What it’s like to be a Trainer to the Gods

It was Klinton Hoare’s job to transform human actors into characters with superhuman strength and agility, for the highly anticipated film “Gods of Egypt” starring Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gerard Butler and opening in theatres nationwide this weekend. As cast trainer, Hoare supported the star-studded cast including training Thwaites for his role as Bek, a clever and swift mortal thief who teams up with Coster-Waldau as the powerful and vengeful god Horus, to stop Set, the merciless god of darkness (Butler) who holds Bek’s true love Zaya and plans to destroy both this life and the Afterlife.

24Life asked Hoare what was involved in training the cast of talented actors for otherworldly roles.

24Life: What’s the difference, overall, in training people for performance in a film production, compared to conditioning for a competition or for physical appearance?

Klinton Hoare (KH): The challenge when prepping actors for roles such as those in “Gods of Egypt” is to prepare each actor to hold peak condition for five-to-six months of filming. This takes extraordinary commitment and discipline from the actor and skillful programming and periodization from the trainer. We designed the diet and exercise program around that of elite athletes, with one crucial difference: I knew from my work as a physical performance manager in professional sports that the actors had to be prepared for continuous peaks, whereas athletes may only prepare to peak physically for one day or a single event.

24Life: What was Brenton Thwaites’ training regimen for the film?

KH: Brenton’s training was systemized and structured to meet the requirements for the role that he was playing. Brenton came to “Gods of Egypt” already well-trained and carrying muscle mass, but we both knew he needed to be subjected to a grueling physical regimen to give his character an edge.

The key was to squeeze in strength and conditioning sessions prior to the start of filming, and maintain a commitment to training, optimally while filming was in full swing. It meant setting alarms for 3:30 a.m. each day to fit in metabolic conditioning and strength sessions before breakfast and make-up.

Throughout the lead-up and the filming, Brenton trained four-to-five days per week with each 1-hour session incorporating a dynamic movement component with a hypertrophy / muscle building section, coupled with a program designed for the aesthetic appearance of the arms, chest, back and shoulders, areas I thought as a trainer we could accentuate for the film. It was about combining all the elements into one integrated training system. With my background in strength and conditioning, I knew that for the time available, it was crucial we utilized a concurrent system that had Brenton train all variables at the one time. That meant body building, power lifting, Olympic lifting and metabolic conditioning.

24Life: How did you train for the character Bek’s almost godlike speed and agility?

KH: Brenton moves incredibly well, which I could put down to his passion for surfing and also a training background in boxing. Although his movement was fluid, Brenton had a further commitment towards increasing the perception that his character was strong and could move his body through space with body control. With this in mind, we utilized parkour conditioning and varied yoga exercises and had him perform sparring within the boxing ring.

24Life: And what about his stunt double’s regimen?

KH: For Brenton’s double, Blake Lindsell, training had a different focus. Presenting much lighter than Brenton prior to filming, he needed to put on muscle mass. When filming began, due to the stunt crew’s high-volume workload on this film, it was critical to maintain the muscle mass Blake acquired. We did this through training with lighter loads and increased repetition and ensured adequate recovery methods were in place.

24Life: Tell us more about the physical requirements that this particular story created, and the demands placed upon you as trainer.

KH: As “Gods of Egypt” was a production based around men of physicality and a deity that can best be defined as supremely powerful and revered, it was my responsibility to deliver male actors with nearly mythological muscle. From the briefing, I realized the film required an almost “half-man, half-god” aesthetic for the men. The women’s roles required flawlessness – in essence, a physique with perfect aesthetics.

Brenton was no different. Although his character Bek wasn’t a god, it still required a physical presence, one that moved athletically. For Brenton, the character brief was simple and from this, training was focused on Brenton being a really athletic and dynamic guy. His ability to leap, run and roll to get himself out of tricky situations was to be second to none. Bek is fast, nimble, with excellent body control, which is learned and honed by his upbringing and use of his surroundings every day. The producers saw him as lean, sinewy and muscular without being excessively bulky.

