Why do actors need to be physically fit? Is it because our industry perpetuates ridiculous and exclusive ideas of what it means to be attractive? Well, yes... but that's not the only reason.
It's true that most of the content we produce/consume pushes a certain body image, and that it can create unhealthy pressure to look a certain way. It's also true that representation for actors who don't conform to that standard is improving, and opening up public perceptions of beauty. There's a long way to go in that regard, but I like to believe we're making steady progress. However, I also think it's important for people in our industry to keep their bodies in good condition, no matter what kind of body they have.
When people ask questions like "why do actors need to be physically fit?", I sometimes think they have a warped idea of what "physically fit" actually means. Let's settle something right now: you can be fit no matter what size you are or how many pounds you weigh. It's time to take the focus off of appearances and put it onto more meaningful criteria. I don't believe the most important reason for actors to stay fit is so they can sell some image that was cooked up by middle-aged network execs in a boardroom.
So... Why Do Actors Need to be Physically Fit if It's Not Just about Selling a Look?
I believe actors should work out and stay healthy because our work can be incredibly demanding. Think about it: even stars on hit shows are working 16-hour days on set. You might have fight choreography to practice, musical numbers to run, and scenery to chew, all in the space of a single day—and that's assuming that you don't also do your own stunts. Theatre actors put in the same number of hours, but they don't even get to take breaks between takes. Those of you who work regularly will know what I mean. It's rewarding, but it can become a real test of your endurance.
Actors' Workout Routines that Go Beyond External Benefits
With all that said, you'll want to make sure your body is always ready to handle the rigors of the work. Below are some actors' workout routines that I like to use because they keep me healthy and alert. Of course, some of these might also tone my arms or sculpt my abs a bit—but that's just a bonus.
Keanu Reeves: Full-Body Coordination
What do movies like John Wick, The Matrix, Point Break, and Speed all have in common? Well, yeah... Keanu, obviously... but there's also something else. These movies are full of kinetic action sequences that require deft, fluid movements. That's why Reeves focuses his workouts on increasing mobility, preventing injury, stabilizing joints and developing power. The quality he's going for is called proprioception: the body's natural ability to keep track of where its parts are and what they are doing at any given moment. Check out the full workout here.
Uma Thurman: Endurance and Heart-Health
You don't make it through a sequence like this one without having some serious stamina, so it should be no surprise that Kill Bill star Uma Thurman is a dedicated runner. However, you don't need to match her pace to reap the benefits of jogging. Just keep your heart rate in the Training Zone (between 50 and 80 percent of its maximum rate) for 150 minutes a week. You'll soon find that you begin to have more energy and that you can run for longer distances without stopping to catch your breath. Plus, you'll probably live longer, which gives you more time to book those big roles. How great is that?
Ben Affleck: Raw Strength
I know, right? Not Dwayne Johnson or Vin Diesel? Instead of choosing those actors' workout routines, am I really picking the guy from Jersey Girl? You'd better believe it. Affleck is also the guy from Batman Vs. Superman, The Town, Daredevil, and countless other movies where he's had to get buff. Whether all of those movies were good is a subject for someone else's (more judgmental) blog, but the fact is: Affleck has always been able to put on muscle in a way that builds strength in addition to making him look shredded. You can check out the routine he used to prep for Batman Vs. Superman here.
Jennifer Aniston: General Health and Peace of Mind
The demands of acting aren't just physical. Our work can also be a mental and emotional roller coaster, which means knowing how to de-stress is vital. Jennifer Aniston is one of many successful actors who practice yoga for such purposes. According to a review of comparison studies at the US National Library of Medicine, yoga provides a broad range of health benefits and is more effective than other exercises when it comes to practically everything except physical fitness. Which is to say: it probably won't make you ripped, but it could improve your lung capacity and it will almost certainly help you relax.
Choose Your Movie Workouts for the Right Reasons
Are the movie workouts you're doing meant to make you feel healthy and prepare for the challenges of a role, or are you just trying to look like someone else? Remember: being a good actor is about being the best version of yourself. It's not about conforming to some arbitrary aesthetic. There's nothing wrong with borrowing from the pros, but make sure you're choosing routines that help empower you and enhance your abilities. If you have any questions or want to let me know how these routines are working out for you, leave a comment or contact me directly through the links below: