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A Simple Plan Helped Actor Johnny Harris Lose 27 Pounds While Packing On Muscle

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When he got a new acting role in the upcoming FX and BBC adaptation of great expectations which required a complete retooling of his body, actor Johnny Harris didn’t have much time to get lean and strong. Here he tells men’s health just how he did it.

When I was approached to play Magwitch in an upcoming new production of great expectations, I had about eight weeks to prepare for the role. I had some specific ideas about the character’s appearance: Magwitch is a convict. A fugitive on the run. Sometimes he suffers from malnutrition and hunger, but he also possesses tremendous physical strength and willpower. I wanted to create a physical look that was strong but lean and edgy.

Our makeup artist also had some great ideas along the same lines, but I had just gained quite a bit of weight for a previous project. To get the look we wanted would mean losing over 10 kg (22 lbs) of body fat in a very short time, while adding muscle.

Fortunately, I had worked with Gary Murphy at Ultimate performance in London before and we have a great relationship. They get amazing results there and I knew if I put my all into it and followed Gary’s advice, we would get the job done. He prepared a program for me and we got to work.

When I was 16, I was a national boxing champion. So I had spent many years in the gym during my youth, training as a fighter, but back then the focus was much more on speed and endurance. I didn’t know anything about bodybuilding. A few years ago I played a boxer in a movie, Maxillaryand preparing for this role was my first experience of training with weights.

For my next role, I needed to lose weight and to build up muscle. As my trainer explained, we tend to lose body fat from the upper half of our bodies first, which is the shoulders, upper pecs, and collarbone. To combat this, I worked a lot on my “top shelf” – my chest and deltoids. I did heavy pressing strokes, then isolation strokes when fatigue started to set in. I trained daily: three one-hour sessions in the gym with weights per week, and cardio, mostly on the treadmill, the other four days. I was burning between 300 and 500 Kcal per session, and I also used those days to stretch and recover.

actor johnny harris trains for high expectations at up fitness

johnny harris / ultimate performance

Once filming started, Gary and I would adapt our weight training sessions to accommodate what were sometimes long hours of filming and night shots. It was a challenge, but we made it work – where there is a will (and a good coach), there is a way.

The big lesson from my introduction to serious bodybuilding was the importance of technique. It’s all about technique. Having a personal trainer working with you hour after hour, perfecting and tweaking your technique and explaining exactly what is going on with your body, or where you might be going wrong, really feels like you take it seriously. You stop wasting time and energy and for me that’s where the workout started to feel good. It got interesting, and that’s when I really started to like it.

actor johnny harris trains for high expectations at up fitness

johnny harris / ultimate performance

Along with training to build muscle, I also needed to overhaul my diet to lose weight. I have a really sweet sweet tooth, so I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of ​​cutting back on the desserts. I also used an app to log my food, which shows you how many calories you eat and also breaks food down into protein, fat, and carbs. It’s a great way to learn quickly and easily which meals are balanced and nutritious, and which are not.

I naturally discovered meals that I really liked to eat that also matched my daily calorie intake. For example: breakfast would be mashed avocado on sourdough toast, with poached eggs and grilled bacon. In the evening, I would make a good snack like smoked salmon on wholemeal toast, with lime juice and chili flakes. To be honest, I don’t feel like I was starved at all. I just became much more aware of what I was eating. On the contrary, it made me appreciate good food much more.

With the UP program, I lost 12.3 kg (27 pounds) and reduced my body fat from 26.9% to 11.9%. My lean body mass has increased and I have lost 18 cm (7.08 inches) from my height. My energy has improved dramatically. If someone gave you a backpack with 13 bags of sugar in it and told you to wear it all day, you would be broke within hours. I doubt you’re too happy about the situation either. Once that weight starts to come off and the muscle starts to grow, it’s like an injection of energy.

actor johnny harris trains for high expectations at up fitness

johnny harris / ultimate performance

Reflecting on the whole experience, it makes me want to focus on balance and consistency in the future. Meditation has played a very important role in my life for over 15 years now. I have developed a balanced and consistent way of practicing and integrating meditation into my life that is sustainable, simply because I truly appreciate and cherish the effect it has on my emotional and spiritual well-being. I love what it brings to my life.

This experience taught me that I never really cultivated that same respectful relationship with the physical. I have always had very intense and targeted physical exercise sessions, like when I was a young boxer in preparation for fights or when preparing for certain movie roles. It was never sustainable. I started this journey with the same mindset, but as Gary and I continued to work together throughout the filming process, it helped me develop a new attitude towards training. I loved the results. My personal goal now is simply to continue to develop this same attitude towards the physical, as well as the emotional and the spiritual. Balance, consistency… and gratitude.

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