By Jacqueline Risser, SELF
"Divergent" fight coordinator J.J. Perry was given a mission: whip six Hollywood actors into kickass shape, so they don't huff-and-puff while sprinting, punching and throwing knives onscreen. His deadline? Five weeks. Here's how he did it -- and how you can steal his fitness tricks.
"We needed three months to train [the actors], but we only had five weeks," said J.J. Perry, the man charged with sculpting the bods of the film's cast. Operating on a tight schedule, Perry went to work -- training the actors three hours daily for five weeks straight. The good news: You can use Perry's unique tactics to hone a fight scene-worthy physique. Just follow his four simple steps and you'll pass your own initiation test into Dauntless.
Step 1: Be Realistic About Your Abilities
Perry, who typically trains bad boy action heroes like Sly Stallone, Jet Li, and Jason Statham (but rarely works with pretty-as-pie actresses), said, "I evaluated everybody right off the bat. I needed to see who was strong, who was fast, who was slow, who was flexible and who was tight." His findings? No one had an athletic background -- at all.
For example, while Shailene Woodley, was super flexible from yoga, "She didn't have a lot of explosiveness," says Perry. Fortunately for everyone, the actors were game for the hardcore military-inspired training. "We had a mission and we were going to accomplish it-- and I was going to push them down the chain if they weren't going to walk themselves."
Step 2: Get Your Heart Going
In addition to encouraging the actors to do 20-30 minutes on the treadmill before their training sessions, Perry combined plyometrics and cardio work to amp up the intensity of each session. He paired up the six actors -- because partner workouts are so hot right now -- and had them race each other to finish their seven- to eight-minute knee-up sequence as fast as they could. The objective: boost power and heart rates. Here's how to do it:
Stand with feet staggered, hip-width apart, right leg back, facing your partner as she stands with arms extended in front of her at chest level. Explosively bring your right knee up to your partner's hand and back to floor 30 times as fast as you can. Switch legs; repeat for one set. Switch places with your partner. Do three sets each.
Step 3: Get Some Guns
We're talking guns of the muscular variety here (though, Perry used cool down time to train the team in rifle/pistol-handling and knife-throwing). The actors needed to look like they could convincingly beat someone up, so Perry borrowed this push-up routine from his army days:
Start in a push-up position with thumbs and index fingers touching to form a diamond. Do 30 push-ups, lowering chest to hands and locking elbows. Rest 10 seconds. Move thumbs 2 inches apart and do 30 more push-ups, keeping elbows close to ribs. Rest 10 seconds. Move hands to shoulder width and do another 30 push-ups. Rest 10 seconds. Repeat the sequence, doing 20 reps of each push-up. Repeat once more, doing 10 reps each.
The increments help isolate various parts of the upper body -- keeping hands close works the triceps; widen them out to the sides and you'll feel the burn in your front deltoids. "These are mostly the muscles you use when you're going to be striking," Perry said. Or, say, lookin' good in a tank top.
Step 4: Strengthen To The Core
Tight abs are a must for nailing a powerful fighting stance. Perry finished off each session by having the team interlock legs to do a sit-up chain (three on each side, facing each other). Sounds sweet, right? Don't be fooled. "Everybody is hooked up," Perry said, "Everybody moves as one unit -- another [trick] I learned in the army." Want to try it yourself? Here's how:
Sit with knees bent, feet flat, facing your partner, legs interlocked. Cross arms over chest and lie back until shoulder blades touch floor. Do 10 sit-ups, coming halfway off the floor, as your partner does the same. Come all the way up and do 10 more sit-ups, lowering halfway to floor. Lower to floor and do 10 full sit-ups. Come all the way up and do 10 more full sit-ups, lowering until shoulders hover just above floor. Lower to the floor and do 10 more full sit-ups, then do another 10 with shoulders just above floor. Lower halfway and hold for 100 counts.