Hollywood movie transformations: what you should know
Thanks to the older members of The Expendables crew the image of the muscle-bound action hero has become emblazoned across our collective conciousness: in this genre of film (and others) a huge portion of marketing hype is actually built on the ‘transformation’ of actors into someone with a physique worthy of the title ‘hero’.
Some actors build their reputations on it (latterly Arnie and co, now Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel for example). Others, like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, generate a lot of interest for each reprisal of the role with the speculation of how much bigger/more ripped/harder they’re going to look.
But the one that seems to hold the most public attention are the transformations of actors not renowned for their physiques into the superheros they play. Think Christian Bale before his first role as Batman, Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, Tom Hardy as Bale in Batman etc.
It’s because unlike people like Dwayne Johnson we can relate physically to these guys- just normal-looking slim, undefined guys who grit their teeth and put in the work to get a Greek God physique.
It’s relatable, which makes it appealing, which makes it marketable. Sure, those guys are millionaire film stars but if they can show us how much you can progress in a few months maybe we can do it too?
This is all good if it helps as motivation but as with most things in the fitness game if they don’t tell you the whole story they’re setting you up for false expectations.
Now, I have no definitive proof that anyone is using steroids or drugs to look a certain way. The only way you could be 100% sure was if they point-blank admitted it or you saw them actually do it.
However what I do know is what it takes to get in shape naturally, as well as having tried to follow all these celebrity workout and diet protocols back in the day when I first started training.
To begin with, I hope I don’t have to underline the fact that while 6 months can be a long time in some contexts in training terms it is nothing. If you’re a newbie after 6 months you might still be in the process of teaching your body how to practice good form or just have begun to be ready to increase your weights.
If you’ve been training many years 6 months might be as long as it takes to add 10-20 lbs to one of your lifts.
Adaptation takes TIME.
So how can these guys get such amazing results in sometimes as little as 3 months? I think we all know the answer, but let’s run through some of the ‘legitimate’ explanations we often see in the magazines or sometimes from the actors themselves.
1. They worked out for 6 hours a day
For those who still believe that building muscle is just down to hard work, this is the most common rationale.
“They’re movie stars! They can afford to workout all day with the best nutrition and trainers in the world!”
There seems to be a belief that the more time you spend lifting, the faster you get results. That if you ‘only’ spend 1 hour a day lifting you’re getting half the results you could get if you did it for 2.
This is true, if you’re on drugs, because a big benefit from drugs is drastically shortening your recovery time.
If you’re not however then recovery and days off are just as important for progress. You can’t just speed up results by putting in more time, because the muscle needs time to adapt and grow.
Related article: Is overtraining real?
This one is easy to disprove if you’re natural: start lifting heavy and hard for 2 hours twice a day for a week and tell me how you feel afterwards. Far from doubling your results, you’ll work yourself into a standstill in no time.
2. They ate 4,000 calories a day, with carefully tailored diet and supplementation
I watch and follow a lot of fitness channels on YouTube or blogs and it really depresses me when someone who I think might be talking sense starts going on about ‘eating till you feel sick’ or ‘not getting enough calories’ when someone asks about bulking up and getting big.
Nutrition is important, but at a certain point your muscle mass potential is decided by your hormone profile.
Related article: How much muscle can you gain naturally?
Unless you raise your muscle-building capacity by injecting hormones no amount of eating is going to make you exceed your naturally (relatively limited) muscle potential.
It took me ages to shake this one out of my head. I used to eat when I wasn’t hungry, eat before I went to bed, order double portions. Result? Aside from not being that healthy I actually started to get fat, despite training my ass off.
Maybe these Hollywood guys are eating that much. But if they are, they ain’t doing it naturally when all of their weight seems to be muscle.
3. They did a lot of ‘muscle-confusion’ techniques to facilitate faster muscle growth
Working out is actually simple. You pick something up a few times. The next time you pick up something heavier, or the same thing a few more times. Your muscles adapt. Repeat.
If you actually want to get better at something it makes more sense to practice the same movement over and over. Changing your program every few months can be beneficial because you can get pretty proficient at a movement over a few months before learning or practising a new one. You’re giving yourself enough time to master the movement and benefit from it, before changing it up slightly to keep things fresh.
Changing up your workout out every session on the other hand will probably make you more sore, but this is not the best way to get better i.e. get stronger, at an exercise. If you’re not getting stronger you’re not going to build muscle, and this method certainly won’t speed up your results.
Related article: Muscle confusion: is it useful?
4. They lived like a monk: it was all hard, hard work
If there was a motto for the mainstream fitness industry it would be “it’s all just hard work”.
It’s a good thing to promote, because a lot of what you get from anything in life IS down to hard work.
Training and getting results ARE down to hard work.
But there also exists a thing called reality. In the real world there are limits.
The simple truth is that you or I could live like a monk for 3 or 4 months, sleeping 10 hours a night, eating 6 times a day, work with a personal trainer for two 3 hour sessions a day and we would not come out the other end looking like superman, I guarantee it.
This is nothing to do with not wanting it enough or not working hard enough, it is just that the human body has its limits. Unless we circumvent these through external enhancement they will always be a barrier to how much we can physically achieve.
While I haven’t actually lived like a monk or been able to dedicate all my time to training I’ve done all the things that these celebrities have supposedly done and come nowhere near their results. Why?
Because it’s not possible to add 20 lbs of muscle while dropping fat in 3 months, naturally. It’s not possible to add 100 lbs of bodyweight mostly as muscle as Christian Bale did between The Machinist and Batman in 6 months, naturally.
It just isn’t. I’m not taking anything away from their dedication, but I think it’s only right that we realise the full story before we start stocking up on weight gainers and preparing 6 meals a day to try to emulate them.
I know there’s plenty who will not agree with me or label me as a ‘hater’. You are of course welcome to your opinion.