As Cookie Lyon on Empire, Taraji P. Henson indisputably slays in over-to-top fashion like metallic Versace tailored suits, sheer, peek-a-boo Gucci dresses, and even loose-fitting boyfriend jeans that showcase the character’s softer, relaxed side. The reason Henson is able to nail any look on and off the red carpet (she killed it in Alexander Wang at this year’s Emmys) is not just found in the clothes, but also in the carefully toned body found beneath all the glitz.
So what’s her secret weapon? The Academy Award-nominated actress relies on celebrity fitness trainer Mike T, the man responsible for helping sculpt the likes of Vanessa Simmons, Rob Kardashian, and Henson’s own stylist, Jason Bolden, into shape. Ahead of Empire’s premiere season, the duo began working together to burn body fat and artfully chisel the beauty’s already enviable arms, legs, and glutes.
“Honestly, Taraji is very disciplined in the gym,” he tells InStyle. “She’s the type of person that if you tell her she can’t do something, she’s definitely going to want to do it even harder. Her focus is second to none. She’s a warrior in the gym. I’ve never had anything that she’s backed down from—she’s a dream client.” It’s not hard to believe the talent is committed to working up a sweat considering how much bravado she brings to any character, but as T reveals, it’s definitely hard work.
When she’s not filming the show, Henson regularly trains seven days a week for anywhere between one to two hours of weight training and cardio. “She definitely loves squats. It’s one of her favorites. She’s pretty much known for her derriere and we make sure that we maximize our workouts for that,” he tells us about the star, who can squat with a whopping 185 pounds on her back. To get “a nice, round Cookie booty,” T suggests a focus on squats, lunges, kickbacks, dead lifts, and weight-free repetitions that are easy to try at home.
The workout mastermind also suggests simply walking or jogging in a park or using small, affordable weights and resistance bands to rotate between bicep curls, shoulder presses, and lunges. While the Hollywood favorite regularly meets with T for some gym time, it’s a clean, raw foods diet of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and other vegetables mixed in with high-protein (think chicken and fish) and good-carb (think brown rice) fixes that's the most vital, the trainer explains. “The main thing to focus on when you don’t have access to a gym is your diet because eating properly can help you lose weight alone,” he says.
And though Henson is in tip-top shape, she takes her routine to the next level in the days leading up to a megawatt red carpet appearance. T works closely with Bolden to note the type of gown she’s expected to wear and which body parts to focus on inside the gym. He also helps her practice a healthy, last-minute intermittent fasting rotation in which she’ll purposefully skip a meal to burn a few extra calories. “Intermittent fasting allows you to skip that meal and continue to work out, but not go on a complete fast,’ he says. “It also stimulates your metabolism so you burn body fat.”
For more of T’s easy to follow tips, meal plans, and videos, head to trainersvault.com.