Strength Training for Captain Marvel Changed Brie Larson’s Relationship with Herself and Her Body
Mostly, we think about strength training in the world of how it changes our bodies… but anyone who has lifted for more than a few years knows that the reason people keep coming back is because of what it does for a person’s sense of self.
The real “before and after” of Brie Larson’s 9 months of training for Captain Marvel was who she got to become.
Brie Larson’s strength gains are now well known:
- 215 pound deadlifts
- 10 Pullups
- 400 pound hip thrust
- Pushups with 50 pounds of chains
- Pushing a Jeep Up Hill
If you want to read more about training for that, specifically, check out this previous post: Brie Larson — Captain Marvel Strong
In this post, we’re going to take a look at how it impacted her sense of self. There is something that changes in a person when they can rep out on pull-ups and deadlift more than 1.5x bodyweight.
Brie Was Not an Athlete
Brie told E! News,“I didn’t know what strength was. I was truly an introvert with asthma before this film, so I had a lot of work to do, and I just started to fall in love with it. I started to fall in love with the way my body was changing and transforming.”
She joked with the Los Angeles Times, “Carol is a trained warrior and I can barely walk in a straight line!”
What’s amazing about the strength she built was that she hadn’t been a lifetime athlete. She wasn’t someone who was previously known for that kind of physicality or action or strength.
Often, if we come to strength training later in life, we wonder if it’s “for us.” I’ve had clients wonder aloud if they really could get stronger. Regardless of how you’ve related to yourself in the past, an intelligent and progressive strength training practice can change who you get to be in the future.
You might not have a world famous trainer and 5 days per week to workout, but that’s ok. It doesn’t matter if it takes you twice or three times as long — it’s about you going in that direction and getting there in your own time.
Transformation instead of Objectification
Larson also told E! News: “It was the first time where I felt like I was making my body work for me. I think in the past, I was more interested in my body never being part of conversation. To me, it felt like objectification; I just wanted to be a brain, so I’ve only cared about reading books and understanding words, and anything that involved my body made me itchy. But this was an opportunity for me to… make my body mine.”
While objectification and overvaluing physical appearance is well known in Hollywood, it has a lot to do with how regular folks approach their fitness in the real world, as well.
The irony is that people tend to get better results when they’re focused on process based goals (like doing the work) instead of outcome goals (like looking a certain way). Paradoxically, people who over-value the end result often get disheartened and quit, when they don’t hit their goals fast enough, or maybe miss a milestone on the way to their goals. They get thrown by each and every (normal) bump in the road.
On the flip-side, people get awesome results when they simply focus on doing the work. When people just focus on doing the work:
- The do more work
- They do higher quality work
- They do more consistent work
If you just focus on doing the work in the gym every day, you’ll get stronger.
Also, you might find it to be more empowering, more fun, and have a drastically more positive impact on your relationship to your body. Instead of being entirely focused on some idealized body standard, your gym work can simply be an expression of being the kind of person you want to be.
The Kind of Person You Want to Be
We can practice shifting our focus from being entirely about some end goal, to being the kind of person we want to be, right now. In the gym, today, your workout can be today’s expression of you being strong.
Brie (above) talked about how this was the first time she made her body work for her. The strength became a part of the kind of person she wanted to be. The relationship to her character became part of her embodying the role she wanted to play. The combination of the strength and relationship to Captain Marvel became part of what she stands for in the world.
The mistake people make is that they only value themselves in relationship to a certain idealized body standard. We need to make a practice of looking at the kind of person we want to be, what we stand for, and the kinds of character values we want to embody, like strength.
Brie looked at the character of Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel. She looked at all of her vulnerability, her strength, her confidence, and her courage. She practiced being all of those things. In the weight room and in her fight training, she practiced being the ways of being that Carol is. She also practiced those for herself in her own life.
She told USA Today: “It’s a combination of what martial arts has done for my brain and what learning how to own my body in this new way has done for me,” says Larson of her newfound confidence. “And also just getting to embody Carol for awhile. Your brain starts to explore new ways of being. Then, when the movie was over, I was like, this new baseline feels better for me.”
Similarly, Brie’s biggest motivation was to embody the kind of physical strength and character strength that Captain Marvel has. Strength is a direction, not a destination. Brie was embodying strength when she did her first pushup. She was embodying strength when she did 20 pushups. She was embodying strength when she did weighted pushups with 25 pounds. She was embodying strength when she did weight pushups with 50 pounds.
Most of us approach goals like we’ll only be the kind of person we want to be after we hit the goal. In reality, we get to be the kind of person we want to be every time we take actions in line with that value. Every workout, we’re being strength. Every milestone. Not just the last one.
There is no ending to becoming the kind of person we want to be, our best version of ourselves (for lack of a better way to put it). It’s not a goal, it’s a daily practice.
Strength + Vulnerability
Kevin Feige said about the character, “The great thing with Captain Marvel is that she is human. There’s a real person in Carol Danvers who gets these incredible powers and has these amazing adventures in outer space. But as with all the best Marvel characters she needs to be very human. So, this is not just about somebody who is incredibly powerful and can fly around and shoot photon blasts out of her arms. It’s somebody who’s very human, who’s very vulnerable, and who has multiple dimensions.”
