Trainer to Hollywood’s biggest names, David Kingsbury tells Healthista why calories are the most important factor for change (after we get the deets about his celebrity workouts…)
Sword fighting in a battlefield or floating through a spaceship without gravity takes more than just acting skills. Many A-listers can credit their strength, agility and co-ordination to celebrity personal trainer David Kingsbury. For five years David has worked on some of the biggest films in Hollywood, from X-Men to Les Misérables, sculpting actors with his fine-tuned expertise for months in the lead up to a demanding role. He doesn’t like to boast, but can admit to working with pretty much everyone in Hollywood including Jennifer Lawrence, Amanda Seyfried, Rooney Mara, Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain.
His most famous transformation is that of Hugh Jackman into the most bad-ass character, Wolverine
Last December we saw Michael Fassbender, 40, at his most shredded physique in Assassin’s Creed, and in March, Rebecca Ferguson, 33, in sci-fi thriller LIFE, both of which are the work of David. But his most famous work is that of Hugh Jackman who played the most bad-ass character, Wolverine, for almost 18 years. Hugh was in an even bigger and deadlier shape in the 2013 film at age of 44 than when he first took on the role at age 31, working out for 1-2 hours a day, six days a week.
But David’s service, or shall we say health empire, spans thousands of everyday people using his diet and workout plans. Day to day David is working with clients at Pinewood Film Studios, however, the results from his clientele of busy working people prove the success of his philosophies on health. We caught up with the film industry’s most wanted PT to find out exactly what a superhero workout entails, and if we can join in, too…
— David Kingsbury (@DavidKingsbury) June 26, 2017
Celebrity Trainer Secrets: David Kingsbury
How does training for a film compare to normal training?
Generally the main the difference is having such a strict deadline for a film. When I’m training an actor we have a deadline to hit, whereas if people are just training to be fit and healthy, then there aren’t often as structured or focused. Our work is very time sensitive. We have an exact date where we have to achieve a certain look or performance by. The nature of having to focus on a certain day is like an athlete training for a specific event.
So if a normal person has four weeks to trim down for a holiday, is the results you get with celebrities achievable?
Absolutely. However, I do normally start working with an actor three to four months before they start shooting or sometimes up to a year. It’s very rare we will be asked for drastic unrealistic changes in a few weeks. But people that haven’t got a Hollywood budget or PT can absolutely achieve the same results if they approach their goals in the same way.
In those few months, how do you achieve muscle gain?
Muscle building films are actually quite unusual. But for those superhero films where muscle building is a priority, the balance you need to achieve muscle is a combination of things. You need adequate training, which you’ll get from weight training and challenging your body to adapt. Lifting weights breaks down the muscle and the growth is a result of over-compensating to protect the body from future stress. If you do not apply enough stress then there is no demand for change.
If you’re looking to add muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus
Fat loss is equally important for muscle building roles, because ultimately to look your very best, you have to be at a low level of body fat. So we would normally have two phases of training – the muscle building phase, and the fat loss phase.
Alongside, you need your nutrition to be right. If you’re looking to add muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus, so eating more calories than you are burning. You also need an adequate protein intake. It’s a combination of those things that will amount to a successful plan, as each of those things by themselves won’t achieve much.
What celebrities have you done this with?
Films such as Wolverine, X-men and Assassin’s Creed – there was muscle building that needed to be achieved. But in general, it’s not always as simple as adding muscle. Sometimes you need to look at performance and agility. A lot of films are stunt work heavy.
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What does training in preparation for stunt work entail?
It depends on the film. For example, a film like Assassin’s Creed had plenty of fight scenes so we did a lot of dynamic work like boxing, kickboxing, speed and power work. Whereas other films the stunts might be a completely different style. The film LIFE [on which David worked with Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal] is set on an International Space Station so the entire shoot the actors are hanging from wires to create the zero gravity effect. It’s all about stability, core strength and coordination to be able to safely and effectively manoeuvre themselves on the wires. For that type of training we would use a lot of TRX movements, core strength and coordination movements to make sure their balance, strength and endurance is up to scratch to hang on the wires all day.
All that work, and you would never know watching the film!
In certain films you might be training for eight weeks to twelve weeks for the filming of one scene where the actor is having to fly across a room.
Motivation generally isn’t an issue for these people. You don’t become that successful unless you’re willing to put the hours in.
Do you train on set, too?
Yes, generally both a few months before and the few months during filming. We would either have a trailer gym set up on the location base or a gym set up at the studio where we can work before or after shooting or squeezed into a gap in their day. Training isn’t scheduled into their day, and shooting is intense, so it’s usually in their own time. Normally we work out about 6am. But in the past it has meant getting in the gym at 4.30am so they can get to wardrobe and makeup after. Or at 11pm after a long day.
How do you get them motivated to work out at such times?
The actors and actresses I train are the top people in their field. They are incredibly hard-working and motivated. You can’t become that successful without being like that within every avenue of your work. The way they look is part of their character and job, and it’s treated that way. Motivation generally isn’t an issue for these people. You don’t become that successful unless you’re willing to put the hours in.
Motivation generally isn’t an issue for these people. You don’t become that successful unless you’re willing to put the hours in.
How intense are your workouts with celebs?
It varies. But training intensity doesn’t always equate to results. You don’t always have to train hard. In fact very few of our workouts are at maximum intensity. Very high intensity and low intensity workouts are both equally useful, with every session having its individual purpose. It has to be balanced, and it’s a case of planning the sessions as a whole.
When you have a short amount of time, what is the most important part of the workout?
