I tried Avatar: The Way of Water star Zoe Saldana’s workout and it nearly finished me

Want a strong, flexible body like Avatar: The Way of Water actress Zoe Saldana? Here’s how she does it

Fit young woman performing the glute bridge exercise on a yoga mat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I love my films to come with a strong fix of sci-fi, action or fantasy (preferably all rolled into one), which probably explains why I adore Zoe Saldana. As far as I’m concerned, the 44-year-old actress and mum-of-three is the kick-arse queen of the galaxy, whether she’s going green to play Gamora in the Marvel Universe franchise, slipping into a little red number to become Lt. Uhura in the Star Trek reboots, or turning blue again to reprise her role as Avatar’s Neytiri in the newly released sequel Avatar: The Way of Water. 

When Saldana’s not kicking alien butt, however, she’s also slaying the box office. You might not know it, but Saldana is the second highest grossing film actress of all time, having appeared in three of the five movies to ever make $2b worldwide (Avatar, Avengers: Endgame, and Avengers: Infinity War). And that record could be bettered thanks to the release of the Avatar sequel and her forthcoming role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 later this year.

Clearly, Saldana is a force to be reckoned with. Which raises one question: just what is her secret to success? Well, aside from her willingness to be covered in body paint, prosthetics, and CGI tracking marks, I’d say a sizeable portion of it can be attributed to her killer bod. 

I’m not talking about her long, lean physique with curves in all the right places, though. I’m talking about her decades-long dedication to maintaining a fit, healthy body that boasts the strength, athleticism, flexibility, and endurance to help her go the distance and power her through super-long days of stunt training and filming. Want to know the exercises she uses to stay in superhero shape? Me too, so I did a bit of digging and the results are in…

Who is Zoe Saldana’s personal trainer?

Saldana has trained with various trainers throughout her career - including A-list PTs Steve Moyer and Romana Braganza – to help her get in shape for roles and regain her fitness after giving birth to twin boys in 2014 and another boy in 2017.

But a thorough examination of the internet and Saldana’s Instagram feed confirms her most recent workouts come courtesy of fellow actress Iman Karram, who also works as a fitness trainer with Rise Movement: a fitness method created by PT extraordinaire Jason Walsh, whose clients include actors Brie Larson, Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Miles Teller, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and supermodel Irina Shayk, to name a few.

Little is known about how Saldana and Karram ended up training together in 2022, although it’s likely they met while shooting the new Netflix show From Scratch, which both appear in. What is known about Karram, however, is that she is a former ballet dancer like Saldana, is well-practised in martial arts if the below IG post is anything to go by, and was invited to become an instructor at Walsh’s Rise Nation studios (where 30-minute, zero-impact versa climber workouts are all the rage and loved by celebs such as Jennifer Aniston and Lebron James) after Walsh spotted her doing back-to-back classes.

A post shared by Iman Ziad Karram🧿 (@imankarram) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on

How does Zoe Saldana stay fit?

To get in warrior princess mode for Avatar: The Way of Water, Saldana told Vogue (opens in new tab) that she received archery and dance lessons, in addition to diving and breathing training with an instructor who had also taught Navy Seals how to hold their breath in performance capture tanks ‘so that by the time you’re ready to go and dive, you have enough oxygen in your bloodstream. You’re training yourself to let go of that panic when you go underwater.’

The results of this training are clear to see in the below IG post by stunt coordinator Garrett Warren. These days, Saldana states that she favours functional workouts that challenge and develop her mobility and flexibility - as can be seen in this Instagram mobility challenge video (opens in new tab) posted by Saldana in November 2022 - and she also likes to mix up her sessions with some stretching and yoga to keep her limber. Clearly, all that stretching and flexibility work is paying off because she can still do the splits (see here (opens in new tab))!

A post shared by G A R R E T T W A R R E N (@garrettxwarren) (opens in new tab)

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How does Zoe Saldana train?

Saldana posted the below video as ‘an example of one of my workouts focusing on functional strength and movement. Doing workouts that get my neuromuscular system to activate has helped my body to work even more efficiently. Nothing better than feeling strong!'

I’ll admit this workout (split across seven clips) didn’t make complete sense to me on first viewing as several upper-body mobility exercises follow a series of lower-body exercises, which I thought kind of disrupted the flow. But then I read an article (opens in new tab) on Saldana’s trainer that explained how Karram likes to train herself, and everything fell into place.

