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How Brie Larson got ripped for Captain Marvel

Just because Brie Larson has Oscar gold doesn't mean she won't pump iron for a superhero role. The Room and Short Term 12 star has been putting in some serious hours at the gym to prepare for her arrival in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Air Force pilot Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel. An early costume reveal showed off at least one version of the outfit she'll be wearing when she suits up as Earth's Mightiest Hero, but one thing's yet to be explained — how did she go from the emaciated frame she kept during her Room performance to the Avengers-level shape she's in today? Follow along as we break down how Brie Larson got ripped for Captain Marvel.

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Put your back into it

While many slender people are afraid to lift weights out of a fear of getting bulky, those fears misunderstand what building muscle actually does for the body. Thanks to the guidance of physical trainers, Brie Larson's learned that hitting the weights for functional strength can work wonders, and won't make you bulk up in a bad way.

In prepping for her Captain Marvel role, Larson's worked on building muscle in every part of her body, particularly the areas in which women are typically weakest — the shoulders, arms, and upper back. For the first time in her athletic life, Larson's doing pull-ups at the gym, as well as other heavy-weight exercises that one of her coaches, Jason Walsh, says "weren't necessarily even in her thought process." 

Working out these upper-body muscles can turn a shapeless back into a contour map of muscle, through moves like chair dips and tricep extensions for the arms, lat pulldowns and chin-ups for the back, and overhead presses for the shoulders. As Larson built strength doing moves like these, she also burned off fat, resulting in a strong and sexy look that shines in a strapless dress.

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Jump school

Brie Larson's coaching has also led her to the wonderful world of plyometrics, a.k.a. jump training. To help shed pounds and shore up muscle, she's been catching some serious air, doing box jumps over her hip height — or about 3 feet. That may not sound that impressive compared to the numbers some people put up on Instagram, but when it comes to this particular workout, form is everything, and doing it right at a lower height is how you reap the benefits. 

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Starting strength

Praise be to the almighty deadlift. The staple weightlifting move may look like backbreaking work, but as long as it's done correctly, it's exactly the opposite. Deadlifts, and other core strength moves like squats and overhead presses, help build the foundation of a fit body regardless of physical size, making one strong without necessarily making them huge. 

Don't believe us? Refer to the tape. Brie Larson's been using deadlifts to get a strong and trim body since her role in Room — you know, the movie where she played an undernourished prisoner. While preparing for that role, Larson put on 15 pounds of muscle, combining early-morning deadlift sets with a no-B.S. diet to carve a sinewy physique. Now that she's escaped from Room, she's been able to build on that baseline, staying svelte but getting strong.

"There were many ways I learned about the strength I have inside," Larson said in 2016, talking about the lessons she learned preparing for her Oscar-winning role. "One was gaining 15 pounds of muscle; I was able to lift things I never thought in my life I would be able to. That became such a huge part of the routine of making this movie. Every other day I worked with this incredible trainer, and he would have me lift extreme weights over my head. Just having that, being able to dead lift before I went to work every morning, gave me this mental change that I had never had before." 

That mental change led to a physical metamorphosis. "My highest right now is 215 pounds in deadlifts. 400-pound hip thrusts," she revealed in June 2018. "Being able to lift weight like that really changed my perspective and understanding of myself."

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A fitness foundation

Thanks to Brie Larson's previous experiences at the gym, her transition into superheroism has been a process of keeping up good habits. It's true that the hardest part of working out is getting started, but once you break through the initial pains and awkwardness, the process starts to feel — and look — rewarding. It's no surprise if Larson's training programs have only gotten more intense; regular exercise has been shown to effectively rewire the brain, making subsequent workouts easier and less stressful. 

After Room, Larson starred in the comical shoot-em-up Free Fire, which she called her "first physical role," despite the hard training she did for her previous picture. "The action element of what I'd done before was really mental and very emotional," she said, discussing the distinction. "This was the opposite."

Afterwards, Larson continued to challenge herself with the intense Kong: Skull Island. "I spent two months — just like two hours a day of tearing my body down every day, just to be able to physically get through a film like this, because you're moving and climbing on so much stuff," she said

For Captain Marvel, Larson's putting everything she's learned into Carol Danvers, building the character on the inside and out. 

"Anything that's the physical side, from past experience, you hire specialists to help you understand that and quantify it and pace you out and figure it all out," she said. "I'm just in charge of what's going on in her head."

