One of the most talked about physical transformations in recent cinema is that of Jurassic World (2015) star Chris Pratt. In between roles as Parks and Recreation (2009) goofball Andy Dwyer, and his breakthrough lead role as Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Pratt lost 60lbs of fat and replaced it with enough lean muscle to turn him into one of Hollywood’s most sought after hunks.
From De Niro and Gyllenhaal, to transformation masters like Christian Bale, we’re going to take a look at some of the most extreme body changes in cinema, and how they did it.
Most of us met Pratt back in 2009, when he stole the show as the lovable but hopelessly dim-witted Andy Dwyer in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Always shoddily dressed and never afraid to let his belly hang out, Dwyer was known for being horribly out of shape. It came as a surprise, then, when in 2014, Pratt appeared, shredded and completely transformed as the lead character in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
“I actually lost weight by eating more food, but eating the right food, eating healthy foods, and so when I was done with the movie my body hadn’t been in starvation mode,” – Chris Pratt, Interview with People Magazine
Like an athlete, Pratt focused on intense, varied training, paired with a calorie-controlled (albeit high-calorie) diet. Running, swimming, kickboxing and P90X were all part of Pratt’s pre-Guardian’s regime.
Pratt’s Jurassic World workout is fairly back and chest-heavy, and contains a lot of push-pull movements. You can see the full workout here.
Bale is a master of transforming his body for roles, losing almost 60lbs to play an emaciated factory worker in The Machinist (2004), thanks to a diet consisting mostly of “coffee and apples.” Six months later, Bale had packed on 100lbs for his role as Batman in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), making his transformation one of the fasted and most extreme of any actor.
“I had a stupid kind of feeling of invincibility, like, “I can do it, I can manage it.” I really did feel like I hit this point of enlightenment.” – Christian Bale on ‘The Machinist’ weight loss
To get in Batman shape, Bale took on huge amounts of calories and focused on developing the explosive power and athletic physique you would expect from a superhero. Partnering explosive barbell work with agility sessions and lots of cardio to achieve a screen-worthy shred, meant that by the time filming started, Bale was a monster.
Explosiveness is the name of the game with Bale’s Batman workout. Everything from hand-release bench press in the Smith machine to power cleans. See the full workout here.
Stallone has been in shape ever since his days as Rocky and Rambo, and with former two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu on-side as his personal coach, he has been able to combine muscle tone and devastating fitness to become one of cinema’s most iconic bodies.
Working out alongside Columbu at the world-famous Gold’s Gym – home of Arnold Schwarzenegger – Stallone made a point of trying to keep up with the champion bodybuilder. This tenacity would translate into Stallone’s on-screen performance, making him untouchable for decades.
Stallone’s intimidating physique came together thanks to a combination of sparring, running and classic bodybuilding. Columbu would train with Stallone, and when the former Mr. Olympia did 15 reps, Stallone would push himself to do at least 10.
Sly’s routine has varied from movie to movie and over the years, but for Rocky and Rambo, his focus was on body part couplets in the weight room – chest/back, arms/abs and so on. See the full workout here.
The world is no stranger to The Rock and his monumental physique. A genetic freak, Johnson was already ripped and broad-shouldered as a teen, and as a professional wrestler, The Rock was lauded as one of the sport’s most well-rounded athletes, with an incredible combination of endurance, agility and strength.
In 2014, Johnson starred as Hercules – strongest of all mortals and son of Zeus – which meant packing muscle on top of muscle.
“Focus!” Johnson’s new favourite saying and the secret to his outstanding results. Hours of intense bodybuilding-style isolation exercises, designed to max out muscle groups and pack on serious bulk, were combined with calories and a carefully designed supplement stack. This gave Johnson the fuel needed to pound the weights several times a day.
Johnson’s Hercules workouts aren’t especially complicated, they’re just hard work. A lot of working sets to failure, and concentrating on single muscle groups. See the full workouts here.
