Wolverine: Shredded and Unleashed

There was a time in his life when he couldn’t deadlift 500 pounds and thought you’d be out of your mind to tear through 6,000 calories of steak and chicken every day just so you could recover in time to train again at 4 AM the next morning. Jackman had another life, a life that existed well before he could lay claim to one of the best bodies in Hollywood—a flawless six feet two inches of taut, striated muscle that’s now as much a part of his portrayal of Wolverine as the character’s wild facial hair and adamantium claws.

Jackman was once a scrawny twentysomething—athletic, but by outward appearances, frail. He scoffed at the guys who lifted heavy weights, saying he didn’t see any practical application for it, while he worked the front desk at—of all places—a gym. In other words, he was as easy as targets come.

“Everyone joked that I was the ‘before’ model,” Jackman says. “I was so skinny. I never lifted a weight except to clean up at the end of a shift. Now I’ll probably always make it part of my life.”

Jackman picked up the iron for the fi rst time when producers told him to gain weight for an Australian production of Beauty and the Beast; but his metamorphosis into statuesque über male really began in earnest when he landed the role of Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men. He had no choice but to get serious about training hard and eating clean. When the world saw the results, Jackman became a superstar, and the rail-thin kid who’d cracked jokes about the “meatheads” was gone forever. Fast-forward 13 years. Today, Jackman is reprising his role for an unprecedented sixth time in this summer’s The Wolverine and, as of this writing, already filming 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Comparing his physique in The Wolverine to that of his first appearance as the character yields only a few similarities. Jackman was, of course, in excellent shape for the original fi lm, but he’s a world apart now—bigger but leaner, more vascular and athletic. He’s undergone one of the most remarkable physical transformations in Hollywood history, one made all the more astonishing when it sinks in that his physique for the original fi lm is still one that most men would kill for. There’s no radical approach he can credit for this—his body is the manifestation of 13 years of consistent hard work and clean eating. It’s a body that would never have been possible if he’d taken it easy between projects, scrambling to get back into shape when he had to.

“As Will Smith puts it, ‘It’s easier to stay in shape than to get into shape,” Jackman says. “Drastic changes are very tough on the body. I never stray too far in terms of my strength training or fitness level; that way it never feels like climbing Mount Everest to get back.”

Wolverine fight

However, achieving his current look—which Jackman himself admits is his best shape ever—did require some changes. Enter trainer David Kingsbury, a former professional Muay Thai fighter and one of the most sought-after personal trainers in England.

The fit was natural. Both men are devoid of pretense. Jackman simply showed up and strolled through Kingsbury’s Pinewood, UK, training studio, looking the equipment up and down and picking Kingsbury’s brain about how to approach his next project—the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, a character who appears gaunt during portions of the film, yet is renowned for his incredible strength. Then, Jackman told Kingsbury, shortly after Les Mis wrapped he’d need to jump right into training for The Wolverine and quickly regain the lean mass now synonymous with the character.

Kingsbury was undaunted by the challenge, and Jackman was sold. They couldn’t have known it then, but that brief, casual conversation kicked of a partnership that would put the men together almost every day for the next two years—and still counting.

Partnership is the operative word for the relationship, which has transcended the traditional bounds of trainer and client. The nature of Kingsbury’s training style—big lifts, high-intensity cardio, and sometimes twice-daily sessions—mandates motivation equal to the task at hand, and Kingsbury wouldn’t be able to provide it in such heavy doses if he were sitting on the sidelines, coaching Jackman along. So the two lift together—rep for rep, set for set. When their schedule leaves time to train only at 3:30 in the morning, they push each other and get it done. When Jackman goes on vacation with his family, he brings Kingsbury with him. And sometimes, when it’s Kingsbury who falters, the roles reverse.

“We very much use each other for motivation, for the big lifts especially,” Kingsbury says, recalling a 5 a.m. deadlifting session that called for triples at 230 kilos—or 507 pounds. Exhausted from lack of sleep, Kingsbury crapped out at two reps. Jackman, though, destroyed his set, prompting Kingsbury to wait a few minutes, then go back for an extra set to hit the full triple. “His energy level is what impresses and motivates me,” Kingsbury says about Jackman. “There’s never been one day where he was too tired or run-down. He always wants to train.”

The always-on mentality extends to the most extreme circumstances, including a day on the set of Les Mis when an itinerary from hell conspired to taint their perfect gym attendance.

“We trained at about 4 a.m. on the day we left for France,” Kingsbury recalls. “We then flew in, hiked up this mountain, fi lmed all day in freezing weather, finished around 9 or 10 p.m., and got straight back in the car to go to the hotel. We both slept the whole ride, then went to the hotel gym at 11 to get the second session in.”

Memorable roles, Jackman says, are their own reward for all the hard work that can seem crazy from the outside looking in. People ask him all the time if he’s getting bored of playing Wolverine, but it’s a notion he rejects outright.

“I landed the coolest comic book character there is,” Jackman says. “He’s badass, way cooler than me, and as an actor, his complexities, his tortured soul, make him endlessly interesting. The only problem is that the ‘real’ Wolverine doesn’t age, so there defi nitely is a ceiling for playing this part!”

It’s hard to imagine when Jackman might begin to approach that ceiling—he doesn’t seem to have aged a day since 2000. His “secret,” though, is no secret at all. You want a body like his? Then stop looking for shortcuts, make training and nutrition a priority—and, above all, know why you’re doing it.

“If you train too hard and too often, you’ll burn out,” Jackman says. “You need to get to the point where you want to train, where you’re rested enough to really smash it in the gym. We all should work out to live better, not live to work out better.”

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