How to get arms like Natalie Portman
I've wanted to write a piece like this for a long time, but, you know, real. Plus: Normal Gossip, carrying your kids to safety, and the Daily Harvest food-poisoning scandal. This is Links 42!
You know what I’ve always wanted is to do an actual good version of those articles that are like “GeT ChRiS HeMsWoRtH’s RiPpED BoDy wItH tHeSe 17 MoVes!” So I’m going to do it now, with Natalie Portman, and specifically her arms in Thor: Love and Thunder.
In designing this approach, it helps that Portman specifically stated in this Variety profile1 that the goal was to get “as big as possible.” Sometimes these articles involve a cagey possibly-a-former-KGB-agent coach saying things like, “Ve vanted Natalie to be supple, like African panther, but cunning, like Siberian forest sable.” That could mean anything, trainingwise. “As big as possible”, on the other hand? Very straightforward.
Caveat that I have not spoken to Natalie Portman or her trainer; I am sure they are lovely people. But the first thing you need to know is that building muscle/size is not some secret key this or that highly-paid personal trainer holds close to their heart, only to sprinkle little breadcrumbs of their expertise in People magazine. Anyone can do this. It is dumb easy. It requires no particular knowledge or genetic gifts to get stronger and/or make your muscles bigger. You just have to show up and do the basic things for a sustained period of time. Here they are.
How to get arms like Natalie Portman in Thor
Eat. This is not technically the first thing you do. However, it is the most overlooked. You can lift all the weights in the world and if you don’t eat, especially your protein, nothing will happen. Nothing at all. My sole driving force in the world is to never hear another person say again, “I’m working out so hard but not growing or getting stronger and I’m extremely sore all the time; can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong!” I have actual bald spots from these people. They keep me awake at night. Eat your food. Let me rest. I need peace.
Build your strength base. This would have been only slightly less required for Natalie Portman (she probably did do it anyway), because she likely has a litter of handmaidens and waitstaff and footmen who can load and unload her barbells for her. You have no such luxury, but more to the point, you will benefit from being generally strong. You can get strong fast in only sets of five reps, only doing a few movements at a time. “But squats and deadlifts have nothing to do with my arms,” you say. Wrong. Being able to squat and deadlift will let you move the weights around that you will need to set up in order to get your big arms. You need the vigor that a couple months of full-body strength training will give you, not least because it will set you up for the next step which is…
Do hypertrophy. Now that you are strong, you can do things like load 25lb plates onto your barbell in order to bench it for many reps. This you will do. In my opinion, you should continue with a volume-oriented full-body strength-training program like GZCLP or PHUL or push-pull-legs for balance and general enjoyment of better body movement; Natalie Portman was very likely training her whole body, not just her arms. But if you insist on being a bro, alternate the following days of programming, three days a week (Day A Monday, Day B Wednesday, Day A Friday, Day B Monday, and so on):
Day A: Bench 3 sets of 8-15, then lat pulldowns 3 sets of 8-15. Find the highest weight you can do for RPE 8 for 8 reps in a given movement, keep doing as many reps as you can per set with good form every subsequent day in the gym until you reach 3 sets of 15 reps. Move up in weight and start the rep-building process over.
Day B: Bent-over rows, 3 sets of 8-15, then overhead-press 3 sets of 8-15. Same progression as above. If you don’t know what bench or lat pulldowns or bent-over rows or overhead press are, this book will teach you.
optional additional accessories: Natalie has Those Triceps and Those Delts. Do 3 sets of 8-15 tricep pushdowns added to Day A and 3 sets of 8-15 Lu raises added to Day B.
Keep going. Progressing reps and weights as much as you can and eating will matter a lot. You will honestly probably get tired of this goal before your arms actually get meaningfully big, let alone bigger than you think you want them to. I must stress that there is no plane of reality in which it will happen suddenly, by accident, without you noticing. It will take months at least, because it took her months, and she has, as we said, a whole staff. You have just you.
You may be asking, “isn’t this swapping one beauty standard for another?”
Here is the thing: As long as there are bigots in the world who will look at a Victoria’s Secret model and go “perfect, she’s a 10, no notes,” but will look at a powerlifter and go, “she looks like a man. Muscles make a woman look disgusting. I am physically ill,” I do not in fact think it is swapping one beauty standard for another.
The other growing genre of “guy who is angry about women with muscles” is the one that insists women can’t have muscles at all without CGI or steroids.2 This archetype first really began to come out of the woodwork around the time of Abby in The Last of Us: Part II, and I’m of course delighted to see they are showing up to sea-lion Natalie’s arms, too.
