Like many people, I am a big-time movie fan. I appreciate great acting and Leonardo DiCaprio is quite possibly my favorite actor. My two favorite movies of his are “The Beach” and “Catch Me If You Can” (I own both of those movies). “Blood Diamond” is also right up there. Anyway, Leonardo DiCaprio’s personal trainer for “The Beach” tracked me down and asked if I wanted to do a Q&A session. What is cool about his story is that he was flown to Thailand and only had a little over 2 weeks to whip everyone into to top shape. Leo needed to drop 17 pounds in roughly two weeks. Cornel explains how he accomplished this feat, along with other cool things about his experience, in this interview.
[I like it when actors like DiCaprio do volunteer work for causes they believe in. One of his causes is to save polar bears from extinction. I like it when people use their fame and celebrity status to help out. If it improves something, even just a little, it is worth it in my opinion.]
A Bit of Background on Celebrity Trainer – Cornel Chin
Cornel Chin has been a fitness professional for over 20 years. He is an expert at “fitness troubleshooting” as well as preparing actors and actresses for movie roles. He is based in the UK…is a frequent guest on radio as well as television…has written three fitness books…contributes regularly to dozens of fitness publications. Along with all of that he gets flown to remote locations around the world to train celebrities to get fit for big-time movies. “The Beach” was Leo’s next movie after “Titanic”. DiCaprio at that time was considered Hollywood’s leading man. So Cornel had just a little bit of pressure to get some dramatic results and a short time to accomplish this.
So Let’s Get to the Q&A…
Before we start, I know that some people are going to try to compare Leo to someone like Brad Pitt in “Fight Club” or Cam Gigandet in “Never Back Down”. The thing to remember is that Cornel’s job was to make the entire cast of “The Beach” look lean like they lived on a desolate island. It would have looked a little odd if everyone looked like fitness models. Leo wound up with a slim surfer’s build…and this fit his role perfectly. Again…Cornel hit it just right in my opinion.
Rusty: Cornel, I am so pumped that you contacted me. I know it sounds like I am just saying this, but Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favorite actors. I took my girlfriend to see “Shutter Island” recently and it delivered as promised. I actually own a copy of “The Beach”, because I consider it to be a classic and one of Leonardo’s best movies…plus the scenery is out of this world. So how did you get to work on this set and train Leo? What an incredible opportunity!
Cornel: It most certainly was an incredible moment for me. My ‘route’ into training Leo was through an existing client at the time- the film’s producer Andrew MacDonald (who’s still my client and very good personal friend!). At the time, Andrew completed his most recent film ‘A Love Less Ordinary’ (starring Cameron Diaz and Ewan Mcgregor) and was keen to transpose the very popular book ‘The Beach’ into celluloid.
During one of our training sessions, Andrew and I discussed the idea of he and Danny Boyle (the director) of getting Leo on board for the lead part. Remember, Leo was then the world’s most sought after actor, riding the crest of the wave of success of ‘Titanic’ just recently released.
Andrew mentioned if Leo agreed to the part, then I would have the opportunity of training him in Thailand. I genuinely didn’t ponder over it for too long believing Andrew was joking. Several months after that discussion, Andrew called me from Thailand and said “Pack your bags- I’ve got Leo for the film and you’re coming to Thailand to train him. I’ll arrange a first class plane ticket, accommodation and chauffeured car for you”. Not many people receive that kind of offer every day, so how could I refuse?!
Rusty: What I like about “The Beach” is that Leonardo and the cast just looked lean and healthy. They looked like lean vibrant people and they weren’t “over-done”. Did you train everyone on the set?
Cornel: Indeed, I did- from Leo himself to Danny Boyle, the entire film cast to the director of photography. They were all very keen to have a go at exercise and liked the idea of the set’s very own resident fitness trainer! They were the greatest bunch of people to work with. We’d start the morning off with a training sessions right on the beach at 0830 hours and again about 16.00 hours either in the hotel gym or back on beach.
[Watch the trailer…such an amazing movie!]
Rusty: That sounds amazing…I will use any excuse to go to the beach. Can you describe a typical beach workout?
Cornel: As you can appreciate, the beach itself was devoid of any form of exercise equipment. This meant that I had to think outside the box- be creative and conjure up nearly three weeks worth of exercises that would firstly be safe, effective yet fun and exciting. Being on a beach environment was a bonus, as the sand is one of the best surfaces to exercise on.
We started with a warm up that consisted of mobility exercises followed by some light running on the beach- forward, backward and lateral runs were added into the mix for variety. The cardio section involved bodyweight exercises, incorporating circuits. We would mix it up with some kick boxing drills, more running coupled with a few competitive races, etc. Since we had the ocean to hand, we’d occasionally get in the water and do water aerobics. The specific work involved targeting the abs, upper body and lower body. All of these exercises involved using exclusively bodyweight exercises such as press ups, crunches, leg raises and so forth. At the very end we would spend about 30 minutes of stretching and relaxing looking over to the beautiful ocean as we all told jokes!
