Monkey Man: Working Out with Hollywood’s Top Primate Expert

Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros.

Terry Notary never thought he’d spend his time pretending to be an ape for blockbuster Hollywood movies. Neither could he have foretold the tremendous benefits that would come from stepping into the mind and body of a primate.

“Getting into their minds has improved everything about the way I live,” says Notary, who also provides the physicality for Rocket in The Planet of the Apes franchise, Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk. Through his research for the first Apes movie, the former gymnast was not only forced to find technology-free mindfulness, but also a unique style of training that would prepare him for playing a quadruped.

That special training came in handy when Notary got the call about bringing King Kong to life for Kong: Skull Island.

During his decade or so of playing apes, Notary developed techniques that he utilizes in his off time as well as on set. “One of the practices that I have picked up, and now teach my actors, is to check into their body just as much as they check their phone,” he says. “Stop thinking about your emails for a second and see how you are holding your breath or any tension that may be building up.”

Once Notary’s head is in the right place, he starts to build the physical characteristics, which is made possible by his dedication to functional training, especially yoga and Pilates. His methods have been so successful that he was able to let his gym membership expire over a year ago. “Because of the way these characters move, I focus on exercises that are working to constantly lengthen and stretch," he says. "Because there is a full range of motion, I have built up my core like never before.”

Notary shared a glimpse at his bodyweight-based regime. Give it a shot during your next workout.

Terry Notary’s Beastly Workout

Stretching: 5 minutes

Range Of Motion Warm-Up: Five minutes

Push-Up Circuit

Complete three rounds of the circuit. First with feet on floor, second with feet elevated about 1 foot, third with feet elevated about three feet.

  • Push-Up (traditional): 10 reps
  • Push-Up (with fingertips outward): 10 reps
  • Push-Up (with fingertips back toward feet, like an ape, while engaging shoulders): 10 reps

Pistol Squats: Max reps per leg (With one leg outstretched, squat down on the planted leg. Stand back up, switch legs, and repeat.)

Pull-Up Circuit

Complete three rounds of the circuit.

  • Pull-Up (overhand grip): five reps
  • Pull-Up (underhand grip): five reps
  • Pull-Up (mixed grip): five reps
  • Around the World Pull-Ups: Max reps (Starting with an overhand grip on a pull-up bar, shift your weight to the left arm. Pull yourself up, then shift weight to the right arm at the top of the position. Slowly lower yourself back down. Repeat, moving in the opposite direction.)
  • Around the World Dips: Max reps (Stand facing away from a bench. Place hands on bench, knees bent. Shift weight to the left arm and push up. Shift weight to the right arm at the top of the position. Slowly lower yourself back down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle behind you. Repeat, moving in the opposite direction.)

Run: 30 minutes, keeping heart rate between 130 and 145 bpm.