net.

Were you a fan of the Terminator movies growing up?
Oh, for sure. It was a little surreal getting the phone call to come train the cast. I remember calling my dad and telling him about it because we used to watch Terminator all the time. The movie’s iconic, the Terminator’s iconic, Sarah Connor’s iconic. The whole franchise is just amazing.

How did you go about taking actress Emilia Clarke, who plays a physically delicate queen on Game of Thrones, and crafting her into an action heroine?
It was a challenge and I was excited about it because it’s the type of character that I like to train someone for. Sarah Connor represents this strong, powerful woman who can basically take on the world. It was so cool to be a part of helping this young, amazing actress become this hardcore iconic figure. And it started with some hard, hard training. This process is about flipping a switch and embracing the fact that it’s going to be tough and there will be some pain & discomfort associated with it. But that’s the fun part, right?! Pushing those new limits to transform your body.

Where do you start with that?
Emilia came in from L.A. to start training and we had a good chunk of time before production started, about four weeks. We spent hours a day in the gym. We would start our morning off doing cardio, whether high intensity interval training or low intensity steady state type stuff, maybe on the treadmill or some Stairmaster work. She’s a phenom on the rowing machine too; I couldn’t even keep up with her on it! That would basically be our first session and then we’d break. We’d sit back in the break room to regroup for a bit and relax, eat and get ready for round two. We weren’t able to split the training up throughout the day so we had to maximize the time we had, which was typically early mornings.

The training was different. You’re not going to get the look Sarah Connor has by training with free weights and dumbbells alone. So we were very creative to help her have a lean, toned look and to be able to run and carry heavy weapons. Emilia’s not a tall or very big woman, but she’s gotta carry some pretty heavy-duty weaponry during the film. The approach in the gym was very functional.

What was training like during prep for the film?
Cardio was typically forty-five minutes to an hour. We might take about a twenty-minute break, we’d do a shake and we rotated her foods around quite a bit. Hemp protein, some chia seeds. We’d throw in a brown rice cake or maybe some fruit just depending on what we were doing for the day’s training. After the cardio, we’d go into the ‘dungeon’ and do a lot of functional work, a lot of TRX, ropes, kettle bells. All your non-traditional free weight stuff. And then two days a week we would try to focus on getting free weights in. We wanted to have that long, lean muscly look, so it was steady combination of functional training, metabolic conditioning and strength training.

The functional fitness makes so much sense for the character because in Terminator 2, Sarah Connor builds this physique in an institution where she’s flipping her bed up and doing inverted push ups and pull ups. She’s not exactly working out in a traditional gym.
No. We might go on a circuit with box jumps, we’d hit TRX squats, we’d do plank push ups, we’d do a set of kettle bells where there’d be swings or stiff leg dead lifts. When you’re circuit training, you’re going to be able to keep an actor engaged better than if you’re sitting on a bench curling a dumbbell. Out of all the training I’ve done in my career, I’ve spent more time with her than anyone else, so she put in some hours, especially during pre-production. And on top of our training, she would leave from the gym and go straight to stunt training. She would just have a completely physically exhausting day of non-stop stunts, weapons, training with me, cardio and then I had her on a low calorie diet on top of it. That’s tough. I have a lot of respect for her.

How did the training change during filming?
The training time got cut down obviously. The obstacle was the energy because on top of working the long day, she would have to get to set maybe two or three hours earlier to get ready. Her days were so long. When you factor in how much sleep she was able to get before she was back in the gym with me, I don’t care who you are, it will be tough. What made it even more difficult for her was that the schedule started on night shoots for 6 days a week. Talk about throwing your body off!

What was your plan for nutrition?
We’d have meals prepped and protein shakes ready. But low calorie is low calorie. You’re going be hungry. It can be a little stressful for an actor because you’re trying to memorize pages of dialogue and be in the scene, you’re tired because you’re not sleeping, and you’re hungry. She put in so much work for this character and that’s even more reason why I’m so excited to see the finished product. On set, it looked like a hell of a performance covering every area of the emotional spectrum: sad, hurt, angry, commanding. She can pull it all off. In the trailer, she looks strong and powerful. I’d like to think that we accomplished our goal.

For more health and fitness tips, read the Health Scene online at health.sceneent.com and visit Aaron’s website at aaronwilliamson.net.

