Taking on the role of a superhero on the big screen is no easy feat because, after all, these characters have some superhuman abilities! That’s why when actors land a highly coveted role in the Marvel Universe, they know it’s time to get training.
Before these actors even step foot on set, they recruit the help of fitness experts, trainers, and nutritionists to get them in the best shape of their lives. That way, they can tackle their superhero stunts with ease and have the audience believing that they might actually be superheroes IRL too.
And when it comes to the ladies of the MCU, they don’t hold back in the gym. In the months leading up to filming, stars like Brie Larson and Scarlett Johansson have a training regimen that rivals that of many athletes. They know that a superhero transformation takes time and they’re more than willing to put in the work.
Find out how MCU superheroes got ready for their roles...
Before Brie Larson even stepped foot on the set of “Captain Marvel,” she was in the gym prepping for her starring role. She spent an incredible nine months getting ready for the film, which marked the first female-led superhero movie produced for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Brie teamed up with celebrity personal trainer and Rise Movement founder Jason Walsh in order to get into superhero shape.
Jason says Brie’s training started by building strength and resilience, which helps lower the risk of injury during stunts and fight scenes. In the first three months, the duo worked to correct any asymmetries and weaknesses in Brie’s body and mastered basic movements like pushing, pulling, and knee flexion. The next three months they focused on nailing the choreography for her fight scenes.
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Then, in the final three months, Brie spent 12 hours a week in the gym, including four days where she worked out twice. Each week, Jason increased the difficulty of weighted workouts which included deadlifts, squats and hip thrusts. On top of that, she also spent a few hours every week in fight training. By the end of the program, Brie could deadlift 225 pounds, do box jumps higher than her waist and push a Jeep for an entire minute.
“If you’re going to play a superhero, the character building starts with what we were doing. You’ve got to believe that you have superhuman strength,” Jason told Self.
For those wanting to get in “Captain Marvel” shape, they can try out Jason’s two week superhero training program on the Playbook fitness app.
Scarlett Johansson had never stepped foot in a gym before she first landed her role as Black Widow over a decade ago. Since then, she’s been working with celebrity trainer Eric Johnson at Urban Body Fitness in Atlanta, close to where Marvel filming takes place. Leading up to the movie, the duo complete three workout phases, each of which can last between three and six weeks, and aim to hit milestones every 12 weeks. The first phase works on building her rapid brain-to-muscle connection for stunts through explosive swinging and jumping movements and muscle-burning isometric holds. Phase two centers on intense strength training, and the final phase helps lean out Scarlett’s figure before the movie begins shooting. Her early morning sessions last between 45 minutes and an hour, four to five days a week.
Eric told THR that he likes to keep the workouts fun but hyper-focused which includes reactive plyometric work like multidirectional jumps using boxes and hurdles. They also include weightlifting, gymnastics, and sometimes Scarlett even takes classes like hot yoga and SLT Pilates.
Scarlett also puts a special focus on her diet and uses time-restricted eating to stabilize her energy. That means if her last meal of the day took place at 9 PM, she won’t eat until at least 9 AM the following day. Then in the days before filming, Scarlett will cut out carbs completely.
“The gift of fitness has been one of the best parts about working for Marvel. I am stronger and more capable now than I was 10 years ago, which is so awesome to be able to say,” Scarlett told THR.
By the end of training, Scarlett is capable of a 245-pound deadlift and push-up reps with a 45-pound plate on her back as well as an impressive number of single-leg pistol squats.
While Elizabeth Olsen’s Marvel Universe co-stars have a pretty regimented workout plan leading up to their films, Elizabeth doesn’t follow a strict routine before movies. She says that even when she’s not getting ready for a Marvel flick, she loves going to the gym and works out five or six times a week, including yoga, ballet classes, and boot camp workouts. Before filming “Captain America: Civil War,” Elizabeth even tried out Muay Thai but since it wasn’t the most comfortable thing, she stopped once the movie wrapped.
“I love training even when I’m not working on the Marvel movies...The thing with Marvel is they never tell you to get into shape. They just hire the people and let them figure out the way to express the character. They will set you up with a trainer if you want, but that’s it,” Elizabeth told The New York Times.
4. Natalie Portman
In order to get prepared for her upcoming role in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Natalie Portman had to spend a lot of time in the gym, but she can’t say she was a big fan of it all. In fact, she admitted to “dreading” the fact that she had to hit the gym, especially following the pandemic when she spent a lot of time at home. While she didn’t get into specifics, she did say that the process has been intense and left her pretty sore.
"Yes I am training. I'm in so much pain, like, I'm not good at this. Oh man, like I am an almost 40-year-old mother of two. It is a different scenario trying to get jacked. I'm like, I can't get up, I can't sit down! It's a situation,” Natalie said on “Watch What Happens Live.”
