Ryan Reynolds has always been a fun-loving, good-looking guy. If you go back to his earliest adult roles in the late ’90s sitcom Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place and his cinematic breakthrough in 2002’s Van Wilder, you’ll find the actor deploying the same charming, anarchic spirit he’s still working with today. The one difference you might notice? How skinny he was in his early 20s, especially compared to the beefed-up build he sports now.

So how did this former child actor turn his body from lean to mean, and go from a career of comedy roles to a suiting up in a series of superhero movies, from 2004’s Blade: Trinity all the way up to Deadpool and its 2018 sequel? Be warned: there aren’t any tricks—just time, energy, and dedication. Read on to find out how Ryan Reynolds got—and stayed—so jacked.

A foundation from Blade: Trinity

Reynolds got his first big comic book movie breakthrough in the 2004 pre-cinematic universe Marvel movie Blade: Trinity, portraying the vampire hunter Hannibal King. He started his training alongside the other performers three months before the shoot, according to a behind-the-scenes feature from the film.

"The trainer before we started the film wanted to pack on about ten pounds on me and muscle up," Reynolds said. "You know, you’ve got to lift people over your head, throw them around, and fight bloodsucking vampires."

One of the personal trainers he worked with was a member of the UK’s Olympic bobsled team named Darren Chapman, whom Reynolds has called "one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever met." With Chapman’s help, Reynolds upped his physical fitness game for the first time in his life. "I was pretty unhealthy," he said of his days before Blade. "I didn’t care what I ate or what I drank."

The specifics of the regimen are enough to make your muscles ache just thinking about them. "Workouts were about two-three hours, generally starting off with around 500–1000 sit-ups," Reynolds said. "Then heavy weights for bulk. I’m a pretty scrawny guy, so we cut cardio entirely and just focused on bulking up. Weight training involved a variety of exercises too numerous to mention at reps of about eight-12, for six days a week. After the first week I was longing for the sweet release of death, but soon enough got really into it."

Keeping a dynamic body shape

Though Reynolds has been fit, at this point, for the majority of his career, don’t think he’s just coasting from role to role with the same body composition. A careful study of his filmography will confirm that he changes it up depending on the role—bulking up for superhero fare, and slimming down for more down-to-earth genres like romance and comedy.

This information comes from one of Reynolds’ longtime personal trainers, Bobby Strom, who’s been working with the actor since the days of Blade: Trinity. According to Strom, Reynolds didn’t know what he was getting into. As the trainer told WebMD, "No one is prepared for the workout I do with them."

Speaking specifically about Reynolds’ regimen, Strom said, "Whatever the movie required him to do, we based the workout on that. When he needed to prepare for the fight scenes, we’d do kickboxing. At one point, the stunt team told me Ryan would be doing a lot of harness work and to make sure his back was really strong for that."

Only non-superhero roles allow Reynolds to lay off the tough stuff for a little while. "For Blade and Green Lantern, he was 200 pounds and 8 percent body fat," Strom said. "For rom-coms, he’s about 180 and 11 percent body fat. When he does a comedy, he probably goes to the gym to do cable work every other day. I’m not even there."

A six, or even seven-day week

Some of the routines Reynolds adopts while training for a superhero role border on the sadistic, and should definitely not be attempted by anyone not under the guidance of a very knowledgeable trainer. To gain size for Green Lantern, for instance, Strom said the actor was working out seven days a week, 90 minutes a day, never doing the same workout twice—and this apparently went on for six months.

"One day might have been 70 percent abs work, then some leg work or upper body work. He’d work with dumbbells or on his core strength," said the trainer. "By working opposing muscles from day to day, the workouts complemented each other. They flowed."

Even on days when the actor was completely beat, Strom found something constructive for him to do. "We’d switch to Pilates or yoga when he was totally exhausted. Or if he’d spent the day being thrown around in the harness, I’d have him do more stretching or foam roller work."

Now, this exhaustive schedule is by no means recommended for everybody. Twenty or 30 minutes of exercise a day is enough to keep you healthy, and hitting the gym three times a week can be enough to keep you fit. This is the sort of high-intensity exercise that you only engage in when you know you’re about to put that body on display for an audience of millions.

Training smarter, not harder

The dirty little secret about the "500–1000 sit-ups" sort of work Reynolds did for Blade: Trinity is that it isn’t very efficient, and might not even be very good for you. There are much better ways to train your abs than raw numbers through too many regular crunches.

"The undeniable fact is that abs are one of the first muscle groups that people look to see if someone is in shape," Don Saladino, another one of Reynolds’ longtime coaches, told Men’s Journal. "There is a lot of temptation to overtrain them."

Under Saladino’s guidance, Reynolds worked smarter, not harder. "I love having Ryan do reverse crunches because his lower back is pinned down [by] his bodyweight and it forces him to pull from his lower abdominal," Saladino said. "If he were to turn around and do a traditional crunch, he is putting his spine into deflection and brings a great risk of injury."

In addition to more mindful ab exercises, Saladino stresses the eternal importance of deadlifts and squats. "Those are still two of the best abdominal exercises I know because your whole body is forced to brace and stabilize. Then, because you are using more of your muscle, you are able to pick up more weight, which in turn is going to hit your core."

According to the trainer, the results are paying off for the 40-year-old actor: "I can say Ryan is in the best shape of his life now."

An insane amount of food

The first time Reynolds suited up to play Deadpool wasn’t in the movie that shares his name, but rather 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a misguided outing that sewed the character’s mouth shut and gave him the powers of teleportation and optic blasts. Regardless, Reynolds wasn’t going to let the opportunity to play the character even in a compromised fashion pass him by.

