Jason Walsh has become one of the go-to trainers in Hollywood for getting clients stronger than ever. He’s worked with Emma Stone, Brie Larson, and Mandy Moore (to name a few), and he’s also the founder of Rise Nation, a VersaClimber cardio class that celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Hilary Duff swear by.
But for a celebrity trainer who’s known for helping clients reach specific fitness goals, Walsh’s approach is radically reasonable. He’s all about building strength and stamina slowly and steadily–and turning his clients into true fitness fans along the way. “It’s a lifestyle, and once you get a taste of it, you don’t want to go back,” Walsh tells SELF.
Everyone starts somewhere, though, including his A-list lineup. Here are five pieces of advice he gives his clients that you can use in your own routine to build strength and improve your fitness.
1. Start with just one to two days of strength training per week.
Unless he’s training an actor with a “fitness deadline” from a production studio (for example, if they need to start filming a movie by a specific date), Walsh generally doesn’t have clients log excessive hours with him—especially when they’re first starting out.
“A lot of my clients come to me before they have a project most of the time,” he says. This means they start slow and steady, which is important for anyone who isn’t used to working out. “It’s better this way than trying to go all in and getting frustrated or hurt,” he explains. Over-training right off the bat can lead to burnout, excessive soreness, and even injury—all of which can take away from your long-term goals.
Walsh suggests starting with just one or two days of strength training a week, and adding on as you get comfortable. For his clients, he starts with basic resistance training to build strength before he dives into intense cardio-forward workouts or circuit training. Building a “baseline” of strength can make cardio workouts down the line safer and more effective, he explains.
“When the muscles are strong, they support the skeletal system, and you’ll be surprised how much more you can get out of the conditioning [workouts] that you end up doing,” he explains. (For example, strong glutes are important if you want to try a running interval workout, because they help power every stride and take pressure off your joints.)
This doesn’t mean there’s no cardio work in his workouts, though—you can still get your heart rate up with strength training, especially when you’re minimizing the rest you take in between sets.
2. Start with the easiest modifications and slowly progress toward heavier weight.
You’ve probably heard about the benefits of lifting heavy, and yes, Walsh does have his clients lift heavy (just take a look at Stone’s deadlifts above). But this definitely doesn’t happen on day one.
“When I’m training someone, we don’t go right into heavy weights. In the beginning, what we’re doing is strictly bodyweight movement, and we’re trying to get the mobility, the flexibility, and the strength established,” says Walsh.
Sure, Brie can push a sled like a pro these days, but that wasn’t where they started. “She might [have done] wall pushes where she puts her hands on the wall, that’s where we start people. Just put your hands on the wall lean forward—it’s a great position, and it’s getting the body to wake up and understand where we’re going with this type of training,” he explains.
These are all called exercise progressions, he explains, or “versions” of an exercise that start easier and slowly get more difficult, building on the previous version. For example, maybe you start with bodyweight squats, then once you’ve got that down, try them with couple of 5-pound dumbbells. Eventually, you may feel ready to take on front or back squats with a barbell.
Walsh says he starts his clients at the easiest version, and has them go through a lot of reps so that they can get the movement down before progressing. “I want people to do these movements very well and very confidently [before we move on].”
3. Work on properly hinging your hips and activating your glutes.
Your body is one big kinetic chain, so when one muscle group is weak or not engaging properly, it can set off a ripple effect of problems. One of the first places Walsh looks to troubleshoot: the hips and glutes, which work hand-in-hand.
Basically, your hip joints need to hinge properly for your glutes to engage, and your glutes need to engage to prevent other muscle groups from taking over when they shouldn’t (like your hip flexors, low back, or quads).
Unfortunately, glute dysfunction is a pretty common problem, explains Walsh (it’s also known as dead butt syndrome). Addressing this and other problems is at the top of his priority list with a new client.
“We work from the hips out,” he explains. “I think hip thrusting is one of the most important things you can do.” (Here’s how to do them.) Again, this doesn’t mean using a heavy barbell right off the bat—it’s just about learning how to get your hips up and your glutes engaged, with even just your bodyweight. “We’ll do that before we do pretty much anything else as far as the progressions go,” he says.
He also makes sure to teach people how to squat properly—that means hinging at your hips to sit your butt back before you bend your knees to get into the squat.
4. Find ways to move outside of the gym—and make sure you’re having fun.
Fitness isn’t just about the time you log in the weight room or on your go-to cardio machine. “I tell people to get out of the gym,” says Walsh. “Go do stuff outside. Find a recreational sport, or something, that makes you happy. Hiking, walking, surfing, tennis…any of that.”
The best part? Once you’ve built some good base strength, you’ll be surprised at how much easier these other activities feel, says Walsh. For example, he has a client who took up rock climbing, and she was amazed at how she felt doing it thanks to her healthy, strong shoulders and back.
Not to mention, “it’s also just really good for the psyche,” says Walsh. The mental benefits of getting outside and doing things you enjoy are reasons enough to get started.
5. Be patient, and focus on how your body feels after consistent training.
Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. “You have to be patient. Appreciate every step,” says Walsh. Slow and steady wins the race, and with time and consistency, you’ll notice you’re able to lift a little more than you could before, or you can power though a few more reps without burning out.
You also might notice differences in the way your body feels, which is an incredible result on its own. “[With many of my clients,] their aches and pains from being weak tend to go away, and that’s fantastic. Being pain-free gives you a better quality of life, and you feel much more confident and comfortable in your own skin—these are the kinds of things that being strong gives to you,” says Walsh.
We’ll lift to that.