Scarlett Johansson Trains Hardcore For Her Superhero Body

Scarlett Johansson AvengersNatasha Romanov is a superhero in a skintight slinky black catsuit, and Scarlett has to be in tip top shape to play her.

Scarlett trains “like a guy”, her words! Yep, you read that right.  Scarlett does chin ups, push ups, explosive movements and lots of circuit training to get into Hollywood superhero shape. Her trainer, Bobby Strom, gets her started a few months before filming. She eats lots of lean proteins, vegetables, oatmeal and drinks lots of water and trains with weights. Here is what he told Self Magazine about her workout:

“I was having her do a lot of balance, coordination, and core work, but what she really loved was the strength training – things like pullups and kettlebells – and the idea of feeling and looking strong.”

Scarlett Johansson, on her diet and the “secret” to getting in shape:

Salad and chicken and, you know, nothing else, pretty much,” she said, laughing. “It’s that old tried and true ‘work out like a dude and eat like a rabbit’ [plan].”

Scarlett stays in shape year round, eats well, and kicks it up a notch with her diet and training right before a big movie. So this isn’t how she eats and trains year round, its a high intensity plan for being in her best shape for a targeted period of time. The rest of the year, she still works out and keeps in good shape, but she’s a little more moderate, which is an important take home point as well.

Scarlett Johansson Avengers Body Workout

In general, this is how Scarlett trains:

– she uses “big bang” movements that use lots of muscles and burn lots of calories, i.e: squats, lunges, push ups, and even olympic lifts.

– she uses high intensity circuits, no more than 90 minute sessions per day.

– she uses a variety of tools like dumb bells, barbells, kettlebells, TRX and bodyweight movements

– she trains like a dude and is not afraid of some hard work for big results!!!

Scarlett Johansson for Dolce & Gabanna, 2012.

Scarlett Johansson for Dolce & Gabanna, 2012.


You Are Special & Why Cookie Cutter Plans Don’t Work

When we wanna get fit, often it seems like the most obvious thing is emulate the person whose results we want, the person we want to look like.

We want to know what they eat and how they train, and we want to do exactly whatever “secret” it is they do, so we can look like them too.

So you follow their Facebook page or Instagram and read everything they say, maybe you buy their workout plan or diet and you copy what it is they do, or what they say they do.

But you don’t get the same result. Often, you don’t even get a similar result.

The reason is that cookiecutter plans don’t work. One-size-fits-all fitness is a myth. Let me explain. The foundations of being fit, strong and looking amazing are more or less the same for everyone, that is true. But we each have unique genetics that give us unique strengths, weaknesses, individual biochemistry, individual anthropometry, muscle belly size, length, etc.

Guess what? It means we’re all unique! Your mum was right, you ARE a special little snowflake after all!

speshul snowflake

Well, OK.. you are and you aren’t! Because you’re a special snowflake, you can’t just take some random workout and expect it to transform you into someone else who also just happens to do that work, i.e: your favourite fitness model. She probably doesn’t even do that workout at all, hate to say it. You need something designed for you to get you to greatness. On the otherhand, because you are NOT a special snowflake, you you can ditch all the gimmicks, magic bullets and quick fixes, because if you haven’t realized, they don’t work. The basics work. Ignore the ads, propaganda and shameless self-promotion. Do what has been proven to work, and that is:

1. Lift weights at least 2x per week, 3 – 4 days a week of lifting is ideal. Focus on multi-joint movements, preferably with freeweights. Lift “heavy” for no more than 10 reps per set. Things like squats, deadlifts & lunges for the lower body and overhead presses, rows and push ups for the upper body. Use single joint/isolation exercises and machines only for parts of your body you want to pay a little extra attention to, and do so AFTER your squats, lunges and presses, etc.

2. Clean up your diet. Looking “toned” is a function of muscular development and optimized body fat levels. You can’t lose body fat with a crappy diet, so clean up your diet! Focus on lean proteins and vegetables at every meal and watch your carb intake. Don’t eat too much. It isn’t much more complicated than that.

3. Do a bit of cardio, not too much. Keep it to under 1 hour per day, at a maximum! If you’re doing more cardio than this, you need to re-examine your diet. You cannot out train a poor diet. Personally, I start out clients with 15 minutes of cardio per day and I don’t increase it unless we stop getting results. I never prescribe more than 30 minutes a day. If we hit a plateau we re-examine the diet and change up the cardio protocol. Use cardio as a tool for weightloss wisely. More is not “more”.

