Morris Chestnut wasn’t the man he used to be — at least not physically. He was bigger. It was the middle of winter in New York, and the actor was in town temporarily shooting a series. You know how it goes: The weather gets cold, work gets hectic, and comfort food always seems to taste better in the month of December. “I wasn’t going to the gym as often as I like,” he says, “and I was ‘eating well,’ as they say.”
The pounds just sort of crept up on him. It happens. Chestnut, at 6 feet tall and just shy of his 44th birthday, was about 220 pounds, his heaviest bodyweight ever, and sporting a potbelly. It wasn’t a huge potbelly, but a potbelly no less.
And then he got a phone call: The Best Man Holiday had just been greenlit. Like in the first installment of the series The Best Man (1999), he would play Lance Sullivan, a professional football player, alongside Taye Diggs and Nia Long. He would have two shirtless scenes — scenes in which female moviegoers would be expecting to see the same handsome, chiseled Morris Chestnut they’d been ogling since his 1991 breakout role as Ricky in Boyz N the Hood. Filming would start in about four months.
Panic? Nah. “I’ve done shirtless scenes before,” Chestnut says, “so it didn’t really scare me. I just knew it was going to take some work. I needed to get down and get into shape. But I love challenges.”
“I’ve done shirtless scenes before, so it didn’t really scare me. I just knew it was going to take some work.”
Step one was finding a trainer, someone who would not only push Chestnut hard but also serve as a model of his ideal physique. Through a mutual friend, he came across Obi Obadike, a well-established trainer, fitness personality and model with more than 40 magazine covers to his credit (one of those being the March 2012 issue of Muscle & Performance). Chestnut happened to see one of those covers, which is what initially piqued his interest in hiring Obadike. “His abs were crazy,” Chestnut says. “So I started to inquire about Obi, asking about his background. After I did some research on him, I felt he was the right person for the job.”
The two began working together in late January. “Morris came to me in the worst shape of his life,” Obadike says, “and he had to get ripped for the movie. He���s playing a running back, and he’s got multiple shirtless scenes — more shirtless scenes than even Taye Diggs. The producers wanted to see abs, so he was about 30 pounds from where he needed to be.”
Obadike worked with Chestnut one-on-one for about 10 weeks, putting the actor through the ringer with high-intensity lifting, exhaustive cardio and a high-
protein, moderate-calorie diet. (See sidebars for training and dieting specifics.)
“The training was definitely a lot tougher than I thought it would be,” Chestnut says. “When Obi and I had our first call, I had a pen and paper because I was ready to write down all his advice. I asked him what supplements to pick up. He said to pick up some protein, a multivitamin and some fish oil. And once we started working out, I really loved his approach because it was pretty much just discipline and hard work, which I’m not afraid of. And a lot of cardio. I always hated cardio, but there was a lot of it.”
Morris Chestnut was as diligent with his diet as he was with his training. Obi Obadike pushed a high-protein diet with a macronutrient ratio of 50 to 55 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrates and 15 percent fat. Calories were kept in check, too. “I had Morris on a 10- to 12-calories-per-pound [per day] diet,” Obadike says. “I started him off at 2,200 calories a day and then slowly started to take it down 100 calories every week. I think his lowest was probably 1,600 calories per day. He had to do some promo work for The Call when we were working together, so it was challenging for him to stay with the program while traveling and working with Halle Berry. But he did really well.”
If Chestnut still abhors cardio, it’s not because of a lack of results. According to Obadike, after eight weeks of hard training and clean eating, Chestnut was down to about 195, a 25-pound decrease from his starting weight.
“Even though he was dropping weight, he was also putting on lean muscle,” Obadike says. “When he was 220, his arms weren’t that big. Once the program was over, his arms were bigger and his back was bigger and more defined. I wasn’t so concerned with him being strong, but through the process, that’s what happened. When he started, he could barely do five pull-ups by himself. At the end of the program, he was doing four sets of 12 pull-ups. He was hitting it really, really hard. He’s a very disciplined guy.”
Shredded for Screen
When filming started in Toronto in April, Chestnut was more or less where he needed to be, but his program was far from over. His shirtless scenes weren’t scheduled until the last few weeks of shooting in May, so he had to stay disciplined with his training and diet for the duration.
