Life as a Stunt Woman: Staying Injury free and nutritionally balanced
Updated: Jan 4, 2020
I would say last year was the busiest in my stunt career. I worked on four film productions as Stunt Double, only having four or five full weekends off as a break through out the year. It was also the year where I got to perform some of my biggest stunts, somersaulting and tumbling down a 40ft cliff bank, falling down a hard set of stairs surrounded by a big fire, swinging on a rope alongside a 50ft ship and crashing onto the deck and even rolling backwards off a cantering horse, crash landing onto my front. Being of small and slight stature, I don’t often get the big stunts as I tend to double children most of the time, and children don’t always get to do the exciting action in a film. So last year, I got to prove my strength, stamina and myself in a multitude of ways.
There’s a fun saying in the stunt industry, that a working stunt performer is an unfit stunt performer. This is due to the lack of training you suffer when you’re too busy on a TV or film set all the time. Your sessions to the gym, to martial arts classes, to gymnastics etc, they all diminish as you just don’t have the time and in all honestly, you’re too tired to contemplate it when you do find the time. So how do you prevent injury if you can’t strengthen your joints? If you don’t train your muscles? If you don’t find the time to put together a balanced meal when you get home in the evenings?
Not only because I’m vegan, but generally I’m a huge believer that to be healthy in any diet lifestyle you follow, you have to find the time to cook. You cannot rely on ready meals or take-outs all of the time. One may argue as a vegan that this is even more important as the balance of macronutrients may need to be researched and put together with a bit of thought to make sure you achieve a well balanced intake. Needless to say, last year was a true test to see if I could stay at my healthiest and strongest and successfully fight off any injuries that came my way.
How did I do it?
Good question. The saying ‘It takes a village’ doesn’t just apply to child rearing here! Although, could I have gotten by without any help? Yes, probably but I was lucky enough to receive the help when I needed it.
I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than I needed to. Literally ten minutes – you don’t miss that sleep. I got out of bed and I did some ‘self-treatment’. This involved stretches, working on a pressure points and breathing. I was wide awake and as cliché as it sounds, ready to face the day after those 10 minutes. If I ever skipped them, saying I would do them when I got to work, often only to not being able to find the time? I was sluggish and struggled with that 45 minutes drive to work.
If there was time, I spent 20-30 minutes stretching at work when I arrived and threw in some light conditioning for good measure. Then I always, without fail, did my deep squat and sat in it for 30 seconds before repeating it twice more and then again in the evening. I have had issues with a twisted pelvis over the years and holding the deep squat (bum to the floor) enabled me to help stabilise my pelvis, which was so important when I was busy taking knocks to the body repeatedly at work. Many of the men and woman I work with got up extra early to do a gym sessions, or hit the gym after work until late. Not me. I prioritised my sleep over the extra training!
This is why I was so motivated to do any light training at work when I could, I wasn’t looking to increase my muscle mass or strength, I was looking to maintain the good base I already had. My technique wasn’t right over theirs, it was just a personal choice.
A friend on one production I went to introduced me to a power ball, which works in the same way rolling two Chinese balls around in your palm would, it strengthens the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. Another friend introduced me to a new stretch with was amazing for the glutes and which I’ve been showing to people ever since. Take any advice you can from people you work with, as I know in my industry many of them are champions in their field of sports and I would always have something to learn from them.
I’m pretty lucky to have only received minor injures from work over the years. Many friends in the stunt industry have suffered many serious breaks, in most cases putting their careers on hold whilst they do everything they can to recover. The worst I received last year, was a sprained ankle that swelled up to twice the size very quickly, leading me to hop on one foot back to my car parked in Leavesdon Studios car park. Any minor injury is going to heal that much quicker when it is tended to as soon as possible. Knowing that, I headed straight to the clinic that I was currently studying with.
The Chestnut Clinic of Integrated Japanese Medicine. I was two days into a new job, on a massive production as lead stunt double on my unit. I was determined not to let this injury get in the way and went straight to Chris Roworth, who runs The Chestnut Clinic, hopping in from my car on one foot for an immediate treatment.
Three acupuncture needles, a quick realignment and an extremely painful ankle massage later, I was jumping off the Treatment couch onto both feet, with matching regular sized ankles and was on my merry way. At work the next day, those who had seen me hopping to my car the evening before questioned if I had been faking it the whole time.
Because I had gotten it treated so quickly, and proceeded to drink lots of water to flush out the toxins, took some turmeric/black pepper capsules for anti-inflammatory purposes and avoided eating any junk, I was feeling strong in my ankle by the end of the week, having defeated an injury that could normally take up to six weeks to heal.
I’m not going to make this about veganism, as I believe anyone could suffer nutritionally or be perfectly balanced no matter what diet they follow as long as they do their research and make the effort.
