How Matt Lauria Got a Fighter’s Body for ‘Kingdom’

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Matt Lauria was unfamiliar with the world of mixed martial arts before he was cast to portray fighter Ryan Wheeler on the MMA drama Kingdom. And while no stranger to playing an athlete, having starred on Friday Night Lights, nothing could prepare him for the level of physicality required for the role. On top of that, less than a year earlier Lauria made the decision to go vegan, which meant throwing away all of his preconceptions about weight gaining.

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“I have learned so much about training and fitness since I first started this journey,” Lauria says. Put through a boot camp with his fellow actors, like bad-asses Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker, Lauria spent his role-prep training with UFC pros. Now, heading into the third and final season, the actor is arguably in the best shape of his life with 18 pounds of fresh muscle, a feat he accomplished with the help of trainer Jen Widerstrom.

How much did you know about mixed martial arts before you started the show?

Not much at all, but now I’m an obsessed fan. I’m lucky that I get to call watching fight clips research. Sometimes when I’m completely spent after a workout, and have nothing left to give, I can throw highlights on the screen, make a protein shake, and feel good that I am still technically “working.” Every season I learn more. During the second one I did my fighter training with Juan Archuleta, who’s on the show but a true fighter and prolific underground fighter. Training in a garage, just wrestling and grinding it out. That was amazing.

How did you come to the decision to go vegan?

It was back in 2013. My wife was watching a documentary that I don’t think was even about veganism, but it happened to show a pig being slaughtered. I’m not here to preach to anyone. But I saw that and I was done. Once I was reminded that it wasn’t a food product, but rather a living thing, that was that.

What’ve you noticed about switching to a vegan diet?

The first difference that I noticed right away was that I never felt bloated after a meal again. Even when I eat an incredible amount of food, it never slows me down. So many nutritionists are saying now that fiber is the key, and eating this diet I never have to worry about it, because it’s pretty much all I eat. There are a lot of grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.

How did you find your trainers for the show?

I’ll be honest, the way I found my trainer for the first season was just by Googling vegan bodybuilders. I came across this guy Chad Byers who seemed to know what he was doing. He took me on with no payment, just because he wanted to show the world how well a vegan program can work. He gave me a meal plan and a number of workout plans. This season I found Jen Widerstrom through one of the crew members on the show. I asked her for help finding a trainer at the beginning actually, then we just got along so well we decided to do it together.

What do you like about her training methods?

She’s just an incredible person to be around and work towards something with. She would Biggest Loser me over text, which means she would send the most inspiring texts in the morning, like: “There is only one you.” I mean she was breaking my heart on the regular, so I knew I had to do this with her.

How did your goals this season change?

I noticed that the big guys in the UFC who came from wrestling backgrounds had huge traps and thick necks. There’s a lot width to them through the torso. I wanted to add that thickness, while having this strong core. I’d never really done squats or deadlifts to this extent before. Right away she added a lot to my shoulder and back training. Each movement got as much of the muscle working as possible, and added to the time under pressure.

Sounds like you were working hard. Hope you got to eat well too.

Putting on muscle means taking in a lot of calories. I was doing about 3,500 a day. I was eating a lot of vegan burritos and vegan pizza. That’s half the fun.

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Lauria’s Chest and Shoulders Program (by Jen Widerstrom)

This program involves supersets, which means performing the two exercises back to back with no rest between. Rest for 60 seconds after each round.

Superset (3 rounds):

Standing Cable Chest Press: 15 reps

Dumbbell Bench: 12 reps

Superset (2 rounds):

Decline Push-Ups: 20 reps

Decline Cable Fly: 15 reps 

Superset (3 rounds):

Alternating Front Lateral Raises: 12 reps (each arm)

Standing Barbell Shoulder Presses: 15 reps

Superset (3 rounds):

Seated Rear Lateral Raises: 15 reps

Cable Shrugs: 12 reps

Superset (3 rounds):

Duck Flaps (heavy weight): 15 reps

Alternating Hammer Curls: 12 reps (each arm)

Finisher (1 round):

Crunches: 50 reps

Bicycles: 50 reps

Sit-Ups: 50 reps

Kingdom airs Wednesday night on the Audience Network. 

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