Actors these days seem to think nothing of putting themselves through hell to play a part convincingly, whether it’s losing a ridiculous amount of weight like Christian Bale did in The Machinist or pile on the pounds like Matt Damon did for The Informant. They have become experts at getting the most of their bodies with or without the help of personal trainers.
In 2017, actors seem to be more versatile. In the past, we had typecast action heroes like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean Claude Van Damme maintaining their muscularity all year round and with the odd exception pretty much playing the same roles over and over again. Now, actors can be asked to change their bodies from role to role, and this is completely accepted.
Actors today have to rely on muscle memory as they flit from being portraying superheroes to normal average guys and while that can’t be easy especially as they get older, the keyword is muscle memory. Along with limitless money for dieticians and personal trainers, many actors who have already been in shape will have a much easier time getting back in shape all over again than they did the first time, which is why you see actors seemingly transform three or four times a year depending on the roles. We are going to take a look at 15 male actors who transformed they bodies for a role and go into a little bit of how they did it.
15 Adam Driver - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Adam Driver became a household name playing Kylo Ren, the brand new antagonist in the new Star Wars trilogy. However, prior to this, he rose prominence as Adam Sackler in HBO’s Girls. His role in Girls proved that he was a good shape and being a former Marine, that should come as much of a surprise.
However, after losing an incredible amount of weight for his role in Silence, it must have been a struggle regain a lot of that lost muscle. However, with hard work, he managed to regain 50 pounds in preparation for Kylo Ren.
Being a marine, Driver enjoys a lot of running, so that combined with his lightsaber training was all the cardio he needed. In addition, he split his weight training across four days with basic compound exercises like pull-ups, flat and incline dumbbell bench presses, dips, dumbbell presses, and squats.
14 Gerard Butler - 300
Most people assume that Gerard Butler had started from scratch to get into shape for the movie 300. The belief that Butler never set foot in a gym before signing on the dotted line was a great selling point for the Spartan Workout books and DVDs. However, that wasn’t quite the case, as he was already in great shape, which could be seen in the Attila The Hun miniseries that was released in 2001. He just took it to another level to play King Leonidas in 300.
In an interview with Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Butler admitted that he started training long before he and the other actors were due to start their brutal four-month 300 regimen to get a head start over his cast members. Even that couldn’t have prepared him for the new workout.
Butler would work out twice a day running a gauntlet of around 7 exercises like 25 pull ups, 50 dumbbell deadlifts, 50 push ups, 50 bodyweight jump squats, 50 V-ups, 50 dumbbell push press, and rounding out with another 25 pull-ups, giving a total number of 300 reps performed three more times. As for diet, Butler ate six times a day, making sure to keep his protein sources high every meal while getting his carbs from fruit and raw vegetables.
13 Tom Hardy - Bronson, Bane, And Warrior
Tom Hardy is an actor that has always managed to silence doubters when it comes to playing larger than life muscular characters on screen. At 5’9 and starting out very slim, Hardy wouldn’t be the first actor that would spring to mind when it comes to playing the gigantic arch-nemesis of Batman, Bane.
However, thanks to hard work in the gym and some clever camera angles, Hardy succeeded in looking huge for the Bane role The Dark Knight Rises. For his roles in Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises, and Bronson Hardy stuck to the same routine. However, to achieve a more lean physique like he achieved in Warrior, his cardio was increased due to his mixed martial arts training. For the Bane and Bronson roles, he focused mainly on power movements, working out four times a day for around 20 minutes over a period of four days.
To give him the wide and thick appearance he carried for his role as Bane he paid special attention to his back, traps, and shoulders. So his very first workout focuses on the back and traps with movements wide-grip upright rows, shrugs and kettlebell deadlifts. Other exercises like barbell curls, dumbbell curls, bench presses, and pull-ups would all be kept in the 3 set range with around 10 to 15 reps depending on the muscle group.
12 Sylvester Stallone - Rambo 3
If you go back to the first two Rocky films, Sylvester Stallone was athletic but he didn’t have the superhero-like appearance. He noticeably transformed his physique for Rocky III and even then he was so lean and slim that he only weighed around 150lb, which was far cry from the billed heavyweight that the Rocky character was supposed to be.
However, by the time Rambo 3 rolled around Stallone was by his own admission probably in the best shape of his life. Make no mistake, though. Unlike modern actors who tend to only get into shape a few months prior to their action hero roles, Stallone was absolutely committed to bodybuilding, and that fact that he’s still in incredible shape in his 70s is a testament to that.
