Tyler James Williams’ big secret to getting stronger than ever

Tyler James Williams (right) has learned to listen to his body, and so has his brother Tyler (left).

Aaron OKAYAMA

FOR YEARS, Tyler James Williams considered himself a “hard gainer,” a guy who just can’t put on any muscle. He played a teenage Chris Rock on the sitcom Everyone hates Chris for well into his mid-20s, but nearly a decade later, well into his 20s, he was still getting calls to play a certain dude. “I was trying to read for roles my age and couldn’t make it out of high school,” she says.

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That previously stranded student has become a particularly impressive teacher: Williams, now 30, is best known as the stiff but lovable Gregory Eddie in ABC’s mockumentary Abbott Elementary, for which he earned an Emmy nomination and cemented his status as an Internet thirst trap. But that trip included several harsh health lessons for him. In fact, it almost destroyed it.

In his early twenties, for example, he hired coaches, lifted heavy loads and force-fed himself. Once, he drank a 1,600-calorie smoothie, only to throw it all up. In late 2017, at the age of 24, the six-foot-tall actor gained 130 pounds while juggling a role in Criminal minds with trips to the period crime film Detroit. “I was really pushing my body to the limit,” she says. “When December came, he just crashed. Everything stopped.”

Williams was in excruciating stomach pain and couldn’t keep anything in, not even doctor-ordered colonoscopy prep, so an NYU Langone gastroenterologist diagnosed him using X-rays. The verdict: His bowels were so inflamed and clogged with tissue scar that had a gap of less than a centimeter in the terminal ileum, part of the small intestine near the pelvis. It was a massive flare-up of Crohn’s disease, a disorder he didn’t even know he had.

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At least half a million Americans suffer from Crohn’s, an inflammatory condition that can lead to weight loss and malnutrition and can be life-threatening if left untreated. There is a genetic factor, but Williams, who has two younger brothers, was the only one in his family to show symptoms. Then, at least.

She underwent emergency surgery to remove six inches of lower intestine. Then things got worse: her intestines were too battered to heal back together and they punctured. He became septic when doctors took him back to surgery. He ended up living on intravenous feed with an ostomy bag for several months. At one point, Williams weighed 105 pounds and was too weak to stand. But the moment that stuck with him the most was feeling his whole body “vibrate” after he went septic. “The last thought I had was Shit, this could be it. If so, I’m not happy. I’ve worked a lot. I’ve done a lot of things. I didn’t like any of this. It can not be.

All of this was just five years ago, yet when Williams meets me at the Men’s health offices in New York, he looks fresh, remarkably calm, and stronger than ever: a chiseled 145-pounder, with biceps peeking out of his shirt.

tyler james williams

The Abbott Elementary star focuses on his health to be ready for anything else.

Aaron OKAYAMA

“When I woke up and finally came back [being] myself, it was like, what was going to stop it from sucking? he asks. One response has been to play more “driven” roles such as Gregory Eddie, who “wants to be in this position of power because he feels that’s what he needs to be successful, but then he discovers that that’s not his life”. Williams. he says. “I was like, ‘Sounds like the journey I needed to take.’ (Show creator Quinta Brunson even wrote that role with Williams in mind: “She brings dimensions to the character through humor that are just unreal,” she says..)

Everything changed again for Williams in early 2020 when his middle brother, Tyrel, had his first, thankfully less severe, Crohn’s flare-up. Around that time, Williams invited his youngest brother, Tylen, now 21, who has no symptoms, to live with him. All three brothers focus on their health together. “I had to learn how to stop making a radical change happen very quickly and learn how to have a better relationship with my body,” he says. “The important thing for me and people like me to remember is that longevity is a big part of the game. If you can not [stay strong] and being healthy, it really doesn’t make sense.

After her diagnosis, Williams gave up Crohn’s triggers like alcohol, coffee, and red meat. Instead of three large meals, she eats a small lunch and dinner of lean protein and steamed vegetables, and drinks several smoothies and green juice throughout the day. Another type of edible has also worked wonders. “The doctor was like, ‘Here’s something that’s going to stop your system from flaring up. He will keep you in place and make you eat.’ And I was like, ‘What is this wonderful drug we’re talking about?’ And he wrote me a recipe for weed,” he laughs.

everyone hates Chris

Williams, a former child star, has left behind the body of Everybody Hates Chris.

Jaffe/CBS/Getty Image Photo Archive

His goal in the gym is to maintain a solid foundation of fitness. To control stress, another Crohn’s trigger, meditate in the morning with breathing, counting, and perhaps a mantra like, “I’m here to be nothing but who I am.” At night, he writes a journal by his fire pit, then burns the pages to let go.

Tyler and Tylen now cook healthy meals together, experimenting with dishes like air-fried empanadas, which can be oil-free. While quarantined during the pandemic, they outfitted their home gym with kettlebells, dumbbells, and a tonal. Today they participate in stretching competitions, make hip-hop or 90s house music and continue. When I talk to Tylen a few days after Tyler’s visit, she’s sipping cannabis tea. She tells me that her brother has always been goal oriented, whereas he likes to question things.

For example, Tyler trained hard even on grueling days. Then Tylen said something that he echoed: “Nothing is worse than struggling to gain weight when you’re already tired,” Tyler recalls. “I didn’t even realize this was how I felt.” The two have since created a 30-minute circuit that feels good on busier days (see below). “We just aren’t afraid to delve into anything we find interesting,” Tylen says. “Because you might find something that pushes you further.”

The day he visited men’s health, Tyler decided to go for his fast ride. “Knock out. Did you do something; you’re good to go,” he says. The gain is the feeling that you will come back.


30-minute full-body explosion of the Williams brothers

Do 3 rounds of this circuit, based on their personal training. Finish each with a plank that you hold for 1 minute.

Kettlebell swings

Focus on being explosive. Do reps for 40 seconds.

Lift

Do 30 to 35 repetitions. Can’t you do 30? Do as much as you can.

Pull-ups

Perform as many reps as possible in good shape. Objective from 8 to 10.

handlebar curl 21

Squeeze your biceps hard with each repetition and do them slowly.

Goblet with kettlebell squats

Perform 12 to 15 total repetitions, holding a medium-weight kettlebell at your chest.

Bulgarian split squat

Hold a kettlebell to your chest as you do them. Pull for 10 reps on each side.

A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Men’s health.

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