On the morning I meet David Higgins, bloated as I am from a weekend of excess and struggling with a frozen shoulder, I don’t exactly feel that I fit the mould of his typical clientele.
The personal trainer and physiotherapist has worked with Colin Firth, Margot Robbie and even Samuel L Jackson to get them fit for camera. His new book is titled The Hollywood Body Plan – and my body doesn’t even qualify as a Hollyoaks body after a sluggish start to the year.
Sitting in his sleek BodySpace gym at the Corinthia hotel in London, 36-year-old Higgins looks like he’d fit right in with the A-list. But the affable Australian cringes a little at the word “Hollywood”.
“It’s a nice headline to put on the front of the book, but they’re the same problems across a whole host of people, across genders, ages and jobs,” he insists.
A Hollywood body is not just about beauty
His work with celebrities might help make them look fantastic as they get ready to adorn the red carpet at the Oscars this Sunday – but a lot of the time, he says, he is putting broken bodies back together. And this, he adds, is what’s really interesting.
“The aesthetic is boring, that will come anyway,” he says. “I’m a big advocate of longevity – why are we really doing this? I’m at that stage personally – I’ve been through my twenties where you’re throwing some weights around, you’re looking good, you’re feeling good. And then when you get to your thirties and forties, the ‘why’ has changed to wanting to live a longer, happier, pain-free life.”
Pain and immobility are part of life for many of us, especially as we age. Higgins calls them “chair-shaped bodies”, which have adapted over the years to sitting, not doing any activity.
“We live a sedentary lifestyle and we are trained to be chronically still,” he says. “We don’t use our bodies the way they’re designed to be used. Those imbalances in our bodies adapt, so when that’s sitting in a chair for 15 hours a day for years on end, the body gets really good at sitting down. But that’s not conducive to the way we’re supposed to move.”
It is reversible, insists Higgins – and it doesn’t involve paying thousands of pounds to a personal trainer.
The ‘chair-shaped’ body
His book is based on a 21-minute, 21-day regeneration plan, including simple exercises with a foam roller and resistance bands to help iron out those kinks.
“If you have really poor foundations, going to a high-intensity class or loading on the weights is going to be accelerating those imbalances,” he says. “But most injuries are avoidable if you just bring that body back to a neutral alignment. It’s having the awareness to go, OK, I’ve been sitting down all day so I’ve got to do this 10 minutes before I do whatever it is I want to do.”
Higgins’s theory ties neatly in with the growing trend of “prehab”, with gyms across the country beginning to offer classes focusing on form, posture and stretching to balance out the ever-popular high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and CrossFit classes.
While HIIT has been proven to be hugely effective, its high-impact nature can also lead to injury if done the wrong way.
“I actually love HIIT, I think it’s fantastic, it’s an efficient use of your time,” says Higgins. “But if you could just do this bit first, then do your HIIT, then you’ll be fine. It’s basic self-care.”
It’s never too late to get fit
And what of the chair-shaped among us that fear we’re too far gone? “That’s bullshit,” says Higgins. “Age is irrelevant. Yeah, you’re probably going to have some bits and pieces that you’re going to have to work around or work through, but age is no excuse.
“Samuel L Jackson, he’s 70. When I worked with him on Tarzan, he had to run through the rolling hills of Africa, and he hadn’t run in 40 years. And my job was to make sure he could do that shot.”
It clearly paid off. Jackson credits him as the man who “patiently and caringly put me together again”.
Higgins knows what it’s like to have a broken body. When he was 19, playing Aussie rules in Melbourne, an illegal tackle left him with a dislocated shoulder and broken ribs. He slowly began to rehabilitate himself, before moving to the UK and qualifying as a personal trainer.
He still lives in London with his wife Cara and three children, when he’s not on far-flung film sets.
Getting the right mindset
Mindset plays a part, he says. “People get stuck in ‘I can’t do’ or ‘I’ve been told that I shouldn’t do’. The problem is if you don’t do it, it will get worse.
“We subconsciously build these psychological guards so that it locks us down in certain areas to immobilise that area. But the body has to compensate somewhere. So, generally speaking, I find that where the pain is isn’t where the problem is.”
Actors aren’t always natural athletes, Higgins reasons. They’re often the skinny drama school kids suddenly expected to play a superhero, so their challenges are just as great as those facing us mere mortals.
“When I was looking after Colin Firth for Kingsman he said, ‘Yeah, I’m the drama student who’s now a spy.’ So these guys still have to do the work, I can’t lift their leg up and down for them. And it’s the same with everybody else.”
Changes that last a lifetime
Of course, if it really is a Hollywood body you’re after, it’ll take more than a couple of jumping jacks. Higgins’s book includes a 21-day meal plan to accompany your “reset”. It’s refreshingly free from “clean eating” nutribabble, although he does recommend that you cut out alcohol, refined sugar and fried foods.
But this is not a diet book, Higgins says – it’s about changing your mindset for life. “With celebrities, I’ve got to get them out of the thought process of ‘I’m only doing this for six months’, because, yes, that’s an aesthetic goal, but it’s not going to get them up at 4am to train before they go into make-up for three hours and then get back on set for 10 hours.
“You’re doing this so you can live a longer, healthier, happier, pain-free life. That’s your end goal.”