As a younger man, Gyllenhaal played sensitive supernaturalite Donnie in indie classic Donnie Darko (2001). In 2010, the naturally slim Gyllenhaal gained 35lbs of lean muscle for his role in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
For this incredibly physical, action-packed role, a functional routine aimed at sculpting an athletic, fighter’s figure, is what defined Gyllenhaal’s transformation. This athletic style of training would be taken even further for Southpaw (2015), in which Gyllenhaal plays champion boxer Billy Hope.
“I had him training twice a day in the boxing ring; he did two-a-days, seven days a week,” said the director. “We literally turned him into a beast.” – ‘Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua on Gyllenhaal’s training
For Southpaw, training and eating like a real boxer turned the 34-year-old into a tightly-wound machine, with muscles that screamed for action.
To look like a boxer, you need to train like a boxer. Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw workout is made up of weight training, sparring, running, foot work and jump rope. See the full workout here.
At 47, Jackman has a physique most guys in their 20s and 30s would kill for. Buff, shredded and vascular, Jackman has transformed into the Wolverine more than once.
Matching the intensity of the Wolverine’s character meant developing savage, raw strength. Deadlift, squats and bench press were staples of Jackman’s routine, alongside low-intensity cardio, to bring definition to his chest, arms, back and shoulders. He employed a similar routine to achieve his formidable shape in Les Miserables (2012).
The Wolverine’s savage, raw power is reflected in the way Jackman trains for the part, with lots of pressing and shoulder work to achieve that trademark upper body shred. See the full workout here.
More recent fans of Hardy may recognise him as a skilled transformation actor in roles as Bane (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) or as Tommy Conlan in Warrior (2011), but in 2008, Hardy’s breakthrough role saw him add 42lbs of muscle and fat, to play ‘Britain’s most violent prisoner’ Charles Bronson.
“I did very non-specific exercises such as press ups, push ups, abs work and resistance training with the help of my boy Pnut, who is 16 stone of pure muscle and also an ex-US Marine.” – Hardy on training for ‘Bronson’
To look like Bronson, a self-professed brawler, Hardy needed to add mass to his back, chest, arms and forearms, using basic resistance movements and bodyweight exercises like push-ups. His transformation came from the combination of muscle-building and fat layering, encouraged largely by pizza and ice cream.
Hardy describes his workouts for Bronson as “non-specific”, which probably fits well with the impromptu, improvised style workouts you would expect inside a prison. See some of his workout below.
The Informant and Invictus were both made in 2009, which meant that Damon had to rapidly shed 30lbs of Informant fat, and replace it with 15lbs of muscle for Invictus. No mean feat for any actor to achieve in less than six months, but Damon has transformed himself for roles before, like in 1996, when he dropped 50lbs for his role in Courage Under Fire.
Invictus is a rugby movie, which means training revolved around sprinting and strength. Damon’s thick, athletic physique is a result of weight training, combined with interval running.
Simultaneous power and movement were needed for Damon’s role in Invictus, which meant combining weights with sprinting. See the full workout here.
Statham’s ability to convincingly play no-nonsense hard men time after time, comes in part thanks to his outstanding physicality. The former competitive diver has a naturally low-fat frame, which lends itself well to the raw, lean muscle seen in The Transporter (2002) and Crank (2006).
Like Jackman’s Wolverine, Statham needs to not only look great, but also move well.
Combining rowing, isolation exercises, full-body lifts and acrobatics (trampoline) turned Statham into a functional, deadly fitness machine.
Statham’s workouts are incredibly varied and functional, working on agility, endurance and maximum sets on the weights. See an example of his workout here.
Craig transformed Bond from a guy who was pretty handy with a pistol, and could deliver a nasty judo chop, into an almost-superhero. Seeing Craig sprint through the streets of London in Skyfall (2012), you would be forgiven for thinking that the 47-year-old was actually a Terminator.