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Workouts and Tips for Women at the Gym

by Aaron Williamson on May 12, 2015

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Aaron Williamson is a health advisor and fitness trainer to the film industry. He has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He recently finished molding Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke into legendary action heroine Sarah Connor for Terminator: Genisys. Find out more at aaronwilliamson.net.

What is one of the biggest mistakes women make at the gym?

One of the biggest mistakes I see and I hear about on a consistent basis is the fear women have of doing weights and resistance training. It’s the misconception that they’ll become bulky and put mass on. And that’s just not true. Women naturally have a lot less testosterone in their body. Therefore, for a woman to put on mass, they would have to eat an excessive amount of food. There’s no way they’re going to eat that much food unless they’re training extremely hard. And when I say food I’m referring to good, wholesome, clean food. Not junk that’s full of empty calories. Of course that would make anyone big & soft…and fat. The reality is, when a woman lifts weights, they’re actually going to strengthen the muscle, maintain the muscle mass they currently have and that’s going to help them burn more fat. Cardio is a good addition to weight training, too. I tell all my clients to alternate it because you get the benefit of both worlds: you get the lean, toned look and you get the fat burning effects of cardio. And don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice on the equipment at the gym!

The next question ties into the fear that women are going to bulk up. How often should women train?

A good rule of thumb is thirty to forty-five minutes at a time, three to four times a week. Going forward, it ultimately depends on your lifestyle. Do you have five days a week to train or do you have three? Or is it better to try to fit in one or two days during the week and catch up on the weekends? What one person who works in an office all day would need to do for her health & fitness goals is going to be different from someone who is on their feet all day being active. Especially from a nutrition standpoint. The person who’s on their feet all day is going to need to eat more than somebody who is a little more sedentary behind a desk.

Another tip might be to alternate the intensity of each workout. You might go in the gym on some days and be wide open with energy. You’re going to have a better training session on those days. Then, there will be the days when you’re going to be a little tired so just do some low intensity cardio instead or something that still pushes you within the range of energy you have. Or do a little bit of abs or something that’s not going to be so taxing, but will still bring you heart rate up and help burn fat.

What if you are juggling kids, a significant other, a full time job and other responsibilities? What if you only have half the time needed and can only do twenty minutes?

If you have that amount of time, you’re probably not going to be able to get to a gym, so you’re going to have to do a workout at your house or somewhere convenient. You have two types of training: you have high intensity interval training (HIIT), or you have low-intensity, steady state (LISS), which is a light jog or walking on the treadmill, or similar. Mix those two up. High intensity interval training has been proven to burn fat at a very fast pace and brings the body to the threshold very quickly. Alternate some jump ropes or burpees or mountain climbers. Try full body movements that are going to get your heart rate up quickly and do them in little increments. Jump rope for thirty seconds and go as fast as you can. Then rest for thirty seconds, and then do it again. You’re going to get a full body workout and get your heart rate up so high that you can’t even breathe. That’s going to make you feel better, maybe not at the time but more in the long run post workout. You’ll get the endorphin rush and you’re going to bring your metabolism naturally to a higher point. And you can do that at your home with minimal equipment and just your body weight. I thought I was in shape until I started jump roping and that was a reality check for me!

What’s the best way to stay organized with your training each week?

If you can have a visual layout of what you’re doing, what you’ve done, what you need to do, it’s going to help a lot. You can see a blueprint. Hang a calendar on your fridge and start to write down what you’re doing for the week. You’ll know that on Monday you have twenty minutes before you pick up the kids. On Tuesday, maybe you can make it to the gym for 45 minutes after you drop them off at school. You’ll know in advance that on Monday you’ll do jump rope, sprints and burpees. And on Tuesday at the gym, you’ll lift some weights. It’s an accountability journal. From my experience, helping women get more creative and responsible with their planning helps them tremendously. It’s allowed them to really build it into their lifestyle. Even with only short periods of time. The key to success is to build fitness into your schedule & lifestyle. Otherwise, there will always be an excuse why you can’t get it in.

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What are some easy pre-workout and post-workout snacks that women might find appealing?

