As she plays the Regency heroine Anne Elliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (now out on Netflix), how did Dakota Johnson get her body and mind prepped for the role? She turned to personal trainer Luke Worthington, who helped her achieve two key goals in the lead up to—and during—filming. “Firstly, she wanted to be in shape for the movie,” Worthington tells Vogue. “And secondly, she also wanted to enjoy the mental benefits of maintaining her exercise regimen during busy filming schedules.”
While it didn’t require a big transformation for Dakota to play a character like this—it is hardly Lily James’s metamorphosis into Pamela Anderson—we all know the power of feeling confident and strong in our bodies. For that, Worthington set a schedule of workouts—80 minutes, four times a week (on average) at Marylebone’s AMP Athletic—that “had a strength basis,” he explains. “But Dakota likes to get her heart rate up and feel like she’s had a workout, so I had to make a structure that worked for her.”
That constituted a series of mini circuits in each workout—one upper body, one lower body and one core exercise—keeping her moving throughout, with “no rest between exercises.” “Obviously the muscles did get rest, but this made use of the venous shunt effect,” Worthington says. The venous shunt effect is when the cardiovascular system is worked harder, as it has to move blood from the upper to lower body, thanks to exercises at differing ends of the body. In other words, an upper body movement, followed by a lower body movement.
During the last portion of the workout, Johnson and Worthington focused specifically on the areas she wanted to work on, which were usually glutes and abs. “We did a lot of single leg glute work, which tends to make it a little easier for people to focus on the specific muscles they’re trying to work,” says Worthington. “Other glute-specific exercises we used a lot were single leg hip thrusts, TRX hip abductions and single leg deadlifts.” Meanwhile, for abs, Johnson did TRX pikes, cable wood chops and angled roll outs using an ab wheel, all of which created shape at the waist, while also honing the V-shape below the navel.
Of course, dedicated cardio was also key—not least because Dakota enjoys getting her heart rate up. For that, the pair did a lot of boxing “which is what I call disguised cardio,” says Worthington, “because you’re focused on learning and practicing the skill, rather than on how hard you’re working.” Walking was also integral, and Johnson walked home from the gym (which took around 40 minutes) after her workouts, regardless of how late or rainy it was. (“No matter how long her days were, we would get the workout done,” he says. “Dakota is more of an owl than a lark, so workouts were often late at night, rather than early morning—we were quite often at the gym at 9 p.m.”)
“Walking is a great form of low intensity steady state cardio (or LISS),” Worthington continues. “LISS training has been shown to have positive effects on emotional wellbeing, sleep patterns and even hormonal health. The advantage of LISS over something like HIIT training is that there is a much better risk:reward ratio—we can all enjoy the same benefits with minimal-to-no risk of injury, and no real recovery time required. You can walk every day.” Great for the respiratory, digestive and lymphatic systems, walking effectively works as a mechanical pump every time we take a step—an easy fitness tip for next time you’re considering what exercise to do.
The story was originally published on Vogue.com