The Real Truth About How Hollywood Stars Transform Their Bodies

Believe it or not, the most famous celebrity transformations are often filled with fluff…

Or as I like to call it, “Hollywood Hype.” But before I reveal the truth behind Hollywood’s hottest bodies (from experience, of course), allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Joe Dowdell. For more than 20 years, I have been training clients from all walks of life in New York City. During my past two-plus decades in the fitness industry, I’ve built a solid, no-nonsense reputation as someone who delivers exceptional results.

As you can imagine, building a brand in a metropolis known for its bright lights and world-renowned talent has led to several household names seeking my services (more on the heavy hitters I’ve had the pleasure to work with later)…

Before we dive into the best-kept secrets behind Hollywood’s most-famous transformations, I want to address the question you’re getting ready to ask. Don’t worry. I get it all the time:

“So Joe, how did you build your celebrity clientele?”

Honestly, I’d love to say it’s because I’m the best personal trainer in the business. The truth is, being a “celebrity” trainer has a lot to do with geography, relationships, and lady luck. Sure, being a master of your craft is important, but the brightest star tends to call hotspots like The Big Apple, Los Angeles, and London home. They also trust the people in their inner circles to point them in the right direction. And of course, a little luck can’t hurt, right?

Through a combination of geography, relationships and luck (among other things), I’ve been blessed with the rare opportunity to train superstars like Anne Hathaway, Eva Mendes, Gerard Butler and 50 Cent.

Now all of these people earned their transformations, but that doesn’t mean everything you’ve heard about jaw-dropping celebrity transformations is true.

In fact, as I shared from the top, most of it is fluff.

I’m confident the following little-known facts will shed a bright light on how the stars earn their seemingly unreal results and the truth behind those washboard abs, single-digit body fat percentages and rippling muscles.

Ready for some hush-hush Hollywood secrets never shared before? Keep reading.


8 Best-Kept Secrets Behind Hollywood’s Most Famous Physical Transformations

I never had my sights set on working with people in the entertainment industry. In fact, I’ve trained far more average Joes than celebrities, models, and athletes.

For every Kate Hudson, Natalie Portman and Jimmy Fallon, there are 50+ incredible individuals who you’ve never heard of.

Those people know the truth behind our first Hollywood secret.


Secret 1: Celebrities are trained no different from you.  

My focus has always been on learning as much about exercise science as possible. You know, to the point I’m on information overload and my head can’t possibly download any more information. Then, I apply that knowledge to my clients. All of my clients.

It’s a simple formula that works. And its simplicity has paid huge dividends…

The first big-name client to come my way was not Gerard Butler, Claire Danes or Mario Lopez (though they all made it to me eventually). In fact, this word-of-mouth referral was not a musician, actor or actress.

Curious? Let me introduce you. We can learn a lot from this individual’s unique story.

My initial opportunity to train a high-profile client came as a referral from a current client. The said client sent famed American model Stacey Williams my way.

Does the name ring a bell? Most recognize Stacey from her frequent bikini-clad appearances in Sports Illustrated.

Guess what? I was the one she enlisted to prepare her for her shoots.

Stacey came to me as an avid Yogi. She had already appeared in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, but she had never trained for it previously (crazy, right?).

In just a few months’ time, Stacey swapped the Yoga mat for weight training several days per week and — you guessed it — she absolutely smashed her next shoot.

When the issue was released, all the buzz was about how much her body had transformed from previous appearances. The biggest change? Weight training. Those weights worked wonders.

Which leads me to another truth behind Tinseltown transformations.


Secret 2: Big-time transformations require weight training.

If weights worked for a supermodel, they’ll work for all ages, shapes, sizes, and genders. While cardio work certainly has its benefits, no transformation occurred without weights.

Want more proof? Claire Danes regularly pushed plate-loaded prowlers. That’s right, the 5’5” American actress knows how to push (and pull) a sled with plenty of iron aboard.

You see, most people assume thin, ultra-toned bodies (like the ones you see models and actresses sporting) require a crazy commitment to cardio and minimal, if any, weight training. Right? Wrong. Stacey and Claire can both speak to this.