Pre- and post-workout snacks are very important. Proteins are good, whether in the form of protein powder or something else. Yogurt, mixed nuts or some grapefruit. Good proteins, good fats and even some good carbs from brown rice or a brown rice cake; something light. Going into the gym ravenously hungry is not a good thing & can make you feel off negatively affecting your training. Similarly, you can’t drive anywhere if you’ve got no gas in the tank – same concept. These things will prime your body for training and then also help your body recover after you train. Your body naturally just wants to eat better when you train. When you give it food that your body should have and should want, the cravings are going to get cut down. You’re going to slowly want to eat better because you feel better. Eating (or drinking) greens post workout will also help put your body back into positive pH balance. That’s extremely important for people who have a very acidic body. I like to do the green smoothies or the green shakes with kale and spinach. Those are my main two that I mix together. And I eat a lot of broccoli. Find a place that has cold pressed juices that you can quickly pull from the fridge if you’re rushed on time. All these little things will add up over time making you feel so much healthier while boosting energy so you’re able to train effectively without feeling so sluggish.

What are some of the best exercises to do after having a baby?

Depending on how your pregnancy went and how your recovery is going, I think a lot of doctors will recommend women be careful with physical activity for the first six weeks until they go back for a check-up. What you can do during that time is try to get your body back into the rhythm of movement. Start going for walks. Just go at a pace that’s comfortable for you. When you begin to feel more comfortable, start to increase the pace a bit. Try to bring your heart rate up more. Yoga and pilates are both very good, too. Strengthening the core will be very important in getting back on track as quickly as possible; it’s the base of all movement.

Pregnancy is a tremendous physiological change to the body. And not everyone has a smooth pregnancy. Not everyone is able to go to the gym and train while being pregnant. A lot of women fall behind on their physical health because of that. Getting mobility, flexibility and stretching in will help realign your body post-pregnancy.

How do you recommend that women stay motivated?

I’m actually working with a client right now and she’s a little on the negative side. Very concerned all the time about everything and she was extremely intimidated to get back into the gym. She got out of shape and then felt bad about herself. She was worried about everybody looking at her. When you go into the gym, you have to get rid of any negative thoughts. You are going in there for yourself. You’re not going in there for anyone else. Go into the gym and think about your goal, why you’re there and what you want to accomplish. That should allow you to keep your head on with confidence. Maybe somebody’s looking at you, but it doesn’t matter.

Put a photo of inspiration on your fridge or in your car. Somewhere you’ll see it every day. Start to manifest positive thoughts about your goals. The more you can see it & think about it, the more likely you’ll be to succeed at making wise decisions when it comes to nutrition & pushing yourself. Fitness should be something that’s fun, not stressful. I look at the gym as a place of peace, a sanctuary. You can tune the whole world out & go into your own personal zone where nothing else exists but you & your thoughts. Now that’s motivation!

And the gym you choose should help your mindset, too, right?

Absolutely. Find the right gym that you feel comfortable in. Go gym shopping. Belong to a gym that’s a place where you can walk in and feel at home. If you’re not comfortable, chances are you’ll always find an excuse not to go. I love the feeling I get when I’m in the gym because it’s a release. You’re taking care of yourself and you’re making yourself feel better. It’s a great place to be and there’s no reason why you should feel intimidated or stressed by it

For more health and fitness tips, visit  Aaron’s personal website at aaronwilliamson.net.

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Aaron Williamson Demystifies Functional Fitness

by Arthur Vandelay on March 12, 2015

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What is functional training?
That’s a great question. I get it all the time. Functional training is essentially exercise that mimics real life movements and activities. Most training is based around core strength, which is really important for what I do with my clients. It teaches the muscles how to work together. You are doing full body movements that work more than one body part. For instance, doing a burpee or a jumping jack, you are using your arms and your legs and your chest. The muscle groups in your body are working together.

Why has functional training become so popular?
There’s been so much hype about it. The first reason is just for the fun factor alone. Not having to go from machine to machine at the gym, or be stuck to a dumbbell or a barbell. You truly have to be into another style of training to enjoy that on a daily basis. But for the normal person, when you can go into a functional training facility or a room that has battle ropes and kettle bells and monkey bars and stability balls, you can do so many different exercises. It changes the monotony of the gym. It’s a different feeling of going in there and being depressed because you’re gonna have to get under heavy weight and do ten reps, four different times. In addition, it helps keep your body injury free. If you’re doing it right, your muscles are going to be a lot stronger and you’re going to be more conditioned, which gives you that more lean, toned look people seek, and film actors especially want.