The above should be the foundation of any training and nutrition plan. Beyond this, your individual goals, preferences, genetics and athletic background need to be considered in order to customise a plan to help get you to your best, your pinnacle. So there may be tweaks to your diet, there may be a certain focus on a part of your body you want to work on, certain movements, you may have injuries you need to work around – it all depends on your individual needs, and what you need to get you to the pinnacle of fitness.

It’s going to be something different than what I need.

It’s going to be different again to what the guy two treadmills over from you needs.

It’s going to probably be different than your training buddy and your favourite fitness model.

You can not all follow the same training and diet plan and get the same result. It doesn’t work that way.

What program has gotten you the best results?


Go Hard or Go Home! Kettlebell Workout.

I love doing “met cons” for fat loss. In conjunction with a solid diet, doing rounds of relatively light, fast and sometimes ballistic resistance and bodyweight movements really gets the ball rolling in the right direction.

“Met Con” is just short for Metabolic Conditioning.

Metabolic conditioning can truthfully be almost anything, however it does take a bit of knowledge and know-how to design an effective one. You can use dumb bells, barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, your trx, you can use bodyweight only, you can do sprints or other traditional cardio in between. Rests are other variables you can also play with.

Most people are talking about high intensity, interval, anaerobic work when they talk about doing “met cons”, but technically speaking, metabolic conditioning work is really about optimising performance within specific energy pathways. So while most people talk about doing  some type of a “metcon”, a “metabolic finisher” or just plain old HIIT with weights, they’re talking about doing a form of HIIT and they’ll tell you that DUH?!! I’m doing it for fat loss, dummy… why else? Another reason you may be doing some type of metabolic conditioning is to improve performance in a particular energy pathway of the body, whether its your short bursts of all out effort (the phosphagen pathway), intermediate (the glycolyctic pathway) or aerobic/oxidative pathways.

Metabolic conditioning work has a wide scope and versatility depending on how smart your program design is based on your objectives 🙂

Me? I do them primarily for fat loss and because sometimes they make me feel bad ass, haha. (In my opinion, if your workout doesn’t make you feel like you are awesome and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, then it’s no fun and probably not worth doing. This is why you’ll never catch me doing zumba, lol.) This type of training gives you a lot of bang for your buck, you’re finished in under 30 minutes and you get results fast. Adding metcons and HIIT to your program will get the fat off FAST AND GOOD… provided you are eating for fat loss. Remember, there is no fat loss workout without a fat loss DIET. You cannot outtrain a bad diet, EVER! Even with metcons. Metcons are not magic.

I try to program mine so I’m not doing any movements that interfere with my big lifts on subsequent days. So, for example, if the day after my metcon day I’m going to be doing deadlifts, then I’m not going to do glute-ham raises or heavy kettlebell swings the day before. I’ll keep everything a bit lighter and faster. It also may be prudent when writing a metcon circuit to alternate body parts, so if you’ve just done some lower body work, the next exercise you might want to choose would be for the upperbody, like push ups, for example.

Here is a kettlebell workout of mine from last week. I used a 16kg kettlebell and it kicked my butt. I did 3 rounds. This week, I did 4 rounds and also 5 cleans instead of 3 and 12 swings instead of 10.


You always have to do just a little bit more so you can say that you are better than you were before. Always. That’s one of the workout rules I live by, whether I’m doing traditional lifting, metcons or going for a run outside. Be fundamentally, inarguably better than you were last week. And if I can’t manage even 1 more rep, then I’ll rest… and do a whole extra set.

I hope you try out my kettlebell workout, let me know how you go in the comments!


How To Look Hot In Your Halloween Costume (on short notice!)

Halloween is upon us and believe it or not, you still have time to trim down a little to look your best in your costume. You could absolutely lose a few pounds (or kilos) in the next 3 weeks and look that little bit better – in let’s be honest – what is usually a skimpy costume for us women!

Whether you eat and exercise meticulously, or if you’ve been slacking on your diet and nutrition, the solution to looking better is both simple and similar.

1. Add in a small amount of cardio.
This is the perfect time to add in some steady state cardio if you haven’t been doing any. Steady state cardio just means cardio that is done at the same pace or tempo for the entire duration. Your body tends to adapt to this quickly and you have to do more and more to see the same result, but our goal date to look hot is about 3 weeks away, so add 15 – 20 minutes of cardio to whatever you’re already doing. You don’t have time to adapt to this adjustment.

