Exactly how the star got insanely strong to play Billie Jean King, straight from Stone’s trainer.
Emma Stone has been making headlines for her awesome transformation into tennis legend Billie Jean King in the new movie Battle of the Sexes, and for the heavy weightlifting she did to gain 15 pounds of muscle for the role. (If you saw Oscar-winning La La Land, you know her usual figure is pretty svelte.)
Shape caught up with Stone’s trainer, Jason Walsh of Rise Movement, founder of the Rise Nation studio, to get more deets about her training, how she transformed into Billie Jean King, and how she really feels about lifting heavy.
Stone’s Workout Had to Evolve
Stone’s no stranger to fitness, but she had “more of a yoga/hike” style when she came to Walsh. And, like she’s said before, she wasn’t psyched at the idea of lifting heavy.
“When we started training it was like, ‘Ugh I don’t want to do this. Am I going to get bulky?'” says Walsh. “It started with that ‘I can’t’ mentality, those mental stigmas [against lifting], and the lack of confidence.” Not to mention, she was riddled with muscle imbalances and aches and pains, says Walsh. (This isn’t the only time Stone’s been really relatable; she just opened up about her lifelong struggle with anxiety.)
Then they started training, hard: She did five workouts a week with regular two-a-day workouts, and slowly decreased the volume of her training over about eight weeks. Once they started filming, she was on a three-workouts-per-week maintenance program. As for the workouts themselves, they were focused on one thing: “Getting stronger.” From there, “The aesthetics tend to take care of themselves,” says Walsh. “I think that’s a by-product of really good training.”
Walsh had Stone pushing and pulling weighted sleds, doing single-leg squats and farmer’s carries, and push-ups with 50 pounds of chains on her back. Eventually, she learned to love it.
Her favorite moves? The most badass of them all: weighted hip thrusts (up to 300 lbs!) and deadlifts (up to 185 lbs!). “Those are two of the moves that she was like, ‘nuh-uh,'” when she first tried them, says Walsh. “But then she got to a point where she was like, ‘Can we do more? How strong can we get?’ It’s exciting and it’s a challenge.”
Though she’s far past her BOTS training, Stone continues to lift with Walsh on the reg: “She likes it now, it feels good,” he says. “Now she equates the strength training with being healthy and pain-free. Living a better quality of life.”
How It Transformed Her Into Billie Jean King
Playing King in BOTS was just as much about attitude as it was about physically transforming into the body of a 1980s pro tennis player who held her own against the guys with zero hesitation. While Stone did plenty of research and actual tennis training to master King’s personality and skills, her workouts with Walsh definitely played a part in cultivating the #girlpower attitude.
“Getting stronger is a psychological reinforcement,” says Walsh. “To be pain-free, to be strong, to do things outside of the scope of what you thought you could, to achieve that kind of greatness in the gym, it transfers over to everything—you’re more powerful, you’re more confident. It’s not just looking great or lifting weight, there’s this amazing mentality of being strong and confident.”
Stone even got some kudos from King herself: “Billie Jean was on stage and she was so impressed with Emma and how strong she became, how powerful that tool is, and what it does for the psyche of women,” says Walsh, about a panel discussion where Stone and King talked female empowerment.
Walsh says he loves training with women specifically to see this transformation take place. He also works with actress Alison Brie (from Netflix’s GLOW), and Brie Larson (from Room and as the upcoming Captain Marvel), who have both grown crazy-strong while training with him. (Just watch Brie bang out pull-ups like it ain’t no thang.)
“You see this confidence emerge,” says Walsh. “There’s no ‘I don’t know if I can.’ It’s a thing of beauty, to see someone grow into their skin and really feel good about themselves and confident.”
If Stone didn’t already have killer confidence (you know, from being an Oscar winner for Best Actress and the highest paid actress in Hollywood, according to Forbes), hip thrusting more than twice her bodyweight definitely did the trick. (And, hell, we’ll bet weightlifting changed her life in these other ways too.)