‘Before I start all my workouts,’ explains Karram, ‘it is imperative that I get my glutes fired up by doing some sort of glute bridge variation; this allows my lower body to maximize my workouts since I tend to be quad dominant.’

A post shared by Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on

After reading this and rewatching the workout, it’s clear that the first four clips - comprising of glute bridges and pulses with a BOSU and resistance band; standing leg pulses and mini squats with a resistance band; and various upper-body movements using a resistance band to wake up the arms, shoulders, back and wrists - are all warm-up exercises. 

And these warm-up moves, as Saldana says, help to ‘activate’ certain muscle groups such as the glutes, shoulders and back to help her ‘body work even more efficiently’ during the exercises that come later in the main workout, such as press-ups, kettlebell swings and split squats.

There are no reps or sets given for this workout, so I called upon my PT qualification and workout knowledge to assign reps and sets for each exercise so you can try it for yourself. I also took it upon myself to split the moves into groups to form circuits, but this makes sense if you watch some of Jason Walsh’s workout videos that show he often breaks his workouts down into circuits.

Zoe Saldana Avatar: Way of the Water workout

This full-body workout is tough, so if you’re a beginner or returning to exercise after a break, you should only try to do one set of moves instead of two.

WARM UP

  • BOSU ball bridge with resistance band x 10.
  • BOSU ball bridge with leg pulses x 10, then repeat moves 1 & 2 to complete two sets.
  • Standing banded leg pulses x 10 on each side.
  • Standing banded mini-squats x 10, then repeat moves 3 & 4 to complete two sets.
  • Kneeling banded back squeezes x 10.
  • Kneeling banded arm rotations x 10, then repeat moves 5 & 6 to complete two sets.

MAIN WORKOUT – 1st circuit (core)

Get on your hands and knees with a resistance band just above your knees. Keeping your arms straight and core braced, raise your knees a few inches off the ground. In this position, do…

  • Shoulder taps x 8.
  • Alternate arms raises x 8.
  • Walk outs x 8, then repeat all three moves to complete two sets.

MAIN WORKOUT – 2nd circuit (lower body)

Lying on your back, bend your right knee and place your right foot on a BOSU. Raise your left leg straight into the air to perform…

  • Single leg BOSU bridge with pulse x 2.
  • Single leg BOSU bridge with leg raise x 2.
  • Repeat moves 1 & 2 three more times to complete a set (16 reps in total), then repeat everything above on the other side. 
  • Stand for Reverse split squats on BOSU x 8 on each side, then repeat all three moves to complete two sets.

MAIN WORKOUT – 3rd circuit (upper body)

  • Slow chest lowers x 4 (don’t press back up)
  • Full press-ups on BOSU x 4
  • Dumbbell chest presses x 12, then repeat all three moves to complete two sets

MAIN WORKOUT – finisher (full body)

  • Kettlebell swings x 10, then repeat to complete two sets

My verdict on Zoe Saldana’s workout to get fit, strong, and flexible

Trust me when I say that this workout is tough, and it is made even tougher by the effective warm-up exercises that focus on the glutes, hamstrings, and back i.e., all the muscles that work together to make up the posterior chain. So, if you sit down at a desk all day hunched over your computer, this workout will certainly present you with a challenge!

After the warm-up, my glutes were firing on all cylinders, which meant my legs and butt were screaming by the time I’d finished the kettlebell swings at the end. Equally, my core felt achy, which I put down to the mix of plank and press-up variations, plus the addition of the BOSU which helped to test my core stability and balance during the split squats and glute bridges. 

Even though this workout isn’t a cardio workout as such, I worked up a massive sweat thanks to the many full-body compound moves, so while this workout has a focus on functional strength and mobility, it also gets your heart rate up to burn lots of calories. Best of all, it’s creative, a bit different, and you never stop moving, so it’s guaranteed to give you an exciting, fast-paced challenge if you give it a go, too!

Joanna Ebsworth

Jo has been obsessed with writing and fitness since her teenage years and spent all her pocket money on magazines and workout VHS tapes. When ITV cancelled Gladiators – causing her dreams of becoming the next ‘Jet’ to crash and burn - she decided to combine her passions and become a fitness writer instead. A qualified PT and author of several fitness guides, she has spent the last 15 years writing for many of the UK’s most respected newspapers, magazines, and online publications. When she’s not interviewing celebrities and athletes or testing fit kit, she can be found watching YouTube breakdowns of the latest MCU releases.