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Rise to the occasion

Nobody gets to peak fitness entirely by themselves. Brie Larson has had a helping hand in honing her physique from a number of renowned trainers, including Jason Walsh of Rise Movement, a celeb-favorite gym in West Hollywood. Walsh is a bona fide trainer to the stars, having worked with the likes of Minka Kelly, Alison Brie, Emma Stone, and Miles Teller

Before she collaborated with Walsh, Larson worked with another trainer on Room who helped her develop not just a fighter's body, but a fighting mindset, introducing her to the chemical rush that turns normal humans into gym rats, and keeps them coming back for more.

"The muscle gave me this surge of testosterone where I just felt so much more power," she said. "I'm a pretty relaxed person, so it gave me this sense of urgency and strength to really fight that I had never felt before."

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Food as fuel

Even with intense regular exercise, one thing always remains true — you are what you eat. While working out is beneficial to the body no matter what, those benefits won't be that obvious to observers if your diet starts and ends with salty chips and sweets.

When Brie Larson was first building up muscle for Room, she adopted a diet of the bare essentials — fat for energy, protein for muscle growth — and ate just enough of the right things to give her energy to effectively do her workouts, relying on almond butter, chicken, fish, starch-free vegetables, and a minimal amount of fruit. Along with that and plenty of water, she seemingly had little else.

Without the guidance of a nutritionist, we definitely wouldn't recommend adopting Larson's restrictive Room diet while you're weightlifting — and even then, it doesn't sound fun. She reportedly even restricted her intake of certain vitamins and nutrients while preparing for her Room character, which in normal circumstances wouldn't be a very wise move. A diet like this with the portions scaled up — and the proper amount of vitamins — would still be effective at promoting maximum muscle growth while burning fat.

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Air Force assistance

Of course, you can't really call yourself a convincing Air Force pilot unless you've spent some time hanging out with the actual Air Force. Brie Larson shared a photo from a January 2018 visit to an Air Force training facility, showing herself fully suited up for some serious-looking training. "Learning to fly," she wrote in the caption.

To see what goes into making a pro pilot, Larson paid a visit to the Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, where she spent time hanging out in a harness in her own custom jumpsuit, poking around the cockpit of a warbird, and commiserating with the troops. This sort of prep work may not help her physical fitness, but it does help ensure physical accuracy in her performance. Carol Danvers isn't just a pilot in the MCU, after all — she's a captain, so she's gotta look like she knows what she's doing. 

While visits like this are important for showing Larson what's expected from a pilot in peak form, she presumably isn't getting a lot of help in learning how to fight off Skrulls. She'll have to figure that one out for herself.

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Higher, further, faster, more

From the very first trailer for Captain Marvel, it's been clear that she's a character with military-level fitness, with Carol shown climbing to great heights on a rope course and getting back up when she falls. She's a character who must live up to the standards of both the U.S. Air Force and the Kree Starforce, so naturally the woman portraying her has to look like she could haul herself over any obstacle. Fortunately, there's a workout for that.

In one workout video shared on the actress' Instagram page, you can see the Academy Award-winner deftly defying gravity on an indoor rock climbing setup. While it's not the hardest kind of bouldering problem we've ever seen, this suspended crawl across the ceiling is far from a novice move, requiring control of many muscles in the upper and lower body, including the forearms, obliques, and thighs

Pulling this off without falling is a full-body experience, engaging the back, the legs, and even the tiny muscles of the fingers — the sort of conditioning that rock climbers need, but that your average Joe or Jane off the street just won't have. That takes practice. So this kind of exercise isn't just a fun way to mix things up — it also provides functional strength and boosts muscle memory, taking climbing from a relatively daunting activity to something close to second nature. The results speak for themselves on screen.

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Hi-rep, low-weight

Since she's literally a movie star, at least some of Larson's workouts are tuned in to the idea of style over substance. She doesn't just need functional strength — for the purposes of selling a big-budget movie, the goal is really more of a fine physical form — and you get that sort of look with toned muscle and low body fat. 

One of the best ways to shed fat and get good muscle definition is high-repetitions of a lower weight — not low weight, but low enough to allow for 10-15 repetitions before failure. Reaching this goal is where resistance training comes in, with tools like elastic bands taking the place of heavier dumbbells, barbells, or weight machines. 

One workout Larson has shared herself doing is a resistance band pull-apart move, which helps to build back muscle and make you look much more physically defined. It's also a great move to improve posture, making it all the easier for the loyal soldier to stand at attention, or stand her ground against an enemy shapeshifter.

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The occasional flex

Of course, an all-vanity approach without a strong foundation wouldn't really do Larson a lot of good either. There's a difference between looking sleek and shapely and looking like a real-life soldier, and it's the sort of thing a viewer's brain can definitely notice. Captain Marvel is joining the MCU with a power level well above many other of the Earth's mightiest heroes, and if audiences are going to accept that, she needs to look like she can hang from the moment she shows up. We don't care if a lot of her power comes from laser beams and razzle dazzle — she also needs to look like she can handle a big opponent, which she most definitely has in big bad daddy Thanos. 

