If you haven’t yet heard about the new historical action epic The Woman King, you will very soon. Out in British cinemas this week, the film – which topped the American box office when it opened there last month – tells a story based on actual events about the Agojie, an African all-female military regiment that defended the Dahomey Kingdom against European colonization in the 1800s.
The film features an incredible female cast, including Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis in the leading role as the formidable General Nanisca; Sheila Atim as spiritual adviser to the king, Amenza; plus Bond and Marvel star Lashana Lynch, who plays Agojie warrior Lieutenant Igozie.
As you’d expect, the film required the entire female cast to commit to an intense nine-month fitness and stunt-training programme so they could authentically portray ‘skills and a fierceness unlike the world has even seen’. And the woman responsible for this gruelling regime was personal trainer, lifestyle coach and nutritionist Gabriela Mclain (opens in new tab).
As luck would have it, Mclain has generously shared a multitude of Woman King workout and behind-the-scenes training videos on her Instagram feed, providing us with an amazing insight into how she whipped the cast into shape. But would I be able to stand up to her warrior workouts? I donned by trainers to find out.
The Woman King workout: the training regime
Mclain had already been training Viola Davis for four years when she impressed film director Gina Prince-Bythewood enough to be asked to train the rest of the cast. What ensued was a four-month regime of fitness and fight training before five months of filming with on-set training commenced. Typical training days involved five-hour full-body activities that included 90-minutes of strength work, sprinting, and three-and-a-half hours of martial arts and weapons training so they could do their own stunts, according to Entertainment Weekly (opens in new tab).
Mclain revealed to Forbes (opens in new tab) that the director asked her “to turn them into warriors inside and out. I don’t want anything to be fake for the screen. I want them to become these warriors,” so Mclain sat in on the cast’s martial arts and fight choreography sessions – led by the film’s fight and stunt coordinator Danny Hernandez, who has trained actors in Avengers: Endgame, Creed 2, John Wick and The Gray Man - to get an understanding of the muscles they were utilizing, and identify what areas of their bodies needed more strength and development, from more shoulder work to be able to wield a sword, to greater leg strength to sprint, jump and lunge. Behind-the-scenes training video:
As you’ll see from the above video, the cast’s training sessions look utterly relentless as they lunge, kick, punch, squat, crunch, run, and lift their way into warrior shape using dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, medicine balls and barbells, as well as twirling the obligatory machetes and spears during fight training.
No wonder then that Lashana Lynch - who is no stranger to action films and was already seriously good shape from her role in Bond flick No Time To Die – told the Radio Times (opens in new tab) that the workouts for The Woman King were a serious step up, and ‘completely different to anything I’ve ever done and trained for.’
Indeed, Hernandez went so far as to tell Entertainment Weekly (opens in new tab): “I’ve done a lot of films. I’ve never worked with a cast that worked this hard. To have all these women not miss a beat, not miss a training session, giving 100 per cent on all counts, getting the bump or bruise…the dedication and the inner strength of holding pain…I felt that definitely, with this cast of women, it was top-notch."
The Woman King workout: train like a warrior with Gabriela Mclain
Considering that Mclain’s strength workouts were 90-minutes long each session, I had serious questions (as a qualified PT) about how her workouts could be broken down into body parts, reps and sets. But after watching behind-the-scenes footage, it soon became clear to me that she took a whole-body approach to training every time, because there was certainly no hint of splitting workouts between the upper body and the lower body.
When I stumbled upon Mclain’s Instagram feed, with her various #TrainLikeAWomanKing workouts, everything suddenly made more sense. These workouts are serious! Forget training muscles in isolation, we’re talking about working every single part of the body through every single plane of movement in one incredibly flowing and imaginative workout, move after move after move.
In fact, there’s something very dance-based and animal flow-inspired about her exercises, and this means you get to work your mobility, core, flexibility, and cardio – as well as your strength - in one fell swoop.
The ‘30-minute’ workout above involves 12 different exercises, of which Mclain tells us to perform each move for 2 x sets of 45 seconds, with rests of 40 seconds between each exercise and 12 seconds between each set.
The fact of the matter is I’ve not really seen exercises like this before, and I’d be really surprised if you had. For the sake of good journalism, I’ve listed each exercise below, but trust me when I say that the names of each exercise don’t do any justice to what’s involved in each move. See the exercise list below:
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Jumping Lunges with Lat Row
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Punches with Burpee
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Kettlebell Halo with Squat
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Shoulder Raises with Standing Knee Crunch
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Scissors Jumps with Kettlebell
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Reverse Flyes
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Triceps and Core
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Closed Press to Push Up
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Kettlebell Squat with Jump
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Warrior Sit Ups
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Kettlebell Squats with Knee Drops
- 2 x sets of 45 seconds Challengers
See what I mean? Needless to say, I found the moves super challenging, and I was soon gasping for breath between the different exercises - you definitely need the 40 seconds rest before you go again!
However, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this fast-past workout. It challenged my body and mind to the max, as well my coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility. My entire body - down to the tiniest of muscles - burned for days afterwards, but I will definitely continue to include this workout in my routine to keep my body and mind guessing.
It was such a refreshing change to try some new moves away from your standard lunges, squats and crunches, and I can absolutely see why Mclain’s workout get incredible results that translate into athletic, injury-proof bodies built for running, jumping and fighting. If you try only one move, give the Warrior Sit Ups a go to make you feel like you could take on an entire army!