Superheroes from Superman to Wonder Woman call to mind the types of sleek, svelte, physical human specimens that can only truly be brought to life on the pages of comic books. They have musculature that pops, powers that defy physics, and a larger-than-life call to protect and save humankind.
When these comic book characters are translated to the big screen (as frequently happens), the actors and actresses who are tasked with playing these roles have big shoes (or bodysuits) to fill. And while they may not actually be able to fly or run faster than the speed of light, they are asked to carve the same next-level bodies of steel that such superheroes boast. This means hitting the gym hard and racking up hours with personal trainers in the months leading up to these coveted and often career-defining roles. Here’s a look at the workouts that totally transformed superhero actors for their roles.
Chris Hemsworth "crushed every single workout" on his way to becoming Thor
When Chris Hemsworth secured the role of Thor in The Avengers and its sequel, Thor: The Dark World, he became instantly dedicated to carving the chiseled shoulders and arms he would need to look the part. As the superhero actor’s trainer, Duffy Gaver, told Muscle & Fitness, he instructed Hemsworth follow a more traditional old-school strength training method, which ultimately helped the actor pack on about 20 pounds of muscle.
The basic workout consisted of lifting heavy weights rotated by day and body part. By loading up the weights, keeping repetitions low to moderate, and scheduling sets of each exercise moderate to high (depending on the exercise), the actor was able to focus on building strength and muscle mass. Most importantly, Hemsworth was dedicated to the program and didn’t cut corners. "It was just red meat, heavy weights, and some protein powder," Gaver said. "He crushed every single workout. He simply decided to look like Thor."
Kumail Nanjiani had to get "super jacked" to play Kingo
Kumail Nanjiani first made a name for himself in acting with his role as brilliant and nerdy Dinesh Chugtai on HBO’s Silicon Valley — hardly a character you’d imagine later turning into a muscle-bound superhero. But when Nanjiani landed the role of Kingo in Marvel’s Eternals, he knew he would have to play a superhero whose secret identity was that of a "super-jacked" Bollywood movie star, which would require a significant body makeover. He enlisted personal trainer Grant Roberts and got to work.
After months of logging hours in the gym, Nanjiani posted his first ever "thirsty shirtless" photo to his Instagram account in December 2019, showing off how far his workouts had taken the superhero actor. In a March 2020 interview with Men’s Health, Nanjiani and Roberts detailed some of the actor’s favorite strength-training exercises, which included traditional upper body moves like dumbbell hammer curls, dips, and standing lateral raises for the shoulders. The pair stuck to a pretty traditional set and rep scheme, with most exercises including three sets of seven to ten reps — thus proving you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to remake the body.
Gal Gadot gained "about 17 pounds" to play Wonder Woman
Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot became a household name in 2016 when she first donned the red corset, blue skirt, and knee-high boots that are synonymous with the role of Wonder Woman in DC’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Of course, her stardom grew greater in 2017 when she laced up the boots again for Wonder Woman.
Gadot didn’t want to simply look sexy in her short skirt as she fought for justice on the big screen — she wanted to look strong. In an interview with Glamour, Gadot admitted to gaining "about 17 pounds" of muscle. She explained that adding strength training to her routine changed everything, including her posture and walk. But all that muscle wasn’t built with heavy strength-training workouts like that of Chris Hemsworth’s role in Thor.
According to a Gadot-designed workout published by Reebok, Gadot prefers bodyweight exercises and circuit-style training including back-to-back movements like lunges, bear crawls, planks, and skate jumps (via Elite Daily). This type of workout doesn’t take much time and can count as cardio and strength-work — perfect for a busy working mom (Wonder Woman!) like Gadot.
Jason Momoa worked out hard to play Aquaman
After Jason Momoa played Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones, he’s been landing roles as a big tough guy — known as much for his giant muscles as he is for his acting chops. And it was the actor’s larger-than-life physique that made him a practical shoo-in for the role of Aquaman.
Momoa was already clearly familiar with the gym so preparing for the superhero role was a matter of tailoring his workouts to fit into his overall lifestyle. He started working with trainer Mark Twight, who realized that balancing Momoa’s projects, personal life, rock climbing hobby, and the need to drop body fat for shirtless scenes was going to require a very tight exercise and nutrition plan.