Even when you’re doing a functional training exercise that might be targeted at your legs, you’re still using your back and your arms and other muscles in lesser ways?
Absolutely. These exercises are typically always based around your core stability, so if you’re turning from side to side or you’re jumping down on the floor and then getting back up every time, you transition from one position to another and your core is indirectly engaged. You really don’t think about it engaging, it’s just naturally happening which is such a great way to train.

How does this type of training differ from traditional weight training?
Traditional weight training is exactly how it sounds. It’s your normal gym feel. You go into the gym and you have a specific body part you want to work out. Something very common is for people to come in and train chest and triceps or back and biceps. You’re going in, doing specific exercises for a certain number of sets and a certain number of reps, and you’re targeting a certain body part. But it’s not all working together like it would if you were going into a functional training room and doing a cardio circuit or a plyometrics circuit, where you’re going to engage everything at one time. You’re going to work your whole body through one workout but you can come in again the next day and do another workout, but you’re not going to be overly sore.

It sounds like it reflects real world activities. If I’m going to outside and stack wood, I’m not isolating my biceps. It’s a full body exercise to do that.
Some of the people I train, even non-film people, are folks I’m just trying to get back in shape. And they actually noticed a difference even driving in their car. Turning a corner, they can feel their abs engage and it’s something they’ve never felt before. There’s a connection there now. Even for the average person, it’s a great way to get back into the gym and get into physical fitness because it can be low-impact or high-impact. It can be whatever you make of it. There’s just so much room to be flexible with the training.

Do you recommend one style of training over the other?
It really depends on the goals. If I’m training a film client, it depends on what their character needs to look like. I like both styles and I incorporate both of them into my training. I actually do a lot of functional fitness for my cardio, but I’m a meathead at heart. I love to just get in their with dumbbells and lift heavy stuff all the time but that’s just me. I know it’s not for everybody. There’s more!

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photo-2-webCelebrity trainer Aaron Williamson talks to Scene Magazine editor-in-chief Micah Haley about transforming James Marsden for his role in The Best of Me, based on the book by Nicholas Sparks.
The SceneCast is the official podcast of Scene Magazine, the entertainment magazine. Find out more at Sceneent.com. Email us at scenecast@sceneent.com.
1:00 – Aaron Williamson Talks Training James Marsden for The Best of Me
14:50 – Fitness Myth Busted: “Women who lift weights will turn into beefcakes.”
SPONSOR:
This episode of the SceneCast is brought to you by 5 Carrots, keeping your cast and crew healthy with all-organic vegan superfoods and wellness products. 5 Carrots also offers hair and makeup artists the latest in organic skin and personal care products. And look for 5 Carrots latest venture: the very first, all organic, vegan craft services truck. Find out more at 5carrots.com.
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Health Scene: New Year’s Resolutions

by Arthur Vandelay

This article originally ran in the 2015 January/February issue of Scene Magazine Aaron Williamson is a health advisor and fitness trainer to the film industry. He has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He recently finished molding Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke […]

Aaron Williamson on Training James Marsden for ‘The Best of Me’

by Arthur Vandelay

This article originally ran in the 2014 November/December issue of Scene Magazine. How did you connect with James Marsden on The Best of Me? I was introduced to him through Denise Di Novi. I met Denise on The Lucky One when I worked with Zac Efron and we’ve kept in touch since. She knew James’ […]

Film Fitness Expert Aaron Williamson on His Approach and Why More Crunches Won’t Work

by Arthur Vandelay

This article originally ran in the 2014 September/October issue of Scene Magazine Aaron Williamson is a health advisor and fitness trainer to the film industry. He has helped craft the physical transformations of Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained, Zac Efron in Neighbors and Josh Brolin in Oldboy. He recently finished molding Game of Thrones star […]

Aaron Williamson Can Lift You Up

by Micah Haley

This article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Scene Magazine. The next issue of Scene Magazine will feature a new column. Health Scene will offer professional health and fitness advice from Aaron Williamson. You may not know his name yet, but you’ve seen his work. As a professional fitness advisor in the film industry, […]