Here’s how Stranger Things star David Harbour lost more than 75 pounds

A photo of David Harbour as Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, and in an Instagram post
(Image credit: Netflix/Instagram/dkharbour)

David Harbour, who plays Jim Hopper in Stranger Things, has spoken out about his body transformation between seasons three and four of the hit Netflix show. In the time between seasons, his character has been held captive by Russians at a labor camp, so Harbour worked with personal trainer David Higgins to undergo a serious transformation. 

Taking to Instagram, the actor wrote, “my trainer David Higgins worked with me for eight months to make the transformation, and then another year to keep it through the pandemic. All told it was a difficult and exciting ride, changing diet and exercise plans (or lack thereof).” Harbour revealed how he dropped from weighing 265-270 pounds in Season 3 to 190 pounds in Season 4. 

Harbour went on to explain how he “ballooned up” again, ahead of his upcoming movie Violent Night where he plays Jolly Old St. Nick. “I am struggling to fight back down towards a good weight for wherever Hopper ends up in season 5. All this up and down is not good for the body, and I’ll have to give it up soon, but it is such a fun part of the job to live in a different version of your skin for a while,” he wrote. 

But how did he shed over 75 pounds to play the leaner version of Hopper we saw in season 4? Here’s what we learned from an Instagram live Harbour did with his trainer, David Higgins. 

Pilates exercises 

Trainer David Higgins got Harbour started by doing simple Pilates exercises to address injuries and imbalances in his body. “Those little Pilates movements were so vital, and they fixed my knee, my toe, and my ankle, my hip and everything so I could move.” Harbour revealed they had a reformer Pilates machine on set, and he did an hour-long session five days a week. 

Intermittent fasting 

“It’s basically like, just being hungry” Harbour laughed. “It was really hard for the first couple of months.” Harbour and Higgins revealed the star did intermittent fasting to lose 40-50 pounds in the four months before filming for Stranger Things 4 began. “How I usually approach it is, are you a breakfast person or a dinner person,” Higgins said. “You start with whatever the most important meal of the day is to you, and you work within an eight to 10-hour window of that.” 

He wanted a lean, boxer’s physique for that shirtless scene 

The scene that we really trained for was that scene where he gets undressed with Joyce. We wanted to show this body that had been hardened by this prison — a guy that was more brutal, but that was thinner and had not been eating as well. And so we really talked about crafting this lean boxing physique,” Harbour said. In the run-up to this scene, Harbour revealed he did a few days of 24-hour fasts to shed extra pounds. When he did eat on set it was a small meal, mainly consisting of salad and Greek yogurt. 

Stranger Things fans made it easy to stay motivated 

When speaking about how he stayed so focused on his goal, Harbour said, “the biggest motivator was the fact I knew that millions of people were going to watch me play a part, and I wanted that to be believable. I had millions of viewers and fans as my motivation.” 

He did steady state cardio to help his anxiety during Covid 

Like the rest of the world, the Stranger Things cast went into lockdown in March 2020, and were forced to stop filming. Harbour revealed he would go and do some “very steady state cardio,” running for an hour keeping his heart rate at 65% of his max. “It really regulated my breathing and helped me to relax, because I was going through some bad anxiety. I was worried we’d never do plays again, I was worried we’d never have film productions again. It was really terrifying,” Harbour said. 

Jim Hopper (David Harbour) in an official image from Stranger Things season 4

(Image credit: Netflix)

He did kettlebell workouts in lockdown over Zoom 

As well as running, Harbour did kettlebell workouts with Higgins remotely during lockdown to continue training. Inspired? Here’s how to do a kettlebell swing, the muscles worked and the variations to try

The training changed his relationship with his body 

“I've never been a physical guy. I grew up and I never played sports. I was always like, you know, more of a nerdy kid reading books and playing video games. My body was a bit of a foreign object, and this type of training made me feel I could trust this machine I was in more. I felt I could do things,” Harbour said. 

He did 1,000 crunches to build his abs 

When asked what his ab routine was to build his six-pack, Harbour laughed and revealed that his trainer, Higgins, made him do a set of 200 crunches five times. 

He had a gym in Lithuania to train while filming 

"We had a little gym in the Lithuanian hotel I was staying at and I would go down there at five in the morning," Harbour said. "We would sit there with resistance bands and kettlebells at five in the morning before I’d go to set, then I’d go to set and I wouldn’t eat all day except little stands of salad. It was particularly brutal."

He’s losing weight again for Season 5

“I know we have Season Five starting up again next year sometime and I don't know when that starts, but if it starts anytime near Season Four [did] I’ve got to get thinner and stronger,” Harbour said. 

Can’t wait to find out what happens in the final season of the show? Here is everything we know about Stranger Things Season 5, and 13 questions Stranger Things 5 needs to answer

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.