Lessons From The Cape Town Trainer Who Gets Celebs Into Hollywood Shape
Here’s a rundown of what it takes to get in Hollywood shape, from the guy whose job it is to get famous men ripped. James White is the founder of Roark Gyms. While Sam Heughan was in South Africa shooting a season of Outlander, it was James’s responsibility to get him strong, fit and shredded for his physically grueling role… and his cover model shoot for Men’s Health SA.
I started training actors through an affiliation I have with a gym in America called Gym Jones. They’re well known for the work they did on the first ‘300’ film and were naturally tasked with getting the actors in shape for the sequel. The lead actor was shooting a series in South Africa prior to the start of filming and as such needed a place to train. We came to an agreement that he would be trained at Roark and through the work on this project we got to know some of the film production companies in Cape Town.
Our big break came when we signed a deal to train the lead cast of Starz’ headline show Black Sails. This was a four-year project during which many of the actors were featured in fitness publications around the world for their physical transformation during the series.
The international film and TV industry is cut-throat. They have very clear directives regarding what their actors should look like on screen and the only factor that determines success or failure is whether these directives are met.
Actors have an incredibly tough job.
I’m sure the general public thinks that these people have hours to train in luxurious facilities while their every dietary need is taken care of. Let me assure you that this isn’t the case at all. Most days they wake up at 4am just to be able to fit in an hour or so at the gym. The rest of the day they’re rehearsing, filming, practicing stunts or learning lines. It’s a brutal business and far harder than any nine to five job I’ve heard of.
What they do, however, is prioritise their training. Naturally, when you prioritise parts of your life, other parts suffer. There’s less time for socialising, partners and sleep. This lesson is applicable to anyone who has ever said, “I just don’t have the time to exercise.” That’s a lie. You do have the time; you’ve just chosen to prioritise other parts of your life over exercising.
While many things may have changed in my approach to dealing with the actors I’ve worked with over the past five years, there is one thing that hasn’t – the first workout.
The first workout I put every client through is always brutal.
This allows me to see very quickly what I’m working with. Some people thrive and others flounder. I’ve had some people discover that they’re capable of far more than they thought and I’ve had others quit and never come back.
From the first workout I gave Sam Heughan it became clear that he had a big work capacity. What I mean by this is that he was able to do a large amount of work in the gym and recover sufficiently quickly in order to repeat another amount of work in the same session or the following day. My job was therefore to refine his training. This involved decreasing the intensity of his longer cardiovascular efforts, increasing the weight he was using for his strength and hypertrophy work, as well as correcting some bad movement patterns he had picked up over the years.
Sam wanted to get more defined for his role in Outlander as well as his upcoming shoot for Men’s Health. He was by no means overweight when he started training with me but he also wasn’t lean. We had roughly four months to prepare for the shoot and so this became the goal in time we were working towards.
Skip 5 minutes into this video to listen to Sam’s fitness and diet strategy preparing for shoot day:
I believe that a trainer should be willing to do whatever he sets for his clients.
I often ask the actors I train if they’d like me to join them in their sessions. Sam loved the idea and watching me being able to hit numbers he previously didn’t think were possible certainly galvanized him into trying to lift more and exercise at a greater intensity. I’m not some freakishly big or strong specimen, but I have developed a big work capacity through years of hard work. I’ve found people respond very well to seeing an ordinary looking guy outperform and out lift them as they begin to believe that they should be able to perform at the same level.
Suffering is inevitable.
My mantra with the actors I train is that they’ll either suffer in order to achieve the body they desire, or they’ll suffer when they realise that they’ve failed to do so. The choice is theirs. Once people buy into this way of thinking I’ve found that the work in the gym becomes much easier for them to understand and endure.