I decided the best way to make sure I was eating right when I got home was to have my food ready for me. Then I couldn’t use the ‘I’m too tried to cook’ excuse and have a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I spent no more than an hour on the weekend prepping for the week. An hour. Batch cooking has become very popular with the most exciting part being buying pretty matching tupperwear for the weeks food. I cooked three portions of two different meals and alternated them for the week and then following week I would pick a different couple of meals to batch cook. I became quite adept at reheating food.
There were occasions when my better half was staying with me where he would surprise me with a tasty dinner, always a joy to come home to. He’s also a vegan, which makes cooking for each other pretty easy and potentially creative. There was also a six week period where I tried out a company called ‘All Plants’. They cook, freeze and deliver vegan meals to your door so all I had to do was remove one from the freezer, which I indulged in twice a week.
Working long hours and being so physical my mind was also focused on my immune system. My sister loves to tell me this is a coincidence, but since I became a strict vegan 4 years ago, I haven’t gotten ill. The odd case of sniffles sure, but a proper cold or bed ridden flu? Hasn’t touched me in years.
Prior to being a vegan, I was a vegetarian for 21 years and like everyone else I knew, I was very susceptible to the cold and flu. No, I don’t believe that cutting out dairy is the answer to curing the common cold (although it will reduce the build up of mucus in the body), so why don’t I believe, like my sister says, that it’s a coincidence?
Here’s why: people met me and loved to comment, ‘you look healthy for a vegan’ or ‘aren’t vegans usually pale and tired all the time?” That one was from a stunt coordinator I was working for, who loving to call my sugar and dairy free brownies, ‘vegan hippy s**t’ as he was scoffing them down with a cup of tea I just made him. I was determined to be healthier than everyone around me.
As a vegan I made a huge effort to read up on which proteins to eat together, which was the best probiotic to help absorb more iron (most people can’t absorb iron that well, fyi) and how to boost my immune system in the most natural, sugar free way possible. As a veggie, I could buy a dime bar at the petrol station, I could eat a hobnob if I fancied one or buy a delicious chocolate dessert full of sugar. I didn’t care about nutrition much as I ate what I liked. I pay attention now and I must be doing something right, as I haven’t caught a cold yet.
What do I take? A multitude of supplements? Nope.
I get almost everything from food/superfoods. Vegans cannot get B12, so this I take in spray form, which is mixed with Vit D – especially important to have in the winter, with the lack of sunshine. I also have Nutritional Yeast and Nut milks, which are fortified with B12 – both readily available foods.
That’s pretty much it when it comes to vegan necessary supplements, a B12 spray. Not related to veganism is the pro-biotic I take to increase the absorption of iron, plus it’s great for gut health. If I’m feeling sore or slightly injured I’ll dose up on turmeric/black pepper capsules for a week or so, but mostly I rely on a hot bath with Epsom salts to do the trick.
I regularly makes smoothies with hemp, chia, flaxseeds, nut butter, avocados (and avocado pips) for example. I’ll try only using one form of fruit to keep the sugar content down when blending together. Sometimes I’ll add a scoop of plant protein for an extra boost, usually when I’m training so my muscles get well fed.
Without doubt, the most importantly thing that I’ve probably done in the last four years (aside from making the transition from veggie to vegan obviously!) is to cut out refined sugar. I do not stock juice, sugary cereals or even yogurts full of fructose. If you come over to mine for a cuppa and ask for two sugars, you’ll be out of luck. I stock coconut sugar (this doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels like regular sugar) mainly for my baking however when the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, I put in two table spoons instead. When I add chocolate chips to my cookies, I buy Montezuma’s dark sugar free chocolate. It is entirely possibly to have tasty treats and desserts without consuming refined sugars people!
Sugar is a toxin and when you have inflammation in the body due to an injury or even during a woman’s menstrual cycle, the toxins exacerbate the inflammation, creating worse pain that lasts for a longer time. That’s just one issue of sugar in the body; I think there will have to be an entire blog for the issues it can cause.
I get asked a lot if it’s hard, up keeping my lifestyle since I’m so ‘strict’ with what I can and cannot eat. It’s really not. The supermarkets are pretty amazing with a big variety of vegan options these days. Even if they weren’t, I enjoy cooking and experimenting with new recipes, which if I feel don’t work, my other half will scoff down anyway. Even the sugar cravings aren’t an issue as your palette starts to change when you cut down on sugary things and you stop craving all the rubbish. When I do fancy a little something, I’ll throw together a Coconut yogurt, with some hemp seeds and cacao nibs and maybe chop up half a banana in there for good measure.
It’s not that hard to be healthy and look after your body. Do your research. Find a chiropractor or acupuncturist that works for you and your body. Find a form of exercise that works for you and your body. Find a nutritionally viable diet that works for you and your body, and then make it better. And cut out that sugar.