With the spotlight shining on Stacey’s transformation, the model was kind enough to credit my work for her physical appearance.

And just like that, my business exploded… and more secrets were revealed.

So, Joe, about those secrets… Now that you know how I was put on the map, let’s dive deeper into the hard facts.

Next, we’ll tackle the tabloids.


Secret 3: Don’t believe what you see, read or hear about celebrity transformations.

90% of the publicity surrounding celebrity transformations is inaccurate.  

My publicist is gonna scold me for sharing, so keep this one between us: Hollywood is all about hype.

When celebrities claim they trained an astronomical amount of hours each day preparing for a role or declare they added a massive amount of muscle in a few short weeks… well, that is hype. Or as I like to call it, “Hollywood Hype.”

Does it happen? Sure (wait until we talk about Gerard Butler’s crazy Men’s Health deadlines). Does it happen often? Absolutely not.

If a transformation seems too good to be true, you’re not getting the full story. The reason behind this is kept under wrap by Hollywood execs.

Here’s the truth:

Secret 4: Most transformations take time.

The more drastic the transformation, the longer it likely took.

Transformations take time, period. Hollywood leverages transformations into headline-worthy stories to generate a buzz and ultimately, make more money. If they have to bend the truth in the process, so be it.

Why must these eye-popping changes require such a commitment? Well, you’re gonna find this one hard to believe…


Secret 5: Celebrities are no different from you and me.

Celebrities don’t have superhuman strength or out-of-this-world genetics.

At the end of the day, they are normal people like you and me. The only difference? With the spotlight constantly on them, they’re forced to look their physical best.

In fact, physical requirements can be built into their contracts. Drop 20 pounds by Day 1 of filming or lose the lead role. Add 15 pounds of muscle or you’ll be replaced during production. Cut your body fat 7% or you’ll delay filming and cost the studio (and yourself) millions.

If celebrities don’t deliver on these requirements, they’re essentially committing career suicide. With strict goals and firm deadlines — both of which their income depends on — their commitment has more at stake.

That said, most of them are guilty of the same things as us. They tend to program hop. They overindulge. They make excuses. They love a little ice cream.

Today’s superstars are not all enthusiastic gym rats or clean eaters. They simply do what they have to when preparing for a role or shoot.

I’ll use another model to illustrate this point (as you can see, I’ve worked with many models). Former Victoria Secret Angel and Argentinian stunner, Ines Rivero, came to me to prepare for the VS Show in Cannes, France. She had 5 months to get runway-ready (remember what I said about transformations taking time?).

Her body needed to be near-perfect as she’d be walking in VS’s signature lingerie in front of millions (yes, millions) of viewers.

Do you think I treated her 5-month prep program any different from what I would for my average client?

Short answer: Nope!

I laid out a series of 4-week program cycles to cover our 5 months together. We focused on strength training and boxing 3 days per week and Ines handled cardio work on her own during our off days. With her workouts nailed down, she tightened up her diet as the show approached (more on diet in a bit).

As you’ll see, much of what I’ve just described is laid out in your 4-week Hollywood Body Workout later in this guide.

Sure, most celebs stay in decent shape year-round because they’re always one call away from a major opportunity, but the vast majority of the A-list talent that I’ve worked with are like Ines; they come to me with a realistic timeline to achieve realistic goals and they’re committed to doing so.


Secret 6: Extreme transformations do happen. But, they are not always as they seem.

Occasionally, I’ve led the kind of transformations that steals the headlines. Yes, sometimes the “Hollywood Hype” is real.

While a short turnaround for a photo shoot or movie role isn’t ideal (I’ve had as little as 6 weeks), the training plan in these situations is extreme. These uber-quick transformations can require clients to power through 6 day-per-week training plans, some of which even include 2 workouts per day.

That said, these extreme plans are never done for an extended period of time (shhh!).

Gerard Butler (who is every bit as cool and funny in person as he comes across on the big screen) and his manager came to me with 7-8 weeks to prepare for the cover of Men’s Health, as well as an extensive feature in the acclaimed magazine.

