Strong Men: The 18 Fittest Guys Of 2012

Are you stronger or weaker at the end of this year? There’s no doubt in the case of these 18 beasts, who had to shoulder some heavy loads to make our list.

When you put fitness under the microscope, it's an intricate patchwork of millions of little decisions. According to a study conducted by researchers at Cornell University, we make an average of 221 decisions each day—and that's just about the food we eat.

Past decisions have formed the men we are today, and today's decisions will weave together the fibers of who we'll be tomorrow. While an apathetic approach can cause it all to unravel, good, conscious decisions can pull us together and propel us toward our goals.

The men on the following pages understand this, and in 2012 they proved it. From the London Olympics to two of the top-10 highest-grossing films of all time, the fields they dominate are diverse. They're actors and athletes, and doctors and DJs. At the end of the day, though, they're just everyday guys who made good decisions.

1 / The Enterprise—Chris Pine

He may have traded action movies for chick flicks in 2012, but Captain Kirk will be back soon with the sequel to 2009's Star Trek, scheduled for release this May. For what is bound to be one of the biggest hits of the summer, Pine has expanded his training from the weight room to the boxing gym and taken up additional cardio in the form of jogging and hiking.

He's also been spotted breaking a sweat on the set of his next film, CIA action-thriller Jack Ryan, due out by Christmas 2013.

2 / Heavy Hitter—Manny Pacquiao

You can't win 'em all, but most boxing pundits agree that the legendary welterweight was robbed last June in his fight with Timothy Bradley. As for his blockbuster knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez on December 8, well, that one's on Manny.

Prior to these two losses, "Pac Man" had triumphed in 15 straight bouts. It might be some consolation to him to know that he still holds the title of "best abs in boxing," thanks to a relentless regimen of around 15 ab exercises—including leg lifts, jackknives, and crunches—done for 50 reps each.

3 / The Leading Man—Bradley Cooper

This actor has never shied away from physical roles. It wasn't too long ago that an unemployed Cooper pranced around his backyard in bike shorts, filming himself kicking trash cans in an attempt to land the role of an MMA fighter. He didn't get the part, but Cooper eventually got his shot in 2010's The A-Team.

To look the part of an ex-special forces soldier, Cooper went through a grueling six-month transformation, the results of which were so stark that even he had trouble recognizing his body in some fight scenes.

He's since become an A-list MVP, and don't worry: The Hangover Part III is definitely in our future.

4 / The Man Of Steel—Henry Cavill

Following in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Christian Bale and Andrew Garfield, next year Cavill will portray an iconic comic-book superhero. To become the Man of Steel, Cavill enlisted the help of Mark Twight, the trainer who led the Spartans of 300 to glory (in the gym, at least).

Fueled by a protein-heavy, 5,000-calorie diet, Cavill's grueling workouts center on long, high-rep circuits incorporating free weights, kettlebells, and calisthenics, and in his downtime he emphasizes recovery to ensure not a single rep goes to waste.

5 / The Multi-tasker—Rick Yune

Somewhere in between business school and acting, the former Bond villain was one of the leading contenders for the American Olympic taekwondo team. "I actually went to the U.S. Training Center and worked there for a bit," says Yune, 41. "I did Golden Gloves [competitions], too."

A few years later, while interning on Wall Street, Yune got discovered. Fast-forward through a couple of modeling jobs and Yune found his breakout role as the villain Zao in the 007 film Die Another Day. Today, Yune still blends his passions for martial arts and acting, most recently starring with Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe in the martial-arts blockbuster The Man with the Iron Fists.

6 / The Crowd-Pleaser—Jon Jones

While "Bones" Jones is the most dominating mixed martial arts fighter not named Anderson Silva, some MM A fans scrutinize him for refusing to fight UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen—on short notice—and for taking on former training partner and friend Rashad Evans.

Still, the 25-year-old light-heavyweight champ seems unbeatable, finishing one opponent after another in a flurry of elbows, back fists, and throws. In an unpredictable sport where titles are always changing hands, Jones shines in giving fans, promoters, and sponsors what they need: a winner.

