British trainer Pieter Vodden has been responsible for getting a host of actors into shredded-superhero shape for DC movies including Suicide Squad, and the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League. Here, he drops sweet science on how he does it, and reveals what you can incorporate from the training Scott Eastwood and other action stars do, to build a towering physique without moving your life to the gym.
RISING Which movie star you’ve worked has the best training ethic?
PIETER VODDEN ‘Probably Scott Eastwood (Clint Eastwood’s son and one of the stars of The Fate of The Furious). His work ethic was ingrained from his father. He just turns up and does the work, no questions asked.’
RISING Is this something our readers can develop or is it in-built – are there things holding some of us back?
PV ‘Certain people will resist work, sometimes because of insecurity and fear of failure, sometimes because of misinformation and other times through sheer laziness. You really shouldn’t differentiate work in the gym from work outside the gym. Whatever your chosen craft, you should be pursuing excellence.’
RISING What sacrifices do screen stars have to make to get into screen-ready shape? Can you get anywhere close with a full-time job?
PV ‘The main things actors have to sacrifice are time and diet, but it’s really not that bad. None of us are as busy as Dwayne Johnson and he always trains and eats well.’
‘You can’t do a micro workout once a week and expect to see results – it needs to be every day’
RISING Are micro workouts – at home or at work – a good way of staying in shape if you’re time poor? What do you recommend?
PV ‘Circuit training, EMOMs (Every Minute On The Minute) and AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible) are very effective if you have a short timeframe. The real key is consistency – you can’t do a micro workout once a week and expect to see results. It needs to be every day.’
‘We all have to reject subjective flattery that can ultimately be poisonous to our goals’
RISING What were some of the ridiculous things some of the stars you’ve trained were doing before they came to you?
PV ‘There’s a great deal of misinformation out there from both magazines, and people who are trying to promote their brand. Nutrition is also a minefield of “I read that” or “so and so told me”, and sometimes it can be hard to influence a person who doesn’t want to hear the truth – basically, train hard, eat consistently well, get plenty of sleep. I think one of the hardest things to teach celebrities is the concept of accountability. If you’re surrounded by people who encourage bad behaviour, who want to say “yes” to you all the time and tell you’re wonderful because they want to keep their job, it’s easy to start to believe in your own hype and not make yourself accountable to anything. In the end, every action is your decision and we all have to listen to objective guidance, and reject subjective flattery that can ultimately be poisonous to our goals.’
RISING What kind of protocols do you get movie stars to do if you know you’ve only got them for 15-30 mins before filming each day?
PV ‘Circuit, interval training and density training. A great workout doesn’t have to take a long time. If the goal is fat loss and conditioning, then interval training is effective. If mass/hypertrophy is the goal, then strength circuits, supersets, monster sets, density training are going to take priority. [Density training ups the intensity by adding volume or decreasing duration.] A trainer has to know what action produces what result, and work efficiently toward that end.’
RISING Is it possible to motivate someone out of laziness, and have you had to do that with actors?
PV ‘Yes, if you understand what motivates them and work to remind them of that motivation. But demanded filming schedules, press commitments and other daily commitments can often make it hard. For some, training will be a priority and for others not – I’ve learnt that’s just the way it is. Sometimes, as a coach, that’s hard for your ego to take but you have to understand that strength and fitness isn’t the same for everyone. You do your best because that’s what the studio demands and what your integrity tells you to do, but you won’t reach everybody and you have to learn to let some things go.’
RISING What’s one exercise that most actors and, in fact, most men struggle with but should really do?
PV ‘Squats. Often because they’ve been taught badly, think people won’t notice, or it’s simply more draining than doing biceps curls. But squatting burns more fat, and builds muscle and strength like no other exercise. If you only do one exercise a week it should probably be the back squat.’ RISING Ed: Ask a qualified professional to monitor your form.
RISING How did you go from being a personal trainer in a London Gym Box to working with leading actors in LA?
PV ‘From the moment I became a trainer, I tried to gain knowledge wherever I could and build solid relationships. I think I always did the basics well – I was hard-working, respectful and on time. That sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many people get those basics wrong. I will always be grateful to Gym Jones (a world-renowned training facility in Salt Lake City, Utah) and its founder, Mark Twight, for unlocking some important studio doors for me. Through them I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing projects, such as Suicide Squad (training Margot Robbie), Wonder Woman and Justice League.’
RISING Tell us about PHAROS, the new training centre you’re setting up.
PV ‘After my last project was done, I decided to move to the USA permanently and set up a new gym concept that would support my training principles and business ambitions. PHAROS Athletic Club in Los Angeles will allow me to train actors, athletes and the general public in the best way possible. I have two incredible business partners, Jeff Scarborough and Emylee Covell (who is also my wife), and we all bring something different to the table, which is essential when you are building a diverse, multi-purpose centre for physical excellence.’
RISING Is there ever any conflict between you and film production staff on how to manage an actor’s day, to ensure he keeps hold of his gains?
PV ‘The production staff I’ve worked with have always been very supportive. There is conflict in terms of how much time we want, versus how much time we get, but we all have to adapt and be respectful of each other.’
RISING What's the best way to get actors pumped up before going on set?
PV ‘On filming days I often get them to pump up multiple times between shots. High-rep band, bodyweight and dumbbell movements work. You are just trying to flood the muscle with blood – it’s pretty simple.’
WHAT NEXT? Want a challenging, full-body EMOM, which will help you to create a massive training effect inside a short timeframe? After a warm-up, do five pull-ups, 10 press-ups and 15 air squats on the minute, every minute, for 20 minutes. Then find a quiet corner to sob in. Or, if you fancy a crack at density training then try this, again after a warm-up: do bench press and weighted pulls, 10 reps of each, back to-back, for as many rounds as you can within 10 minutes. Rest for five minutes, then do the same for shoulder press and seated rows. If you can beat your score in next week’s workout, then you’re successfully escalating your density training.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.