Health

Matt Damon's Trainers on How to Work Out Like Jason Bourne

Published On 08/02/2016 Published On 08/02/2016
Jason Bourne with bag over his shoulder
Universal Pictures

Ideally, none of you will ever get wrapped up in the kinds of messes that Jason Bourne has to deal with on a regular basis: constantly running from the FBI, physically combatting any number of hired guns, and dealing with that pesky case of amnesia to boot. But let's face it -- these things happen. As such, it never hurts to be prepared.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Matt Damon's star-making character Jason Bourne (other than his inability to remember his own name, that is) is his physical acumen. That Bourne spends full days in mid-sprint and can hold his own against any well-toned adversary is the result of a top-dollar workout regimen.

Luckily, we got some insight into just what kind of training is entailed to build a man like Bourne. We spoke to Matt Baiamonte and Jason Walsh, the trainers who worked with Damon behind the scenes of the film, to learn how one might become the proverbial superhero you see on screen in Jason Bourne.

Remember that there's no off-season

While it may be tough, even excruciating, to take your workout regimen from zero to 60, simply keeping in decent shape year-round will make the transition all the easier. "We didn't just start prepping for Jason Bourne," says Walsh, founder and operator of Rise Nation gym in West Hollywood. "We had two other movies before that [The Martian and The Great Wall], which started back in 2014."

While neither of these films required of Damon the sort of physique he'd eventually need to earn for Bourne, Walsh nevertheless kept him in prime condition. "He didn't have to be ripped, he just had to be an astronaut," Walsh says, explaining that his "focus there was to keep him strong and healthy and resilient," which made all the difference when it finally came time to work conditioning into the mix for Jason Bourne.

"That's really what I advocate," he continues. "There is really no off-season. If you can stay in decent shape, you're really only a few weeks away from getting in goal-ready shape when you need to. That's what I tell a lot of my clients, like John Krasinski. They just stay in shape. Maybe not to peak performance, but in really good shape. So if they get the call tomorrow that if they need to go and be ready for a role like Jason Bourne, we don't have to scramble, and I don't have to make these guys' lives miserable."

Make friends with the grueling VersaClimber

All that said, that doesn't mean Damon's training was anything close to easy. The one element of the star's workouts that seems to have really earned the reputation of a difficulty is the VersaClimber.

Baiamonte, owner of Matt Baiamonte's Boxing Club in Wynwood, Florida, and Damon's boxing coach who oversaw and participated in much of the actor's regimen, describes this particularly trying exercise: "VersaClimber is basically, like, you're climbing a mountain," he says. "So we were doing intervals of that where he'd go on for a minute, we'd go on for a minute, and we'd just keep banging that out."

Walsh adds, "On the VersaClimber, he would end up averaging 4,000ft or 4,500ft, which we would do in 30 minutes. Which is really, really good. That's a lot of work in a very, very short amount of time."

Keep running uphill

Walsh stresses that he'd break up bouts on the VersaClimber with runs and recovery periods. But when you're training to become an action star, even the jogs are tough, especially considering the unforgiving terrain Damon had to work with. Production of Jason Bourne took its star to places like Tenerife in the Canary Islands -- a hilly locale -- and London, England, which has a few notable hills and ridges in its dense urban environment. That makes for some tough running.

Walsh recalls, "We would wake up in the morning sometimes and go for long jogs out in the park. In Tenerife we'd do them in the mountains. And that really sucked. Just running at a high grade, a 10 % grade, is a grueling feeling. Your heart's in your throat. It's horrible." He adds, "When we were in Tenerife, we would do five, six miles. We did some of that in London, too."

In fact, this all began well before the production of Bourne, when Walsh was guiding Damon through the Gobi Desert on the set of The Great Wall. "We started doing sprints and long-distance runs a couple times a week, but we'd also do mostly metabolic sprints," he says. "They were pretty horrible, I'm not gonna lie. And we were at very, very high altitude. We both kind of looked at each other halfway through like, 'What the hell is wrong with us?'"

