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How Javicia Leslie Got Ripped To Play Batwoman

Stepping into the role of a popular superhero is daunting, given the intense commercial and fan pressure to do the character justice — and that pressure is even more intense if the role has been successfully played before. Becoming the next Batman or Spider-Man carries with it all kinds of intense fan expectation that the actor will live up to previous performances while also bringing something fresh. The contemporary era of comic book-inspired action movies and shows also demands that the actor look like a superhero — be lean and fit and muscular and tall — as well as fight like one. The bar has been set very high by actors who train for months to get in shape for a role and learn fighting techniques that look realistic onscreen.

Javicia Leslie, set to don the cape and cowl for season 2 of the CW's Batwoman, is embracing all these pressures and more. Not only is she leading the vanguard as the first Black woman to play Batwoman (and one of the few yet to play a Black female hero), but she's replacing Ruby Rose in the role, an actor famous for the fitness and athleticism she brought to the first season of Batwoman – as well as entries in the John Wick and xXx franchises. In addition to other aspects of the role, Leslie takes the fitness challenge very seriously. Here's a look at the intense workouts, disciplined diet, and grueling fight training that helped Javicia Leslie prepare to defend Gotham City.

She has an intense strength training regimen

Strength training is at the heart of every athlete's fitness program, and it's guaranteed to help build muscles that look great on camera. But strength training is also crucial to strengthening bones and improving balance and coordination, which is key to hand to hand combat, leaping from tall buildings, and other athletic maneuvers required of superheroes. Strength training can be achieved through a number of means, including free weights, weight machines, and body weight exercises (your body and a plank such as the floor that allows you to do push ups, etc.)

Not surprisingly, Leslie's comprehensive routine involves all three methods — with the help of a trainer — of course which she documents on her Instagram account. In fact, her workout is so thorough — involving multiple exercises for different muscle groups such as chest, core, back, arms and legs — that it also offers an excellent primer for those looking for ideas about how to approach their own weight training program. You'll never get bored, either, as Leslie's vigorous sets also sport great variety. She uses kettlebells and battle ropes, flips tires, and works out both outdoors and in the gym. And she doesn't skimp on the brutal but most effective exercises like deadlifts, squats and lunges. To top it off, she's got a killer workout playlist that includes Kendrick Lamar, Shaka Khan, Banks, Lauryn Hill, Young Dolph, Sade, and Erykah Badu. No wonder she gets so pumped.

She focuses heavily on her core

Any strength trainer worth their salt will tell you that improving core strength and flexibility is at the heart of every athletic pursuit. Basically, your core is your entire support system. Core muscles stabilize your spine and pelvis, so developing a strong, stable core is the necessary first step to strengthening other muscle groups. A weak core leads to bad posture, fatigue, less endurance, and more injuries during athletic activities, including martial arts. According to Taekwondo Chief Master Phil Minton, developing a strong core is the essential element in producing strong kicks. As he explains it, "It helps you with your striking technique because you have to turn your torso to get power in your upper body."

It all sounds indispensable to spin-kicking waves of Gotham City baddies, which is one reason why Leslie focuses heavily on core in her training regimen. Her Instagram workout videos feature 20 kinds of exercises dedicated to the core, including multiple styles of crunches, leg raises and rope pulls (she credits her ab circuits to online ab trainers alittletaeste and frantzcesca.casimir.) And that doesn't even include other kinds of exercises, such as those dedicated to back and legs, that work the core as a side benefit. Leslie has said that taking on the role of Batwoman is a chance for her to "empower others." Developing a strong core — physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally — is the basis for making that happen.

She doesn't skip the cardio and stretching

Being able to regularly spar with bad guys, chase villains through Gotham's back alleys, and leap over rooftops takes more than just strength. You also have to make sure that you're flexible and not easily winded. Of course, any exercise that provides enough exertion to increase the heart rate — including weight training and core work — will provide some cardiovascular benefits. But sometimes you also need to actually, you know, run. To this end, Leslie has added plenty of cardio-focused exercises to her workout, including sprints (sometimes backwards!), stair climbs, jumping jacks, hurdles, and what she referred to in one Instagram story as "the dreaded burpees."

