Playing a Marvel superhero requires a whole lot of strength and resilience, but there was perhaps even more pressure on Brie Larson to be physically fit for her role.
As Captain Marvel, Larson is the first woman to be the sole lead character in a Marvel film – the only other female star is Evangeline Lilly, who shared billing with Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Nowadays cinema is so clever that stars don’t have to be very physically strong, but that didn’t matter to Larson. She tells InStyle: "The movie is not really going to look any different with the fact that I can actually lift 225 pounds (102kg). It doesn’t matter to anyone else, but it did to me. Breaking that boundary of what it means for a woman to be muscular and strong and own your body and use it as a tool, that felt meaningful."
Women are increasingly turning to strength training, not just for the health benefits, but for how empowering it can be. Larson has posted a lot of her workouts on Instagram, showing just how she got fit to play Captain Marvel.
Upper body burn-outs
A lot of Larson’s training focused on upper body – like this simple exercise using a resistance band. It’s a great workout for your back, and Larson’s form is perfect as you can see her squeezing her shoulder blades together tightly when she pulls the band out.
The best thing about using resistance bands is they allow you to workout on-the-go and can be used for total body exercises – such as bicep curls or resisted squats.
We’re seriously impressed by her pull-ups and weighted push-ups. Weighted push-ups are a great way to take the exercise to the next level – if you want more variations, try lifting up one leg or pulsing your push-ups to keep the muscles under tension for longer.
Niko Algieri, celebrity trainer and co-founder of Equilibrium, says if you want to safely do a weighted press up you should "keep the shoulders down and the scapula [shoulder blade] stable, not winged."
He adds: "Tuck the tailbone under so that the lower back doesn’t arch. Hands should be shoulder width apart or just past, with elbows moving out at a 45 degree angle (this will also stop the elbows twisting). If you want to add additional weight, use plates. Avoid loading any extra weights directly onto the lower back, rather spread the plates across the glutes and back evenly."
Brutal core workouts
If you’re training to be Captain Marvel, you can be sure your ab workouts aren’t just going to be a few crunches. Larson gave us a look into how you get a strong core – the superhero way.
In one video she proves that V-sits aren’t enough, and she does them while throwing a 12 pound (5.4kg) medicine ball to her trainer. In another, she kicks her legs up to the ceiling and brings them down in a slow and controlled way to work both her upper and lower abs. Make sure you watch until the end of this clip, because she proves balance is everything and rewards her hard work with a doughnut.
With all of these exercises it’s important to keep your lower back imprinted on the mat when you’re lying down, to properly work your abs and prevent injury.
Hammer training might seem unusual, but you’ll find the equipment in many gyms. It’s a brilliant total body workout – all you have to do is swing the hammer over your head and onto something in front of you, like a tyre.
You need to use the strength of your legs to power up the move and your arms to bring down hammer. It also tests your balance, agility and core to stay stable, and is great for your hand/eye co-ordination.
For Algieri, the key to this one is maintaining soft knees and not hunching over your shoulders. "Focus on keeping your core engaged throughout the rotational element of the movement," he says. "Feet should be shoulder-width apart to maintain a strong, balanced position."
If you have any pent-up anger, this is definitely the move for you…
Barbell hip thrusters
Larson’s strength training definitely paid off. She told Variety: "My highest right now is 215 lbs (97.5kg) in deadlifts and 400 lb (181.4kg) hip thrusts," adding, "being able to lift weight like that really changed my perspective and understanding of myself."
This move might look daunting, but if you know what you’re doing it’s really not that tough. Algieri’s advice? "Always have a protective bar cushion to reset on the hips. To protect the back, keep the tailbone tucked under (it will help prevent your back from arching) and activate the glutes.
"Never tip the head back first as it will lift the ribcage, deactivate the core and put the spine in a bad position. Keep your heels flat with knees at 90 degrees."
Hip thrusts with a barbell are one of the best ways to strengthen your glutes and get a peachy rear end, and shows that this kind of weight training won’t necessarily make you bulky (but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s the goal you’re aiming for).
When you’re putting in serious hours in the gym, it can all get a bit boring so it’s important to mix things up. Larson did this by experimenting with rock climbing – a lot of fun with the added bonus of being great for your body.
It combines cardio and strength, as well as challenging your flexibility and brain power as you try and find the best route up the wall. Larson also does a lot of boxing, which gives many of the same benefits in a different way.