Margot Robbie exercises for no reason other than to stay fit. ‘She’s always had a very healthy approach to exercise,’ Margot – and the entire Barbie cast’s – PT David Higgins tells me. ‘[For her], it’s about nothing more than being strong and healthy, physically and mentally.’
David wasn’t even provided with a brief ahead of training the Barbie cast. ‘I wasn’t briefed, I was there simply to keep the cast fit,’ he says. ‘There wasn’t an aesthetic goal.’
David echoes what Margot has previously said about her hopes for the film: ‘I don’t think you should say, “This is the one version of what Barbie is, and that’s what women should aspire to be and look and act like”,’ she told the Telegraph.
Granted, we’re talking about Margot here – the woman who was described as ‘the hottest blonde ever’ for her role in The Wolf of Wall Street – but it’s refreshing to hear that she wasn’t prescribed a wild workout regime to fulfil the role of ‘stereotypical Barbie’ (which she plays in the movie). Especially since I’m about to train with David himself.
We are standing in David’s private member’s gym Bodyspace, in Knightsbridge, London. He’s just given me a tour; I don’t need to ask to know that the equipment is the best of the best, David’s ‘office’ is bigger than my entire house, and the décor only adds to the exclusive feel – there are ceiling-high shelves of ornaments and huge pieces of artwork hung throughout. We’ve got one hour together, and my questions have already started. Here’s everything David taught me, including exactly what Margot does and why.
1.Margot does strength training and reformer Pilates
When asked what our workout will entail, David tells me: ‘A combo of strength training and reformer Pilates.’ I’m relieved since my usual routine is centred around both modalities. ‘We’ll do a full-body session, starting with strength training,’ David adds. Here’s a breakdown of the full workout, which David and Margot would do together ‘every time’.
Workout: Do 15 reps of each exercise before moving onto the next, taking minimal rest
- Supine chest press
- Bent-over row, right side
- Bent-over row, left side
- Standing bicep curl
- Seated shoulder press
- Supine skull crushers
100-rep ab challenge:
- 20 crunches
- 20 toe taps (legs together)
- 20 toe taps, left side
- 20 toe taps, right side
- 20 toe taps (legs together)
- 20 x curtsy lunges, right side
- 20 x curtsy lunges, left side
Using reformer Pilates bed: ‘I stick to durations over reps when using a reformer machine,’ David tells me. We spent around 2 minutes on each of the following exercises:
- Plank hold
- Plank to pikes
- Plank hold
- Glute kickbacks, both sides
- Leg circles
I know that rep ranges can be used in various ways to achieve different goals, so I’m intrigued as to why David punts for 15-20 on the strength segment. ‘It gives me enough time to correct anyone who needs form alterations,’ he explains. ‘While also fatiguing your muscles enough to create tiny tears in them, for them to eventually grow back stronger.’
He’s referring to a process known as sarcomeric hypertrophy, a physiological process whereby your muscles are damaged during strength training, then sew themselves back together to be stronger and more robust.
David is both a PT and reformer Pilates instructor (‘I brought reformer to the UK when I opened my first reformer studio in 2004’, he tells me), and he’s keen to tout the benefits of both. ‘Reformer Pilates keeps your mechanics working properly, to prevent injury and protect your joints, as it works all of your muscles unilaterally,’ he tells me. ‘Strength training bolsters that by making your compound muscle groups stronger.’
Margs is a long-time reformer fan. She once told the Telegraph: ‘If I’m making a conscious effort to exercise, I work with a Pilates trainer on a reformer machine, and that suits me and my body best.’
How does she balance the two? There are no hard and fast rules. ‘I would always listen to how she feels in her body,’ David says. ‘If she was up for lifting heavy, we’d do more strength training. If she wanted to focus on reformer, we would.’ Intuitive training; we love to see it.
2. Margot doesn’t do cardio
…At least not intentionally. For Barbie, David tells me the cast would be in ‘dance training for 2-4 hours per day,’ so cardio workouts weren’t needed. That said, after around two sets of strength exercises in our session together, I’m already out of breath.
‘Strength training can act as secret cardio,’ David tells me. ‘By doing a full-body workout, your heart has to work hard to redirect the blood to the correct part of your body as and when you work it – from your upper-body to your lower-, for example.’ This is known as the venous shunt effect, and I can assure you it’s legit. I look down at my Apple fitness watch 15 minutes in and my heart rate is already shot through the roof.