The key thing for people to focus on is their nutrition
In order to get really good results people don’t need to spend hours working out. That’s the biggest misconception. It’s just not the truth. The key thing for people to focus on is their nutrition, because how good or bad it is has a massive impact on how much training you need to. If your goal is to lose fat, and your nutrition is very good and you’re eating the right amount of calories, you will still lose weight with very little exercise. Whereas if you are overeating, the amount of exercise you’ll have to do to reach a deficit is much higher. By having your food intake correct and focused, that will allow you to train less for good results.
From a training point of view, I would say focus on big heavy lifting in the gym. Exercises like pull-ups, squats and lunges which work a lot of muscles groups effectively.
What should people aiming to lose weight focus on?
If someone is looking to lose weight then the primary focus is to ensure they are in a calorie deficit. To do this you need to balance your calorie intake (diet) with your calorie burn (exercise) to achieve a negative energy balance. I typically recommend 10-20% reduction on maintenance calories.
A lot of people associate fat loss with cardio training
From a training point of view, what you would need to do would be goal dependent. A lot of people associate fat loss with cardio training, so they will do a lot of running. But if you are looking to drop body fat and improve body composition I suggest focus on resistance work primarily. This will encourage muscle maintenance and improved insulin sensitivity. A combination of interval training and LOW intensity (walking etc) can also be used to help burn calories and create the deficit.
Running and medium intensity cardio are often the go to sessions people choose for fat loss. But there using, resistance work, intervals and low intensity will be more beneficial to body composition.
What should people focus on when building strength?
You could take an infinite amount of paths to get to the same goal!
It depends a lot on each person’s ability. If you are looking at a moderate to high level of ability you could focus on squats, lunges, pull ups and deadlifts. But there isn’t one answer – you could take an infinite amount of paths to get to the same goal!
Are celebrities’ diets very strict in the lead up to a film?
Yes. How strict the nutrition plan is is directly correlated to the extent of results we are trying to achieve. Ultimately, nutrition is the deciding factor for changes. If we need large changes the diet Is very strict but if they aren’t related to body composition, and more health or performance, it doesn’t need to be so strict.
What diet do you follow?
I don’t follow a paleo or Mediterranean or any of these things, but I eat a very varied diet with healthy ingredients. My current goal is maintenance, keeping at the same shape I am, so I calculate my calories based on that. I’m essentially consuming the same amount of calories that I am burning.
What do you eat when you want to indulge?
It depends on the stage of my training. I did a couple of photoshoots recently, so a treat may be some dark chocolate. Whereas at the moment because I’m not training for a particular goal, if I wanted a treat I’d have whatever I wanted really!
What people can or can’t eat is dependent on whether they are happy or not
A lot of people try and get into shape by cutting out every single thing. But that’s not very manageable and they can’t maintain that. It is about still enjoying food and being balanced, but obviously you need to get the calories right the vast majority of the time.
I’d also say what people can or can’t eat is dependent on whether they are happy or not. Obviously if someone is at their ideal weight, they have a little more flexibility than someone who is not or who wants to lose weight. I’d say once you achieve your goals you can have that little more flexibility as long as you are being self aware rather than slipping into bad habits or overeating.
What is your best diet tip?
People get very caught up with various trends and fashionable diets. The truth is people need to be aware of the calories they are consuming and whether that is in line with their goals. That is the number one deciding factor.
What other things are people doing wrong?
If someone is lifting the same weight they were lifting a year ago, the demand for their body to change is very little
The first is calorie intake. The second is training intensity and training progression. For example if someone doesn’t progress their training their body will no longer need to adapt because they are comfortable with what they are doing. If someone is lifting the same weight they were lifting a year ago, the demand for their body to change is very little.
The other thing people could be getting wrong is their macronutrient intake. Macronutrients are the providers of energy in your food or what your food is made up of, namely protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Most foods will not have one of those things, it will have a balance of all three. It comes down to looking at the overall makeup of your meals to ensure each contains these.
If someone is trying to build muscle but they aren’t getting adequate protein, that could have a negative impact. If someone’s goal is for fat loss and their carb intake is too high, then it may make it more challenging for them to drop weight. Their insulin and blood sugar levels will be high, promoting fat storage and potentially inhibiting the ability to use fat for fuel. Keeping your blood glucose levels regulated will allow your body to consistently burn more stored fat for fuel.
What do you use to track your calories?
There are a number of apps to use such as My Fitness Pal. The problem with these apps is it takes the fun out of eating and is just plugging in numbers without anything to follow. We have a system online for all our customers called Better Self, which creates a personalised menu tailored to their goals. Each person gets hundreds of meal recipes perfectly matched to their calorie and macro needs. You can trust and follow the recipes with the exact quantities, without any adding up or using guess work. It’s available to anyone as a subscription service for £40 a month, which also includes more than 40 training plans for you to choose from.
How can normal people get the results celebrities get?
The reason why a Hollywood actor might achieve better results is because they have a deadline they have to achieve it by. So the first thing you need to do is set a very clear goal and a deadline for it, and then you are treating it the same way as an actor would. They are just normal people, there is nothing special about them and they train the same way as anyone else. The advantages might be that they have a trainer, nutritionist and potentially a chef. All of these things can be recreated if someone has the motivation to do so.
David Kingsbury has been a qualified personal trainer since the age of 17. With a long list of celebrity clients, David has a great reputation with Hugh Jackman who has previously stated that David is the best trainer he has ever worked with. Alongside working with A-Listers he creates 12 week customised workout & nutrition plans, as well as offering a BetterSelf subscription which includes hundreds of recipes calculated for personal goals and more than 40 training plans.