To build up this baseline strength, Larson and her team put some time in on high-weight, strength-building workouts — which can sometimes involve unorthodox activities like pushing a 5,000-pound Jeep around for awhile. In one video Larson shared of the routine, she's seen pushing the vehicle along for a full minute, passenger and full tank of gas included, keeping the strain up until she can't help but seek relief with a hearty laugh. Exercise is fun! Especially when it gets you out in the parking lot on a sunny day doing wild things like this.

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Work for rewards

There's nothing simple about getting or maintaining a Hollywood physique. As Rob McElhenney of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia once humorously pointed out, it's only easy if you "stop drinking alcohol, don't eat anything after 7pm, don't eat any carbs or sugar at all, in fact just don't eat anything you like, get the personal trainer from Magic Mike [...] and have a studio pay for the whole thing over a six to seven month span." Basically, it takes a village to build a beastly body. 

The painful truth is that no matter how often you work out, your body isn't going to start looking movie star incredible without a fair bit of culinary sacrifice — otherwise all that muscle development will get blunted by a persistent layer of Skittles-induced fat. So hello carrots, goodbye Krispy Kreme, and all that. 

Despite all this making sense on a mental level, strict self-denial just isn't realistic for most people, with even the most iron wills being put to the test on a daily basis. That's normal. Instead of working against it, the smart thing is to work with one's cravings, using less nutritional snacks as an (occasional) reward, like Ms. Larson has on a few occasions with post-hip thrust cookies, ab workout floor donuts, and also, every once in a while, a bag of Takis and some beer.

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Cross-training and cardio

Building physical fitness is a beautifully complex thing. It's not just about running more miles, lifting more weights, or focused, intense fasting — it's about little bits of all of these things combined. If your week of workouts has you locked in to doing only one activity, you're not reaping all the benefits that even a single day of cross-training might net you. 

Variety is more than just the spice of life — it's a building block of general fitness, and a reason to constantly challenge yourself with the unexpected and less common. As part of her workout regimen, Larson has been seen pursuing several different activities, including strapping on boxing gloves for routines that shred fat and boost cardiovascular fitness.

Putting on some gloves and slapping the hide off of a heavy bag is a worthwhile workout whether you plan on getting into fights or not. It's a tiring activity that boosts physical endurance while letting the lower body stay at relative rest, training different muscles than a more typical jog on the treadmill would. 

Also in the mix are Larson's different dance routines, all physically demanding in their own way and requiring lateral movements, balance work, and physical precision that boxing, running, or weightlifting don't typically demand. The different workouts all add up to well-rounded fitness, so by all means, mix things up — your mind and body will both thank you.

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Building a heroic core

No one gets ripped by just doing bicep curls. To build real fitness, an athlete needs to focus on their core muscles, building strength and stability that comes in handy for all forms of exercise. They're not just called core muscles because they're at the center of your body — they're completely essential to your fitness in general. 

One Instagram video Larson has shared on her unique fitness journey demonstrates a bodyweight exercise called the dragon flag, a move Men's Journal identified as being made popular by martial artist Bruce Lee. It's a move that both requires and builds muscle control, a worthy investment that can make it easier for you to do just about everything else you have to at the gym. 

Other strength-building core exercises the actress has engaged in include swinging weighted hammers and throwing medicine balls back and forth with a partner. Compared to shoving a heavy Jeep around and showing it who's boss, these moves aren't very flashy — but they're arguably more essential, developing a foundation of strength that should benefit the whole body.

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It's a living

From as far back as her aspiring pop star days, Brie Larson has never seemed to be particularly out of shape. But in Room, the 2015 movie about a kidnapped woman that brought her so much attention and acclaim, her body was much more lithe and razor-sharp. Ever since her follow-up turn as a more physically-built adventurer in Kong: Skull Island, she's been looking more and more in-shape each time we see her, getting to the point where it kinda does look like she could clean Thanos' clock. An overnight success story, this is not — nor is it supposed to be. 

The most important lesson you can learn on your own fitness journey is that engaging in physical exercise is not just something you do, but rather a lifestyle you adopt, for lifelong benefits. Having specific goals is good, but the goals aren't the point. The point is the practice, showing up for yourself consistently for the sake of doing it, with your goals being accomplished as a byproduct of good habits. 

Brie Larson got herself in heroic shape by going until she was exhausted with consistency, building up a body bit by bit and smiling all the while. The trick is making it fun for yourself, in whichever way you have to — whatever it takes to keep showing up. Once you've reached the point where you want to work out, the battle is pretty much already won.