Have you noticed how much more shredded Hugh Jackman's Wolverine silver screen persona is these days? The Aussie actor has taken the role to a whole new level for the latest installments in the Marvel X-Men franchise. Compare the original look of Jackman's immortal street fighter with the latest and there really is no comparison. Wolverine, and indeed his alter ego Logan, has gotten ripped!
Marvel's arguably most popular comic book creation is no longer just a dysfunctional mutant with an uncanny ability to self-heal, some incredibly dangerous adamantium claws, and a pair of equally outrageous sideburns. Now that he hit the gym. Logan appears far more superhero-esque than ever before.
Jackman confesses that the Wolverine of the most recent movies looks far more like the character he always imagined when he first landed the role. His physique in "The Wolverine" and in the soon to be released "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is just how the actor always envisaged Wolverine to look, although achieving it took a little longer than first thought.
"With the first three X-Men films I never had Wolverine exactly how I wanted him to look, to be honest," Jackman explains. "Now I want Logan to look animalistic, savage, carnal, veins popping out, and coiled like a spring. I wanted audiences to say, 'OK, this guy could quite easily rip someone's head off.' That was always the goal."
A typical American comic book anti-hero, Wolverine—and indeed Logan as he's also known—is by his nature a mutant who is at odds against the world around him. A tortured soul, he's at times out of control; the beast within him takes over, often with deadly results. Yet becoming Wolverine is anything but chaotic.
Jackman spends his time in the gym diligently, and every rep, set, chicken breast, and broccoli head is painstakingly measured to ensure maximum results and performance. Becoming Wolverine is a triumph in sports science. "It's taken many hours in the gym, eating clean and increasing my protein and calorie intake, basically to the levels of a professional athlete," Jackman says.
"For "The Wolverine" we had about five or six months to meet my goal, but because of filming another movie we didn't really kick into gear until the last three to four months. Then with "X-Men: Days of Future Past" we really just continued that. I had lost a bit of mass after filming "The Wolverine," so we built that up again.
"I always love playing this character, but I have always had this thought of, 'Man, I just wish I'd gone a little bit further physically with him.' I think it's important for him to be lean, to see veins, to be vascular yet very strong obviously. I've always wanted the audience to look at the screen and go, 'Whoa!' I really think we've done that now and I'm proud of that."
Jackman kept stringent control over his diet, and also had to attack the weight room with a calculated approach. Under the watchful eye of London-based trainer David Kingsbury, Hugh set out on regular sessions based around progressive overloading.
Jackman reveals: "My sessions were all geared around a four-week program. It was hard work, but calculated hard work. We start with progressive overloading. We do a lot of the basic lifts like the bench press, variations of squats, deadlifts. We do weighted pull-ups, shoulder press, triceps dips, lateral raises—the tried and tested free-weight exercises. We never use any machines.
"Our sessions are very focused. David Kingsbury is an awesome trainer, and we'd actually work out together. We'd change it up and do circuits and supersets, which help with the fat burning as well. It's not about bulking up completely because it's not functional for the role. The goal of the Wolverine training is to be balanced. We'd generally be in the 6-10 rep range, and on the last set, usually the fourth, we'd reduce the weight by 25 percent or so and go for 18 reps. That's the stuff right there!
"But with David, we start with 1-5 rep super heavy, and then go into 6-10 rep stuff. It's a combination of the two. I only really started doing the 1-5 stuff with David. For "The Wolverine," I started off bulking, which was very calculated calorie-wise; it was a clean bulk. Then closer to the shoot I started cutting, which was basically less calories, and again, very calculated, and more cardio."
With all the hours being put into the gym, naturally Jackman's diet and supplement intake became critical. After all, you can't run an engine without any fuel—even the engine of an immortal superhero mutant.
"I ate lots of chicken breasts, and I'd carb cycle," Jackman says. "I had carbs on weight training days, and then very low amounts of carbs on rest days. But it was really about calculating the amount of calories. I ate very clean, even when I was bulking. Food-wise it's lots of chicken breasts, egg whites, brown rice, spinach, lean steak, avocado, steamed broccoli. But then I'd also gulp down protein shakes.
"If you are what you eat, I am definitely a chicken breast! Bulking I took creatine, which I whittled down when I was cutting. Before working out I'd take something called Animal Pump, and then also Animal Nitro before and after working out. Then cutting I take Universal L-carnitine. But then it was protein shakes and protein smoothies mostly."