Bond needs to remain cool at all times, even when running at full speed, which meant lots of conditioning to help Craig maintain his composure. A solid regime of weight training to build a strong, functional body were also essential.
In order to look and perform like Bond himself, you’ll need to have all bases covered. A full-on routine isolation and functional weighted movements, supplemented by cardiovascular training will help you to shred and add muscle. See the full workout here.
Perhaps the most impressive comeback and transformation on this list, 55-year-old Rourke not only got into shape for his role in The Wrestler (2008), by losing fat and gaining 30lbs of muscle, he also pulled off a WWE-worthy performance as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson.
His transformation would see him go on to play villain Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (2010).
“I think from the boxing, I gained discipline and focus as well as a strict daily regimen to stay in top condition. It is something that you have to be consistent with to constantly take yourself to a higher level.” – Rourke for bodybuilding.com
A life-long weightlifter, Rourke cites muscle-memory as part of the reason for his ability to still get in shape in his 50s; that, and “discipline and focus” learned from his days as an amateur boxer, helped him to stay on track throughout intense cycles of bodybuilding, cardio and full-on wrestling.
You might find it a bit difficult to find a regular wrestling partner down at the gym, but you can still have a crack at Rourke’s bodybuilding routine. See the workout here.
Butler caused a sensation – and set off a trail of copy-cat Halloween costumes – with his portrayal of King Leonidas in 300 (2006), thanks to some of the best movie abs we’ve ever seen.
Butler and his army of Spartans were made to look like real soldiers with one of the most gruelling routines imaginable. In Spartan times, training revolved around rapid, functional movements and bodyweight exercises, designed to turn the body into a killing machine. Butler’s ultra-masculine appearance and performance cemented the ‘300 workout’ as one of the recent years’ most popular for those looking to get shredded fast.
There are a few variations on the workout used to get Butler and the 300 cast battle-ready, including this one:
The faster you can complete the 300 workout, the harder it will be. For an even bigger challenge, finish it once, rest for 5 minutes, then do it again. See the full workout here.
I Am Legend (2007) is perhaps more memorable as the time we saw Smith really enhance his shape for a role, but back in 2001, he starred as boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Trained by Darrell Foster, coach of welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard, Smith needed to drop body fat, increase his cardiovascular endurance and up his strength significantly to come anywhere close to Ali.
“I like to look good, but I like my body to function well more than anything. For me, it’s as spiritual and intellectual as it is physical.” – Will Smith on training, interview with Esquire
Training to look like and act convincingly as a fighter is no easy task, but under Foster’s tuition, Smith shed the necessary body fat with sparring and running, and developed mass with a carefully controlled diet high in protein (including supplementing with whey protein shakes) and carbohydrates, and compound movements like bench press and squats.
Much of the strength and definition that Smith achieved for Ali came from regular weight training, including lots of bench press to improve his forward momentum and pushing power. To look and move like Ali himself, Smith boxed, a lot. Watch Smith training below.
Anyone who saw Edward Norton’s incredible (but not buff) performance in Fight Club (1999) would not believe that the year before, he sculpted the kind of body you only get from a jail yard, to play terrifying former Neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard in American History X (1998).
With considerable bulk added to his entire body, Norton gave a frightening portrayal of an incredibly dangerous man.
No doubt increased calories played a role, but Norton’s workout routine revolved around the major full-body lifts, to encourage rapid, all-over growth.
Norton’s physique in American History X looks like one born out of the jail yard or garage gym. To that end, tackling raw, resistance movements and barbells is the way forward here.
While it’s clear that genetics play a role in determining how much or how well-defined the muscle you can add will be, two of the most important considerations to make are time and dedication. Having the luxury of being able to devote large amounts of time all at once to preparing for a role, means that actors are able to transform fairly quickly. Bare in mind that if you have the demands of a regular job, and can’t spend four hours in the gym each day, your own progress will be slower.
Good luck, and have fun. Oh, and if you enjoyed this, please feel free to share on your social channels
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