Emma Stone is no stranger to the gym. She’s been working with trainer Jason Walsh, C.S.C.S., founder of Rise Nation in Los Angeles, for years, and she doesn’t shy away from a deadlift or squat. But when she was confirmed to play the role of legend Billie Jean King, a 39-time Grand Slam-winning tennis player, she knew there was work to do.
So they set a goal of adding 10 pounds of lean muscle to Emma’s body during the three months of prep time before filming started. In the end, Walsh’s plan was so successful that the actress far surpassed her goal—Emma ended up tacking on 15 pounds.
“It’s the first time she’s ever portrayed a real person, and it’s one of the world’s best athletes, so she really took it to heart and took it very seriously,” says Walsh.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the success came easily. Here’s what Walsh says Stone did—both in and out of the gym—to step into the shoes of a tennis icon.
Then, for the following six to eight weeks, Walsh says they dropped down to single sessions five days a week, before finally moving to four days in the last month. “I’ve worked with athletes before, and in order for her to have that demeanor and psychological mentality, she had to feel like an athlete and move like an athlete,” says Walsh. “You don’t want her, an actor who doesn’t play tennis, to start playing tennis and get injured—and it’s highly probable. So we tried to give her all the tools to recover well, be strong, and have the mobility and strength that she needed.”
Her least favorite? Loaded carries and sleds. “They’re just daunting,” says Walsh. “Going up and down a track with heavy weights takes time and you really have to grind it out. It takes time and a lot of dedication.” Still, the star was committed, so she did what she was told (while interjecting plenty of jokes to make Walsh laugh, naturally)—and it paid off.
Which, if you think about it, makes a lot of sense. Tennis players are constantly on the go, regularly switching their direction of movement. Without that stability, it’s a recipe for disaster.
To supplement her tennis sessions and provide a hit of conditioning, during the last month of training Walsh also had her take one to two Rise Nation classes each week, where she became friendly with the calorie-torching VersaClimber. He says that was less of a priority because Emma is naturally lean, so she had about a 2:1 ratio of strength training to cardio while prepping for the film.
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She wasn’t placed on a specific program, nor did she have to count how many calories she consumed, but she did need to follow the basic rules of good nutrition: lots of veggies at each meal, along with some sort of protein and healthy fats.
But because she was active for much of the day, Stone also added two protein shakes to her regular routine. “It’s a lot easier to drink your calories than trying to eat them,” explains Walsh. Filled with metabolic whey protein, Udo oil (a mixture of flaxseed oil, sesame seed oil, and other fats), ashwagandha (an herb commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine), a handful of spinach, and almond milk or water, the shakes helped her feel satisfied while providing plenty of nutrition, he says. Most importantly, though, it tasted great. “It has to be a really good-tasting protein shake so it’s palatable, otherwise three months of drinking shakes is going to suck.” Amen.
At the end of the day, Walsh and Emma both worked hard “to create an environment for the body to grow, adapt, and recover from the stress of her workouts,” says Walsh. “It’s not the workout itself that’s going to give you the growth, it’s the recovery, sleep, nutrition, and hydration.”
Looking good, Emma!