Cardiorespiratory endurance has long been known to be an indicator of a person's overall physical health — how well the heart, lungs, and muscles work as the body performs moderate to high-intensity exercise. People with strong cardiorespiratory endurance can uptake more oxygen in the lungs and heart, which is the key to a person managing physical activity for longer durations. Having built up this endurance allows Leslie to survive long shooting days that include athletic stunt work and sparring with her stunt trainer in between takes. Of course, none of that will do you any good if you're out of commission with joint pain or a pulled muscle. Stretching is advisable before, during, and after exercise to maintain flexibility and range of motion. "Stretch before stunts," Leslie advises on Instagram.

She practices Muay Thai, an intense style of kickboxing

Anybody donning any version of the Batsuit needs to be able to demonstrate some impressive onscreen fighting prowess, and the actors playing the characters have taken this seriously. Christian Bale trained in the Keysi fighting method for The Dark Knight, while Ruby Rose got ready for the first season of Batwoman by learning the Shaolin arts. Following in that tradition, Javicia Leslie has taken up Muay Thai, or Thai boxing. Also known as the "art of eight limbs," it is a form of close combat in which the practitioner uses their entire body as a weapon.

Leslie debuted her engagement with the sport on Instagram in March of 2019, writing, "I've decided to dive into a passion I've had for a while now... I am going to document my Muay Thai journey with you all. This is only the beginning, so be kind to me, lol!" It may only be the beginning for her, but her accompanying video demonstrates some accomplished moves, as well as showcasing the power and quickness she has developed from all the heavy duty strength and core training. The video highlights not only her dedication, but also her enthusiasm for the sport. "This is something I've wanted my entire life," Leslie exclaimed to Entertainment Weekly. "For real, this is my life?' I get to just keep flying around and beating people's butts. It's just so much fun!"

She has a disciplined work ethic

Not everybody can kill it in the gym every day while regularly enduring the bruises and hard falls of extreme martial arts training. Javicia Leslie credits her ability to do both while enduring the grueling rigors of 12-hour Batwoman shoots to a disciplined work ethic she established while she was young. "There's so many times where I could have said 'This is hard' and walked away," she told the Associated Press. "But you must keep going... You must find your purpose in anything you want and speak it into existence. Then you need to have the work ethic to support it."

Although assuming the lead role in Batwoman calls for long days, she was already used to it after she appeared in two shows, God Friended Me and The Family Business, that not only filmed simultaneously, but also on different coasts. "I came from already busting my ass and really working hard," she told Variety. Her discipline was also developed by growing up with a mother in the military, and then later taking a job in the Army herself. As she explained to Entertainment Weekly, this helped her to skip the late night L.A partying when she was just starting out, to save money for acting classes (not to mention the energy and brain cells required for auditions). As she puts it, "If you show up for the work, the work will show up for you."

She practices a vegan lifestyle

Although there are plenty of myths about veganism that include the mistaken notion that it doesn't provide enough protein, or that you can't build muscles without meat, a vegan diet can actually be beneficial to the kind of intense athletic training Leslie undergoes. A plant-based diet can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce arterial plaque, and lead to more richly oxygenated muscles and improved blood flow. Famous vegan athletes include Venus Williams, the NFL's Tony Gonzalez, and skier Heather Mills.

Javicia Leslie isn't just forgoing meat to optimize her workouts, though. Her love for the vegan diet and lifestyle shines through in her Instagram channel, where she prepares and cooks tasty-looking vegan recipes for the benefit of her followers. One absolutely scrumptious-looking example is a fettuccine alfredo dish that uses gluten-free pasta, vegan butter, spinach, and coconut milk, along with Beyond meat sausages — many of her veggies come from her own garden, just one element of what she calls her overall "obsession" with plants. She also demonstrates how to soak beans for a hearty soup, and even how to make taco shells and granola. Meanwhile, her IGTV Thanksgiving reel gives turkey-eschewing viewers tips for a sweet potato recipe. Given her deep knowledge of and love for food and her skill preparing it, along with her natural on-camera charisma, she might one day debut her own cooking show if she ever gets tired of acting. 

