How Daisy Ridley got ripped for The Last Jedi

It's no easy task to resist an evil empire. You can have all the heart and bravery in the world, but without a built body (and perhaps some swordfighting knowhow), the dark side's might is probably going to overwhelm you.

That's enough of a motivation for the fantasy world of Star Wars, but the actors training for the movies have a more personal reason than resisting evil. After all, if you're looking to get into shape, nothing is more inspiring than being cast in what's guaranteed to be one of the most widely seen movies of all time.

At the age of 21, Daisy Ridley was far from an established action hero when she was cast as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In fact, she was all but unknown; her career up to that point had been mainly minor roles in small British productions, with no on-set explosions or fight scenes to speak of. 

So how did Ridley get herself in shape to become a fighter among legends in the sprawling Star Wars saga? It shouldn't surprise you to learn that it's been a long journey. Her training may have started years ago when she first got the role in the new trilogy, but as Rey has developed as a Jedi, Ridley has had to develop at the gym. Read on to see what went into making the actress' body battle-ready for the all-out throwdowns in The Last Jedi.

A focused diet with a lot of food

Experts agree: when it comes to getting cut, nutrition is far more important than exercise in sculpting an eye-catching body. In Ridley's case, the already slim actress wasn't trying to lose weight for her role, but rather bulk up to look strong and capable.

"I had to put on muscle," explained Ridley. "So I was eating a lot. And I love to eat, but it got to a point where I was like, 'I feel sick.' But someone's telling you to eat, telling you to eat, and you're just like, aggh."

The fact is, you don't make gains in muscle mass unless you're shoveling calories down your throat. The alternative—working out and not eating—leaves one looking emaciated with no energy, and it's not something that can be maintained.

But a high-calorie diet isn't a license to eat empty calories like ice cream and drink beer all day—otherwise everyone would be doing it. Instead, Ridley ate a healthy diet, including fish, legumes, and spirulina—foods which are all absolutely packed with protein, which is an essential ingredient to growing muscle.

Being hyper-skinny is a major, lousy part of some aspects of movie stardom, but it's not the approach for every role. To be a Jedi, you've got to look like you can swing your saber around with authority.

Three months of dedicated training

Ridley started her training just a few weeks after she learned she got the role of Rey, buckling down on a regimen of five-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week workouts.

The five-hour length of a workout may be daunting, but as she's said in interviews, not all of that time is necessarily spent working. There's also the rest in between, the goofing around, the breaks for water—it adds up, and tends to get lost in write-ups about celebrity fitness habits.

What's more important is that she showed up every day to do the work, folding the consistency of the routine into her life. Exercise resolutions fail for many people when they look at working out as an undesirable burden—the key to long-term success is figuring out a way to make it fun. Speaking to Elle, Ridley said she came around to a mindset in which the lengthy workout routines felt like more of a blessed oasis in her day rather than an unwelcome interruption in her life.

"It became my solace," she said of her regimen, which on paper, at least, looks vicious. In the ever-shifting day-to-day schedule of a working celebrity, her daily workouts were a habit she could fall into, something grounding to relieve stress.

 "It's the only thing structured in my life right now," she added. "Training is sort of a therapy session, I guess."

A combination of disciplines

While training for The Force Awakens, Ridley chronicled her fitness journey on Instagram, earning fans with many #fitnessfriday posts that have since been deleted—though they naturally live on through the archival efforts of her online fans.

In the videos, you can see her engaging in a little bit of everything in the gym, with resistance training to tone muscle going hand-in-hand with core strength-building workouts like deadlifts, bench presses, and Turkish get-ups.

In practice, she's developing both sexy aesthetics with the toned muscle as well as actual, real strength with the core work, and you can see the results onscreen—she doesn't just look strong, she is strong, which comes through in the physicality of her performance.

She also engaged in activities as diverse as kickboxing, rock climbing, and of course cardio, which included plyometric work, ladder runs, and sprinting with one of those resistance training parachutes. It's a startlingly comprehensive routine, with the end result being an all-around strong body, provided you stick with it long enough.

The end result of this variety of work is overall fitness and a body that's generally muscular, with no one muscle group exaggerated. Compare her routine with Josh Brolin's Cable workout, which saw him focusing on chest work to emulate the massive pecs of a comic book character. Unlike Cable, Rey isn't a specialized warrior—she's just a generally fit person, and for the movie's sake, she needs to look like it. 

Personal trainers

Of course, no one starring in one of the top-grossing movies of all time is expected to do the working out alone, and Ridley made ample use of personal trainers during her fitness journey—if only to have someone around to hold the camera for the Instagram.

The main trainer Ridley worked with in the early going was Jack Graves, a former rugby player—which may have something to do with all the grueling cardio work that went into her routines, which featured ladder runs, box jumps and resistance parachute sprints that wouldn't look a bit out of place at the average football practice. 

But while Graves did the work for Ridley's general fitness, she also worked with more specialized trainers for activities specific to Star Wars—like swinging laser swords around in close-quarters combat, which saw her training with Liang Yang, a stuntman and choreographer who also helped design the fight sequences for The Last Jedi

When it comes to Hollywood swordfighting, the man certainly knows his chops. Before working with Ridley on The Last Jedi, he worked on Game of Thrones, Skyfall, and Edge of Tomorrow, with tons of other credits to his name including an onscreen appearance in The Force Awakens as the stormtrooper who goes hand-to-hand with Finn. It'd be a pretty cool student-becomes-the-master moment if we got to see him take on Rey.

Lightsaber school

In a finished Star Wars film, a lightsaber's look is deceptive. Since what you're seeing is mostly a fantastical laser beam, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the hilt of the saber is very real, and rather weighty. (The prequel movies, where everyone down to freaking eight-century-old Yoda can flip around like a world-class gymnast, are admittedly pretty bad at demonstrating this.)

Ridley found out the weight of a lightsaber for herself while training for her first outing as Rey, and kicked that training up a notch for her second go-around. The Last Jedi sees Rey in action with a lightsaber much more often than The Force Awakens, so Ridley trained specifically in lightsaber combat for the sequel—but what exactly does that look like?

"You do, like, eight thwacks one way, eight the other, eight up, eight down," she told Vogue. She also made it clear just how little you'd want to have a lightsaber dropped on your head by accident, warning that "They're really heavy"—somewhere between three and five kilograms, or about seven to 11 pounds.

If that sounds light to you, go pick up a ten-pound free weight and swing it around like your life depended on it, eight thwacks in each direction—see how long you can keep it up.

A positive outlook

Of course, the road to fitness isn't straight, or even solid—it's a dotted line of jagged progress, full of stops and failures between the peaks and personal bests. To keep from getting dispirited, it's important to internalize this mindset when you're working out.

No one seemed to convey that mindset more than Ridley, whose #fitnessfriday posts attracted such a following that people were real-life bummed about it when the star later scrubbed her Instagram from the internet.

In one of those since-deleted Instagram posts, she made a point about how what we see on Instagram rarely corresponds to reality, and that her fitness posts, while inspiring, hardly told the whole story. "I have a trainer urging me on in workouts," Ridley wrote. "and [I] don't include all the times I say 'I can't do it'."

What she did include, though, was positivity and excitement—an enthusiasm for the work, even when she wasn't at her best. "For anyone that's gonna try and correct my form," she wrote on another post, "I KNOW it isn't the best, I've just started doing sprint training so progressing all the time!"

This sort of positive outlook matters, as does knowing that just because you're not at your best right now doesn't mean you won't get better. As Yoda once said, "luminous beings are we—not this crude matter." Once you realize the hardest work is in your head, the rest is just a hobby.