Getting jacked is simple. It’s true. The trouble is, people confuse simplicity with ease. As a result the fitness industry is one in which people look for complicated solutions to basic processes. And that’s why there’s bad trainers abound and you can’t move for newfangled gear that only adds bulk to your credit card bills. So I keep things simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s ever easy.

Case in point: the transformation for which you guys probably know me best is Hugh Jackman for the Wolverine and X-Men films (y’know, the later ones when Hugh got seriously jacked). Despite ‘Hollywood’ training usually conjuring images of green smoothies and some sort of hipster yoga-functional class hybrid, our workouts were as traditional bodybuilder-cum-powerlifter as you can get, but with a twist. And that’s why Hugh ended up with t-shirt tearing arms, a huge, hulking torso, bodybuilder vascularity and the strength to boot. Feel free to check out the full plan on my website and troll me if you see any nonsense; it’s the kind of traditional stuff with a scientific edge you’d expect to see in a magazine like this. Which is why I’m more than happy to share my methods with you.

SEE ALSO: Hugh Jackman’s Days of Future Past 5-Day Routine

It’s a controversial notion but I’d wager, at his peak, Hugh would have done pretty well at any given physique competition. Probably the first real actor since Arnold who can say that.

wolverine-hugh jackman
wolverine-hugh jackman

The difference in my system comes in how I weave all this traditional stuff together. Studios always demand of me a rapid transformation for their actors. But despite the time constraint, they have to look ready to actually save the world come filming. In the age of the Internet, you can’t hide behind CGI because someone will call you out; it has to be real to look real. So my job description is always the same: muscular proportions worthy of a comic book hero; minimal body fat; do it all in a few months.

After years spent fulfilling and exceeding that brief, I’m now the superhero guy; the man they fly in to make fantasy bodies a reality. And I’ve really honed the way in which I weave together the traditional principles. One of the keys is my take on German Volume Training, with which I’m sure you’re familiar. If you’re not, the approach consists of 10 sets of 10 reps on a single exercise. It’s as tried, tested and reliable as German cars. But I supe this up by mixing it with other sessions of fewer movements performed for more sets. After a decade I’m yet to see this fail to elicit muscle growth quickly.

If you’re starting out and new to GVT, then running through the classic 3 sets of 8-12 reps is a great starting point. It will help to build strength in ligaments and tendons before you throw yourself into strength sessions. Also the lower number of sets is the perfect opportunity to stimulate muscles effectively without annihilating them so early in a program. Annihilation should never be the goal. Especially for beginners.

For more experienced lifters using the higher set number on the key lifts is the booster shot your workout needs. Seriously, give it a go. Using fewer movement pattern variations within a workout, the aim is to do more work for each movement pattern used. So it’s simple. But not easy. (Just ask your legs the day after).

This style might not be as sexy and appealing as choosing a dozen movements and posturing around the mirror. But the simplicity of sticking with the big moves for longer in a session will bring a positive result quicker. Putting it simply, working more on the prime movements and less on the smaller lifts will bring more bang for buck. It was this in particular that took Hugh’s physique to the next level for X-Men Days of Future Past. It made for one of the most potent lean bulk-up phases I’ve ever taken anyone through.

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Specifically, we used a system with 6-8 sets of the big lifts, working in the rep range of 5-8, generally incorporating a 3-4 second eccentric phase. If you want a bit of the science, most of the muscle microtrauma during training is a result of the eccentric action (check it: Brown et al. 1997, Gibala et al. 2000). It’s been established that this microtrauma acts as the signal to start the muscle adaptation process (Clarke and Feedback, 1996).

So focusing on extending and adding more stress on the eccentric portion with more time under tension during this phase is a quick win. Here’s how to incorporate that along with the simplified, fewer-movements approach:

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Back Squat 5 6 (4 sec eccentric) 2 min
Front Squat 3 12 90 sec
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Split Squat 3 12 (each side) 60 sec
Back Extension 3 12 60 sec
Ab Wheel Rollout 4 8 60 sec

While, for the most part, working in the rep range of 5-8 may not be considered classic bodybuilding rep ranges, using a full spectrum of ranges can prove more effective. In the sample session above the 6 reps isn’t your 6 rep max, as you are working with the slow eccentric phase, the weight you are lifting is lighter than what it would be with a fast eccentric phase. So don’t go pandering to your ego; it’ll only hold you back.

Hugh-Jackman-Wolverine

If your primary goal is muscle gain then you will likely want to spend most your time in the 6-12 rep range, but don’t get caught out and spend all your time there. Some carefully planned heavy reps (3-5), will help boost strength and in turn muscle mass through myofibril hypertrophy, also boosting the weight that can be lifted for higher reps. With heavy reps you do have to consider risk to reward, because with heavier weights comes greater risk of injury. But without sufficient strength also comes the increased risk of injury. So this is something you need to weigh up personally. Look for a good spotter.

The other end of the spectrum is high rep training. I often add in sessions of this style of training to give a hyper muscle building effect. Timed sets are a great way to implement this. Using set work periods will help to push you to limit on a couple of sets per session, 60-90 seconds works really well.

Implementing this with similar movements (like those below) to the main lifts can also be very effective. 

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Weighted Pullup 5 6 90 sec
Lat Pulldown 2 6 90 sec

The key to adding muscle mass is consistency, with both nutrition and training. For size you needed to be stimulating your muscles to adapt and also spend your time in the calorie surplus. So apply those basic tenets to my set adaptions above and weave it all into your regular routine. It’s never failed for me or any of my clients. Simple. Effective. But damn hard.