Most actors in superhero roles tend to simply smash the heavy weights for weeks in advance of filming before simply dropping down the weight and driving up their cardio levels with varying results. But Jackman, now aged 45, insists that the level of sports science involved in his preparation to return as Wolverine was on a completely different level.
He believes that had he not taken matters so seriously he would never of achieved the level of physicality he was aiming for. "It was critical, to approach it as we did. Honestly, the script the guys put together for "The Wolverine" really gave me a great opportunity to go emotionally further than I've ever been before—but physically, that was my job (laughs). And I had to really go there as well.
"My training for "The Wolverine" started earlier. It had to. We had a lot of preparation time and I started eating strictly months in advance, and then I've had to continue that because of the filming schedule for "X-Men: Days of Future Past." I truly think the results paid off though, because when I watch "The Wolverine" I see Wolverine there, I see Logan there.
"The way I've always portrayed him is as a sort of animalistic street fighter. It's not pretty and he doesn't want to jab around and take awhile, he just wants to take your head and move on. So that's what I was going for with the look and the way he fights and moves. He's not a studied fighter, but a great opportunity with "The Wolverine" was that when Logan goes to Japan, he starts to really take that kind of discipline and training to heart. He was very much a Ronin. It's about his journey from a disheveled, isolated, wild Ronin to a noble samurai mutant warrior."
The Hunger Games
If getting his aging body into the kind of shape most men half his age can only dream about wasn't challenging enough, Hugh also did it on the back of playing a malnourished French escaped convict in 2012's award winning "Les Miserables ." So how did Jackman transform his frame from that of a disheveled French revolutionary to a muscle-busting comic-book icon?
Cutting water weight was the key for the early scenes, Jackman reveals, but throughout the process he simply couldn't cut too much lean muscle. His Wolverine commitments simply wouldn't allow it.
"'Les Miserables' was tough, man; physically I had to be unrecognizable at the beginning. I lost a lot of weight, while maintaining as much muscle as I could, because my character, Jean Valjean, is known for his strength. I went to some fairly extreme lengths to do that," he teases.
He admits he lost a lot of weight for the start of the filming for the musical, but he was able to put weight back on during the process to show the passage of time featured in the movie—it spans through 18 years.
"I was surviving on very limited food, but Valjean was also known for his strength, so I was spending three hours in the gym. It was tough at the beginning. For the 36 hours before I shot the opening sequences of the film I went without water to give me a hollowness and gaunt look to match the fact that he's a convict.
"I wouldn't advise anyone to do that. I had headaches, I was dizzy, and it made me grumpy. I had already shed 20 pounds through cardio and a very lean diet. I really pushed my body to a limit during that 36-hour period. During "Les Miserables" I still lifted weights, and I actually trained for longer sessions. I needed to keep the muscle but be leaner."
And despite the widespread acclaimed he received for his "Les Miserables" role—Jackman was nominated for the Best Actor award at the 2013 Academy Awards and picked up the Golden Globe in the same category—he admits that returning to his previous role of Wolverine excited him the most.
"I love the character. Honestly, I think I landed the coolest comic book character there is," he stated with a real belly laugh and an approving thumbs up. "He's badass, way cooler than me, and as an actor his complexities, his tortured soul, all that makes him endlessly interesting - there's so much there to explore.
"The only problem is that the Wolverine doesn't age, so there definitely is a ceiling for playing this part! But I love playing the part, I truly love the character."
And that includes all the training. Suddenly it's crystal clear, Jackman is definitely a gym-rat. "To be honest, I find it easier to stay in condition than to get into condition. And the physique is about not looking for short cuts, it is about making training and nutrition a priority," he says.
"And, above all, know why you're doing it. If you train too hard and too often, you'll burn out. You need to get to the point where you want to train, where you're rested enough to really smash it in the gym - which is hard when you're actually in the filming process. You have to work smartly.
"We all should workout to live better, not live to workout better. And I was speaking with James Mangold (The Wolverine director) about another Wolverine story. There are some really cool ideas that aren't even fully formed yet, but they're awesome. And I'm really proud of The Wolverine, and I'm kind of enjoying him more than ever.
"I also can't wait until people see X-Men: Days of Future Past. And honestly, I believe that being older helps playing Wolverine. He's 200 to 300 years old, no one knows, and he's sort of world-weary. All that said the actual training does get a bit harder as a crack on a bit in age (laughs)."
Hugh's Wolverine Workout
For full details of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine diet and weeks' two, three, and four of this training program check out Mutant Strength: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine Workout Plan, an exclusive feature with trainer David Kingsbury.