Mutant Strength: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine Workout Plan

Hugh Jackman took his strength and physique to new heights at an age when most men are slowing down. His trainer tells us how it happened and shares the 4-week program that made this man into a mutant!

Wolverine is a badass. There's no doubt about it. He's more than 100 years old, fluent in more than seven languages, and has trained as a samurai in Japan. His claws and bones are made of adamantium, an indestructible metal that can cut through any known substance.

The only guy who could possibly be more of a badass than Wolverine is Hugh Jackman. This is how he looks at age 44, and how he looked at 31.

Find me another guy who can boast a similar before-and-after during that age range. It won't be easy.

Jackman has always been a stud, but he didn't take the leap to "specimen" until he started working with trainer David Kingsbury. I recently got the chance to sit down with Kingsbury, who prepared Jackman for his role in "The Wolverine" and has been his trainer ever since. Kingsbury gave me an inside look at the overall approach he took to create the Wolverine physique, and, of course, the details: his diet, supplementation, and training plan.

Q
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you got involved in the celebrity training business.

Originally my intention was to work with athletes. I trained Muay Thai in Thailand for a few years and had seven pro fights. When I returned to the UK, my original goal was to open up an MMA facility near where I lived. One day I was talking to one of my clients about my options. He's a successful businessman, and he told me that he worked at Pinewood Film Studios. He put me in touch with the property team, and before I knew it I had a small personal training space in the film studio.

After a few years, the business had grown to the point where I opened a full gym in the studio. At this point, I was working with many people in the film industry, from producers to office workers. One of my clients, a producer, said he had a film for me to work on after experiencing great results himself. That was four years ago, and I've been back-to-back on films ever since.

How did you get hooked up with Hugh Jackman?

I was just finishing up a film at Pinewood and got a call from the production coordinator from "Les Miserables." She said there was an actor she wanted me to meet later that day, and that if he chose me, I would be working with him. At this point there was no mention about who it might be.

About 20 minutes prior to the meeting, she called me and said, "Hugh Jackman is on his way over." I have always admired Hugh and have a massive respect for the shape he gets into for roles, so I was excited.

Hugh came in and we chatted about the goals of "The Wolverine" and what he was hoping to achieve. He then booked his first session for 8 a.m. the following day. We did a quick assessment and got to work.

What kind of shape was he in when you guys first started working together?

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.

What was the goal for the Wolverine?

To exceed any of his previous films in terms of muscle mass and leanness. We had about five months to meet this goal but were a bit limited on time due to him still filming for "Les Miserables." It was really in the last 3-4 months that the major changes happened.

"We have similar strength and endurance levels, so we have a health rivalry, seeing who can push the limits further."

How was your relationship
with him?

I have been working with Hugh for almost two years now, and we are currently on our fourth project, "X-Men: Days of Future Past." We're both easygoing and share similar interests. As a trainer, if you don't get along with your clients, they generally won't want to train with you for 1-2 hours every day, six days a week, for two years!

In terms of training with him, he's very motivated and adherent, so he doesn't require a drill sergeant or babysitter. We train together, and I always push the intensity. The sessions are very focused and we use each other for motivation. We have similar strength and endurance levels, so we have a health rivalry, seeing who can push the limits further.

What was the biggest problem you faced in preparing him for "The Wolverine?"

Lack of rest. We trained very early in the morning and worked long days. Some days we were limited to 5-6 hours of sleep per night. On those days, I encouraged naps during the day when possible.

What kind of training approach did you take with him?

Hugh hadn't done much direct strength work prior to training with me. He mostly worked in the 8-12 rep range. I always encourage low, 1-5 rep heavy work to stimulate myofibril hypertrophy. Then after the heavy work is done we move onto the higher rep schemes to encourage sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. By increasing your strength with the low reps, you increase your capacity with the higher reps, so I always plan heavy sets of the compound movements. The combination of the two styles brings the best gains.

"Hugh hadn't done much direct strength work prior to training with me."

How did he get so muscular while adding virtually no body fat?

He did put on some body fat. We broke the training into two phases: the bulk and the cut. I like to bulk as clean as possible, with a better end result in sight. I calculated his calories to achieve the leanest muscle gain possible and adjusted them to his requirements every day.

