Channing Tatum is a man of many talents. And while you might not be able to pull off his dance moves (Step Up, Magic Mike, Hail, Ceasar!) or take your top off with quite as much finesse (Foxcatcher, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, another Magic Mike film) you needn’t feel like such a slouch when it comes to getting in camera-ready shape.
Why? Because Esquire has the inside info from the man responsible for a decade of Tatum shirtless scenes, his long-time PT and close personal friend Arin Babaian.
“I’m actually dog-sitting Channing’s new puppy right now,” Babaian explains as Esquire joins him via phone. “He got attached to one of the puppies in his new movie and adopted him… it’s a lot of work.”
With a background in physical therapy, Babaian initially transitioned to personal training after sustaining a back injury. A move from his native New York City to Los Angeles followed, where a stunt co-ordinator friend hooked him up with Brad Pitt’s trainer. Along the way Babaian met Tatum, and they’ve been working out together ever since.
“He and I hit it off,” Babaian says. “We ended up training for every movie from then on. In the process we ended up becoming really good friends.”
Here’s everything you need to know (dance moves not included).
“Everybody asks about Magic Mike, but I never meet a client and say, ‘Hey let’s get in the best shape possible and take our shirts off,’” Babaian says.
Unusually for a Hollywood PT, Babaian is less concerned with when exactly his client has to flex his muscles on camera, and more concerned with what character his client is portraying. What is the character’s lifestyle like? How often does he work out? Does he even have time to train?
For Foxcatcher, the film Babaian says he is most proud of, not only did the character have time to train, he was training all day, every day.
“It was one of the most gruelling films I think both of us have been on,” Babaian says. “I think I wanted to quit at one point.”
He describes regularly training with Tatum in a pop-up tent in the rain, at midnight after a full day of filming.
“The training was probably the hardest we’ve ever done because it was wrestling training and also becoming this character who was somewhat of an ogre,” Babaian says. “It was very emotionally draining.”
For his new film, Dog – which Tatum is also directing – Babaian was faced with a unique challenge: transforming his client into a former soldier who needs to be physical, but is also healing from battle injuries. A story, it turns out, not too dissimilar to Tatum’s own.
“Before production we start getting our fitness in check,” Babaian explains. “We start exercising a little bit just to warm up the body. Channing also had a lot of injuries that we’d been trying to resolve. Even on Magic Mike everyone was injured with back issues and things like that. We’ve changed our training completely to being safe and smart.”
Having relocated to Tatum’s Ojai, California ranch when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Babaian and Tatum bunked up, starting each day with a bike ride or run. As their fitness grew, the warm-ups became more and more outlandish. Three to four mile runs turned into ten mile runs. Meanwhile, their mountain bike rides became gladiatorial competitions.
“We were cycling about 2,000 - 2,500ft up the side of a mountain,” Babaian explains. “It was only about 15 miles but it was uphill and it would not let you out until you were at the top. Everything is a competition between he and I so we would pretty much race to the top of this mountain.”
After a while, Babaian says, Tatum was comfortably winning their uphill races, so he decided to up the ante.
“He was doing well so he decided he was going to put a wagon on his bicycle where he would put his daughter and ride up the mountain with his daughter on the back,” laughs Babaian. “He thought he was going to beat us, but I think he quickly realised climbing a mountain with a seven year old child in a carriage behind you really affects your balance. Let’s say he didn’t make it.”
His forfeit for losing the race? A 5pm snack curfew for the duration of filming.
“Channing is a full-on athlete,” says Babaian. “I have a lot of friends who are stunt performers and they have all said that he could definitely be a stuntman if that had been the profession he chose. He’ll always attempt his stunts if he’s allowed to.”
Despite Tatum’s physical prowess, Babaian jokingly says the entire workout programme consists of him trying to convince Tatum something is his idea.
“I’ll give him choices that I know he hates to get him to do the one I want him to do,” says Babaian. “We developed a large back in Foxcatcher, but doing pull-ups is something he wants to avoid. So we incorporated a row in our workout routine. Or if we were doing a shoulder press, we’d start with a deadlift into the movement to incorporate the whole body.”
For his latest movie, the emphasis was on being able to lift a moderately heavy weight for several repetitions instead of maxing out.
“We like to do circuit workouts with either three or five exercises were we’ll always have someone doing cardio,” Babaian explains. “We’ll have someone doing a run on the treadmill or skipping rope and they’re not allowed to stop until you’ve done your reps. You’re constantly like, ‘Hurry up!’. If you’re taking it easy you’re hurting your friend.”
Typically, Tatum’s workouts are broken down into a push circuit one day and a pull circuit the next day. Or even a combination of the two, with a workout never being repeated in the same week.
As a taster workout you can do at home, try five rounds of the following:
Start at a light jog on a treadmill, increasing your speed by 0.5 km/ph every 30 seconds until you max out.
60kg bench press for 20 reps
Dumbbell shoulder press for 15 reps (sitting on an exercise ball for added instability)
Bicep curl for 15 reps (still on the ball)
Tricep extension for 15 reps each arm (lying over the ball)
Finish each round off with an ab-crushing circuit compromised of:
75 side crunches (per side)
20 leg raises
10 ab roll-outs
Finished? Then catch your breath and get back on the treadmill.
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