7 / The Fittest Man on Earth?—Rich Froning

As an undergrad at Tennessee Tech, Froning considered joining the baseball or football team, but instead decided to focus on his major in exercise science. He acquired his degree in 2009 and headed back to his hometown of Cookeville, TN, to become a fireman. Then he found CrossFit—and everything changed.

Today, fresh off his second consecutive first-place finish at the Reebok CrossFit Games, Froning wears the title of "Fittest Man on Earth" at the tender age of 25. And he trains harder than he ever imagined. His workout routine includes 525-pound deadlifts, 425-pound squat thrusts, and 335-pound bench presses.

Focusing on function, not form—although it certainly follows—Froning eats to fuel his performance and listens to his body. "I don't have a specific diet," he says. "I just like to eat whatever I feel like eating. I make sure I have a lot of protein by eating peanuts and drinking shakes and milk."

8 / The Brawler—Tom Hardy

Back in 2008, Hardy proved he could bulk up fast—and learn to fight—when he played "the most violent prisoner in Britain" in the critically acclaimed Bronson. That role undoubtedly laid the foundation for the intense circuit and MMA training he would later go through to get in the best shape of his life for 2011's Warrior.

Hardy, 35, maintained his momentum in 2012, packing on 30 pounds of muscle for his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and as he prepares to take the lead in next year's Mad Max: Fury Road, we can only imagine what Hardy is putting his body through at this very moment.

9 / The Happy Medium—James Marsden

Being the fittest isn't a strictly physical pursuit, and it certainly isn't just about being the guy with the sharpest abs in the room. Former X-Men star James Marsden used to be that guy, and he didn't like it one bit. That isn't to say you shouldn't strive for the physique of your dreams—as long as that's what you really want in life.

For Marsden, the lifestyle that his body required to maintain single-digit body fat and stone-carved musculature made him unhappy. So he loosened up his diet and workouts.

Today, Marsden spends less time in the gym but is still in incredible shape. His secret? Regular outdoor activities like pickup basketball, volleyball, and football with his friends.

10 / The Superheroes—Andrew Garfield, Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey, Jr.

Here's the think about CGI: Unless you're playing the role of the Hulk, it won't do you much good in the muscle department. It's also expensive. And in this economy, studios don't hire scrawny actors to play buff superheroes when they can hire, well, buff superheroes.

OK, fine—not real superheroes, but you get the point: Actors can no longer rely on their thespian talents alone when it's time to save the world from inevitable destruction.

Through months in the gym and relentless dedication, these men have transformed their bodies to meet the nearly unattainable expectations of arguably the most unforgiving group of moviegoers on the planet-comic book fans.

More important, they proved to the rest of us that it can be done. They may not be real superheroes, but they're sure as hell men we can look up to.

11 / The Underdog—Kellan Lutz

We'll admit that the Twilight saga isn't one of the manliest franchises out there, but enduring one of these movies with your girl could earn you some serious points. (Quick tip: "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn Part II" have the most fight scenes.) In fact, it was training for those fight scenes that helped actor Kellan Lutz bulk up and add definition to his upper body.

Starting with a six-week "fighting camp," followed by regular cardio and gym work that included core exercises like V-ups and muscle-building lifts like barbell front squats and various free-weight presses, Lutz forged a physique worthy of the big screen and a starring role in 2013's Tarzan.

12 / The Other One—Liam Hemsworth

Between promoting The Hunger Games and managing his engagement to Miley Cyrus, it's amazing that Hemsworth has had time to work out at all this year. Luckily, it's mostly maintenance at this point. To prepare for the box-office hit, the actor adopted a Navy SE AL-directed regimen supplemented with boxing training to ultimately arrive on set an impressive 20 pounds lighter than when he first accepted the role.

For The Expendables 2, he did the exact opposite, packing on muscle to fit in among the gargantuan likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he's not shape-shifting between roles, the 22-year-old gets his kicks on his surfboard but still manages to make his way into the gym to lift weights three to four times a week.

