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Brie stars as Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress who finds her last chance at stardom when she auditions for the first-ever women’s wrestling TV show. The ‘80s-set series is inspired by the professional women’s wrestling TV series of the same name that ran from 1986 to 1990.
To prep for all the body slams involved, the Community alum enlisted Rise Nation founder Jason Walsh to help her build some major muscle strength for her role. Walsh, who also counts Emily Blunt, Minka Kelly and Miles Teller as clients, tells The Hollywood Reporter he had been working with Brie for roughly five to six years now, but when she got word of her new gig, he fine-tuned the exercises to better prep her as a wrestler.
What was your game plan in helping Alison prep for the role?
Most people, what they care about is how things look onscreen. That’s great and I totally understand, but my mentality for training all my clients — doesn’t matter, girls or guys, especially anything that has any sort of stunt or action — I don’t equate strength with muscle size or bulk. For example, Emily Blunt had to wear a 70-pound exoskeleton body suit for a whole movie. That will tear a body apart. Studios don’t think about it, I think about it. I want to make sure these guys do not get injured.
With Alison, we got her so strong. Pound for pound, ridiculously strong. She ended up performing 100 percent of her stunts. That’s unheard of. We’re talking about a girl flying off the rope, jumping and flipping. Of course the stunt coordinator had a lot to do with that as far as technique goes. The prevalence of risk for something like that is very high. My idea was — I’ve got to get this girl moving perfectly, super strong and resilient. The aesthetic stuff is a total side effect of really good training.
Can you break down some of these moves you did with her?
We did tons and tons of sled push-and-pulls, with hundreds of pounds on these sleds of pushing and pulling. We did a lot of deadlifting. Her technique was really good. We’ve been working together for a long time, so we really progressed in the dead lifts. She could crank out 10 body-weight pull-ups on her own. It’s insane. I got her so strong. She wants to push herself.
For an actress, the last thing I want to do necessarily, unless it’s called for, is to put on a lot of muscle and make them look kind of bulky. That’s not what we do. She looks very feminine. She looks fit. She’s very confident. The psychology of training and getting strong with the body feeling and looking great — what it does for actors is incredible.
You mentioned that you guys did a lot of deadlifting and her technique got really good. What makes for good form?
It’s a very complex exercise. We’ve done a lot of deadlifts from a progressive standpoint, starting with body weight and learning how to use the hips. She progressed very organically. I didn’t have any problems putting a bar in her hand and getting her to do the technique and not have to worry, because to be honest, dead lifting is also very dangerous in a way — if you don’t know what you’re doing you will most likely hurt yourself. There’s a lot of classes out there now that people are going to and they’re deadlifting and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. It’s too bad because they’ve bastardized what is a very, very technical sport.
I think she got up to 175 pounds on her deadlifts, which is insane. That’s great — it’s one and a half times her body weight. It’s really cool to watch a body adapt and see her get stronger. This is beautiful to me because women are doing what men do, and doing it better in a lot of ways.
Back to the sled push-and-pull.
In my gym, I have a 30-yard track and we’ll do 30 to 60 with pushing and pulling. Lateral movements, explosive movements. It’s very dynamic and most of the time it’s single leg work. If you think about it, you’re always picking one foot up, so that body is having to handle that external load through the hand and feet, transferring through the body, so it exploits and strengthens a lot of the weaknesses we have.
It is a full-body workout, which is a very important point to make. We’re not just going through and isolating this muscle or that muscle. A great way to keep the body very balanced is to do exercises like the sled, because you’re not overloading one muscle to work as a unit. Nowadays it’s more about performance.
You also had Alison do pull-ups.
For pull-ups, we would do sets of 10 pull-ups. Some days we would do weighted, where we’d add a weight vest. She got to the point where I was happy with 10 solid pull-ups.
She also got so strong on push-ups, we actually had 50 pounds of chains put on her back. I kid you not. It’s a great exercise. It’s incredible.
We’ll do what we call a drop set. Each chain weighs 25 pounds and so we would drape both chains over her waist. She would do 8 reps, with two chains, so 50 pounds. I would pull a chain off and she’d do another 8 reps, nonstop. There’s no stopping here, so that’s 16 reps. Then she would do another set with just her body weight. We would do sets of this, so a set of 24 push-ups.
To your point earlier, she doesn’t look like she’s bulked up, but obviously she’s gotten a lot stronger.
You’ll see it in the show. She’ll be in a leotard and you’ll be like, “Damn! All right!”
Did you work with her in coming up with a diet plan?
She’s pretty good on the diet stuff. She didn’t run too high of a risk with high body composition, where she had a lot of body fat or anything like that. I think we put her on creatine as a supplement to help with her workouts. She had recovery protein drinks. She had a pretty balanced diet.
In addition to the sleds, pull-ups, push-ups and deadlifts, were there any other exercises she did?
Hip thrusts — that really focuses on the glutes. I want to say she got up to 300 pounds on the hip thrusts. It’s insane. We’re not doing it to push her where she could break. She could do it. There’s no reason why you can’t do it if you’re strong enough to do it. When you’re going heavy like that, I think we got up to four reps.
And then conditioning is a whole other aspect. I mean you get a lot of conditioning with the sleds and deadlifts, believe it or not, you get so much conditioning for that that when you’re done, you’re out of breath. You’re hurting, you’re sweating like crazy. But to add insult to injury, she would go and take Rise Nation classes, which is the other company that I have. She goes all the time, but she would go and supplement her weight training with the classes. That’s her 30 minutes of high-intensity conditioning.
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