Universal Pictures

To get in fighting shape, start boxing

If you've seen the trailer for Jason Bourne, you know that this incarnation of the fan-favorite character has really brushed up on his fighting skills. Baiamonte led Damon through countless drills to ensure that he could both throw and take all the punches the script demanded.

Baiamonte rattles off a number of boxing exercises, which include "two to four rounds of shadow boxing just to get him loosened up and get the juices flowing," which involved "a lot of head movement. When you shadow box you can't just throw punches, you gotta pretend that you're doing offense and defense."

He continues, "For one round or so, we'd just throw the jab. Just so he could get his jab down. Then would we move into combinations." These took form in a number of ways. "When we had a bag available, we would do speed drills on the bag," Baiamonte says. "You'd just throw as fast as you can, but real combinations, for like 15 seconds, and then you just move around the bag for another 15 seconds… doing your footwork. And then we'd go back into the combinations that we were working on." The routine also included "between six and 10 rounds of hitting pads."

Because of the demands of a studio film's tight schedule, Damon wasn't granted the luxury of the resting period that Baiamonte recommends. "When fighters have a fight and the fight's over, they take like two or three weeks off. It was literally like [Damon] had a fight, and he had to fight the next day… you gotta figure, they were hitting each other like 200 times [in a scene]."

Spend tons of time focusing on core strength

Nearly as difficult as the VersaClimber or as challenging as the boxing sessions were the core exercises that Walsh and Baiamonte put Damon through. On top of planks, lunges, and leg raises, Baiamonte tells us about some of the workouts he picked up from his mentor, Angelo Dundee, boxing coach to Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and George Foreman.

There's the farmer's walk…

  • "You just hold 60 to 70lbs in each arm and then walk maybe 20 or 30 paces back and forth."

The reverse bicycle…

  • "You're on your back and you're bicycling your legs and your arms but you're sitting up and going down, but your legs and shoulders never touch the ground -- it almost looks like you're a dead cockroach."

And a few applications that didn't even have names…

  • "You're on your back and your legs and your hands never touch. You do a side leg-raise, but your feet and your shoulders would never touch the ground. It's grueling."

Get serious about eating right

Of course, one of the most integral parts of keeping strong is eating healthy. Admittedly, Damon had the luxury of personal chef and manager Ryan Toal, who Walsh touts as brilliant and Baiamonte lists among the hardest-working members of Damon's team. That said, Walsh's illustration of Damon's diet may help any one of us put together something comparable.

"Forty-five percent of his diet was protein," Walsh says. "Then 30% fat, and the rest carbohydrates. Anywhere from 1,600 to 2,000 calories on his diet."

Although Toal was in charge of retrieving and preparing the food, Damon's trainers had a role in making sure he was tailoring his diet to his exercise. "Matt ate a very, very, very clean, healthy diet," Walsh says. "What we did is we tweaked all the macronutrients, and stuff like that, that he ate. As we lower our carbohydrates and we work out and condition more, you're gonna lean out. So it's very important." He continues, "You lower the calories, you tweak the carbohydrates, you would eat really clean foods and vegetables. Especially fresh from the market, it's fantastic."

Keep things interesting by mixing up your routine

Finally, as Walsh reminds us, you can't stay in peak physical shape if you're struggling to remain mentally stimulated. It's important to diversify routines and keep the regimen fun and rewarding.

"We really mixed it up a lot," Walsh says, recalling hill sprints in the parks in London. "We kept it interesting. We challenged each other quite a bit. Who could run faster, who could get to certain points during the run first. I did all the workouts with him, so that there was that feeling of solidarity and camaraderie. It helps a lot to have a workout buddy."

As it turns out, Walsh and Baiamonte weren't Damon's only "workout buddies" on hand. "His wife, who was in really good shape, they would go on runs together," Walsh says. "She was in amazing shape, and did a lot of the workouts. When your spouse is there to support you… that's a great support system to have."

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Michael Arbeiter is nowhere near as fit as Jason Bourne, but is almost as forgetful. Find him on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.

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