Action heroes don't look they used to – and the same applies to their workout regiments. In a new, in-depth feature for Men's Journal, writer Logan Hill learns the key to getting big-screen ripped from some of Hollywood's buffest A-listers, along with the no-frills trainers who whip them into shape.
"You've gotta be ready to take off your shirt," says actor Michael B. Jordan (who plays the Human Torch in next year's Fantastic Four flick) about the current state of movie casting. "They want to blow you up and put you in a superhero action film. Being fit is so important. . . The bar has been raised."
Kit Harington, who plays warrior types in both Game of Thrones and the 2014 film Pompeii, says his choice in roles is what regulates his ripped physique. "If I wasn't playing some young hero who can swing a sword, I wouldn't care what my upper body looked like," he says, noting that he prepped for both of those major roles with "stupid amounts of protein" and twice-daily training session. "Playing these hard warriors, it would be a mistake to not look muscle-y."
But not every actor is willing to put in the grueling hours toward achievement physical perfection. Trainer Mark Twight, who trained the cast of 300, says star Gerard Butler lacked the proper discipline. "He's not mentally equipped," Twight says. "Gerry does not want to do the work that other people are doing." Meanwhile, an unnamed actor echoes that sentiment: "Gerry goes straight for the cream puffs, man. He works out hard, then he likes to drink beer. He'll get big, but he'll never get ripped."
Another in-demand trainer is Gunnar Peterson, who's helped rejuvenate the build of Sylvester Stallone and, more recently, Matthew McConaughey for his assless-chaps role in 2012's Magic Mike.
"We're not auditioning for Cirque du Soleil," Peterson says, emphasizing the importance of old-school workout methods. "What about fucking basic barbell curls? It has to be a one-arm dumbbell press on a stability ball? Look, it's great that you have an iPad, but there's nothing wrong with a book."
In 2014, for better or worse, actors can't get action hero roles without a six-pack. The fitness standard these days is Tyler Durden, the buff Brad Pitt character from 1999's Fight Club. "Brad Pitt in Fight Club is the reference for 300," says Twight. "Everyone thought he was huge, but he was, like, 155 pounds. If you strip away fat and get guys to 3, 4 percent body fat, they look huge without necessarily being huge."
"A decade or so ago, Stallone and Van Damme and Schwarzenegger were the action stars," says Deborah Snyder, who produces the films of her husband, Zack Snyder. "Now we expect actors who aren't action stars to transform themselves. And we expect them to be big and powerful and commanding."