13 / The Steamroller—Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Walking tall at an intimidating 6'4" and weighing in at 275 pounds, 40-year-old Dwayne Johnson is still the iconic symbol of fitness he was when he first stepped into the wresting ring back in '96. And a single glance at his Twitter page is enough to see that he hasn't lost any steam, either.

A vocal proponent of consistency, Johnson adheres to the same workout regimen that helped him drop 25 pounds and cut his body-fat percentage in half in less than a four-month span for his early roles in Walking Tall and the video game "Spy Hunter."

14 / The Action Hero—Sam Worthington

Not long after his 30th birthday, Worthington found himself living out of his Toyota Camry, having auctioned off everything to his name in exchange for $2,000.

The break he'd been longing for came when James Cameron recruited him for the lead role in what would go on to become the highest-grossing film of all time.

Since Avatar, Worthington has starred in high-profile action thrillers like Terminator Salvation, Clash of the Titans, The Debt, and Man on a Ledge.

In addition to his work on-camera, the versatile action star also found time to take on the voice of Alex Mason in the "Call of Duty: Black Ops" video-game franchise.

15 / The Blur—Usain Bolt

Whether or not Bolt will line up on the blocks in Rio in 2016-the Jamaican sprinter has hinted that London may have been his last Olympic Games—there's no denying that "Lightning Bolt" is still, at present, the fastest man on the planet.

At this year's Olympic Games, Bolt took home three gold medals for his second consecutive Games after setting an Olympic record in the men's 100-meter sprint, leading the Jamaican men's 4x100m relay team to victory in world-record time, and becoming the first man to win two Olympic titles in the 200m sprint.

16 / The King—LeBron James

It's been a good year for King James. With the NBA title, MVP awards, and an Olympic gold medal locked up, there really isn't much else the Miami Heat star could have asked for. And while we can't say that it hasn't gone to his head, it's clear that James at least still has his head in the game.

"Basketball is my life," says James, who's been spotted amidst traffic riding his bicycle to home games. While his training includes much of what you'd expect of an elite athlete, it's James' on-court mentality that sets him apart. "I don't have a role," he says. "I just try to put myself in a position out on the floor to succeed.

17 / The Reinventor—Dave Bautista

This year "The Animal" made the gutsy transition from play fighting in pro wrestling and the movies to real fighting in his first mixed martial arts bout in October. Changing careers also meant changing his body. To do that, he had to rebuild his workout regimen and the way he viewed nutrition.

More endurance training and a tighter diet helped Bautista, 43, lose some 40 pounds. "I cut out gluten, pork, and red meat," he says. Supplements also played a role. "I take fish oil, vitamin D, colostrum, and milk thistle," Bautista says. "I didn't take whey protein for years because I didn't think I needed that much protein, but my dietitian said I should, and it's made a difference."

18 / The Transformer—Channing Tatum

Even though he won't need to get in fighting form for his part in the upcoming Foxcatcher—a film about gold medal-winning Olympic wrestler David Schultz (that role goes to Mark Ruffalo)—Tatum is no stranger to the art of the transformation.

For his breakout role as an underground street fighter in 2009's Fighting, Tatum adopted a body-weight training regimen devised by New York-based personal trainer William J. Harris to drop nearly 30 pounds in three weeks. This year, Tatum proved that he's still got a few tricks up his detachable sleeves in Magic Mike.

Honorable Mention /// The Hollywood Elite—Daniel Craig, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, and Ben Affleck

If you were to cut together a montage of the greatest moments in action movies and then remove all the scenes starring these men, you'd be staring at a blank screen.

From Rambo to Die Hard, the films these A-list stalwarts have immortalized have helped define genres and, by showing us that ordinary guys can achieve extraordinary things, maybe even our abs. We know we'll probably never need to pull ourselves onto the roof of a skyscraper or hoist a wounded soldier into a chopper as the ground below crumbles, but we'll still go for that extra rep—just in case.

Find out who else made the list of the 27 Fittest Guys of 2012 at Men's