Earlier this year I did an interview for Bare Essentials e-magazine. Check them out they are a really cool, forward thinking group and I have been a fan of theirs for a number of years.
Here's the interview.
E-interview: Nick McKinless ʻTrain like a Titanʻ - the secrets strategies of a stunt professional
Nick McKinless has been a stuntman and stunt coordinator since 1996. He has worked on many of the biggest films ever made and continues to work in both film and television at the highest level. In 2008 and 2009 Nick was part of the winning teams responsible for the explosive scenes in Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight, both of which won Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture. Nick just finished filming on Centurion and the highly anticipated remake ʻClash of the Titansʼ and is currently working on the final Harry Potter installments plus Ridley Scottʼs Robin Hood.
A specialist in combining strategy, stealth, strength and stamina Nick is often utilized as a performer and a personal trainer. Aware of his keen insight and intense training methods producers hired Nick to prepare both actors and stunt crew for the physical demands of playing Greek Gladiators. Throw your weight belts out the window and get ready to grip granite using the secret strategies of a stunt professional to Train like a Titan!
1. How did you go about designing a training routine for the Titans?
I knew most of the guys on the stunt team and although already in shape many of them were detrained from working so much and not being able to find the time to train. We work long hoursand often itʼs sleep and relaxation that takes emphasis over training, especially when you consider the physicality of our job already. This job was no different so the workouts had to be short but effective. We were often training at 6am or squeezing something in between lunch.
2. What are the key concepts to your program?
It is always about a combination of functionality, athleticism, strength and conditioning. Usually if you combine that with a good diet then you will look good too. Training to look good has never made any sense to me if you canʼt perform well physically. Most of the guys ate really well and managed to get under 10% body fat. Thatʼs a TRUE 10% which is much more difficult than people think.
3. How do you address the different disciplines (conditioning, strength, agility etc.)?
I challenged the guys with exercises I have used for many years that I knew would produce the best results. Usually a workout would have an element of strength followed by some repetition work, some speed or agility work like knee jumps or rope climbs and then weʼd end with something unusual like the wheelbarrow ab wheel or carrying a heavy sack for distance or planks with someone kicking you.
Yes, we really did fly on Titan Airways!
We were pretty limited but you can always make do! We had a chin and dip station, dumbbells up to 85lbs, one adjustable bench, an Olympic barbell and about 300lbs of weights plus I brought in things like strength bands, a climbing rope, the power wheel, a sack, grip equipment and a core blaster. The guys would usually hit the pads 2-3 times a week as well.
5. What did your Titans struggle with the most (most wicked workout)?
know these guys are real athletes. Most of us have won National or
World titles at some point over the years. I had various stunt doubles
from Bond to Batman to Brad Pitt on the team so we werenʼt short of
talent! With that in mind you really have to push yourself otherwise
these guys are going to just think youʼre a pushover.Anytime you put
the body into oxygen debt you are going to have a tough time. However,
you have to be careful not to do this too often as it will lead to
overtraining and results will suffer. Once a week we would have a tough
one. It might be a H.I.T style workout moving from one
exercise to the other without rest and me screaming at you or it might be high sets of chins and dips followed by partner resisted band sprints.
5. Which exercises were emphasized and why?
Shoulder pressing be it seated or standing. Static but unstable abdominal work, such as planks with a heavy weight on the back or someone kicking you. Chins, dips and pushups. Jumping drills. Since we didnʼt have a rack nobody except myself was really doing any heavy squatting or deadlifting. We did Goblet squats, swings and core blaster work though which keeps the hips, legs and lower back strong.
Nick as 'Medusa' for a Visual FX shot
6. What was the key to progression?
We looked in the mirror and took photos every now and again. We really only had 6 weeks so in that time you have to just go hard, keep an eye on the calorie intake and pinch your belly now and again to see if thereʼs less fat there. We actually did caliper body fat percentage tests twice during this period as well to keep an eye on specific fat deposits as everyone carries fat differently.
7. Did you advise on nutrition also (what would you recommend)?
Itʼs the usual things like cutting out carbs after 4pm, donʼt eat anything man hasnʼt killed or grown on the land and reducing alcohol intake. That last one isnʼt easy for stuntmen! Seriously, nutrition these days should be a piece of cake (pun intended). Just buy good quality meats, fruits and vegetables (preferably Organic). Stay away from ʻwhite deathʼ foods like white bread, white sugar, white rice and donʼt eat anything with saturated fats. Drink more water. Having said that, eating less healthy foods isnʼt going to kill you as long as itʼs in moderation. If you eat 21 meals a week then 3 of them could be junk food or ice cream or whatever floats your boat. The rest should be things like steak and salad, salmon or chicken and brown rice or eggs and spinach.
8. What did you use as a benchmark to indicate your Titans were ready for battle?
Lean abs and strong quads!
Two weeks out - getting there.
9. How did you maintain momentum and motivation amongst the men?
When you know you are going to Tenerife to shoot for 4 weeks on a Volcano with incredible scenery then the incentive is there!
11.What scenes in the movie best showcase the efforts undergone in exercise?
Probably all the fight scenes with the Scorpiox and Calibos and Perseus. I had two actors who were not in the best shape at the beginning of the film but I think the physical and fight training we put them through every week made their particular fight with the scorpiox one of the best.
12.Which stunt proved most challenging?
That would be the Calibos run down the hill. ʻCalibos Hillʼ as it became known to the crew was incredibly
steep. Rigging that stunt was an effort in itself. Just climbing the hill all the time at that altitude was crazy!
13.Are actors as disciplined as athletes (stunt crew) when it comes to training?
It depends on the actor. I know that Brad Pitt was incredibly committed for Troy because his
trainer and I were always discussing his routines. At the moment I am training Ralph Fiennes for his next film and his discipline is second to none. I think when actors know they are going to be centre stage on the big screen then they have no choice but to be 100% committed to their training.
14.What is the most difficult part of coordinating a stunt?
It depends on the stunt but usually watching the performer and hoping that all the rehearsals, rigging and technicalities work on the day. You want your guys to be safe more than anything and I would rather call it a day than hurt someone for a film. Thatʼs not to say I like people to back off. I want commitment but I want them to be level headed not wild like a daredevil.
15.How did you unwind after a long-day shooting?
Oh that doesnʼt quite fit in with health and fitness! Usually at the bar having a few cold beers. I would usually train at the weekends when we were on location which I always find relaxing.
16. What was it like working with Sam Worthington?
Sam is that rare actor who is just one of the boys. He came into the first rehearsal wearing beat up work boots, surf shorts and a Metallica t-shirt! However, he is extremely serious about his work and his intensity is incredible.
On location at the top of Mt. Teide
Additionally can you provide an example routine for us.
The “TWO WEEKS TO TENERIFE” Routine
Work on two exercises plus abs for 20-30 minutes. (That’s all we had during this period)
Pick two exercises that you like a lot and do them everyday. Pick one pull and one push.
Pull – power clean, swing, deadlift, chins, curls, rows
Push – military press, seated press, dips, pushups
3 sets of 8 reps of each exercise with 1 MINUTE rest
Finish with Planks
4 sets of 4 reps with 2 MINUTES rest
Finish with Toes to the bar
Work up to a maximum of 3 reps for each exercise
Finish with a Side bend drop set
Same as day 1 but with more weight!
Work up to a top MAXIMUM in each exercise. Then drop to 75% and go to failure.
Planks, side bends and situps to fail.
And for anyone who missed it...here's the training video...