2. Adjust your diet.
Maybe you eat a “perfect” diet day in day out. Maybe you have been more relaxed as of late. But making a small adjustment over the next 20 days will give your results a major boost.

If your carbs are already quite low, then you may want to just lower your calories by 200 per day.

Conversely, if your carb intake is over about 175g per day, then lowering them by 50g in the lead up to Halloween will make a big difference.

Sticking to this regimen strictly with only one off-plan (i.e: cheat) meal through the week is important. These adjustments only create small deficits which are very easily blown to smithereens by mindless snacking. On the other hand, because they are such minor adjustments, you’re much more likely to stick to them because they aren’t such a huge sacrifice from however you’re accustomed to eating.

3. Drink lots of water!
3 – 4 litres per day is ideal. Water helps flush out toxins and also helps our bodies release their water reserves AND makes our skin look fabulous. Win + win all round.

I have gone as a horror nurse to a recent hospital themed party (pictured at left… I ended up wearing a longer red dress underneath that because I decided it was way too short to leave the house in, the back view was practically naked *blush*) and a belly dancer in years passed. Do you have a costume picked out for this years Halloween already?

Mine is a skeleton costume pictured in the banner below, it’s en route as we speak! Short again, what was I thinking?!! I will probably wear black leggings or at least completely opaque stockings, doh! It’s actually quite challenging to find anything really spunky and fun that isn’t super short. Thems the breaks!



Using Good Mornings in your training

No, it’s not just a cheerful salutation for the start of your day! It’s also a highly valuable and under-utilized lift! I love Good Mornings. They’re a hip-hinging, fundamental movement in the family of the squat and the deadlift that strengthens and works the entire posterior chain (more or less all the muscles in your back, bottom and back of legs in layman’s terms).

I love getting my newest clients to do Good Mornings with either no weight or just a wooden stick – it’s great for teaching the hip hinge, popping out the butt, keeping the natural curve of the lower back with your head up, shoulders pinned back. Lessons transferable to all free weight exercises. Plus, it’s a great dynamic warm-up stretch of the hamstrings. You don’t need any weight to feel the stretch.


The Good Morning from start to finish – Source: Wikipedia.

I’ve recently incorporated heavy Good Mornings into my routine to help with my squat. When I hit my maxes, my upper back has been giving out first on failed lifts. Hinging your torso with a heavy weight on your shoulders can help you develop the strength to keep your torso aligned under a heavy load. I’ve been doing them after my deadlifts or on separate day (never too close to squat day). At Westside Barbell, they do heavy Good Mornings week in, week out and I probably will do so too.

Using lighter loads can also help target the hamstrings more – with heavier loads on this exercise, the glutes get called in to “help” with the load and take the focus away from the hammies. I find few things make my hamstrings ache as much as 3 x 10+ “light” Good Mornings! I’d choose a light Good Morning in my program over a machine hamstring isolation exercise any day of the week.

The Posterior Chain

The Posterior Chain

If you’ve never done a Good Morning before, I would strongly recommend you start out with just a broomstick or no load at all – just practice the movement, focus on keeping your torso as straight as possible, bottom slightly tucked out and moving/hinging forward only at the hip. Then move up to the lightest barbell you can find and always, only use loads where you can complete every rep with good form, namely in this exercise, where you can maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine (i.e: your low back), chest up, shoulders back and blades tightly packed. There is such a thing as a rounded back Good Morning, but it isn’t something I ever utilize or recommend.

The muscles worked in the Good Morning are the full length of the erector spinae, the glutes and hamstrings, amongst other “core” musculature. The Good Morning is probably the most underrated “core” exercise – you show me someone who can demonstrate a heavy Good Morning with a full range-of-motion and I’ll show you a trainee with a rock solid “core”.

  • Start with your feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Place the barbell on your back. You may need a rack to help you get it into place if the load is too heavy for you to lift up and over onto your back. For the love of God! Set up the safety rails! Especially on heavier sets. They should be set up at the lowest point of your range of motion, about an inch/few cm’s below, so you can easily bail if needed.
  • Stick your butt out, keep your torso straight, chest up, shoulders back and bend at the hips. Your knees should be slightly bent, not locked out or straight.
  • The “correct” range of motion is as far as your flexibility allows with good form. So it’s different for everyone. As soon as you start rounding your back, you should stop. A wider range of motion comes with practicing the movement and working on your mobility consistently.

