How to Look Like An Action Hero

How to Look Like An Action Hero

Summer is synonymous with looking great, but not just because it’s beach/pool/fire escape season. It’s also blockbuster season. All summer long, we’ll admire the hyperbolically pumped, precision-chiseled, ragingly vascular physiques of the leading men and women that will dominate the silver screen and wonder how we too can look like an action hero.

When it comes to getting you off the couch, there’s no better motivation than these action heroes. The wrathful abs of Gerard Butler, the hard core of Angelina Jolie, and the trim build of Chris Pine are worthy fitness goals within reach, if you’re willing to work for them. Keep in mind that the actors have the luxury of dedicated trainers, a personal chef, and have the time and resources to workout whenever, wherever, and however they please.

Read on to find out what’s involved if you want to achieve the look of your favorite chiseled on screen actor and how you can look like an action hero yourself. Don’t forget to thank us during your Oscars acceptance speech.


Hugh JackmanHugh Jackman, The Wolverine

Workout: Jackman followed a 12-week program divided into halves, the first for bulking and the second for cutting. Phase 1 involved three sets each of regular and close-grip bench presses, incline flies, dips, and push-ups, using an 8-6-4 rep structure at the maximum weight necessary to reach failure. Phase 2 featured the same routine, using lower weights and higher reps, but was followed with cardio training on the treadmill (10 sprints of 50 meters separated by 30-second rests) and rowing intervals (2 kilometers in 7 minutes).

Diet: Phase 1: 6,000 high-protein calories per day consisting of chicken, turkey, fish and vegetables, with snacks of nuts, seeds, and berries, and pre- and postworkout supplementation. Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Nutrition and Wellness Expert, also recommends working in some red meat for a more primal diet befitting the character: “Red meat was vilified for a long time, but current research shows that grass-fed beef without steroids or additives is a healthy, nutritious option.” In Phase 2, Jackman observed the same diet but cut his calories by 1,500 per day.


Katee Sackhoff, Riddick

Workout: According to Sackhoff, her regimen changes depending on the role, but always involves intense weight work interspersed with cardio, Pilates, or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) consisting of an 11-minute workout in which 15-second sprints are followed by 15 seconds of walking.

Diet: Sackhoff’s athletic frame allows for less disciplined eating, which Sackhoff herself admits. Says Faye, “Your body lives in a cycle of reduction and oxidation. When you drink and eat badly, the oxidation part can get out of control. To fight it, you need antioxidants.” These could include vitamins A (eggs, lean meats), C (citrus fruits, berries), E (leafy vegetables, nuts), and K (leafy vegetables, nuts), and all colors of phytonutrients (nonessential components like quercetin, found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and teas). Aesthetically, these nutrients are especially important for women, says Faye, “because right or wrong, men are more socially allowed to grow leathery as they age.” It’s true. Mickey Rourke’s rider forbids antioxidants.



Henry Cavill, Man of Steel

Workout: Cavill underwent intense weight training capped by a practice advocated by Mark Twight, called the Tail Pipe. The method combines exercise and recovery by using a series of breaths after each of four weight exercises—in this case goblet squats, kettlebell swings, squat thrusts, and jumping jacks—before immediately beginning the next one, for a total of 100 reps. “When you’re done,” Twight explains, “it feels like you’ve been sucking on the tail pipe of a car.” Total time: 2-1/2 sucking hours a day.

Diet: All that work required 5,000 high-protein calories a day during the bulking phase, but a diet should be more balanced in this case, according to Faye. “You want to be big and strong, but you want agility and flexibility too. So I’d go with a clean, balanced Zone diet (30/40/30 fat/carbs/protein) and regulate calories as needed. Wanna get bigger? Add calories. Smaller? Subtract. Whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats (fish, chicken, eggs) form the basis of the plan, and “because he’s from Smallville, there’s gonna be some dairy in there.”


Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum, White House Down

Workout: Tatum has been associated at some point with just about every workout under the sun. He followed a strict three-days-on, one-day-off cycle of high-intensity, full-body circuits (e.g., jump squats, dead lifts, sit-ups) at 30 minutes apiece for his role in Fighting, then went with a three-hour daily program for the lead in Magic Mike. It’s reasonable to assume that he borrowed from each for his latest turn opposite Jamie Foxx, reportedly favoring dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells, and jump rope over machine work.

Diet: Tatum’s been linked with just about every known diet, too, including a low-fat, high-protein diet for Fighting and a gluten- and dairy-free diet for Magic Mike. In either case, his admitted hatred of fruits and vegetables adds difficulty to the already lofty dietary task of maintaining such a high-performance physique. Put bluntly, “He looks like he could get fat by accident,” observes Faye. A diet like Tatum’s should be “ultra-clean—no fried stuff. Most people can eat 80/20 good/bad foods, but he’s got to go 100 percent” while training, emphasizing the steamed vegetables he loathes and keeping sauces and added sugar to a minimum.