Zoe Saldana credits her Marvel Universe superhero status to the on-set stunt coordinators and choreographers as well as her trainers, which includes fitness expert Steve Moyer. Since Zoe is often busy with her three children and work commitments, she tends to keep her workouts short and efficient. She says she tries to hit the gym three times a week and does 20-minute intervals that includes running, squats, and using a medicine ball.
"Between travel, meetings, and shoots, schedules are rough for me. I try to work out three times a week, but I don't believe in getting on one machine for 30 minutes. If I do a lot of cardio, it usually just means I'll be dragging my feet for the rest of the day. And when I'm shooting, I really don't like to be strict with my workout, since I'm already putting in 16-hour days,” Zoe told Shape.
Instead of focusing on a strict workout routine, Zoe noted that she compensates by eating a lot healthier than she might otherwise. She tries not to deprive her body of anything but advocates for a balanced diet filled with fresh foods.
Pom Klementieff takes her role as Mantis seriously and does the training to make sure she’s in top shape for Marvel flicks — and any other action film that may come her way. She chooses not to follow a traditional gym routine and says she instead gets fit by working on boxing, martial arts, and fight choreography, even if she’s not preparing for a role. She’s also trained with some of Hollywood’s best stunt doubles!
“Female characters in Marvel films are usually cool and badass and strong, and I love that!” Pom told Elle.
7. Cobie Smulders
Even though Cobie Smulders’ role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill doesn’t require a ton of fighting, she says she ramps up her usual training schedule before a movie. Ahead of filming, she hits the gym three or four times a week and on top of her regular exercises at the gym, she says she once recruited the help of a black-ops trainer. At a shooting range, he taught her how to handle a gun, how to hit and how to hold herself.
“I did a lot of running and weight lifting. I would have liked to work out with the boys—that would have been fun. But I did do workouts three or four times a week. That's more than I usually do. It got me in really good shape and gave me muscles, but I wore a lot of lady dresses on camera, so it didn't show up on screen,” Cobie told Allure.
“Black Panther” star Letitia Wright didn’t play many physical roles before joining the Marvel Universe so she says preparation for her part involved a lot of training. Letitia added that although she spent a lot of time in the lab in the movie, one particular fight scene took months of work to get ready.
"I did a lot of hand-to-hand combat stuff. It was not crazy, it wasn't grueling, but it was cool to learn how to fight and get prepared. It was tough, but we got through it,” Letitia told ESPN.
9. Karen Gillan
Karen Gillan had to dedicate time in the gym for two months before she began taking on her role as Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” She hit the gym in an attempt to bulk up but says that it didn’t really go according to plan, although she gave it her best. When she wasn’t in the gym, Karen says she focused her time on fight training.
“I did a lot of training for that role. I had to work out for two months before. They wanted me to bulk up a little bit, which is funny, because that didn’t really happen. I really tried though. And then, I had to do fight training every day that I wasn’t shooting. They told me that you have to do something six thousand times before it’s second nature. I didn’t manage to do the routine six thousand times, but we certainly tried,” Karen said during Comic Con.
Evangeline Lilly hasn’t been shy about documenting her intense fitness regime while getting prepared for her role as The Wasp in Marvel films. In addition to fight and stunt training, Evangeline has shared videos as she worked with weights, ran flights of stairs, did ab routines and practiced kickboxing.
But after struggling with some “very serious” physical health issues, Evangeline has been taking a different approach to training for the upcoming “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” She says she’s now working with chiropractor Eric Goodman as she rebuilds her strength for the film, starting with a strong base. By starting with small details, like focusing on breathwork and points of contact on her feet, she is finding an effective way to deal with pain and find strength.
“Lots of tiny details - spread your toes, outside edges of the feet parallel, three points of contact on the foot, breath into your ribs front and back and sides, lift the tip of the skull, etc - are what make his postural exercises so uniquely effective. After 26 years of lower back pain, injury and weakness, I am starting to feel strength coming into that area of my body again and it feels amazing!” Evangeline wrote on her Instagram.
11. Jaimie Alexander
Jaimie Alexander wasn’t at her peak fitness potential when she landed her role in “Thor.” She says she used the opportunity to change her gym routine, starting with boxing with her co-star Chris Hemsworth. Now she adheres to an intense fitness routine, which she says is called a prison workout. And when she’s training particularly for Marvel movies, she says she can sometimes burn 4,000 calories in a day.
"[It’s] a lot of sprint-interval work and burpees-which I have a love-hate relationship with. My latest obsession is Valslides by Valerie Waters. You can use them anywhere, on hardwood floors or carpet. I do lunges, push-ups, pikes, and ab work with them. I also have a TRX band and a jump rope in my trailer. And I love swimming. It's a great low-impact high-cardio workout,” she told Shape.