The catch? The release of the publication was coinciding with the release of his movie, 300 (I’m sure that transformation rings a bell). Since 300 had finished filming, Gerry’s diet and routine had changed significantly.

The actor needed to look his part of King Leonidas, the physical specimen audiences would be seeing on the big screen. However, after filming movies back-to-back-to-back, he hadn’t been working out at all. Truth be told, he had trained so hard for 300, he was completely burned out.

Needless to say, we had quite a bit of work to do. We planned on training every day, but the Scottish actor wasn’t too ‘enthusiastic’ about the process. 😉

Every morning, I’d show up at Gerry’s hotel room and drag him out of bed. Like any exercise-avoiding client, he’d attempt to distract me with various stories or convince me we should go do something else before hitting the gym.

This went on for the entire 7-8 weeks (sorry, Gerry!). Despite the difficulties, we nailed the shoot and the transformation came, but it certainly didn’t come easy.

As you can see, the 300 star’s story speaks to many of my previous points.

But there’s one component we haven’t discussed…


Secret 7: You don’t hear enough about nutrition.

Nutrition is often overlooked by the tabloids as it lacks the sex appeal of training. Understand this: Nutrition is every bit as important as training (perhaps, more important).

From stars like Natasha Bedingfield to athletes like Roy Hibbert, nutrition basics apply to everyone.

Celebrities eat lean protein, vegetables and good fats with each meal. They limit alcohol intake. And they stay hydrated.

For situations where our stars were on short timelines (like the aforementioned Gerard Butler story), or for someone who needed and wanted more structure, I’d typically bring in an expert like Dr. Mike Roussell to help tag team a nutrition plan.

With Dr. Roussell’s assistance, we’d create a detailed meal plan — including exact meals to order from the client’s favorite restaurants or the hotel menu — which would coincide perfectly with the intensity and volume of the training plan he or she was on. This is common practice for big-time transformations, especially when working with athletes.

Let’s use former NBA All-Star Roy Hibbert as an example.

Dr. Mike and I worked with Roy prior to his 2011-2012 All-Star campaign. Dr. Mike managed every aspect of Roy’s nutrition plan and even had the Georgetown grad work with a personal chef.

Per Dr. Mike, “The unique part of Roy’s diet was the total control and detail that we had. His chef would weigh and measure the food to the gram. Roy had specific times that he was to eat each of the meals and specific times to take certain supplements. We monitored his body composition every 2 weeks via a 12-site body fat analysis and would adjust his diet and supplementation protocols based on the analysis.”

Told you nutrition was a key component of transformations :). Unfortunately, that’s the kind of stuff that Hollywood never shines a light on.

But nutrition isn’t the only transformation technique kept under wraps…

Secret 8: Hollywood sleeps on sleep.

Have you ever heard major outlets credit sleep for celebrity transformations? Of course not. Sleep will never steal headlines, but it certainly deserves its own section in this guide. If you don’t believe in the value of sleep, talk to famed English actor Richard Armitage…  

The star of The Hobbit trilogy used ZMA to aid sleep and noted his quality of sleep as a significant recovery agent that allowed him to train harder. Richard’s reliance on sleep as an effective ally for his physical transformation has also been proven by science.

For the record, this man trained hard. In the beloved battle scene of the trilogy’s final film, the superstar had to battle while wearing 40 pounds of costume, wielding a 20-pound sword and maintaining incredible balance on a set designed to mimic shifting ice.

His secret weapon? Sleep.

Sleep’s profound effect on body composition due to its impact on various hormones such as growth hormone, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol, is a part of all of Hollywood’s hottest transformations. Despite hectic schedules, my celebrity clients would aim for 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.

In some cases, 30-minute power naps during the day were needed. Regardless, no transformation occurred without high-quality slumber.

Now that you know the facts behind the most-polarizing celebrity transformations, I want to share real nutrition and workout plans that I’ve used with the stars.

The best part? You can use them too.

The Hollywood Body Nutrition Plan

As mentioned previously, nutrition is a huge component of the celebrity transformations you see. While my nutrition plans are typically tweaked on a case-by-case basis, there are some tried and true principles I use for nearly all of my high-profile clients.