Ryan Gosling, Only God Forgives

Workout: A reluctant participant in mass building, Gosling happily submitted to two hours a day of Muay Thai martial arts training for his upcoming movie, set in Thailand. For Place Beyond the Pines, director Derek Cianfrance is quoted as crediting Gosling with having gained 40 pounds of muscle. While the filmmaker’s muscle math might be off, the combination of weight training and fight activity helps Gosling negotiate bulk and balance.

Diet: His fight trainer put him on a traditional Thai regimen of fish, green vegetables, and rice, which aligns with Faye’s recommendations for someone of Gosling’s build and disposition. “He seems like someone who’s going to eat whatever the hell he wants,” Faye speculates. “So at least eat the best of the worst—get educated on what’s healthiest on fast food menus; if you’re gonna go to a bar, hard alcohol with soda water is the least caloric of all drinks.” He says intake should be balanced, not high-protein, keeping carb content to the whole-grain variety with lots of fruits.


Alexa Vega, Machete Kills

Alexa VegaWorkout: Vega’s regiment is a cocktail of spin class, TNT boot camp, and Pilates 4 times a week.

Diet: Faye notes that Vega’s curvy, so while she’ll want to make sure she consumes enough carbs to do all the HIIT and cardio work in her program, “this is not a body that requires intense, crazy training.” Because she’s more dimensional than, say, Angelina Jolie, her calorie deficit won’t be as severe. Eat lean meats and protein, raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains—general smart eating 101. And her look is relatively attainable, as Faye states, “A Jolie or Sackhoff body takes work. A Vega body takes common sense.”


Idris Elba, Pacific Rim

Workout: A natural athlete, Elba actually doesn’t have to kill himself to maintain his rangy frame. When allowed by a lax filmmaker or bout of momentary unemployment, he most enjoys Muay Thai. A few rounds with a speed bag to cycle through the various kicks and combos are followed by some sparring and leg raises. Otherwise, Elba initiates a workout wherever he can in the form of a 45-minute jog, 100-rep round of push-ups and sit-ups, or swimming.

Diet: “You don’t hit that age (41) and look like that and not eat well,” ventures Faye. Rather than angling for a Spartan physique or photo shoot (shirtless pics of the British actor are rare), for Elba it’s about longevity. “Moderation—he likely never jacks up his calories super-high, keeping them between 2,000 and 3,000 with good carbs like quinoa, beans, and brown rice. Any runner, cycler, or swimmer is going to consume those things to keep glycogen and blood sugar ready at all times.”


Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man 3

Workout: RDJ already stays exceptionally fit by practicing Wing Chun, a close-quarters Chinese martial art. But it takes more meat to fill out the Mark XLII armor, which means trading his normal emphasis on cardio for increased weight work—squats, presses, lunges, and dead lifts for his lower body, and pull-ups, dips, military and bench presses, rows, push-ups, and kettlebells for the upper. Periodization optimizes performance and mass, alternating high weight and low reps with low weight and high reps during workouts of alternating length.

Diet: The Tony Stark workout requires 5,000 calories a day, with feedings every three hours at a 30/30/40 ratio of fat, protein, and carbs. The dietary challenges here are as much psychological as physical. “His workout is a version of CrossFit, but even wackier because that helps keep him interested, so with diet, it’s got to be the same.” That means lots of different meats and different-colored fruits and vegetables that represent the phytonutrient rainbow. The net result: 25 pounds of added muscle.


Chris Pine, Star Trek Into Darkness

Workout: To prepare Pine for one of this summer’s most anticipated movies, trainer Michael Vale committed him to three days of weight-resistance-training workouts alternating with three days of HIIT cardio circuits over two months.

Diet: Nutritional rules here are similar to Elba’s, only with slightly fewer calories. “Something that’s going to fight off stress,” suggests Faye, “so a lot of organic stuff.” Here, he invokes the Confucian saying hara hachi bu—loosely translated as “eat until you’re 80% full”—to emphasize moderation. His projected energy ratios: 50/25/25 carbs, fat, and protein, respectively. “If you’re a cardio-based athlete, that’s what you do.”

Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider

Workout: To train for the role of Lara Croft, producers subjected Jolie to 2-1/2 months of weight training, kickboxing, and yoga. An obsessive personality, Jolie responded well to the extremes demanded of her by her training, and she gained the same weight as Lara’s giant braid, or roughly four pounds.

Diet: Faye says, “You can’t be that perpetually skinny and not be chronically undereating.” Therefore, he stresses the importance of supplementation when eating at a calorie deficit to get necessary vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids. “If you’re not getting those and you’re exercising, you’re going to tear yourself up,” which is why, in addition to five meals a day, trainers administered Jolie vitamins, teas, and protein shakes. “You really need to make sure you’re supplementing B vitamins,” Faye continues. “I deal with heavy people who are trying to diet, when eating a tiny amount of calories, they’re just lethargic. Give them B vitamins and they’re like, ‘Woo hoo!'”

And as simple as that, you can look like an action hero too.