In Rambo II Stallone was a solid 162lb but for Rambo III he was 180lb. However, for the role, he admitted in his book Sly Moves that he overtrained to great extremes. Stallone had a small makeshift gym set up in his Dead Sea accommodations and training in extreme heat he would perform 40 sets of exercises using 10 to 15 repetitions every morning in the intense heat.
11 Michael B. Jordan - Creed And Black Panther
When Michael B Jordan was picked to play Apollo Creed’s son, the continuation of the Rocky Saga with Creed, he absolutely impressed by packing on the muscle to play Adonis Creed. Jordan’s transformation has to be one of the most impressive Hollywood ever seen going from reasonably athletic looking to looking like he could be the next boxing champion of the world. To get into shape for Creed Jordan’s trainer Corey Calliet trained him like a boxer combining cardio, circuit training, and bodybuilding.
His circuit would be performed with 25 reps combining one set each of crunches, reverse crunches, leg raises, toe touches and sprinter sit-ups. All these exercises would be performed in succession with no rest and process would be repeated for 3 sets.
His weightlifting routine stuck to the basics but for multi-joint exercises like the squat, bench press, bench dip would be performed with the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 ,4, 3, 2, 1 method. This means that he would perform 10 reps, rest for 10 seconds, 9 reps and rest for 9 seconds and so on, until he reached 1 rep performing a total of 10 sets.
10 Ben Affleck Batman Vs. Superman And The Justice League
Nearly everyone remembers when Ben Affleck was first announced to be the next Batman. There were a lot of fans that were unhappy about the announcement even going as far starting a petition to get him fired from the role. Two films and one cameo in the Suic*de Squad later, most of the uncalled for hatred for Affleck in the subsided to the point where many fans thought he was the best thing about Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Whatever your opinion, it’s hard to deny that he probably looks more like Batman than any other actor that’s donned the cowl. Aside from his distinctive chin and jawline, a lot of that was due to the fact that Affleck worked very hard in the gym to pull off a physique worthy of the Dark Knight.
To get into Batman shape he trained 6 days a week for 15 months under the guidance of Walton Norton Jr. Affleck trained twice a day, and his first workout would consist of strength and torso training, which would include movements like the farmers walk, hanging knee-ups, pull-ups, and dumbbell lunges.
The second workout Affleck was expected to perform airdyne sprints followed by V-Bar pulldowns, dumbbell curls, and squats. Both workouts would last around 30 to 40 minutes each. In addition, Affleck’s diet was balanced with 35% protein, 45% carbs, and 20% essential fats.
9 Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke’s fantastic performance as a washed-up wrestler called Randy “The Ram” Robinson in the 2008 film The Wrestler put him back into the A-list of Hollywood actors again. Since then he appeared with other notable action heroes in The Expendables and Iron Man 2. To get into shape to convincingly portray a wrestler, Rourke packed on 30lb of muscle working with legendary professional wrestler Afa The Wild Samoan. He would train for 1-1 ½ hours of resistance training followed by 30-60 minutes of cardio, usually boxing in addition to his brutal wrestling training.
Rourke adopted high-intensity heavy training but focused on multi-joint lifts like bench presses, barbell presses, dips, and squats. Each and every set Rourke would train to absolute failure using forced reps, drop sets, and half reps.
8 Hugh Jackman - Wolverine
After 17 years playing everyone’s favorite mutant The Wolverine, Hugh Jackman is to the character what Sean Connery was to James Bond, meaning it’s going to take a lot of work to find someone to replace him and be accepted as the new Wolverine.
One of the reasons why Jackman nailed the character was down to his incredible conditioning. He started the first X-Men movie in great shape but in his final films, he looked unbelievable as the clawed superhero.
Jackman’s Wolverine workout consisted of 3 weeks of heavy basic multi-joint exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, squats and clean and presses. Then he changed to lighter weights for another 3 weeks using slower movements and finally, another 3 weeks of explosive lifting.
7 Jon Bernthal - Marvel's The Punisher
After several failed attempts at bringing The Punisher character to the big screen, it’s fair to say that Jon Bernthal’s performance as the violent vigilante is easily the best adaptation of Frank Castle ever seen.
With the kind of intensity Bernthal brought to the screen in both Daredevil season 2 and in his own solo Netflix series, you can bet that he brought that same kind of intensity to the gym.
