Have you ever found yourself wondering how actors like Mike Wahlberg, Jason Momoa, Terry Lautner or Chris Evans manage to get so buff, so fast, for their powerhouse roles on the big screen?
It’s important to note that these folks are trying to achieve a specific appearance, as opposed to ability. In other words, Manu Bennett needed to look like a gladiator in his role… not necessarily have the strength and endurance of one.
There are techniques one can use to develop the most visible characteristics associated with such roles. These techniques focus on the superficial aspects, with little attention to building core strength. They primarily consist of the sort of activity involved with the character’s role, so as to develop the expected appearance.
These actors and others like them may employ professional trainers to manage their preparation over a few months in order to prepare themselves for filming. This may be more costly than you’re willing to accept, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it for yourself. Like any physical training program, it’s simply a matter of focusing your training activities on the results you seek.
Achieving the appearance you want
While there isn’t much information available on their diets, it’s safe to assume that every meal was based on protein and vegetable intake, with plenty of complex carbohydrates thrown in to suit their individual goals and metabolism. And if they weren’t targeting a large gain in muscle weight, they probably added a little healthy fat, such as nuts and nut butters. Looking primarily at their physical training itself, there are some takeaways that can apply to most of us, to improve the effectiveness:
Takeaway #1: Motivation- You can bet that these guys and others like them are motivated by current and future multi-million-dollar movie deals. You need to be motivated, too, whether it’s for your general health, the admiration of your life partner or just achieving a personal goal. Find that motivation and nurture it! Put something at stake. Reward yourself for success or deny yourself for failure. Make a bet with a buddy, pledge a donation to some group you don’t particularly like if you fail, promise to buy yourself that new car after you succeed… you get the idea. Put some blood in the game.
Takeaway #2: Set a deadline- “Goals without deadlines are dreams!” Set a concrete deadline for yourself and be inflexible. You were down with the flu for a week? Too bad! Suck it up and make it up! The tougher you are with yourself in this regard, the greater success you’ll enjoy.
Takeaway #3: Work around stress- We all have certain times of the year that are more stressful, whether it’s a busy season at work, getting caught up after the holidays or just being cooped up inside by blizzards. Schedule your most aggressive programs during the least stressful times. You’ll be more focused and less distracted by outside factors.
Takeaway #4: Judge your success by YOU, not by others- If you’re new to the muscle building campaign, here’s great news for you: you’ll see substantially faster progress than the established pros, in the same timeframe. That’s because our muscles will grow faster when they’re forced to adapt. By the same token, if you’ve been at it a while, don’t be discouraged when you see that skinny kid that’s only been at it a few weeks getting buff, while you’re seeing little gain yourself. His muscles are being forced to adapt… your muscles may already be past that point.
Takeaway #5: Don’t rush things- Those actors mentioned above will usually have three to four months to accomplish their transformation. A comprehensive performance-oriented training program can take much longer, but in four months, it’s not difficult to create the illusion of a gain of 20 pounds or so of muscle, if done right. There are no silver bullets, friends! Transformation still takes dedication, work and time. Give yourself plenty of all three. If you rush it, you may not be satisfied with the results.
Takeaway #6: Illusion has its place… optimize that- When appearance, versus performance, is your goal, there are some “tricks” to styling your transformation to optimize that. Focusing on the muscle groups that are most visible, such as the upper chest, shoulders, traps, biceps, abs and upper back all give the illusion of a more powerful build. Perspective comes into play here - often, that illusion is partly accented by a tiny waist.
Takeaway #7: Find your real leanness target- When your goal is to give the appearance of being lean, don’t overdo it. When a man gets his body fat down to anywhere within the 13-18% range, his appearance will be essentially the same. Below the Lean Threshold of 10%, he’ll be very lean (as opposed to ripped at 6 – 9% or shredded at 5% or less). Over 18%, he may appear to be soft or fat. To really make your physique noteworthy, try to achieve 10% body fat (about 15% for a woman) and maintain it. You’ll find that once you reach 10% body fat, it’s not that difficult to maintain that level.
Takeaway #8: Achieve specific goals- Your workout regimen should be designed to develop the appearance that you’re looking for, so it should involve the specific type of training involved with that activity. If you want to look like a professional boxer, you probably don’t want to focus on bicycle training to develop your calves & thighs, while ignoring your upper body. Before beginning, take time to identify the precise effects you want to project, and design your workouts accordingly.
Bringing it all together to achieve your goals
Actors know precisely what look they need to achieve, and their training is designed to bring them that look. Your training should be similarly focused, in order to achieve the quickest and most effective results. Don’t let yourself be sidetracked into training that doesn’t contribute directly to your goals. In this sort of program, more isn’t necessarily better.
It should be obvious that the repeated use of “appearance” and “look” imply just that. You may have those six-pack abs you want to show off on the beach, but that doesn’t imply you have the core strength to take a couple of rounds of belly punches from Evander Holyfield.
While this sort of training certainly contributes to your health, it’s important to remember that the results are somewhat superficial. Just because you may think you look like you can snatch 500 lbs of free weight doesn’t mean you can. This sort of training won’t prepare you for highly strenuous activity, but it can make you look like you do it every day. Recognize the performance limitations of this type of training and avoid injuring yourself.