Let Alison Brie—with an assist from her trainer, Jason Walsh—lead you on a deadlifting, bench-pressing, hip-thrusting journey of true transformation.
WOMEN’S HEALTH – Alison Brie doesn’t want to talk about shooting the second season of the Netflix “lady wrestler” hit, GLOW. Or the two Oscar-bait movies she’s in this month. Her wedding to actor Dave Franco (brother of James) earlier this year? Thanks, but she’ll pass. The 34-year-old would rather wax poetic about split squats. (Yeah, the brutal, one-legged kind.)
“I just did my heaviest ones ever—80 pounds,” she says, slipping her legs, still clad in black camo workout pants, under a weathered picnic table in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. “Usually I peak at 50, but today we went up and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ It was intense.”
Alison’s enthusiasm makes sense when she describes how her workouts of the past two years have had a ripple effect on her entire life. “I came out of it feeling like a totally different person. It changed everything.”
Six years ago, when Alison started working out with L.A. trainer Jason Walsh, she did mostly circuits and light weights. She never thought hardcore strength training was “for her,” fearing it would make her bulky. “Growing up in L.A., both my sister and I had sort of touch-and-go body issues, some mildly recurring body dysmorphia.”
But when she needed to step up her workouts to prepare for GLOW—”to be able to throw people and do things like that,” she says—she boosted both muscle and confidence. “I feel like I was building strength outside and in at the same time,” Alison says. “Now I feel like strength is beautiful, rather than that stick-skinny is the beauty standard.”
She’s not speaking in platitudes. In fact, Alison has gotten to a place where, she says, “I’ve just never given less f-cks. It’s a nice feeling because you live your life more and care less about what other people think.” It’s also given her a constant. “Your career will fluctuate; you’ll have highs and lows. But I can always go to the gym and work out. I’m in control of myself and my body.”
Speaking of her career, it’s riding one of those highs and—just like in the gym—busting out of its comfort zone. She went from ancillary roles portraying wholesome women (as Trudy, wife of Pete Campbell, on AMC’s Mad Men and Annie Edison on NBC’s Community) to co-starring with Meryl Streep in Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers project, The Post, and the indie-film-circuit favorite The Disaster Artist.
Having reached this magic moment in her life, Alison is looking to support other actresses—as well as any woman just trying to get healthier. “She’s a very encouraging person,” says Walsh. “Someone new would come in to the gym, and Alison would be the first to go over to them and tell them it pays off.” Now she’s here to encourage you. Want in on all that tone—and that feel-good energy? Pick up some weights and dive into Alison’s lift-heavy primer.
1. YOU CAN START FROM NOTHING”
When Alison began her GLOW training, she couldn’t do a full pushup. “She started on the wall, then worked her way down, and now she can do chain pushups in sets of eight,” says Walsh. (What are those? Pushups done with a heavy chain draped around your hips. Respect.)
2. NAIL FORM BEFORE YOU GO ROGUE WITH FREE WEIGHTS
Enter the landmine, found at most gyms: It’s a long bar mounted to a swivel joint in the floor. Just attach a barbell to it to add weight to any exercise. “Because it’s fixed at the bottom, the landmine helps you learn proper form from the get-go, and helps with balance,” explains Walsh.
3. VARY THE NUMBER OF REPS AND SETS
Training for the GLOW role, Alison started with four 60- to 90-minute sessions a week, then bumped up to five days, increasing sets and weight from week to week. At home, try changing it up from, say, three sets of 10 to 12 reps one week, to four sets of six reps the next, and so on. “Varying the stress on your body can maximize strength gains,” says Walsh. (The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you’ve been waiting for!)
4. RAMP UP THE POUNDS
Walsh brought in 185-pound barbells to prep Alison for dropkicks and body slams in the ring. That’s likely not your goal, but trading in the five-pound dumbbells for tenners and going up from there sculpts definition by upping the challenge on muscle fibers. Use this rule: Whatever your reps, the last two should feel hard to finish. If they’re not, go up another five pounds next time.
5. USE YOUR ENVY
Back to pre-GLOW times: Alison watched her friend Emily Blunt crank out three pullups in a row while training for Edge of Tomorrow. “I was so in awe—and jealous. She became my template,” she says. It worked. Alison “went from zero pullups to 11 in 12 weeks,” says Walsh. “I’m talking full hang, chin over the bar.” now Alison is up to 40—FORTY!—which she does in sets. “I never thought I’d get to 10 in a row!” she says excitedly. “Setting a goal like that and reaching it… I’m walking tall all day. People don’t need to know why, but I know why. It’s so exciting to realize what our bodies are capable of, and to tap into that.”
6. PREPARE FOR SORENESS
When she first started training hard, “there were days when I’d wake up and think, I will never, ever not be sore again,” Alison says. The best antidote for achiness, per Walsh: Foam-roll before and after every workout.
7. TAKE A BREAK< "You need at least one recovery day, either total rest or light activity, so your muscles can repair themselves," says Walsh. If you want to move around a little on your rest day, he suggests low-impact cardio like hiking or cycling, which can help flush metabolic waste built up from torn muscle fibers caused by serious lifting. 8. HAVE AN AWAY-FROMHOME PLAN Achievement's less-glamorous cousin? Maintenance. Alison found out the hard way when on hiatus from GLOW. "I was traveling, and getting back, having been out of my routine, was like, 'oh my god, this sucks.' being in shape and staying in shape is all about consistency. There's no, 'I made it! I'll just kick back!' " Now Alison fits her workouts in anywhere. Certain weighted moves are too heavy to set up on her own, so she's created other strength-training routines for the road, and she also runs, doing 30-minute interval workouts using the app PulseTread. 9. IF YOU DO GET OFF TRACK, YOU CAN GET BACK, FAST What up, muscle memory! With a strong foundation—say, 20 weeks of working out, per one Ohio university study—you'll see gains faster after taking a break than women who didn't lift, thanks to retention of trained muscle fibers. "You're never more than two weeks away from peak performance," Alison believes. "So you have those two weeks of 'this is awful,' and then you're like, 'Oh, okay. My body remembers things.' " 10. ALISON'S POWERFUL ADVICE WH: Has lifting such heavy amounts made you more aggressive in any way?
ALISON: “When I’m working out, I am more aggressive than I used to be. But otherwise I don’t think I’m much more so. In fact, probably the opposite, because it’s like I don’t have as much to prove. I’m happier.”
WH: Does working out help you deal with how crazy the world seems right now?
ALISON: “It’s how I relax, in a sense. I get real antsy on days that I don’t work out at all. Anytime I’m down or feeling in a funk, I’ll go for a hike.”
WH: How many pounds of muscle have you put on since making serious weightlifting your main focus?
ALISON: “I was transitioning fat into muscle without losing weight or gaining weight. But I say that loosely because I don’t own a scale. I haven’t weighed myself in years.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!