At the Captain Marvel press event in Singapore, Brie echoed the same sentiment, that the movie is actually about Carol’s vulnerability, and her getting to herself, finding herself. It’s about her vulnerability and her heart.
Ideally, your strength training is an expression of the kind of person you want to be. Hopefully, when you clarify your values (getting really concrete about the kind of person you want to be) you pick some values that have a natural balance to them.
Some examples of balanced values:
- Excellence + Compassion
- Passion + Mindfulness
- Conscientiousness + Reasonableness
- Adventure + Intelligence
- Strength + Vulnerability
Values that have that kind of balance between action and humanity work really, really well in pursuit of your fitness goals.
Also, just as a fan, I’m way more hyped to see a superhero movie when it’s actually about the human side. If there’s a place where DC messed up, it’s that they forgot to put the Clark Kent in the Man of Steel. Compare that to the totally human conflict between Tony Stark/Ironman and Steve Rogers/Captain America. Also, the fight scenes in Civil War were amazing, but they had weight to them because of the human stakes. I’m all about Captain Marvel being really about Carol Danvers rediscovering herself… during an intergalactic war =)
We love seeing vulnerable, flawed people, doing amazing things. That’s a hit for our own pursuits of goals, and taking actions in line with our values: We’re allowed to be vulnerable at the same time we’re building strength. Or, to pull it all together, Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.” So maybe, vulnerability and strength are two sides of the same coin.
What Do Balanced Values Look Like in the Gym?
Vulnerability is listing to your body.
Vulnerability could be recognizing that sometimes you really are tired. It might be paying attention to an odd tweak you feel in your knee that day, and working around it. It could be taking a week off and resting when you feel like you’re getting sick. Or, if you’re 20 minutes into a workout and still feel terrible, maybe it’s time to call it for the day and go home.
Listening to your body about when to rock out and when to chill. It’s recognizing and being ok with being human. Knowing that it’s ok to be human sometimes, that taking care of yourself is part of your values. It’s about thinking about your goals with a long term perspective.
Vulnerability might be having a planned rotation of easy, medium, and hard weeks in each workout program. It’s knowing that the easy recovery weeks are just as important as the hard weeks.
Strength is about making decisions based on your values (and sometimes ignoring unhelpful thoughts).
Strength might be going to the gym when you have the thought that you “just don’t want to.” It’s about showing up and consistency. It’s reminding yourself that strength comes from stacking up workouts over months. It’s about knowing that sometimes you have thoughts that don’t match your values (“It’s cold out,” or “I had a long day,” or “this is never going to work”) and that it’s ok to have those thoughts, but that strength is often going to the gym anyway.
It’s knowing that it’s normal to have unhelpful thoughts a lot of the time, and that’s ok. They can be there, and you can still take actions that matter to you.
Strength would also be having a planned rotation of easy, medium, and hard weeks in each workout program. It’s rocking out when it is time to have a hard week.
To sum up:
- Vulnerability is about listening to your body and accepting that you are a human.
- Strength is taking actions that are in line with your values, even when it’s hard.
That’s a really effective balance.
Your values might be different, so this might all look different. But this is an example of what it looks like, in practice, when your values are balanced.
Stand Your Ground, Own Yourself, Value Your Voice
Brie, told People Magazine, “Carol changed my life and the movie hasn’t even come out yet. Just, in particular, getting strong, learning how to stand my ground, own myself, and value my voice. Those are things that I learned from her. “I’ve been very open about the fact I’m an introvert, I have asthma and I was able to push myself further than I thought possible. I’m excited to share her with the world.”
Brie Larson has spent the last few years practicing living her values, being the kind of person she wants to be. One expression of that was strength training. Another expression of that was playing Captain Marvel.
Another expression of that was speaking out about what matters to her — like ending abuse, harassment, marginalization, and underrepresentation of women in every industry. Timesupnow.com is still the only url on her Twitter and Instagram profiles. And, she’s taken a lot of heat from that, including Captain Marvel getting tens of thousands of negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, before the movie even opened.
She’s unapologetically standing for what matters to her in the world, and that’s the most important kind of strength.
Be Your Own Superhero
Brie Larson took the part of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel because the entire process fit the kind of person she wanted to be. You could look at that as being strong, standing her ground, and valuing her voice — that’s a very clear set of values for which she could make decisions and choose her actions from.
You can do the same thing. You just need to outline for yourself:
- Who matters to me?
- What matters to me?
- What do I stand for?
From those three questions, you can define your own superhero version of yourself. You can choose actions and make decisions based on who you say you’re going to be.
That might include some awesome strength training. And, it might also impact every other area of your life as well.
Brie told USA Today, “The thing that I thought was my weakness was my greatest strength,” she says. “My introversion, the thing that made me go, ‘Well, I couldn’t be a superhero,’ is the same thing that I think makes this story important to me. Because I’m saying, ‘I’m flawed, I don’t know how to do this, I’m still figuring it out, I’m learning, I want to grow.’ But I’m committed to myself.”
Give yourself time, patience, and put in lots of practice.
by Josh Hillis
author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday (2014) and the upcoming Lean and Strong (2019), for OnTarget Publications