She keeps in shape by doing her own stunts

Like many performers in action and superhero shows and films, Javicia Leslie prefers to do as much of her own stunt work as possible. For Batwoman, this includes hand to hand combat and grapple hooking, one of the titular hero's signature moves. Executing stunts safely and well necessitates that she be as close to peak physical condition as possible. Coming to the Batwoman set, she had a leg up with her workout routines and her Muay Thai practice. Upping her readiness (and cool factor) even further, she was already adept with a bo staff, something her character, Ryan Wilder, wields against adversaries in the show.

Leslie was able to enhance her fighting fitness even more during stunt rehearsals. "Ryan is the most dangerous type of fighter," Leslie told Variety, "highly skilled and wildly undisciplined. Athletic. Raw. Passionate. Fallible." Performing this wildness on camera means careful stunt choreography, learning the timing of pulling punches and other on-camera fighting tricks. All this on-set work is making her an even more disciplined fighter. "When I came to the stunt team, we already knew what each other were talking about," she confided to Backstage. "And it made it so much easier for us to do our stunts and our choreography. I am unable to do all of my stunts, obviously. But what I love about my stunt team is that they have so much trust in me to allow me to do so many things."

She takes -- and makes -- herbal supplements

Javicia Leslie's supreme devotion to health extends beyond diet and exercise to a commitment to taking probiotics and herb supplements as well, which she thoroughly documents online along with her other fitness pursuits. Her impressive vitamin regime includes Vitamin D3, elderberry, B-12, turmeric, Echinacea, fish oil, ginger, biotin, and MCT oil. Never one to be less than thorough, she also adds a probiotic and a multivitamin to the melange. In addition to this bountiful bevy, she also ingests ("most importantly!!!" according to her) sea moss tablets, which she actually makes herself in a process she illustrates on Instagram. Sea moss is a type of red algae recently adopted by the healthy eating community after Kim Kardashian posted about mixing it into her smoothies, which contains many of the minerals that the human body requires. Although scientists have yet to determine all of the health benefits, some initial research shows that sea moss may help prevent Parkinson's disease and improve the immune system.

Given the abundance of diverse vitamins and minerals that Leslie takes as part of her healthful diet, she may not need all of these supplements — in fact, the evidence about the benefits of taking supplements is mixed. But Leslie's commitment to taking them — along with her dedication to making her own tablets — is just one more example of her approach to her overall health.

She drinks plenty of water

The human body needs water. In fact, many health problems stem from the fact that people don't get enough on a daily basis. It's even more important for athletes and other active people to stay hydrated, given how much water they lose through increased perspiration. Despite the many soft drinks on the market that claim to replenish bodily fluids, there is still nothing that does a better job of it than water, especially after a workout of an hour or less. Javicia Leslie reminds her IG followers of the supreme importance of drinking enough water, writing, "Don't forget to drink your gallon of water today!!! Drinking Water promotes cardiovascular health, keeps muscles and joints working, and helps cleanse toxins from your body. Staying hydrated  also helps balance your blood sugar, helps relieve headaches, and promotes healthy skin." The actor also recommends adding a dash of lemon to your water, as "its effect is proven to be alkalizing with many health benefits." Staying hydrated through all her grueling workout and training sessions is just one of the many way she stays healthy. 

She keeps her passion stoked

Staying ripped takes more than physical discipline — you've got to keep the emotional fire stoked too. Javicia Leslie's passions burn hot. She's passionate about her career, health and fitness, plants, hard work, and constant learning and self-improvement. But she doesn't give her all to these pursuits out of a sense of vanity or for material gains. She really wants to make a difference by inspiring women, and especially women of color. As she said on Good Morning LaLa Land, "I really want women to feel powerful, I want women to feel beautiful, confident, and I think that's a part of my purpose."

Leslie has expressed the pride she feels in following in the footsteps of other Black women who have blazed trails into comic book universes, such as Eartha Kitt, who played Catwoman in the 1960s Batman TV show, and Halle Berry, who played Catwoman as well as Storm in the X-Men movies. Leslie told Southside Dash radio she desires to be part of an even a grander legacy alongside Black female pioneers such as Harriet Tubman, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, and Nina Simone, saying, "I've always wanted to be a part of that history." Her dedication to getting ripped enough to play a superhero is just a means to allow her to represent and inspire others. As she wrote on Instagram, "For all of the little black girls dreaming to be a superhero one day... it's possible!"