“I would have rather done the shirtless scenes earlier because it’s very difficult to maintain your weight when you’re on a movie set,” Chestnut says. “They’re always bringing treats and a whole bunch of junk food to cast members. And when you go through the lunch line and get your food, at the end of it, there’s always cakes and cookies and candies … so many temptations. You have to be very disciplined. But I kept it clean. I kept checking in with Obi and we had our diet down, and I was still doing the cardio. I was on a mission.”
Chestnut was so disciplined, in fact, that he continued to trim down during filming. This caused some clothing issues on set. When he was fitted for wardrobe initially, Chestnut was at a higher bodyweight. As shooting progressed, his clothes fit worse and worse. “I kept cutting body fat because I didn’t want to peak too early,” he says. “So we had to make a conscious effort to make me look bigger by wearing tight, clingy-fitting clothes because my character was a football player.”
Leading up to the shirtless scenes, Obadike flew to Toronto to resume in-person training with Chestnut for one final week. In the condition he was in, Chestnut could’ve easily passed for an NFL running back — “but he wasn’t there-there yet, if that makes sense,” Obadike says. “He wasn’t totally hard and ripped yet, but he was close. He was within striking distance. So I dialed him in like he was getting ready for a photo shoot. The last week, we trained together. I did his whole routine right alongside him because I wanted to really push him and let him know that I was going through it with him.”
The morning of the first shirtless scene, Chestnut stepped on the scale and saw 187, and it was all good weight. Obadike estimates Chestnut was at 6 percent body fat, down from 17 or 18 percent in January. This made smashing successes of both his shirtless scenes, garnering praise from many on set, including director Malcolm D. Lee, cousin of Spike Lee. “When he peaked for those scenes, he had the body of a top fitness guy,” Obadike says.
A handful of Morris Chestnut’s most memorable movie roles:
- Boyz N the Hood (1991)
- The Best Man (1999)
- The Brothers (2001)
- Like Mike (2002)
- Ladder 49 (2004)
- Breakin’ All the Rules (2004)
- Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
- The Call (2013)
- The Best Man Holiday (2013)
Ironically, Chestnut never disrobed in 1999’s The Best Man, despite the fact that it would have been easier to achieve a shredded six-pack then than at his current 44 years of age. “It’s definitely much harder now,” Chestnut says. “The body fat doesn’t come off as fast anymore. If I would have done the workouts I did with Obi when I was in my 20s, I could have gotten myself down to no body fat. Now it just takes longer to tighten up because my metabolism isn’t as fast. But fortunately, I can still get there.”
The training program Obi Obadike designed for Morris Chestnut leading up to the actor’s role in The Best Man Holiday can be best described as perpetual motion. Downtime was scarce during workouts, and intensity was paramount. “We did a lot of interval cardio training,” Obadike says. “Sprint 30 [seconds], walk 30 [seconds] on the treadmill — move up the mph to 8 to 9 for 30 seconds, then move it down to 3.0 and walk for 30 seconds. We did sprints, a lot of sprints. Our weight training was mostly circuit-training stuff, constantly moving. I’m a firm believer that that’s great for fat loss, and you can still build lean muscle at the same time. The point was to keep the body guessing and to continually change up the routine. Because when you’re doing the same thing every week, it can get really tiring, especially for someone who’s not used to training that way.”
Below is an outline of a typical week of Chestnut’s training for the role:
3 sets of exercises for biceps, 10-12 reps
3 sets of exercises for triceps, 10-12 reps
3 sets of exercises for abs, 10-12 reps
Exercises performed as tri-sets, doing one set for biceps, one set for triceps and one set for abs consecutively throughout the workout.
Cardio: 12 x 100 meters (run at 50 to 60 percent speed)
4 sets of exercises for chest, 10-12 reps
Cardio: 45 minutes of cardio: 15 minutes walk/warm-up; then alternate 30 seconds fast running with 30 seconds walking for 30 minutes
4 sets of exercises for legs, 10-12 reps
3 sets of exercises for calves, 10-12 reps
3 sets of exercises for abs, 25 reps
Exercises performed as tri-sets, doing one set for quads/glutes/hamstrings, one set for calves and one set for abs consecutively throughout the workout.
Cardio: Same as Monday
4 sets of exercises for shoulders, 10-12 reps
4 sets of exercises for back, 10-12 reps
Exercises performed as supersets, doing one set for shoulders and one set for back consecutively throughout the workout.
Cardio: Same as Tuesday
3 sets of exercises for abs, 25 reps
Cardio: Same as Monday and Wednesday
Saturday and Sunday