“It’s 3 a.m. Wake up for your protein shake”
For Million Dollar Baby, B.C.-based trainer Grant Roberts transformed actress Hilary Swank from lingerie-model slender to bulked-up boxing machine in nine brutal weeks, ALEXANDRA GILL writes
By ALEXANDRA GILL
Saturday, January 22, 2005 - Page R8
VANCOUVER – How often do you hear a famous Hollywood actress thanking the man who made her pack on 20 pounds?
“Pass me a box of bonbons, darling, and wake me up when this bloated fad is over,” I can almost hear you sigh. What with Fat Actress Kirstie Alley poised for a plus-sized comeback and Ren?e Zellweger having successfully shed all of Bridget Jones’s wobbly bits for the second time around, the whole body blow-up trend has become so drearily ho-hum.
Perhaps. But how often does the excess weight gobbled down for a role actually make said actress look fabulous? It’s no wonder Hilary Swank, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as a lean, mean boxing machine in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, remembered to thank her personal trainers when accepting the award Sunday night.
First on the list was Hector Roca, the legendary boxing trainer from Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, N.Y., who taught Swank how to throw a sharp right hook. In the same breath, she thanked Grant Roberts “who encouraged me to push beyond any imagination I ever had of myself.” Not bad praise for a weight trainer from Pitt Meadows, B.C., who forced Swank awake in the middle of the night, every night for nine weeks straight, to chug down extra protein shakes to gain those 20 pounds of solid muscle.
“It’s easy for people in these situations to get big heads and start talking about themselves in the third person,” says the former Canadian heavyweight bodybuilding champion, who also scored his own cameo role in the film as the corner man for Lucia Rijker, a real-life world junior welterweight champion.
“I can tell you right now, that’s not going to happen to Grant Roberts,” he deadpans, cracking the first in a non-stop stream of jokes.
At 6-feet-1, and weighing 265 pounds, Roberts looks as if his head could actually double in size and still fit his body quite nicely. Originally from Saskatoon, he opened his first gym at 17. Now 40, he owns several fitness clubs throughout Western Canada, including the flagship Athletic Club in Pitt Meadows, a small rural community 45 minutes east of Vancouver. He also trains professional athletes, owns Apex USA, a fitness-equipment company in Los Angeles and designs fitness facilities for hotels, resorts and celebrity clients.
That’s how he got the film gig. A few years ago, Roberts helped Eastwood set up a home gym. Then last year, Roberts was in New York on business when Eastwood, who directed, starred in and wrote the score for Million Dollar Baby, called him on his cellphone. Eastwood said he was worried about an actress, who was training for the lead role of a female boxer, and asked Roberts to see if she was on the right track.
Roberts went straight to the Warner Bros. office to meet Swank. The first lesson he inadvertently taught her was one in humility.
“To be honest, I’d never heard of her before,” says Roberts. "She came in dressed to the nines. We shook hands and I said, ‘So, you’re an actress?’ "
Swank was slightly taken aback, but responded with as much dignity and gumption as would Maggie Fitzgerald, the determined trailer-park waitress she plays in the film.
“Actually, I’m an Academy Award-winning actress,” she told Roberts. “Do you want to feel my muscles?”
Roberts had no desire to work with a Hollywood prima donna. So when Eastwood called him back later that day, Roberts said he wanted to evaluate Swank’s mindset, as well as her physique.
“Let’s see what you got,” he told her, when they hit the gym that night.
“She couldn’t even manage half a chin-up,” he recalls, chuckling. Nevertheless, Roberts says he was “absolutely convinced” that Swank, a former Washington state champion swimmer and gymnast, was serious about transforming herself into a credible-looking boxer. At the time, however, the 5-foot-7 actress weighed only 110 pounds and still sported the lithe limbs of a Calvin Klein lingerie model.
“Time was of the essence,” says Roberts, who only had nine weeks to pump her into shape. It would normally take about six months to sculpt a similar physique, he adds.
Roberts dropped everything else on his plate and stayed in New York to be by her side every day. Swank was already spending two hours a day at Roca’s gym, sparring and hitting the bags. Roberts would pick her up afterwards, go get a coffee (for a thermogenic warm-up) and then have her work with weights for another hour and a half.
The workouts varied. But the key, says Roberts, was using drop sets with successively lighter weights, squeezing out as many reps at each level until the body part is absolutely fatigued. Occasionally, he would end a session by having Swank push an SUV in neutral gear across the parking lot.
“Sounds crazy,” says Roberts, “but it’s very good for polishing off the legs.”
To help bulk her up without accumulating any body fat, Roberts and New York nutrition guru Oz Garcia designed constantly changing diets with plenty of essential fatty acids (mostly flax-seed oil) and protein.
Problem was, Swank is a vegetarian. Besides eggs, fish was the only protein he could get her to eat. So he loaded her up on protein shakes mixed with egg whites, oils, vitamins and minerals. For lunch and dinner, she ate fish and lots of green vegetables. For five days a week, her carbohydrate intake was limited to 50 grams or less. But he did allow her two cheat days a week. And on those days, he even let her eat pizza a couple of times, as long as she didn’t overindulge.
Roberts insisted she get nine hours of sleep each night, because ripped muscles need rest to repair and grow. But given the intensity of the workout regimen, she couldn’t go nine hours without eating. So he had her wake up in the middle of the night to down another shake.
“It was a bit extreme for most people,” says Roberts, who has written a book called The Unified Diet, which is being published this summer.
Roberts is no stranger to the power of determination. Soon after winning the Canadian heavyweight bodybuilding championship, at 19, he was in a horrific car crash. When the vehicle he was driving flipped over, he went flying through the sunroof and was crushed by the car as it rolled on top of him. He broke his back, clavicle and ribs, which also punctured both lungs, and spent five years in recovery. Although doctors told him he should be grateful just for being alive, he was determined to build his body back to its former size.
He recognized a similar determination in Swank, who never once complained or got mad at him.
“I’m surprised she didn’t snap at some point,” says Roberts. “I did push her pretty hard. But she was focused, absolutely focused.”
By the time the cameras began rolling, Swank had gained 20 pounds of lean, hard muscle and could bang out 10 chin-ups without breaking a sweat. Eastwood was so impressed that he often comments about how the movie billboards and posters that show off her rippling back muscles needed no photographic touchups.
When they finished their training, Roberts asked Swank what she thought of her new body.
“I want my old body back,” she replied.
She has since lost about 13 pounds and is said to be thrilled with her shape. Roberts says he would prefer to see her a bit heavier, but admits the physique she has now will be easier to maintain.
“It was a full-time job to maintain the shape she had for the film. The body she has now, that can be maintained with a 40-minute workout, three times a week. Piece of cake,” he adds, laughing. “But only on her cheat days.”
Look’s like Grant Roberts reads T-Nation ;)!
To many of us, the principles used above are the standard. Who knows, maybe the next ‘craze’ will be training T-Nation styles? Late night infomercials with hawt chicks!
On a serious note: 20 lbs of muscle in 9 weeks? Is that possible without drugs? I don’t think so.