Rusty: Completely off the topic of working out, but what was your favorite area of Thailand. I plan on going someday and want to know where the must-see places are. Any advice on hotels, beaches, restaurants, etc?
Cornel: Since I was in Thailand for only three weeks, and was primarily based on around the south eastern part of Phuket, in Cape Panwa near Phuket town, I only really managed to visit a few places. It’s an area of white sandy beaches, amazing diving and clear blue water make it a sea and sun worshipers paradise and if you like nightlife, there’s plenty of places to shake your stuff!
[Cape Panwa Hotel – one of the beautiful beach hotels Cornel lodged during his stay in Thailand]
I stayed at the Royal Phuket City Hotel and Cape Panwa hotel which at the time, were superb. They were both situated right on the beach front with an abundance of eating places nestled around them. The hotel restaurants served up amazing food. We tried most of the small local eating places, to sample the ‘real Thailand’. We found the small local restaurants to offer the best Thai cuisine- real Thai home cooking. I’d shy away from the food street vendors though. This is perhaps personal taste and didn’t actually try these-it’s more a case of being sensible, although we regularly spotted tourists eating from these establishments.
Of the places to visit, well the list is exhaustive. I really wouldn’t be able to tell you where to start. The entire island is a tourist’s haven. My advise would be to arrange a ‘rolling trip’- stay at various locations in and around Thailand. That’s what most tourists do and that’s what I’d do when I revisit hopefully next year. I’d make sure I read all of the guides and speak with various people to get the ‘skinny’ on Thailand.
Rusty: How far away was Leo from his target goal when you started and how long did you have to get him in top shape?
Cornel: When I initially met Leo, we discussed his medical history, eating habits etc, so I could build up a profile on him that would enable me to tailor make an effective training plan.
Leo wasn’t in the greatest of shape when I first met him and he was a good 8 kilos (17 pounds) from his ideal body shape. Contrary to what the media negatively and unfairly portrayed about him at the time, Leo had gained some unwanted weight. This was not as a direct result of being complacent and living a debauched lifestyle after the success of ‘Titanic’, but because he’d had recent ligament surgery to his knee. This caused him to be inactive for a while, which resulted in some excess baggage.
To get him in the best shape I could, specialist training skills were employed, as I had very limited time before filming commenced. The “look” required for the film by this time was a lean, well toned appearance – as if he’d been living off the resources of a desolate island. Many of the shots in the film featured Leo shirtless, so he had to feel confident about his body.
We trained exceptionally intensively for over two weeks. Although it was a very unorthodox approach, we trained on a twice daily basis for two hours each session. The workouts were divided into warming up, aerobic exercise for 45-60 minutes followed by an hour of specific resistance training. My main fear at the time was Leo getting injured with the immense amount of training he undertook. Fortunately, Leo is used to being active, regularly playing basketball and dynamic Frisbee in his leisure time and had youth on his side, so he was able to get in ship shape condition very rapidly. The results speak for themselves in the film!
[Cornel Chin and Leonardo DiCaprio 10 years ago when “The Beach” was filmed]
Rusty: Wow…4 hours per day…So that is roughly 28 hours per week. The average person training to get in shape for the beach would put in closer to 6-7 hours per week. So you compressed about 8-9 weeks of training into 2 weeks? The results do make sense and it was a well-though out approach. You really had to be that aggressive for Leo to lose 8 kilos (17 pounds). I like the idea of being aggressive for short periods of time, because I think the body can handle it. What are your thoughts on aggressive approaches? How long do you believe people can push hard before over-training?
Cornel: Yes, that was a hard decision to make. Admittedly, the production team of the film left it to the last minute for me to shape up Leo. I advised them that the Almighty above, magicians and witch doctors are experts at making ‘miracles’ happen, but fitness experts are rather limited in that respect!
I did however, manage to pull it off with Leo, as evidenced by the way he looked in the film. Having said that, it was a very unorthodox approach and not a typical workout for the unconditioned or exercise neophyte. It’s hard, intensive and aggressive exercise, designed to ‘shock’ the body into change and improvement.
This method of training is ideally suitable for very well conditioned, accomplished athletes whose bodies can handle the barrage of that intensive abuse. Think of a boxer during training season. He’ll spend up to five hours daily training up to the big match. This format of training can only be employed for a short period of time before the effects of over-training creep in. Two to three weeks is really the absolute limit and should be chased up with a week’s recuperation period.
Rusty: You mentioned that you had the cast do aerobic exercise for 45-60 minutes. Cardio and aerobic exercise gets little respect these days, but like you, I still endorse it as an effective way of getting lean. Combined with proper resistance training and obviously a “dialed in” diet, it creates a pleasing physique. I have dieted hard and skipped cardio and I just never felt as healthy as when I include cardio in my routine. What are your thoughts on this?
