The thought of not being at the forefront of the film world is what has helped Will Smith refocus on his health and fitness, as he tells BESTFIT.
Will Smith has undergone something of an epiphany in recent years, and while these days the pursuit of ‘proving I can improve’ appears less important to the 51-year-old star of Bad Boys, Men In Black, I Am Legend and Independence Day, the actor still has aims to fulfil… not least at the gym.
It all began back in 2013. After Earth had just bombed at the box office and, for the first time since bouncing onto the scene as the Fresh Prince in 1990, the Philadelphia-born actor, musician and philanthropist was left with the prospect that to the new generation of film aficionados he was irrelevant.
“I think that hurt me a lot at the time,” he says. “I’d obviously been there at the forefront for so long, and suddenly I was looking at all these other people coming in, doing great work, and living that life of being new and exciting and relevant.”
“It’s impossible for anyone to stay at the top of that mountain and while a big part of me wanted to, another part of me was tired. I was ready to step back, ready to look at other ways of being the best version of me… or even, a better version of me than I had been before.”
“I was ready to step back, ready to look at other ways of being the best version of me…”
Stepping back ultimately meant stepping up, but where in the past the priority was press engagements, photoshoots and personal appearances, this time Smith’s route to personal fulfilment came via the gym, through health, wellbeing and even a touch of quiet contemplation.
His elevation from just another ageing film cult hero to someone who has reinvented himself as an older, wiser and leaner example of fulfilment has probably saved the actor from the sort of implosion associated with one of his more bullish characters.
What’s more, the change he has undergone has, perversely, made him relevant all over again – an unexpected but not unwelcome biproduct. “Sure, I was happy to step away… but it’s always nice when the phone rings,” he laughs.
How much priority do you give nutrition versus exercise?
They are one and the same thing for me. You can’t have one without the other, and you cannot really compensate for one over the other.
At times I have been, ‘well I can treat myself in terms of what I eat, or perhaps drink a little more than I should, because tomorrow I’ll burn it off or sweat it out’, but in reality I find that throws you off. If you want to get serious about the whole picture of health then it can’t be a case of letting it go on one side and expecting the other to make up the shortfall.
Do you think it’s a problem that the entertainment industry seems to demand people stay a same size, shape and weight constantly, whereas for most normal people that’s impossible?
Nothing that goes on in the entertainment industry should be taken for fact [laughs]! Man, you can’t believe that stuff – none of it is real.
Certainly, I’ve not stayed one shape. I work on a basis of work and reward – I work hard, I reward myself. I wouldn’t say I ever totally drop the gym, or stop working out, and I never hold back on trying to eat the right things, but I will slide from time to time and, like most people, I need a project or a goal or a target to get me back on track. I think we are all like that really – I’m a really good role model for anyone who lacks a bit of focus from time to time!
You have said you’re still learning things about your health, even past 50.
Sure – well this year was a lot to do with my blood pressure and realising high blood pressure was so much to do with what I was eating. That’s been a bit of a revelation for me because before I believed sincerely it was something that was out of my control, and maybe slowing down work was the best way to manage it.
It turns out it wasn’t, because slowing down work was actually making me less active, which is counterproductive to lowering blood pressure.
So what I’ve discovered this year is that food really is the core of all of what we do. Think about it – what you eat will fuel how you exercise, not the other way round; so you have to get that part of it right first or you won’t even start.
What’s been the toughest workout routine you’ve had to do for a film role?Without a doubt, that was when I was bulking up for Ali. It was a case of piling on muscle and mass, whilst trying to stay in shape. It was intense, and involved a lot of running and treadmill work to ensure I was burning any excess fuel that didn’t add size.
I’ve never minded running, it’s okay, but the schedule was early mornings, straight up, straight out. For once it was a relief when I got into the gym.
“I’ve never minded running, it’s okay, but the schedule was early mornings, straight up, straight out. For once it was a relief when I got into the gym”
What’s your go-to meal?
Usual answer – grilled chicken, broccoli. I would tend to have four meals a day and be taking in at least 3,000 calories when bulking up or working to get a shape.
What’s the biggest thrill you take from working out?
For me, actually, it’s those moments after you’ve finished. You sometimes just catch yourself in a glow of positivity, satisfaction and almost meditation. You are tired but completely fulfilled, and those are very satisfying moments.
In life, we don’t have too many occasions where everything just falls into place and feels right, and yet exercise can take me back to that headspace very easily.
There are only a couple of things I can compare that to. Strangely, one of those was when I was filming Collateral Beauty, when my father was diagnosed with cancer.
It is the most difficult thing a human will ever face in life, the consequences of death and the consequence of that loss. But for me, you could call it perfect timing, poetic timing… whatever– my character in that movie was going through and exploring all the ideals of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and because of that I was able to share that with my father, and it was beautiful. It’s been the greatest blending of life and art that I’ve experienced.
It was a concept I needed and clung to. It was completely profound and spiritual and gave me a perfect opportunity to talk with my father about our feelings when it came to love, time and death.
Of course, I can never compare exercise to the importance of that event and how that whole situation unfolded for me, but there is something totally spiritual about being in touch with yourself and giving yourself time to sit and reflect and repair. It isn’t as far away than we imagine, and exercise is definitely a route to that.
Will Smith’s 5-day Workout Routine
Push-ups: 3 sets of 20 reps
Barbell bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline barbell bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps
Incline dumbbell bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps
Upright cable flyes: 3 sets of 10 reps (high to low)
Lying dumbbell punch: 2 sets to failure
Dumbbell shoulder press (standing): 2 sets of 20 reps
Barbell shoulder press (barbell): 4 sets of 6 reps
Dumbbell shoulder press (seated): 4 sets of 6 reps
Behind-the-neck barbell press (standing): 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell lateral raises: 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell front raises (or plate front raises): 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell air punch: 4 sets to failure
Chin-ups (front, wide grip): 50 reps
Dumbbell bent over row (one arm): 4 sets of 6 reps
Barbell bent over row: 2 sets of 6 reps
Barbell bent over row (reverse grip): 2 sets of 6 reps
Pulldowns (front, wide grip): 4 sets of 6-8 reps
Chin-ups (front, wide grip): 3 sets of 10 reps
Cable pushdowns (heavy): 4 sets of 8 reps
Barbell arm curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
Barbell triceps extensions: 4 sets of 8 reps
Incline bench skull crusher: 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell arm curls (incline, alternating): 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell triceps kickbacks: 4 sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell hammer curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
Hip abductions (machine, seated): 20 reps
Front squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Full squats: 5 sets of 5 reps
Dumbbell lunges: 3 sets of 8 reps
Leg press (single leg): 4 sets of 8 reps
Box jump: 4 sets of 30secs
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