Have you done Good Mornings before?


Fit & Glam Weekend Metcon

This is a workout I did on Saturday. It’s certainly “advanced”, the overhead squat is a terrifically difficult movement to master, and the kettlebell work isn’t appropriate for a beginner. I used an olympic barbell only – feel free to add weight to the bar if that is too easy for you, you can also regress it to a women’s bar or a lighter preloaded bar, or even a single dumb bell (a single dumb bell overhead squat is how I learned the movement) if necessary. You can even use just the training/warm-up stick if you have one. They aren’t easy.

Don’t use your max OHS weight – it should probably at about 50% of your actual or estimated 1RM. Err on the side of the bar being lighter than necessary. Remember that it’s a difficult and taxing movement to execute regardless of the weight on the bar, and you still have relatively heavy kettlebell snatches and swings to get through.

You can also sub out the overhead squats for 15 – 20 goblet squats.

Use a weight where you can use proper form at all times. Take as little rest or no rest until the end. if you need to stop, STOP, catch your breath and then keep pushing on til you get to the end.

Since I’m trying to look my best for my European trip, I did some long intervals on the treadmill and some steady-state cardio on the stair mill to round out my workout. And some kettlebell tabatas.

This is a good workout for someone wanting to improve their overall power and endurance and is definitely a great fat loss workout. So you could do it with some additional cardio as I did, or even as a “finisher” in place of traditional cardio after your other lifts.


Comment and let me know how you go when you try it!


This Week’s Fit & Glamorous Recommended Reading!

I’ve decided to a weekly, or at least bi-weekly round up of great articles from the blogosphere!

Here is what I’ve got fot this week:

And this week’s positive affirmation – gratitude. Always be grateful. There is always something to be thankful for. Be thankful for your health. Be thankful you are loved. Be thankful to be alive!
keep calm and appreciate what you have

Side bends! Part 1 of exercises you should stop wasting your time with yesterday!

As a trainer, it’s quite often pretty hard watching people do useless exercises day in, day out, but it’s a fact of gym life, especially when pretty often, most gym-goers are less than receptive to unsolicited advice. It’s hard a hard topic to broach in the best of circumstances! So unless someone is doing something that will cause injury, I just leave it well enough alone.

But YOU know better, and if you didn’t before, you will after reading this article!


The first exercise on my list is the weighted side bend… and for people with a goal of slimming or spot reducing the waistline, any direct oblique training at all! Don’t do it. Targeting the obliques is counter-intuitive to most people’s goals.

So, side bends. These are probably my #1 exercise that I consider to be the biggest waste of time! Multiply that by 100 if you do these with a weight in both hands. With a weight in both hands, what is the side you are targeting resisting? You’re just balancing out the resistance for a sum total effect of -1 out of 10. With one dumb bell in hand, the training effect is like .5 out of 10, just so you know!

What you should do instead: tricky question. This depends on your goal. If you have any abdominal fat to lose at all, regardless of your goal, you need to clean up your diet. Read my previous article about the rules of transforming your physique, specifically the stuff about spot reduction. Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym, my friend. Diet, diet, diet. There is no other way, no magic exercise. Just solid, consistent dieting and good nutrition. You have to lose the fat on your belly to reveal any definition.

Now, if you have low enough body fat to see your obliques, the next question is do you want to achieve a slim, tapered waistline, or a muscular, athletic waistline which can sometimes look quite thick with little to no taper? The degree to which your waist is inclined towards this “thickness” is largely dependent on your genetics. Targeting your obliques specifically will create hypertrophy in those muscles (i.e: growth). This will thicken the waistline to some degree, so unless one of my clients specifically tells me they want big, well-developed abdominals, I never prescribe any targeted oblique exercises whatsoever and no heavily weighted ab exercises. A light medicine ball is OK.

What can help the appearance of your midsection, regardless of your body fat levels and your goals are all variations of leg lifts, planks, push ups, sit ups (with or without additional resistance, dependent on your goals). Why? All these exercises strengthen and heavily utilise the transverse abdominus – a fundamental internal stabiliser. When this muscle is strong, it works like an internal girdle and sucks everything in. The fibers in this muscle run horizontally and support your spine, wrapping around your internal organs for protection and support. In my experience, incorporating these exercises across the board produces a dramatic aesthetic effect including improved posture, flatter tummies and improved performance.