We used a combination of low-intensity training and intervals to keep bringing the body-fat levels down while bulking. The weight training remained more or less the same during the whole process, the only changes in his body fat levels came down to the volume of cardio he was prescribed and the amount of calories consumed.

What were you feeding him?

The food varied through the different stages. However, we followed one nutrition principle throughout the entire training: carb cycling. We had carbs on weight training days, and went low-carb on rest days.

The most important part of dieting comes in calculating the amount of calories and macronutrients for the specific goal. He ate very clean throughout the entire film, but more importantly, he consumed the right amount of calories for his goal.

In terms of meals, we did nothing new or exciting. Here's an example for a training day:

The Wolverine Diet


Sounds delicious. What about supplements?

We used a pre-workout product called Animal Pump. I prefer this pre-workout because it has no sugar or sweetener, and it also comes in tablet form so you can adjust the creatine content. While bulking, we used creatine in the product, and when cutting, we reduced, and then removed the creatine.

We also used about 5-10 g of Animal Nitro BCAAs pre- and post-workout. We trained fasted in the mornings, so the BCAAs were important to preserve lean muscle mass. While cutting, we used Universal L-carnitine to help metabolize fatty acids.

Working One-Rep Max Calculator

Weight Lifted
Reps Done
One-Rep Max
Working 1RM

95% of W1RM
90% of W1RM
85% of W1RM
80% of W1RM
75% of W1RM
70% of W1RM
65% of W1RM
60% of W1RM
55% of W1RM
50% of W1RM
45% of W1RM
40% of W1RM

Tell me about the program you used with Hugh.

The primary goals of this plan were to improve strength and size while keeping body fat to a minimum. We used a program that included progressive overload to ensure continual strength gains. The system may look complicated at first, but once you get started and have your numbers recorded, it becomes a very easy system to follow.

The training program is designed on a four-week schedule. During these four weeks the reps for the main lifts are changed each week. For the first three weeks the weight should increase each week. Then, during the fourth week, the weight is reduced to be able to perform 10 reps.

We worked off a percentage system to figure out exactly what weights we should be lifting each week for the main lifts. For all of the weeks, the percentages are calculated from your working 1-rep max. To figure out your working 1-rep max, take 95 percent of your 1-rep max.

The Main Lifts
  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Back Squat
  • Weighted Pull-Up
  • Deadlift
Week 1
Set Rep Range Weight
Set 1 5 reps 60% of W1RM
Set 2 5 reps 65% of W1RM
Set 3 5 reps 75% of W1RM
Set 4 5 reps 75% of W1RM
Week 2
Set Rep Range Weight
Set 1 4 reps 65% of W1RM
Set 2 4 reps 75% of W1RM
Set 3 4 reps 85% of W1RM
Set 4 4 reps 85% of W1RM
Week 3
Set Rep Range Weight
Set 1 3 reps 70% of W1RM
Set 2 3 reps 80% of W1RM
Set 3 3 reps 90% of W1RM
Set 4 3 reps 90% of W1RM
Week 4
Set Rep Range Weight
Set 1 10 reps 40% of W1RM
Set 2 10 reps 50% of W1RM
Set 3 10 reps 60% of W1RM
Set 4 10 reps 60% of W1RM

Once the first block of four weeks is complete, add 5-10 percent to your working 1-rep max. Increase 5 percent if progress is slow, and 10 percent if you can reach your target reps comfortably. Use this rule to plan each new four-week block.

The Wolverine Workout

Here are your marching orders for the next four weeks. Eat like a mutant and give your body plenty of space to heal and grow. You're not Wolverine, after all.

Week 1

Week 1

Your four-week cycle begins with a simple 4x5 power plan and plenty of assistance work. Sideburns are optional.
Week 2

Week 2

Prof. X says, "Don't underestimate the power of low-rep living, Logan. It's crucial for building muscles as strong as they look."
Week 3

Week 3

Here we go, up over 90 percent of your W1RM! This is your week to tweet a bar-bending photo to all the haters.
Week 4

Week 4

Let's turn up the reps to put some meat on your X-frame! This is a serious hypertrophy week, so get your calories. Then you're going to turn right back around and start again with week 1.