David has some exercise-specific hacks for maxing out the cardio benefits, too. I’ve always performed curtsy lunges with two dumbbells by my sides, framing my working leg, but David asks that I hold them by the head of each dumbbell at my chest. ‘Whenever you have your arms positioned above your heart, it has to work harder to pump your blood upwards,’ he explains. Such a small change makes a monumental difference; I find that I’m considerably more breathless, and I have to focus hard on my stability.
3. Core strength is Margot’s focus
This is made loud and clear as soon as my session with David begins. I’m performing supine skull crushers on a bench, when he asks me to bring my legs into tabletop (knees bent, hips in line with your knees, in a 90-degree position). The exercise is, of course, immediately harder.
‘It forces you to brace your core at the same time,’ David tells me. It’s an instant salve for ‘rib flaring’, too. For the uninitiated, rib flaring is exactly as it sounds; if you don’t tense your core, your ribs flare outwards, and it’s a sign that your core is not pulling its weight. It feels harder to lift my legs up, but I know it’s doing good things.
After the upper-body section of our workout, it’s onto a 100-rep ab challenge. Margot famously told ET that she would do 100 sit-ups a day to get stronger for I, Tonya, and turns out, she did even more ahead of Barbie. A recap on the challenge:
- 20 crunches
- 20 toe taps, legs together
- 20 toe taps, reach to the left side
- 20 toe taps, reach to the right side
- 20 toe taps, legs together
Ignorance really is bliss, as David doesn’t inform me we’re aiming for 100 until mid-way through the set (no rest allowed, might I add), and had I been aware, I’m not sure I would have succeeded. In even more surprising news, David shares that Margot would do this five times within each workout. That’s 500 reps, people.
As a qualified yoga teacher and reformer Pilates regular, I like to think my mid-section is fairly strong (core work is a key principle of both philosophies), but I’ve never crammed so many crunches into such a small space of time. It doesn’t end there, either.
As we move into David’s reformer Pilates room (casual), we start with a plank hold on the carriage (more difficult than a standard plank since you need to stabilise the carriage to prevent it from moving backwards and forwards).
David recently shared on his Instagram Story that Margot can hold a plank for 4 minutes and 10 seconds (yes, really), but she needn’t worry about giving up her crown. After 100 reps of crunches, I last for 1-minute, before moving into plank to pikes. Thankfully, I’m familiar with this move from reformer classes I’ve attended, but they’re certainly not easy. We finish with another plank hold, and I can confirm my core is toast.
4. Consistency is key
It’s a catchphrase that has been claimed by many a platformed professional within the wellness industry, and it’s one that applies to every aspect of fitness. Take strength training; as research shows, muscle growth only occurs after around 6-10 weeks of persistent workouts.
‘Margot and I have trained together on and off for years. Our Barbie schedule lasted around 12-15 weeks,’ David tells me.
Quick fixes will fail you; sustainable and regular routines are the ones that will get you results. We’re not just talking aesthetic results, either; Margot didn’t have one, but training regularly for almost four months ensured she felt her best.
Know that David – also a qualified nutritionist – provided Margot and the Barbie cast with meal plans and nutrition advice. Sure, exercise will contribute to you feeling fitter and stronger, but it’s a small piece of a very big puzzle. Diet, sleep, stress, age, sex and genetics will all play a part in your results.
5. Margot fits a workout in whenever she can
If you’ve read about Margot’s workout routines for past film roles, you’ll know that if she’s asked to commit, she will commit. Her former trainer Andie Hecker told Insider that they trained together for two to three hours per day, five days a week, while filming Suicide Squad. Extreme, we know.
For Barbie, however, she may fly down the stairs and walk on water in the film, but her routine is way more realistic. ‘We would train together five days a week, for 45-60 mins each time,’ David tells me.
David and I train together at 12.30pm, but I typically work out in the morning. It sets me up for the day, and I’m interested to know what Margot prefers. ‘We didn’t stick to certain times of the day,’ David tells me. ‘It was a matter of training whenever the cast was free.’
The same goes for the duration of each workout Margot and David would do together. ‘If we could do an hour, we would. If we could only do half an hour, we’d do that. 45-60 minutes was ideal,’ he said.
Moral of the story: it doesn’t matter where or when you do your workouts, consistency trumps all.
As our hour together comes to an end (David has another five clients that day – all in different time zones), I feel good. Whether for firing question after question at David at the same time as trying to perform the workout or not, I’m more out of breath than usual for a strength or reformer session, but I’m not as whacked as I would be after, say, a run. Every part of my body is aching; my core, my arms and my glutes, but I’ve still got plenty of… Kenergy.