If you specifically want to develop muscular abs and achieve hypertrophy in your obliques and rectus abdominus, the best exercise you can incorporate into your routine is the kneeling cable ab crunch. In conjunction with a heavy lifting routine that includes squats and deadlifts and maybe some knees-to-elbows and windshield wipers (don’t forget the diet!), you will beef up your abs in no time!

What has given you the best results in your ab training? Was it just diet, or did you do something specific in your training routine? Let me know in the comments!



What does ‘lifting heavy’ mean and how do you do it safely?

Lift Heavy Things Up, Put Them Down, REPEAT.

So you are here and reading a blog named “Strong Bodies” because you have some clue that lifting weights has many, many benefits and you also know enough that to get the best results you need to a) challenge yourself b) “lift heavy”…

But what does lifting heavy really mean? It’s kind of vague, isn’t it?

It’s one of those generic pieces of gym advice people often dish out to newbs without much thought to context or implementation. I’m hoping to clarify that for you.

Some people will tell you that lifting heavy means doing repetitions of less than 5. Some people will say it’s 6 – 8. Other people will have other definitions, I’m sure, throwing around words like “powerlifting”, “triples”, “hypertrophy”… making it much more complicated and mystical than necessary, in my opinion.

My definition is choosing a load (e.g: barbell, dumb bell) where you go to almost failure or, failure.

Failure means you can’t even do one more rep. I define “almost failure” as going til you might only have one more rep in the tank, but then you’d be done.

That’s it! That’s what lifting heavy is. It’s lifting to failure or almost failure and giving every set all you got.

Hold nothing back!

You could do a HEAVY 20-rep set… which means every single rep is a grind and you struggle to reach the big 2-0. This isn’t your 1kg pink dumb bell tricep kickbacks I’m talking about. In this context we’re talking about a loaded olympic barbell, and every rep to 15 is no picnic and after 15 makes you wish you were never born. That’s the 20-rep set I’m talking about. That’s considered heavy lifting, but it certainly isn’t a low rep range.

Whether it’s a heavy 5 rep set you’re doing, testing your 1-rep max or a 20-rep set, what matters is the CHALLENGE, the ENGAGEMENT of your mind and muscles and the GRIT it requires for you to finish each repetition with good form. Lifting heavy means lifting with INTENSITY. If there is no challenge, you didn’t have to focus and think about maintaining correct form because the forces of the load are so light that its easy or moderate to get to the end, well then… that certainly wasn’t “lifting heavy”, was it?

Who should be lifting heavy?

My recommendation is anyone and everyone with at least 6 months of consistent weightlifting experience without other contraindications like, pregnancy for instance or any other contraindicated medical issue or injury.

You can start off by doing 6 – 8 heavy reps for 3 sets per exercise, if that is a rep scheme you haven’t used before.

Another option is doing a 5 x 5 arrangement. This means you’re doing 5 sets of 5 repetitions of each exercise – this is super beneficial to the intermediate lifter and will really help you progress in strength and muscular development. For advanced lifters (for the purposes of this article that is someone with 2+ years of consistent experience and you’ve done several phases of 5×5 training), 5×5 doesn’t tend to yield the same progress. You’re better off training for either strength or hypertrophy, neither of which 5×5 is optimal for as a singular goal.

If you’re completely new to weightlifting, I would urge you to spend the first 3 – 6 months working on learning the movements, developing your motor skills, strength and control, strengthening your joints and in fact, not going to failure on each set. Leave one or two reps in the tank, be really strict with your form and focus on performing each exercise as correctly as possible. If it’s an option for you, hiring a knowledgeable in-person trainer for at least a few sessions would be really beneficial. Train in sets of at least 10 reps, you can go as high as 12 – 15. Ideally you would have a trainer and/or at least be following a beginners program that outlines the exercises and rep schemes you should do.

When you’re new, to be frank, pretty much anything you do that isn’t completely idiotic is going to get you a result in the gym. The number of reps you use doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re getting in there and doing the work. Perfect your squat form – you don’t even need any weight to do this. Work on your lunges. Learn to deadlift with a light load, learn how it feels to hinge at the hip and keep your lumbar spine locked and tight. Develop enough core and upper body strength to do some push ups with good form. When you get to the end of your set with the weights you used last week and you could do 3 or more extra reps, increase your weights. Clean up your diet. Be consistent.

Above all else, have fun!