How Natalie Portman got in godlike shape for 'Thor'

Photo credit: Jasin Boland
Photo credit: Jasin Boland

Whether she’s giving an Oscar-winning turn as a prima ballerina in Black Swan, stealing hearts and minds in Star Wars, or shaving her head for V for Vendetta, Natalie Portman always commits to going above and beyond for her roles.

For this year’s Thor: Love And Thunder, she completed another physical transformation for the role of Mighty Thor, one of Marvel’s newest batch of formidable female super heroes.

Here, PT Naomi Pendergast explains how she helped Natalie, 41, get strong – giving Chris Hemsworth a run for his money in the process.

The Meeting

When the Thor: Love And Thunder producers were looking for someone to help Portman prepare for the film, they turned to Naomi Pendergast – a personal trainer, pilates instructor and triathlete.

Before taking her on as a client, though, Pendergast put her through a trial session to assess where her body was at. “I did a biomechanics check which included looking at her hip range, shoulder range and how her spine moved,” she tells us. “This gave me an idea of where there might be restriction or excessive movement in her body.”

Photo credit: Jasin Boland
Photo credit: Jasin Boland

After this, Pendergast put the actress through movement patterns such as squatting, lunging, pushing and pressing exercises to see how she moved her body without any adjustments or correction. “Her background in ballet definitely showed through in her assessment, and she has strong, quick legs from all the running she does,” Pendergast explains. “The only area I flagged as being an important focus was the lack of joint stability in the hips and shoulders. Good stability is really important for building strength safely.”

Preliminaries out of the way, training could begin.

The Plan

When working with actors for film roles, trainers are often given briefs by the film studio. For example, they might need Dwayne Johnson to look bulky but capable of swinging a sword for a role, or perhaps Tom Holland needs to look especially ripped. Using this information, a PT is able to craft a specific and structured plan, often with just a few weeks or months to get their client into shape.

“For the new Thor, the original brief was to get Natalie’s arms as big as possible,” explains Pendergast. As anyone who’s seen the film can attest: mission accomplished. But, there’s no point building big arms if you can’t actually move or use them naturally.

“Being a triathlete, I know how essential having a strong body is for ageing well and staying active,” says the PT. “For women to gain the strong-looking body while maintaining good movement, the focus should be on building a well-rounded training regime where they combine traditional strength-based exercises with other essential elements such as balance, mobility, and stability training. Natalie needed to be agile and strong in other areas of her body to complete some of the stunt scenes well and stay injury-free. The key with any strength-training program is to make sure you pull up well and feel great in the body after every session.”

With a focus on building overall strength and flexibility, Portman excelled. “Training Natalie was extremely fun,” enthuses Pendergast. “She is kind, focused, and ready to give anything a go.”

The Diet

Adding muscle requires a greater calorie intake – these are the building blocks a new physique is made from.

“Natalie is a vegan so from the start we new we had to increase her protein intake quite a bit,” Pendergast explains. “Natalie’s typical day of eating during filming was around five meals a day, plus three vegan protein shakes. Breakfast most mornings would be oats with berries and a protein shake; lunch was falafel with salad and a protein shake; dinner a vegan curry and a protein shake.”

Between meals Portman would have snacks such as nuts, fruit, or coconut yogurt with seeds.

Photo credit: Ernesto Ruscio - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ernesto Ruscio - Getty Images

The Workout

“It was a really nice challenge to have the opportunity to help Natalie reach a huge goal in such a short amount of time,” says Pendergast. “She always gave 100 per cent and never complained, but I know there were some days that she would have loved to swap out the big weights for some fun sprints instead.”

Feeling inspired? Here’s an example session based on Portman's workout. Give it a go after warming up, with 30 seconds rest between exercises. Aim for four sets of 12 reps each, dropping the weight if it feels too much.

Lat pull down

Sitting at the lat pull down machine, grab the overhead bar with a wide grip. Retract your shoulder blades as you pull the bar down to the top of your chest. Hold it for one second, then slowly extend your arms to return the bar to the start position.

Arnold press

Sitting on a bench at 90 degrees, hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting them with palms facing you, the weight between the top of your chest and chin. Exhale as you straighten your arms, pushing the weight overhead and turning your palms away from you as you do. Lower to the start for one rep.

Dumbbell row

On the same bench, lower the back slightly so it’s closer to 45 degrees. Kneel on the bench, putting your same hand on the raised portion. Your other foot should be touching the ground. With your head down and back straight, row the dumbbell up and back from just under your shoulder to just above your waist. You should feel this in the upper back. Slowly lower back to the ground. Once you’ve completed your reps on one side, swap over.

Banded pull ups

Fix a resistance band around an overhead bar. The thicker the band, the more support it will offer. Step one foot into the band. With your arms at shoulder-width, palms facing away, grip the bar. Contract your arms and upper back to raise yourself up until your chin clears the bar. Hold and lower down for one. If it’s too easy or difficult, adjust the band. The key to building strength here is slowing down the descent – three with good form is better than ten shaky ones.

Don’t forget to cool down and roll out!

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