So Brenton’s training was like that of any of the world-class athletes I’d worked with in the past to prepare for competition. Training was structured around athletic mobility, and infused with compound exercises that simulate pushing, pulling, climbing and explosive jumping, with plenty of up/down exercises that push lactate threshold and an ability recovery within short turnarounds.

24Life: What kind of mental demands did training for these roles create?

KH: The key for people to realize is that actors like Brenton are up at 2 a.m., performing their training, going through makeup, filming and then repeating this over and over again. As the public, we see the finished product and not the actual workings behind the scenes. Brenton is a passionate surfer, loves the water and throughout filming this was his escape to get into his zone, his space. If I felt he was mentally flat, I’d encourage him not to train and to take a day or two to recover and recharge his batteries.

For me, recovery plays as vital a role as workload, when it comes to performance, and Brenton’s days off allowed him to return to the training environment physically ready for the load within his next session.

24Life: Did any of the training require the actors to learn something new, unlearn habits or do something differently?

KH: For Brenton, it was a direct and intentional move away from his past training habit of separating strength days and cardio days. With the timeframe we had before filming started, we needed advanced training principles with optimal training loads. There was no time for a hit and miss approach, so Brenton’s training was an infusion of strength training and metabolic conditioning enabling Brenton and his character Bek to meet one of the important briefing requirements of lactate tolerance and increased muscle definition.

Brenton came into the role of Bek with a reputation as a hardworking actor committed to his projects and the training requirements for these roles. For me, it was about learning how to prepare Brenton optimally, which exercises and training principles were bringing superior results and challenging Brenton to “win the workout,” as he loves competing – whether it’s table tennis or beating his previous time within a metabolic conditioning circuit. When a client is hungry and determined, the trainer’s skill is in feeding this hunger appropriately.

24Life: How did nutrition factor into the training regimen you set out?

KH: Brenton came to the set with a clean-eating mindset. He understands fuelling the body with fresh foods and macro nutrients.

More important, when your body is operating 24/7 and everything is stressed every day, the slightest change – maybe inadequate sleep or too much sodium – will show on your body and performance will suffer. It was crucial to educate Brenton about when to eat: for example, immediately post-exercise I’d encourage him to eat a ratio of 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight with .4 grams of high-quality protein per kilogram of body weight. It was also important for food (rather than beverages) to be Brenton’s quality source of calories, and fiber and vegetables were important for satiety.

Once we built the muscle, we made some minor dietary tweaks for muscle definition and to accentuate his physique in the ways his role required. But for me as a trainer, it’s always a priority to remain healthy – which can be something of a balance to master with Hollywood producers!

24Life: You didn’t just train Brenton Thwaites and his stunt double – you were responsible for training other lead actors in this film, as well. How do you manage the demands of training a group for individual perfection?

KH: Big productions with big demands and big Hollywood expectations require big results – it’s as simple as that. As a trainer, I am hired to get the actors ready to film at their physical best. This means applying 20 years of professional training experience and creating and following a systemized approach to training sessions within training blocks. It’s an approach not dissimilar to that which I have used with national and international sports teams.

For “Gods of Egypt,” I was contracted to train nine actors, all with individual film briefings and aesthetic and performance requirements for their roles. On top of this, each actor came to me with individual training backgrounds and their own set of apprehensions and motivations. So in essence, it’s a question of understanding the client and designing training around the individual: what is their body type, what methods or training principles do they best respond to, and so on.

With films, you have time limitations, so optimal training is crucial and unlike most gym-goers, the actors don’t have time for trial and error. I combine all elements of training into one integrated training system. Yes each individual element, whether it’s Olympic lifting, body building, HIIT or metabolic conditioning, lends itself to a prioritization system. However, I do not believe that you should drop off one aspect of your training completely, and I agree with the concurrent system approach, in which you train all variables at the same time.

24Life: What tips or words of wisdom do you have for everyday athletes – whether you’re preparing to become nimbler than the gods or something much more mundane

I would say train with intent. Train with consistency. Train with passion. Train with an end focus – a goal, and once you reach it, assess, celebrate and raise your standards to reach your next health and fitness goal.

We don’t all have the ability to train and be exposed to resources that an actor has, but one thing is certain: we all can make the decision to train to our best so we can perform at our best in no matter what sphere of life.