Athlete/Celebrity Workouts

Tom Hopper Talks 'Umbrella Academy,' Hardcore Workouts, and Diet Discipline

The star of the new Netflix show may be a well-mannered English gentleman. But in the gym, he’s a beast. Discover the keys to his fitness badassery.

Tom Hooper Doing Battle Ropes
Edgar Artiga / M+F Magazine

On the new Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, Tom Hopper plays a character who possesses superstrength. And right now, it looks like the actor shares the same superpower.

We’re at the ultra-exclusive Performix House gym near Manhattan’s Union Square, and Hopper is putting on something of a clinic. As a photographer snaps picture after picture, Hopper holds himself in midair on the gymnastics rings for what feels like ages, keeping his hands close to his sides, his body arrow-straight, and his face totally relaxed, as if the feat were effortless. It’s a bit like Vince Vaughn’s “still holding” gymnastics scene from Old School, only without the assistance of CGI (and definitely without the cigarette).

After this, the 6'5", 210-pound Hopper will knock out a few dozen ring dips, slam a pair of battle ropes against the ground until it feels like the floor is going to crumble, and shove a sled loaded with hundreds of pounds of iron down a strip of artificial turf. All with the politeness of a debonair English prince.

The kicker? This isn’t even Hopper’s first workout of the morning. The actor trained at a different gym before the shoot just to get his blood pumping.

Such is life for Hopper, who seems determined to be as healthy and fit as humanly possible. Which is how you end up with a physique like Hopper’s: tiny waist, big shoulders, substantial pecs and biceps, and a V-taper in full effect. He looks like a cross between an Olympic swimmer and a professional rugby player. With, to top it off, the handsome face of a model.

“The thing with Tom is he takes such good care of his body,” says Sam Rosati, a friend who worked with Hopper in Toronto on the production of The Umbrella Academy. “Whenever Tom is in Toronto, the city experiences a shortage of chicken breasts.”

For those of you reading this and thinking, “OK, but who the hell is Tom Hopper?” here’s a primer. Born in the middle of England, Hopper played sports as a youngster but also took an early interest in acting, often dressing up and doing impressions for family and friends. As a teenager, he performed in school plays and studied drama in college. That’s when his passions for fitness and entertainment intertwined.

“As I went into the acting world, I wanted to stand out as an actor because it was so competitive,” Hopper says over a post-workout bottled water. “I realized there weren’t that many young dudes from Britain who were bigger and muscular. So the first thing I thought was to try to get big.”

Long story short: It worked. After bulking up, Hopper began landing roles in low-budget movies and on British TV shows, usually portraying menacing types—soldiers, swashbucklers, that kind of thing. He played the burly knight Sir Percival in for 26 episodes, then starred as the pirate William “Billy Bones” Manderly in the Starz series Black Sails. The show became a cult favorite, and its costuming allowed Hopper to regularly show off his arms, to the point where they now boast their own Instagram fan account.

After the success of Black Sails, Hopper snagged a memorable role in the HBO megahit Game of Thrones, in which (spoiler alert) Hopper’s character ends up getting burned alive by a dragon. (It’s the thing Hopper gets asked about the most—along with his arms.) Next, he had a supporting role in the 2018 Amy Schumer movie that you might’ve caught on a plane.

All the while, though, Hopper was busy with a couple of other pursuits. First, he got married and had a couple of kids with his wife, Laura. Second (and more relevant to this magazine), he began to fine-tune his training philosophy.

Rather than achieving a certain look for a particular role and then bingeing on burgers and fries after the production wrapped, Hopper started maintaining a lean, ripped body year-round. He did so with a two-pronged attack: training nearly every day in a huge converted garage at his home in England and sticking to an incredibly clean diet, eschewing all refined sugars and processed foods in favor of natural sweeteners and lots of organic meats and vegetables.

“The nutrition came into it, and it became a fully rounded thing,” Hopper says. “Ultimately it became about health—about how I can be the healthiest and fittest version of myself.”

Hopper’s imposing physique proves useful in his latest project, The Umbrella Academy. Based on a bunch of graphic novels from musician Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance, the show tells the story of a dysfunctional superhero family who reunite after their adoptive father dies and soon realize they’ll have to try to save the world.

The show, which premieres Feb. 15, has a lot of potential. Its showrunner comes from the TV series Fargo, and it co-stars Ellen Page of Juno fame. Hopper plays the leader of the family, Luther, a gruff, muscle-bound enforcer who, under the surface, is actually quite sensitive. Hopper says the originality of the series is what excites him the most.

“There is no other superhero show like it,” he says. “It’s a far more grounded world than we’ve seen before. This is more about the humanistic side. The superhero stuff is the added seasoning.”

If the show catches on, it could be a life-changer for Hopper in terms of fame and money. (And his arms’ Instagram account will no doubt blow up!) But whether it becomes the next Stranger Things or just sort of fades away after a season, it’s a safe bet it won’t have much effect on that other huge aspect of his life: his commitment to optimal health.

Hopper says his daily training sessions and ultradisciplined diet have come to define him. It’s even a running joke among family and friends when choosing restaurants: Everyone else is concerned there won’t be suitable food for Hopper at whatever eatery they select.

“That’s the problem with trying to live this lifestyle,” Hopper says. “You have to kind of get over the fact that it can come across as high-maintenance. You’re just trying to do the best thing for your body—if that’s what you want. For some people, it’s too much. It’s too extreme. But I enjoy it. I get a lot out of feeling great.”

Hopper’s Full-body Workout

Hopper loves training with gymnastics rings and battle ropes to test his body in different ways while keeping the movements fluid and functional. Try this routine, which Hopper regularly performs at his home gym. Rest 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Ring Hold

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 1 min.

Ring Dip

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 10

Battle Ropes Wave

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 1 min.

Battle Ropes Crossover

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 1 min.

Battle Ropes Slam

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 1 min.

Sled Push

  • Sets: 4
  • Reps: 20 yards
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