Michelle Ward Trainor
September 08, 2017 10:00 AM

Gina Rodriguez is in fighting shape.

The star spent much of the last year training Muay Thai, or Thai boxing. “To do Muay Thai, you have to build up your strength and stamina,” Rodriguez said in SHAPE‘s October cover story, adding that she and her boyfriend Joe LoCicero traveled to Thailand to learn from the pros. “It’s mind over matter, you’re pushing yourself. What I like best about it is the sense of inner strength it gives me. Knowing I can protect myself is a powerful feeling.”

Feeling empowered is a welcome change for Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease just after she filmed the pilot for her now hit series Jane the Virgin. Since then, she has been open about her struggle with the condition, which causes her immune system to attack her thyroid and leads to fatigue and muscle pain. But after committing to the practice of Muay Thai (a favorite of Chris Hemsworth, Demi Lovato and model Mia Kang), “I felt very stealthy and quick,” said Rodriguez, 33. “It was an amazing transformation.”

She added: “I’m the strongest I’ve ever been…doing Muay Thai taught me so much about my body. Now I view it as an engine that keeps me active and healthy.”

Fight training is in Rodriguez’s blood, thanks to her boxing referee father. “He taught my sisters and me how to box at a very young age, which was fantastic for our confidence, athleticism and discipline.”

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The amount of time she devotes to Muay Thai depends on her work schedule, says Rodriguez, who had to scale back from her Thailand routine of “at least two and a half hours a day” when she returned to Jane the Virgin.

“When I started working on Jane again, there was no time for training, even at night. So I exercised Saturday and Sunday. Or maybe just Saturday, and I gave myself Sunday to recoup,” she said. “As a result, my body changed immediately. I couldn’t fit into certain clothes, and I was a little curvier. Before, I would have beaten myself up. But my boyfriend gave me some great advice. He said, ‘Don’t be angry with your body—it changed because your routine shifted.’ And that was like a gift. As an actress, there are so many pressures to look a certain way and fit into a sample size. But I’ve got to embrace the fact that when I’m shooting Jane, I can’t work out as much. My body is going to look different, and that’s OK. I’m not willing to wring the joy from my life to kill myself in the gym.”

Courtesy Nino Muñoz/SHAPE

Now shooting a movie in Mexico, Rodriguez says her schedule allows for working out four to six days a week. She mixes up her training to include weights, boxing, running and yoga alongside the Muay Thai. “It’s empowering to see the shift in my body,” she said. “That feeling of strength is amazing. I can even do pull-ups now! That was Joe’s idea — he trains me.”

She takes the same approach to her diet. “Food fuels me now, and that feels so good. It doesn’t make me lethargic anymore,” said the star who likes protein shakes and seaweed chicken wraps with avocado. “Now I’m eating when I’m hungry and to power my body, I’m not feeding my emotions. Which I did. And which I’ll do again in the future, let’s be real. But I’m trying to be conscious of not doing it right now.”

She counts pizza and Mexican among her favorite food indulgences. “I’m an equal opportunity eater. I have very few do-not-eats on my list,” she said.

As for how she feels about her body: “I love my shape because it makes me strong and fearless,” she said. “It can be difficult to have a good relationship with your body when outside forces are telling you what you should look like. The reality is that there’s a huge spectrum of body shapes, and we need to celebrate all of them.”

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