Hugh Jackman and the Art of the Superhero Workout

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Fans everywhere get excited when an actor's name is potentially attached to a popular upcoming superhero role for any comic book movie adaptation, but more often than not online forums are flooded with comments such as, "He's not muscular enough" or "If he packed on a few more pounds I could see him playing this role." The truth is, with very few exceptions, any actor or actress can get buff enough to appear in superhero tights on the big screen, they only need to adjust their diet, and hit the gym - hard and often.

When it comes to Thor, Captain America or Batman, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans and Ben Affleck all took on personal trainers and spent hours in the gym, often hitting the weights five to six days a week, just to take on the physical appearance of the characters they are playing. However, each of those characters are built stoutly, almost statuesque, in appearance. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, had to prepare in a slightly different way in order to portray Ol' Canucklehead himself, Logan, a.k.a. "Wolverine".

One of Marvel's (and Fox Studios') most popular characters, Jackman had to both beef up his physique (not that he was puny before), while trying to maintain a more "cut" definition in his muscle structure - not an easy task. After playing Wolverine in the first X-Men film 16 years ago - a role that had Jackman wearing prosthetic mutton chop sideburns (something he vowed to never do again) - Jackman started working with personal trainer David Kingsbury to pack on the muscle, without becoming overly bulky.

Hugh Jackman working out
Courtesy of Hugh Jackman's Twitter account

It's not easy training to become a superhero, but Kingsbury has been one of the best in the business since starting five years ago. Besides Jackman, he's been called upon to train Michael Fassbender for his role as Callum Lynch in the upcoming theatrical adaptation of Assassin's Creed, plus worked with Jennifer Lawrence and the rest of the mutant cast for X-Men: Days of Future Past. So how does he actually get these often soft Hollywood actors into peak superhero form? Well, it takes more than a spinning class, some pilates, yoga in the park and a kale smoothie - things we often associate with actors/actresses when it comes to exercising (that, and Total Gym).

During an excellent interview with Alon Shabo for the website last year (read it HERE), Kingsbury opened up about the routine he set for Jackman to get him in peak Wolverine form - and it's rather impressive. Kingsbury mixes high-intensity cardio with free weights and machine exercises on a rotating basis, but most importantly he puts each actor he works with on a diet specialized for the results needed by the movie's producers. Kingsbury said this about Jackman's pre-Wolverine, condition and the producers' expectations before the next film:

"He was in great shape coming straight from shooting for Les Miserables. He was very lean, but a bit smaller than usual; he had just come off a Broadway show. The goals for Les Miserables were to have him as lean as humanly possible while retaining the muscle mass and strength that the character needed. [For Wolverine] to exceed any of his previous films in terms of muscle mass and leanness. We had about five months to meet this goal was really in the last 3-4 months that the major changes happened."

And work Jackman did. A lot of it. Anyone that follows his Instagram account is familiar with seeing the near-fifty year old award-winning Aussie hard at work (and play) in the gym: hitting the free weights, pushing sleds, and even entering the 1000 pound club in deadlifts (he squatted 355 lbs, benched pressed 235 lbs, then finally deadlifted 410 lbs in one series). When it came to the actual exercises, Kingsbury put Jackman through his paces: Barbell Bench Press, Back Squats, Weighted Pull-Ups, Deadlifts. Each of those main lifts were broken down into subcategories, which was kind enough to list: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.

The deadlift that brought me into the 1000lb Club.

A video posted by Hugh Jackman (@thehughjackman) on


Any gym rat will tell you that weights will only take you so far without a proper diet, so Kingsbury put him on, what he calls, "the bulk and the cut" and "followed one nutrition principle throughout the entire training: carb cycling." For those not familiar with carb cycling, it involves consuming a higher-than-normal carb count on training days, and going low-carb on off days. Kingsbury gave an example of a typical Wolverine diet on any given day, and it's about as healthy as one would imagine: eggs, oatmeal, steak, sweet potatoes, broccoli, chicken, brown rice, spinach, fish, avocado.

Without the proper diet, you'll either gain too much body fat, thereby hiding the muscular physique, or not gain enough body fat, never reaching the desired "cut" appearance. It's a delicate balancing act for those truly striving for a result more than just losing weight or simply desire to maintain physical fitness. The science behind muscle building and physical fitness is complicated and opinions vary on the subject depending on the person you're taking advice from. Often supplements are introduced into the routine to enhance muscle stimulation and growth - Jackman's regimen was no different.

Kingsbury had the actor on a pre-workout product (appropriately) called Animal Pump, which is high in creatine (a compound found in metabolized proteins the human body uses to provide energy for muscle contraction) - giving him a more intense, and productive, workout. Post-workout, he had Jackman take a product called Animal Nitro for its BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine), which are used to stimulate muscle synthesis and promote muscle growth. On off days, Jackman was using an L-carnitine supplement that helped him burn off fat. We told you there was a lot of science involved.

Hugh Jackman - X-Men 2000 and X-Men Days of Future Past 2014

While some in the industry may not necessarily agree with every aspect of Kingsbury's workout plan for Hugh Jackman (L-carnitine has been the subject of some controversy in the bodybuilding industry), the results of those workouts are undeniable. All you have to do is look at a shirtless Wolverine from X-Men in 2000, then compare it to the shirtless Wolverine scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014 to tell that the 48 year old is in prime condition - even if he is shaving off the Old Man Logan sideburns for the last time after Wolverine 3.

Wolverine 3 opens in U.S. theaters on March 3rd, 2017, followed by unannounced X-Men films on October 6th, 2017, March 2nd, 2018, and June 29th, 2018. Deadpool 2, Gambit, New Mutants and X-Force are currently in development.


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