In a 2017 interview with Men’s Health, Twight said they increased low-intensity volume of strength training (lower weight, more reps), added short, high-intensity peaks to help increase post-exercise metabolism, and reduced caloric intake while monitoring when carbohydrates were consumed. They were also conscious of Momoa’s rock-climbing schedule and avoided targeting the muscle groups used for rock-climbing the day before an outing so they wouldn’t be fatigued. This allowed Momoa to continue enjoying his active lifestyle while training to become Aquaman.
Henry Cavill avoided "old-fashioned" workouts while training for Superman
For many, Superman is the superhero. With previous actors like Christopher Reeve, Dean Cain, and Tom Welling leading the way, Henry Cavill and his trainer, Michael Blevins, knew they’d have to work hard to live up to the expectations of a hero who was fast, strong, and agile.
As Blevins revealed in an interview with Muscle & Fitness, this meant skipping the "old-fashioned physique training" and focusing on athleticism as a whole, so that in addition to looking good on screen, Cavill would also be able run and jump as needed. The pair decided that CrossFit-style workouts would fit the bill best, which meant loading the training schedule with circuits and timed workouts that, in addition to heavy strength training, included gymnastics and plyometrics.
On any given day, Cavill would’ve performed exercises like clean and jerks and weighted burpees to help build the strength and endurance necessary for Superman’s larger-than-life role.
Brie Larson grew to love her Captain Marvel workouts
Brie Larson may have already been an Academy Award-winning actress, but when she was slotted to take on the role of Captain Marvel — the first female superhero to headline a Marvel movie — she knew she had to put every bit as much effort into her physical abilities as her acting abilities. This was a change for Larson; she told E! News that she "didn’t know what strength was" before playing Captain Marvel. But with determination and lots of time logged at the gym, she started to love her workouts. "It was the first time where I felt like I was making my body work for me," Larson said.
Of course, Larson didn’t tackle her workouts without a coach. She opted to enlist celebrity personal trainer Jason Walsh to help her gain the necessary strength to play the role. In an interview with Men’s Health, Walsh detailed one of Larson’s full workouts, which included bodyweight exercises like pushups and chin-ups and traditional strength training moves like deadlifts, stating that the superhero actor hit the gym five days a week for the nine months leading up to filming.
Hugh Jackman strength trained to get in Wolverine shape
Hugh Jackman is a Marvel superhero movie legend, having first appeared as Wolverine in the 2000 movie X-Men, and subsequently appearing as the same character in The Wolverine, Logan, and plenty of other X-Men films. This means the actor has had to stay in superhero shape, or continue carving his superhero body, for decades. That’s the kind of fitness dedication many can only dream of.
Leading up to Jackman’s 2013 appearance in The Wolverine, the actor enlisted personal trainer David Kingsbury to help him bulk up. He had just come off his filming of Les Miserables, which meant he was leaner than in the past. In a 2020 interview with Bodybuilding.com, Kingsbury shared four weeks worth of Jackman’s full workouts, stating "Hugh hadn’t done much direct strength work prior to training with me."
Rather than performing sets of eight to 12 reps, Kingsbury wanted to switch Jackman to heavier weights and lower repetitions — between one and five reps per set to work on building muscle mass. He set up a program with a "bulk" phase for developing mass as well as a "cut" phase for losing body fat.
Dwayne Johnson worked out to become "big and mean" for Hercules
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is known for his massive muscles. Considering his dedication to the gym is well documented on social media, you’d think he wouldn’t need to make many adjustments to his workout schedule after landing the titular role in Hercules. But, according to an interview with the superhero actor, Johnson always makes changes to his workouts according to the roles he takes on (via Bodybuilding.com).
And in the case of Hercules, Johnson wanted to look "big and mean." This meant increasing the intensity and volume of his already-noteworthy training schedule. For the six months leading up to filming, he trained six days a week for roughly 90 minutes a day. He would start each morning with 50 minutes of cardio followed by roughly 40 to 50 minutes of body part-specific strength training. So, on one day he’d focus only on legs, and another day he’d focus only on shoulders or chest.
Scarlett Johansson worked out to become nearly as strong as Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson has been a staple in Hollywood films since she was just a teenager, but according to The Hollywood Reporter, it wasn’t until she started working with Marvel to play Black Widow as part of the Avengers franchise that she decided to step foot inside a gym. It was in 2009, in preparation for Iron Man 2, that Johansson started working with personal trainer Eric Johnson to develop superhero-like strength.
Considering that her character, Black Widow, can lift 500 pounds, Johnson wanted to make sure the actress was hitting the weights. This meant signing on for 45- to 60-minute sessions four or five days a week, including plyometric exercises using box jumps and hurdles, as well as Olympic weight-lifting and gymnastics work. According to Johnson, one thing Johansson hates is traditional cardio exercise so instead, the pair focused on explosive high-intensity interval training, including sprints, battle ropes, and kettlebell swings.
