It’s like a scene from an action movie. Two beefy men in their 20s with their fists up are circling John Wick 3’s director, Chad Stahelski. Without warning, one of them steps forward and throws a punch.
Stahelski, 50, intercepts the blow with his bare hands and spins his assailant around, pushing him to the floor. His second attacker delivers a front kick; Stahelski sidesteps it, then slams the man to the ground. Again and again, both men attack. Again and again, Stahelski fends them off, fresh and focused at 6:24 a.m. at his personal gym, 87eleven Action Design in Los Angeles.
Stahelski’s morning workout is a breeding ground for combat creativity. A few years ago, he experimented with combining jujitsu, judo, and handgun tactics while exercising. In the process, he stumbled upon the John Woo–meets–Bruce Lee fighting style that became the trademark of the Wick franchise. The third film in the series, John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum, hits theaters this month. “You don’t come up with cool ideas sitting on the shitter,” Stahelski says.“You don’t know if you don’t move. Moving inspires you.”
Stahelski’s only speed is “Action!” Before he shifted into the director’s chair for the Wick movies (and turned their star, Keanu Reeves, into a badass), Stahelski was one of the top stuntmen in Hollywood. He and his team have choreographed, directed, and appeared in two decades of action films, from 300 to the Bourne franchise to nearly every superhero film, whether Marvel or DC.
Marathon mornings with his fellow stuntmen prepped Stahelski’s body and mind alike for those challenges. Sessions start at 6:00 and go until around 9:00, covering stretching, weight-room work, combat, and more. Stahelski participates in all the action, partly to give himself a workout and partly to motivate the rest of the building.
The way he sees it, if he can’t do a move, he can’t expect anyone else in the workout to do it—and he can’t expect an actor to do it on set, either. “If I’m running one of the most elite stunt teams on the planet, it would be pretty odd if I couldn’t do a split, or if I showed up at an interview looking like a tub of goo,” he says. “I’ve always been a lead-from-the-front kind of guy.”
Several years ago, he actually tried to cut back, paring sessions down to less than an hour in hopes of getting more rest. But those workouts “didn’t wake me up, and didn’t make me happy,” he says, so it was right back to three-hour sessions at 87eleven.
“By 9:30, I’ve been awake for four hours,” he says. “My body feels alive. I can walk into the editing room or a preproduction meeting and my team knows I’m red up and ready to go.”
Break of Brawn
Stahelski’s kicks require power and flexibility. “Our warmup looks like something the New York City Ballet would do,” he says.
Try his 3-move leg-mobility circuit before your next lower-body session; do 2 rounds of it.
1. TRX Sumo Squat
Holding the handles of a TRX, lean back until your body forms a 60-degree angle with the floor. Assume a wide stance, toes pointed outward. Slowly squat down as low as possible, pushing your knees outward and stretching your hips in the bottom position. That’s 1 rep; do 20 to 50.
2. TRX Ballet Squat
From the same setup, place your heels together and turn your toes outward. Squat down as low as possible, pushing your knees outward. Hold the bottom position for 2 counts, then stand back up. That’s 1 rep; do 20 to 50.
3. Cossack Series
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Hinge at your hips, keeping your back straight, and place your hands on the floor. With your left leg straight, slowly bend your right knee, sinking toward the floor as much as possible. Hold for a few seconds, then switch sides smoothly. Got Van Damme–like flexibility and balance? Rotate the toes of your ex-tended leg toward the ceiling and sink even further. That’s 1 rep; do 10 to 20.
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