How Gal went from strength to strength
Honing a superhero's body took the 'Wonder Woman' star six months. Her personal trainer tells Rosamund Urwin how she did it
EVERY friend who has gone to see Wonder Woman has had a similar response. They've applauded the fact that a female superhero is finally getting top billing. They've cheered its box-office success ($620m/¤548m so far). And then, almost in a whisper, they say: "And my God, I want her body. She looks strong, fit, powerful and plausible."
The man responsible for this body is Australia-born adopted Londoner David Higgins. The 34-year-old, who has also worked on Kingsman: The Secret Service and Tarzan, was the cast trainer on Wonder Woman and star Gal Gadot's physical therapist.
Gadot trained for six months to play Wonder Woman. Her routine included an hour of strength and conditioning, an hour of Reformer Dynamix (Higgins' hybrid workout based on Pilates), then 90 minutes of Higgins' recovery treatment, topped off with two hours of stunt training.
"There's a difference between looking strong and actually being strong," Higgins says. "It's easy to make someone look buff and tough, but we had to make Gadot physically agile and powerful. Her movements are quite repetitive, such as with sword-fighting, so we had to build a programme that was not just focused on gaining muscle but core strength, flexibility and agility."
Gadot is Amazonian hardcore. During reshoots she was five months pregnant (her baby bump was covered with a green cloth and edited out by the special-effects team). "Filming was week after week in the cold - shooting in the winter, in sub-zero temperatures," Higgins recalls. "We were layered up in ski gear and she would have a blanket on - and then throw it off to film." That doesn't mean us mere mortals can't learn from her regime, though - and Higgins is the man to tell us how.
Time under tension
Speculation about Gadot's regime has focused on the exercises she used to forge her physique (including shoulder presses, pull-ups, squats and lunges), but Higgins stresses there were no magic moves.
Instead, the emphasis should be on doing each exercise for the correct time and in the correct way to maximise the benefit. "The exercises are what you'd expect," he says. "But it's all about the time that muscles are under tension - you have to fatigue the area but then it also has to recover."
Prep before you rep
Higgins warns that while we may think we're doing helpful exercises, the way we're doing them may actually be detrimental. Take the classic lunge or squat, for example. "Those are taught over and over again," he says. "But because of our lifestyles - most of us sit far too much - the whole chain of our biomechanical units is already in a state. When you start doing repetitions or adding weights to that, you are instantly reinforcing that poor form, unless corrected." That means you won't work your glutes or engage your abs, your lower back will tighten and you risk pulling a hamstring or your lower back.
You need to reset and retrain your body - Higgins recommends starting with a foam-rolling sequence to release tight hip flexors followed by glute activation exercises. All that before a single squat. "Doing them wrongly also builds the wrong muscles - in this case, the thighs. And when you do it without the prep, you increase your risk of injury."
Mind Over Muscles
Gadot hadn't done Pilates before, let alone Reformer Dynamix. Higgins says it teaches you how your body operates - especially how it "cheats" when exercising. "Our bodies compensate to try to recruit our more dominant muscle patterns. When you perform an exercise, you might look like you're doing the right thing, but you could be reinforcing your bad posture. It's crucial to be able to correct that." He instructs clients not just to focus on the number of reps but performing exercises correctly.
For Gadot this was especially important because she couldn't just stop a movement as the rest of us can. "In a film, it doesn't matter if it hurts, so I had to teach her how to reset her position. Generally, if you have a sore neck, say, you immobilise the area - the body learns not to use it. That's actually the worst thing, as the pain becomes greater. Down the line it can lead to serious injury. Instead, people need to understand that it's okay to stop, reset and continue - they need to listen to what their body is trying to tell them. Pain isn't the first alarm signal, it's the last."
Gadot, a former model, is naturally slim and needed to boost her muscles to convince as Diana Prince: "She had to eat a lot more than she's used to and replenish her body after all that work."
Higgins says there are two options when you want to bulk up. The first is the classic body-building approach where you eat a high-protein, high-carb, high-fat diet, before cutting carbs and drinking lots of water, then cutting water intake just before the big reveal. He took a different approach for the Wonder Woman star.
"We had to build her up. She was active six hours a day for months, so it wasn't starve or gorge. She ate little and often - large meals wouldn't have fitted with her shooting schedule. It was protein, carbs and not a huge amount of oils - we didn't smother her salads in oil or butter."
Typically she might eat eggs and fruit at the start of the day and then might have fish or chicken with lentils, rice and potatoes. "It was about complex carbs, so not huge amounts of bread. If you can pick it out of the ground or fish it out of sea, then it was good. If it's processed, not so much." She didn't drink much alcohol but had the odd glass of wine.
When people hear the word "massage", they tend to think of fluffy robes and essential oils. That wasn't the kind Gadot was having. "We're talking hardcore 'active muscle release treatment' - and it's not pleasant, it's very painful," explains Higgins. He put a programme together to keep her muscles in tip-top condition.
He says masseuses often focus on the area that is sore, not the reason why that spot hurts. "Where the pain is, the problem is not, so we generally work not at the site of pain but at the cause of that pain."