I find that most individuals function best having 3 meals (which includes breakfast) and a snack each day. In addition, they will down a post-workout protein shake complete with 25-30 grams of whey protein (rice and pea protein serve as substitutes for Vegans), fresh berries and bananas, as well as water and ice on the days they strength train. Remember, they’re all doing some form of strength training.

Beyond the volume of meals, here are the philosophies that guide their nutrition plans (and should guide yours):

  • Treat food as fuel. I’ve always found when clients keep this concept in mind, they have a greater tendency toward making better choices. High-quality fuel gives you sustained energy. Low-quality fuel is detrimental to your day.
  • Eat clean 80-85% of the time. Regardless of goals and timelines, no one is perfect. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment or failure, go into it with some wiggle room and a sense of realism. When I refer to clean eating, I mean eating whole foods that are minimally processed, and always having lean protein, fibrous carbs and good fat at each feeding. More on that in a minute…
  • Build meals around lean protein. Protein is the foundation for tissue repair and boosting immune function. Plus, it provides sustainable energy. Make sure each meal has lean protein sources like fish, chicken or tofu.
  • The less processed carbs, the better. Carbohydrates are our primary fuel source. Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains are the best sources of carbs. These slow-digesting options avoid huge spikes in insulin and the crash associated with simple carbs like candy and white bread. If you want to further audit your carb sources, shoot for at least 3-5 grams of fiber per serving of carbs and fill your plate with as many colors as possible. These are common techniques we implement with the stars to further enhance their nutrition on tight deadlines.
  • Eat healthy fats. Dietary fats are crucial for good health. They are necessary for absorbing certain vitamins and provide important nutrients to help protect and repair our cells and tissues. The best sources of healthy fats are fish (such as salmon, cod, trout, and mahi-mahi), nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. When you make the right choices, you don’t need to fear fats.
  • Hydrate. I know, this one’s easier said than done. While hydration is often overlooked, it’s crucial for your health. The best way to hydrate is with water and calorie-free beverages like green tea.
  • Sleep. Okay, technically not a nutrition tip, but I can’t reiterate the power of sleep enough. I suggest sleeping for about 8 hours a night. The secretion of human growth hormone, the most powerful anabolic substance in your body, peaks at night.


The Hollywood Body Workout Plan

Now that you know the truth behind Hollywood’s famed physical transformations, my guess is you want to see an actual workout plan in action. Perhaps you even want to take a shot at your own transformation…

Good news: I’ve got you covered.

The following is a 4-week workout cycle that matches many of the cycles I’ve used with my A-list clientele. I’d make minor tweaks to this routine to tailor it to the individual, but it’s the perfect kickstart to any transformation as is. In fact, this is one of many plans I share with my celebrity clientele as well as my online training clients to get them red-carpet ready:

The Real Truth About How Hollywood Stars Transform Their Bodies

Eye-opening, huh?

At this point, you should have a clear understanding of “Hollywood Hype” and the truth behind the incredible physical transformations Hollywood loves to tout.

If you take one thing away from this guide, I hope it’s that you too can train like a celebrity and achieve the body of your dreams by committing to the tips, nutrition guide and workout plan I’ve laid out for you.

You’re leaving this guide equipped with a 4-week program to kickstart your transformation, the nutrition guidance to properly fuel your body and the cold hard facts behind the Tinseltown’s most famous transformations.

That’s right, Hollywood’s dirty little secrets are yours :).

You know both what to do and what not to do. And what to believe and what not to believe.

The best part?

I’m here for you. After you complete the 4-week cycle in this guide, reach out to me to continue your transformation. I have the next cycles of progression ready to go and the ability to create custom workout cycles just for you. After dissecting your goals,

I’ll help you achieve a tabloid-worthy transformation while boosting your self-confidence, energy levels, body function and more.

One thing we didn’t discuss earlier is that all of these transformations require the help of an expert… someone like myself.

So perhaps the final secret to a successful transformation is working with the right person. That’s what I’m here for.

Much love and many transformations. Oh, and keep the secrets between us.

— Joe

Don’t Stop Here

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