I feel it is important to antagonize these people and make them pop as many blood vessels as possible. I cannot articulate the specific mechanism by which this nets out to being good, but I know that my heart tells me so.
But more importantly, hopefully you will find along the way that having arms that look precisely like Natalie Portman’s is sort of beside the point, because enjoying working out and being strong feels extremely good.
What subscribers will receive this week: A near-constant question asked in our Discord and my email inbox is, “What do I do if I am injured? How long do I have to take time off, but more importantly, do I HAVE to take time off? Can I still work out if not all my bones are broken?” Perennial reminder that I’m not a doctor, but we will dig into some basics of how to assess whether it’s time to press on, and if so how and how much.
Subscribe to get the High-Strung Perfectionist’s Guide to Dealing with Injury this Sunday, along with a 50% off copy of LIFTOFF and 20% off She’s A Beast merch!
~Discord Pick of the Week: Powerlifter Chiara Abernardi failing a 170kg squat one day, then hitting a 180kg squat 6 days later in competition. You can’t do your absolute best every single day, and that is okay!~
Deep fans of this newsletter may remember A.J. Daulerio of The Small Bow asking me what kind of workout he should do to be prepared to carry his children to safety at any time. I’m delighted to report he’s gotten to work, just one of the very many lovely parts of this essay.
I did not realize the “Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” guy hailed from a pick-up artistry background. (He eventually turned against it.) But this is a decent insight from the piece: “In his view, the reason pickup became a thing was that it wasn’t acceptable for men to read self-help books.” I believe that the years 2003-ish to 2009-ish were an extremely dark time for gender politics in a way that is yet to be fully unpacked.
“’He goes to all these diners, drive-ins and dives,’” said one fan, Jim McGinnis, 77, explaining the show’s appeal.”
I cannot read this piece on air fryers due to the paywall, but they are one of those things that fitness influencers have been leading the charge on for a long time. While I have always been violently against the Instant Pot, air fryers do sit right with me.
“Goddamn bruh, what the fuck you just did a software update?”
Hmm, tea that the Kayla Itsines SWEAT app seems to be removing the diversity of trainers they added following the George Floyd protests, and SWEAT muscle mommy Stephanie Sanzo is leaving the platform, AND the app is reducing the amount of strength/lifting content overall.
Daily Harvest gave people very bad food poisoning and announced it on their Instagram with a very aesthetic photo of the dangerous food in question and a cryptic “important message; link in bio” caption. Stunning!
Jennifer Aniston is one of the wealthiest people on earth and she’s doing paid sponsorship for some brand of protein bars. Have some shame! Jesus Christ!
Soft boys with too many feelings.
I can’t live in the world and listen to only one Normal Gossip podcast episode at a time, so I’m delighted to report that it’s well into its second season now, and it’s a banger. Simply a delightful listen.
Pre-fame Ryan Gosling was the centerpiece of his dance class for 12-year-olds.
I watched My Neighbor Totoro for the first time in a long time this week, and in trying to find things to read about it, ran across this old Grantland feature on sumo wrestling (I go deep). If you’ve ever wondered What Was the Longread Aesthetic of the Years 2013-17ish, here you are.
I really adored this Jenny Slate profile in Romper. I love her so much already, but it also feels rare to see content about being a parent that makes it seem both beautiful and not identity-consuming. Cheers to Jenny for being one of the most normal people who also happens to be a mom I’ve ever seen.
I am furious and heartbroken about the Roe news. I almost didn’t send this newsletter today. But here is the thing: We are going to need every single person’s strength in the coming days and weeks and years. We need, need need need, every single one of us. What do we all, as a group of people involved with this newsletter, know better than the fact that consistent, deliberate, well-paced effort of even only a few hours a week is the way that change happens?
There is much to do, way more to do than voting, not that you’d know it to hear fucking Nancy Pelosi open her mouth. In the near term, please give to an abortion fund (if you don’t know which one, this site will split your money between a bunch of them). In the middle term, clear time to call your reps and show up to town halls, not just today but as many days as you can; to knock doors, to write postcards. Learn about deep canvassing. We can do this.
I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
Yes, my inner child IS having a field day with the fact that, in this piece, Natalie Portman goes into business with someone named Kara Nortman. It’s like if I went into business with someone named Snasey Blonston.
At least one person has DM’d me suggesting her muscles are fake. Yes, Marvel does do that, but other candid photos reflect that she actually is quite a bit bigger