Chris Pratt chose high-intensity workouts to train for his role as Star Lord
Chris Pratt‘s movie star body is a far cry from Andy Dwyer — the Parks and Recreation character that first put Pratt on the map. But Pratt’s dedication to meeting the demands of any role he lands means that he regularly transforms his body from lean and chiseled to big and brawny. According to an interview with Men’s Health prior to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pratt explained how he got in Star Lord shape (via Muscle & Fitness).
He took to high-intensity interval training and CrossFit-style moves — think medicine ball slams, battle rope swings, box jumps, and burpees — to stay fit leading up to, and between, roles. But he wasn’t a slave to the gym as he also used his workout time to train for events like triathlons or to incorporate yoga into his lifestyle. Ultimately, he wanted his routine to offer strength, conditioning, and flexibility work. "I try to balance those three things and figure out which I have the biggest deficit in, then put the work in there," he said.
Michael B. Jordan’s basic workouts got him in shape for his role as Erik Killmonger
When Michael B. Jordan agreed to take on the villainous role of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, he knew he was going to have his work cut out for him. Jordan’s personal trainer, Corey Calliet, told Business Insider that Jordan sent him a picture of the comic book character Killmonger fighting Black Panther and said, "I need to look like this."
Calliet complied and significantly changed Jordan’s previous training schedule, which consisted of mostly cardio. Instead, the actor began a regimen of "just basic weight training." According to Calliet, it was "nothing fancy" and included exercises like bench presses, lat pull-downs, and deadlifts. Jordan adhered to this plan six days a week for several months leading up to the start of filming. And, as production approached, Calliet switched to more interval training and circuit training to help facilitate body fat loss to make Jordan look lean and cut for the big screen.
Mike Colter didn’t work out as much as you’d think to play Luke Cage
Anyone who has tuned into watch Marvel’s Luke Cage knows that actor Mike Colter looks incredibly fit and strong in his simple (very tight) t-shirts. But surprisingly, Colter told Men’s Health that his training schedule was often only two to three days a week because his work and social schedules were so hectic. "Today’s a workout day, but I don’t know when I’ll workout again … . If I get two days a week, I’ve got to make the most of them; if I get three days, that’s great," he explained.
This means that for Colter, the name of the game was fast and efficient. His usual go-to was a circuit that included, lunges, bench press, squats, and leg press, as well as ab work to keep his core strong for the intense stunts he performs and, of course, he makes sure to include shoulder workouts. In addition to gym time, Colter swore that his overall health routine, including stretching, nutrition, and high-quality sleep, is what helped him attain and maintain the look required to play Luke Cage.
Scott Adkins incorporated martial arts in his Lucian workouts
When it comes to talent, Scott Adkins brings more to the table than his acting chops. According to an interview Men’s Journal, Adkins is trained in six types of martial arts, including judo, karate, kickboxing, jujutsu, ninjutsu, and Krav Maga. So when he signed on to play the role of Lucian in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, he knew he’d be doing his own stunts — something that would require a high level of fitness. Of course, as Adkins himself stated to Men’s Journal, "I’m always in shape. It’s not like I had to change what I was doing."
In other words, his fitness level for life is always high, but he occasionally adjusts his workouts to make changes to his overall physique. For Doctor Strange, he hit the gym five to six days a week and exercised at a high intensity. This translated to about three days of strength training — a combination of "old school" weight lifting like bench press and explosive plyometrics for the lower body — and two days of cardio, usually martial arts training. If he was forced to hit the treadmill, though, he prefered high-intensity sprint intervals to steady-state cardio.
Margot Robbie worked out hours each day in order to play Harley Quinn
When Margot Robbie signed on to play DC Comic’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, she knew she’d have to get in great shape to don the character’s short shorts. She started working with trainer Andie Hecker, the founder of Ballet Bodies, to decrease body fat and gain more definition in her booty and abs. This resulted in workouts stretching from two to three hours a day, focusing on cardio training and ab work using a Pilates reformer.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hecker shared the details of how she helped Robbie shape up, highlighting the use of planks performed on the reformer to help with core strength and definition, and leg lifts with ankle weights to tone up the glutes. As far as cardio was concerned, the type would depend on the day; Hecker would have Robbie alternate between swimming, running, and jumping on a trampoline.