He would train 4-5 days a week training his whole body in the morning for around 20 minutes using six movements like pull-ups, squats, bench pressing, dips, overhead dumbbell presses, and cleans. Bernthal would then finish his workout with combat training, by combining boxing and jiu-jitsu.
6 Ryan Reynolds - Blade Trinity And Deadpool
Blade Trinity didn’t live up the previous two films but one of the most memorable points in the film was Ryan Reynolds easy transition into the comedic action hero, which would eventually land him the part he was born to play in Deadpool.
Reynolds still uses the Bobby Strom, the same trainer that he used 13 years ago for the Blade movie. To prepare, he would work out 90 minutes a day seven days a week using a different workout every single time to keep the muscles guessing.
Each and every day he would focus on different body parts, so for one day he’d train chest for 90 minutes and the next he could train legs for another 90 minutes, allowing each muscle group to recover as he trained another. If there were signs of overtraining, Strom would get Reynolds to do a lot of yoga and Pilates.
5 Chris Evans - Captain America
After already playing Johnny Storm in the original Fantastic Four movies Chris Evans wasn’t a stranger to playing a superhero. However, when he played Captain America in The First Avenger not only did he nail the role perfectly but he physically looked better than ever and brought the exact kind of strong and athletic-looking physique needed to play the iconic character.
Evan’s workout was a combination of strength training, circuit training, and abs specialization as a cool-down. On Monday he would do a circuit then train back and arms with lots of deadlifting, curls and shrugs. Tuesdays and Thursdays would be cardio and ab work. Wednesday would be a heavy leg day and Friday he would work chest and arms with lots of benching, dumbbell flyes, dips, and triceps movements.
4 Matt Damon - Jason Bourne
Matt Damon is another method actor that is capable of piling on the pounds for a role of a heavy-set middle aged man in The Informant or getting ripped to look like an international super spy/assassin for the Bourne movies.
Damon not only had a lot of weight to lose from his role in The Informant, but he to work around a back injury and a longstanding shoulder issue. He managed to pull it off, however, and worked out for four hours a day, focusing a lot on the upper back to address his shoulder issues and build a physique giving the appearance of width.
Damon also lifted heavy in 90-minute sessions twice a day, the workouts would consist of Bulgarian Split Squats, lunges, crawls, bench presses, dumbbell rows, deadlifts all in the 10-15 rep range. He focused on the mobility movements in the mornings and the heavy multi-joint weighted exercises in the afternoon.
3 Jared Leto - Suicide Squad
Some fans loved Jared Leto’s new take on The Joker character for The Suic*de Squad while purists hated it. Whatever your opinion on his version, Leto easily brought a version of the character that was far more physically imposing and athletic than previous versions. Leto’s version at least looked like he was capable of going toe-to-toe with Batman physically as well as mentally.
Opting to keep a lean look, Leto combined circuit training and bodybuilding 3 times a week but keeping the volume high and the rest times short. His workouts consisted of supersets and drop sets sticking with basic power movements like dips, bench presses, military presses, skull crushers, squats, and curls. In addition, he cycled at least twice a week, helping maintain his cardio and stamina.
2 Edward Norton - American History X
Edward Norton was always known as a slim actor. He’s a fantastic actor but he was never physically imposing. However, when he took on the role of Derek Vinyard in American History X he was a terrifying character in the opening scenes of the movie.
To get into the kind of shape needed for the film Norton kept it simple by performing full body workouts three times a week comprising of compound multi-joint exercises. He would complete 3-5 sets of bench presses, squats, military presses, pull-ups and back hyperextensions.
It’s a more classic style of training and by keeping it simple he able to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time so it didn’t conflict with his acting schedules.
1 Wesley Snipes - Blade
As seen in White Men Can’t Jump and Demolition Man Wesley Snipes was already in great shape. However, for Blade, he needed to pack on the extra muscle to look the part of a Marvel superhero, and in addition to being a great action horror movie, much of the film’s success was down to how Snipes brought the character to life.
A martial artist since the age of 12, Snipes was already disciplined and fit enough to portray the vampire hunter. Being already lean, Snipes focused a lot on weight training, using a high volume sets and his cardio would come primarily from his martial arts and boxing training. His diet consisted of moderate carbohydrates and high-protein foods.
Under the tutelage of the “Godfather of Bodybuilding,” Charles Glass Snipes trained his body twice a week using five exercises per body part with his reps in the 10-15 range. He would mix specialization exercises with multi-joint exercises at different times of the day.
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