Cornel: I can’t personally state that aerobics has fallen off the radar recently. In my experience, it’s as popular and as sought after as it’s always been, especially here in Britain. It may be slightly off the boil in the USA at present and the reasons why I believe cardio isn’t as well regarded as it previously was is due to the introduction of newer, fresher, more exciting exercise trends and products that have come on stream.
Anaerobic training methods have had a big ‘push’ and the on going campaign in favour of the Power Plate and Vibro Plate that are today’s shining fitness stars, followed closely by the variety of Pilates training methods appear almost relentless. There has also been a renaissance of resistance training- waxing lyrical or extolling the virtues of lifting weights to increase the body’s metabolism. Perhaps these have replaced the good old fashioned cardio work?
In the UK fitness clubs, ‘Spinning’ is the most popular class of all classes run by these establishments. These classes are often over-subscribed. The treadmill too, is still the machine club members queue up to use, so it’s plain to see the popularity of cardio in the UK today is undying.
I encourage and educate my own clients on how imperative cardio work is within their structured workouts. It accounts for over half of the routines I use with my clients. I express and stress that with the absence of cardio work, they wouldn’t be shedding unwanted surplus fat, they wouldn’t derive heart and lung power and they won’t lose weight.
[Audrey Tautou – another actress Cornel has worked with]
Rusty: Leo is a guy that you just can’t help but like. The funny thing was that part of me didn’t want to like him. It was probably just out of envy, because it is sometimes hard to cheer for someone who has such huge success at a young age. I changed my mind after watching movie after movie where his acting blew me away. He just comes across as a stand up guy. Is he that way in person?
Cornel: It was genuinely a real pleasure to work with a regular L.A street guy who just happened to be the biggest star on the planet! What struck me the most about him was how very down-to-earth he was. He’d remember most people’s names on the set and was always willing to talk, blend in and hang out with us all during his free time. He takes his acting super seriously and works at his craft, which is very evident in his films today. He deserves all the success he receives.
Rusty: A big philosophy of my site is an “attractive body” and a “gym body” are not necessarily the same thing. I like to workout in the gym, but create a look that doesn’t scream “gym”. You are personal trainer who seems to get this. Can you tell me more about your philosophy?
Cornel: People participate in exercise for a multitude of reasons. Many people like to sculpt their bodies and put it on show for all to see. There’s nothing wrong in this behaviour and it may well be deemed as a case of pure 100% narcissism. To them, it may be a display of how proud they are of their hard work in attaining such an incredible shape. Some people train for health and medical reasons and others to feel better in themselves. Regardless of the reason for exercising, my basic philosophy is: “If you don’t make time for exercise, you may one day have to make time for illness”.
Rusty: So it looks like you have a new book out. How is it different from a lot of the other fitness books on the market?
Cornel: That’s always a good question, as there is a myriad of fitness titles out there all competing for the hot sellers list!
My book is very much focused on the ‘No Gym required’ workouts. Although there are many books that furnish the reader with workouts that can be done outside of the gym, my book was created on the theme of ‘Exercise your way out of the Credit Crunch’.
It has come at the right time, in light of the current financial meltdown and escalating unemployment. People will still want to keep fit and stay in good shape. Indeed, many have or are considering giving up their expensive and unaffordable gym memberships. Once they do cancel their memberships, they’ll be desperate to find alternative, practical and effective exercise solutions. They’ll expect to achieve workouts to match those they can perform in their gym environment. After all, they won’t want their hard earned efforts to come to an abrupt end. The main ‘bones’ of the book will focus on how to train effectively and how to generate and maximize results with very little or no money. The only investment made on the reader’s part will be time and effort and will be a sure fire way to guarantee great returns!
[Cornel Chin flexing with the female cast of “The Beach”]
Rusty: I love the idea of teaching people to get fit outside of the gym. It is actually a skill that I believe everyone should learn. Does your workout require any special equipment?
Cornel: ‘Skill’ is very much the key factor when training my clients based on the ethos of the ‘No Gym Required’ style of workouts. My workouts requires very little equipment or use of sophisticated equipment. I typically employ body weight or free exercises and will often use light weights, jump rope, Step platform, kick boxing sparring mitts and focus pads, resistance bands, Swiss ball, balance board and exercise mats. If I train outdoors then I’ll seek out a park with a dedicated exercise area. Often these will consist of a sit up bench, dipping bars, balance beams, pull up bars, monkey bars, low hurdle bars etc. I’ll devise a workout structured around the equipment available. I always use a heart rate monitor to check on my clients pulse and training zones. It really does boil down to the trainer’s skill set and creativity when training equipment is unavailable or limited.
Rusty:: I love trainers like you who are making getting in shape accessible to everyone. I really applaud your message here. I’ll make sure and include a link to your new book. Is it out now?
Cornel: Thanks a bunch for the compliment and praise and I really feel privileged to be posted on such a popular prestigious site such as yours. The book is now available in north America and will be rolled out in the UK on 1st May of this year.
The direct link to Amazon.com to purchase the book is: