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How To Build a Female Boxer Body Like Hilary Swank?

June 30th, 2008 · 4 Comments ·


“If there is magic in boxing, it will be the magic of fighting battles beyond endurance, beyond cracked ribs, ruptured kidneys and detached retinas. It is the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you.”

This is the famous quote I remember after watching the 2004 Academy Award winning film, Million Dollar Baby. It is a great movie, no doubt. But, I am not asking you to train until you have to crack your ribs or break your kidney. Let’s look at how Hilary Swank has trained to get the body she wanted in order to play the role of Maggie Fitzgerald, the female boxer in the movie.

In order to take the role of a boxer, Hilary Swank not only has to learn boxing, but also build her body like someone who has spent her whole life training. She had about 90 days to do it under her personal trainer, Grant Roberts. By the time the cameras began rolling, Hilary Swank has made significant transformation by gaining about 19 pounds of muscle (reaching the weight of 129 pounds from 110 pounds) on her 5′ 7.5″ light frame. Let’s check out how she has achieved those goals with her gym workout and diet plan.


Hilary Swank’s Diet Plan

  • Hilary Swank ate protein and low carbohydrates diet during the preparation of her role. She consumed about 4,000 calories a day, twice much more than an average woman would eat. While Jennifer Garner and Jessica Biel ate less than 2,000 calories a day, Swank needed that to build more muscles with vigorous gym workouts.
  • She had to eat about 210 grams of protein daily. However, because body can only absorb so much protein in one meal, she was told to eat protein rich meal every 4.5 hours. Egg white and fish were common items in her meal. She even had to wake up in the middle of the night to drink protein shake so that she could meet her caloric goals.
  • As for carbs, she took not more than 50 grams a day.
  • In addition to protein, she drank flax oil which contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seed oil provides about 1,000 calories a day, a quarter of her daily intake. According to her personal trainer, two reasons why he asked Swank to do so:
    • As Swank ate little carbohydrates, her body would use stored fat as energy. So, flax oil will stoke the metabolism to help burning the fat and digesting protein she has eaten. In this case, the oil has provided high quality calories for muscle building without affecting the fat burning process. The end goal is to build muscle yet at the same time, reducing body fat percentage.
    • Also, because of long hours spent in boxing and working out, Swank has overtrained. Her trainer mentioned that the flax oil would reduce her joint pain.
  • As for her menu:
    • Breakfast: protein shake blended with egg whites, oils, vitamins and minerals.
    • Lunch and dinner: fish and lots of green vegetables.
    • Similar protein shakes were used as snacks throughout the day.

Hilary Swank’s Workout Regimen

  • Initially, Hilary thought that boxing was easy. After trying out her first 3-minute round, she realized that it was much more difficult than seen. Ever since then, she put much effort to practice 2 hours daily by sparring and hitting the heavy bag as well as the speed bag.
  • As for the weight lifting workout, her trainer focused on single body parts, upper and lower body workouts, and opposing body parts. “Lift until failure” approach was used. For instance, Swank would use 30-pounds dumbbells to do dumbbell bench press until she was fatigued. Then, she would picked up lighter dumbbells to do bench press again until fatigued. She continued until light weight until she felt like a ton of steel.
  • Her trainer even made her push a SUV in neutral gear across the parking lot to train her legs.
  • In order to sculpt her back muscles, Swank did pull-ups. She could not complete even one on day 1. But, by the end of 9 weeks, she could pull herself up with at least 10 repetitions.




After much hard work, Swank has gained nearly 19 pounds of lean hard muscles and solid abs. Swank said that the biggest change was not in her body, but her mind to go through that body transformation. Many times she has thought of giving up, but she fired herself up by imagining what type of boxer she wanted to look like. No doubt, mind is still a powerful tool. The movie director, Clint Eastwood was so impressed when he realized that the movie posters that show Swank’s back muscles needed no photographic touch up.



After shooting Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank has slowed down much for her workout. She no longer lift weight 6 days a week, no longer eating egg whites, not drinking flax oil and not waking up midnight to drink protein shakes. She has lost some weight inclusive her hard gained muscles. But, this change of routine does not mean that she does not like exercising. Nowadays, she spend time twice a week in lifting weight. She also enjoys cycling and Power Pilates. Lately, she picks up Krav Maga, an Israeli hand-to-hand self defense technique. Michelle Ryan is another actress who loves this martial art.

When I first found out her diet plan and workout routine, I would think it is not sustainable. Setting alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to drink protein shake…it is tough. You don’t have to do that, not to that extent, but be inspired instead with her determination to reach her goals.


Hilary Shank when she was filming The Next Karate Kid in 1994.

Hilary Swank in real life….








Category: Motivation

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4 responses so far ↓
  • David Berman, MS, PT, COMT, CSCS // Jul 1, 2008 at 11:20 AM

    Amazing photos of an incredible physique. Getting in shape (especially to that level) takes more than just a good program. As you mentioned, it’s just as much (if not more) about mental toughness and having a “never quit” attitude.
    -David Berman, MS, PT, COMT, CSCS

  • muchacha // Jul 1, 2008 at 6:04 PM

    Hey Mun, thanks for your piece. It reminds me to stay in focus and to persevere.
    I’m a little demotivated these days. I’ve added unwanted inches by eating more than I should but exercising less, with the excuse of having plantar fascitis. It’s time for me to stop the bad habits and decide on how I want to look. Definitely not fat, flabby and unfit. In addition, all that junk food is not doing good to my skin.

  • stupe // Jul 1, 2008 at 9:22 PM

    It is all in the mind.

    Not having enough time to work out is the easiest excuse.

    I had to motivate myself to wake up at 4.30am on mon-wed-fri to run the 10-15km and remind myself i am training to beat one person!



    Muchacha – that should be enough motivation! You are your own biggest enemy! Beat yourself!

  • foongpc // Jul 2, 2008 at 12:38 PM

    So that’s how Hilary gained so much muscles! Good to read about this. It’s not easy, but it’s good motivation.

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