People come to my gym when they want to get in shape without any pain…and get results reasonably fast.
TV fitness boot camp shows promote the impression that you have to suffer to look good, but I’ve never been a proponent of the “no pain, no gain” philosophy.
When I'm training professional athletes, they might be used to a rigorous routine and actually enjoy being pushed to the max. But when I'm with actors and filmmakers, my methods are in sync with their physical limits and condition.
An oft-ignored part of working out is the psychological component, so I find creative ways for people to do the kind of exercise they need in an accessible and even fun routine.
That's how I got involved with Robert Downey Jr, who was at first just looking to be healthier.
Robert and I began to work together 10 months before the first “Iron Man” movie in 2007.
Since then, we have worked together to transform him from Tony Stark to Sherlock Holmes and back to Tony Stark in just two years (with a few other movies thrown in between).
For the first “Iron Man,” we had a lot of time to get his body looking like that of a playboy billionaire, but we still had to add 20 pounds of solid muscle. Talking with (director) Jon Favreau and Robert and seeing the storyboards helped give us an idea of the look we wanted — the modern GQ look.
When you imagine Tony Stark, he needs a body women look at and men admire, but he is not a hulk — too ripped is not realistic.
Re-crafting his body became a wholly different challenge in the past year.
Following “Sherlock Holmes,” we had just six weeks to recreate Tony Stark …and the eye-catching “guns” everyone is now talking about.
We had Robert totally ripped but very European, smaller and thinner looking for Sherlock so we made the decision to use Old School techniques of training to bulk up in the short amount of time for "Iron Man 2,"
Robert would look like a well trained MMA fighter.
For "Sherlock Holmes," Robert had to be a slim 150 to play the clever detective, but while Holmes is trim, he is athletic and he certainly does not lack muscle.
In trying to generate a look specific for the character, two of the machines we used were the Perfect Storm and the Ab Coaster. The latter, a machine with a movable seat that slides on rails, was key.
An added wrinkle in our training was that they Robert was also working with a kung fu instructor for the fight scenes. This meant that we had to tailor some of the exercises so he was capable of doing both in one day. Some days we had to skip cardio exercises, and others the weights. This was a constant adjustment and collaboration.
But it was minor compared to the quick transition back to a Tony Stark body.
Robert wrapped "Sherlock" in January and was set to begin filming “Iron Man 2” in April. In the six weeks that I had with him, he also was making appearances for another of his movies, “The Soloist,” which opened in April.
While the training for “Sherlock” involved shedding weight — with Robert eating almost only vegetables — “Iron Man” meant a return to building muscle (and eating lots of protein).
I use equipment and methods most trainers do not think of or know about, and our work on “Iron Man” spotlighted some of those tools.
In previous travels across the globe for work, I encountered an old Mongol weapon — the meel — which is like a club. For Robert, rather than use “meels” as a weapon, he can strengthen his upper body by holding them over his head and moving them around.
Another unique piece of equipment we used is called "the pineapple” — a vibrating platform that works the core and leg muscles as you workout on it.
Of course, we also used more traditional equipment, but one of the keys in giving Robert an unconventional look is using some of an integrated and calculated machines and methodologies.
I can probably count on one hand the number of times we repeated the same workout. There was no set routine — we used a more unconventional method to get him big and strong without sacrificing the time to bulk up and then diet down.
It was time to pull out the sledgehammers, truck tires, firehoses, wheelbarrows, bamboo bars, weight sleds, macebells, meels, indian clubs, etc.
At times he looked more like a construction worker than a movie star with the way he trained. Follow that up the following day with extremely high tech equipment like the vortex, the vibe plate and the speedboard aand you had a combination where the future of training met the past.
Optimizing everything we did was a constant physical and mental challenge even for Iron Man. He never knew from day to day what I was going to throw at him (sometimes literally).
Fortunately, with movies like “The Avengers” coming up, I'll have more chances to find new and challenging ways to get Robert trained for his super hero roles.