"I’ve been a fan of Deadpool all my life, so I was gonna murder someone if it wasn’t me," Reynolds said in an interview with Men’s Fitness. But despite a lifelong affection for the character, he didn’t have a lot of time to actually prepare for the role when the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself—he had to bulk up fast. "[Deadpool] was a last-minute addition to Wolverine, so I had to gain muscle quickly," Reynolds said. "I was eating, like, live children as they passed in order to bulk up."

It was a helpful thing to get used to, even if it would be another seven years before he got the chance to bring a more accurate version of Deadpool to life onscreen.

Help in the kitchen

One of the many reasons it’s so hard for the regular working stiff to get a superhero body has to do with all the resources a celebrity has available to them when a movie studio demands results. One of Reynolds’ biggest advantages is that he’s had people willing to cook for him, taking all the forethought and prep work out of the equation when it comes to eating not just healthy, but in a way that will efficiently grow muscle and cut fat.

"I cooked for him six days a week," Strom said of their time together during the Green Lantern shoot. "I’d make a healthy Bolognese: 97% fat-free ground bison, sautéed in a skillet with broccolini and my own marinara sauce, along with black pepper, a little cayenne, and some garlic. No salt, so sugar, served over brown rice or a top-quality brown rice pasta."

It’s a hard thing to keep track of every day, and without the help of a friendly chef, even Reynolds admits he’s lost. "I am not innovative in the kitchen," he confessed to Us Weekly. "If I cook, you’ll have a structure fire. The firemen will kick down our door, take my wife away, and give her a better life."

Nutrition over exercise

Other times while training, a coach-mandated meal would be a take on ground turkey or grilled salmon. Either way, the theme is clear: protein, protein, protein, with plenty of healthy vegetables and no salt or sugar-rich additives.

It’s no coincidence that Reynolds says his body is mostly the result of nutrition, not exercise. "I learned that 80 percent of building muscle is diet," he said of his education on the topic. "We got the food down to a science, making sure I was getting enough calories to gain mass, but not fat. A lot of oatmeal, eggs, protein bars for snacks, chicken, fish or steak for dinner. I ate a lot of small meals all day long. Lots of protein, but plenty of carbs, too. I really don’t believe in that no-carb stuff. It’s probably not good for you—and it makes you pretty cranky."

Getting a body like Reynolds’ is immensely easier with this sort of diet going on, along with plenty of water. But even though the actor has said he tries his hardest to adhere to "clean, whole foods," he admits that the occasional cheat day has to happen. His favored indulgence? Pizza. He even has a chain he likes so much he shouts them out by name.

"Is it really unhealthy if it makes you so happy?" the actor asked. "There’s a Patsy’s Pizza up in Harlem that’s pretty much the best pizza… on the whole planet."

Discipline and focus

While workout plans for growth require you to eat a lot, what you eat and when is extremely important. In order to ensure the maximum amount of muscle growth, Reynolds would have no carbs at night, which allows the sleeping body to burn away fat while restoring the muscles with protein. He would also eat small, healthy meals every two to three hours while he was awake.

As far as exercise goes, the timing is important, too. So how does Reynolds make sure he can get a workout in? Easy—he doesn’t confine himself to the gym to do it, arranging things so he can exercise wherever and whenever using online programs designed by one of his trainers, Don Saladino. "I don’t want to have to meet someone at four in the morning in a dark gym," Reynolds said. "I just want to go when I can go."

The flexibility gives Reynolds the room to do the work when he feels most capable, not trying to squeeze it in or skipping it because of a complex shooting schedule. "If you hate your workout, you’re not going to do it," he cautioned. "Customize your fitness plan to meet your needs."

A list of challenging #Goals

Reynolds has said that his first big foray into fitness left him astonished at what could be achieved with a solid workout regimen. Getting in shape, he said, "changed my life because it taught me you can actually do things that were previously impossible." Which is exactly the point of exercising: to run faster, go farther, lift heavier.

Even if your goal is to be able to get all your groceries up the stairs without getting winded, it will give you something to look forward to while you’re hitting the weights. As a person gets more fit, their goals go up, and in Reynolds’ case, the goals are now sky high. The actor says climbing Machu Picchu is on his bucket list—no easy feat. Some things he’s already crossed off his list include a 3:50 marathon time, which he achieved as a participant in the New York City Marathon in 2008.

"Let it be known at the outset, I am not a runner," the actor said, in an article he wrote about his motivation for entering the marathon. "I am a running joke."

Reynolds said his marathon prep, which included 4:30AM wakeups to jog between 11 and 23 miles, was "nothing short of horrifying." But he soldiered on, using his motivated mindset to push him farther than his body wanted to go. "The person I have to beat is the guy I was last week," he said. "Competition is the most formidable foe of all; ME."

A sense of humor

Ultimately, like Reynolds seems to do with most things in the public sphere, the key to success is to be serious without taking yourself too seriously. "PRO TIP," he wrote in an Instagram update. "’Leg Day’ is important. But ‘Smile Day’ is essential."

Reynolds has also livened up his current workout cycle by engaging in a friendly rivalry with his Deadpool 2 co-star Josh Brolin, who got even more muscled up than Reynolds to play Cable. Even Reynolds’ trainers get in on the gentle ribbing, with Don Saladino posting an image to Instagram of Reynolds both inside and out of the Deadpool suit, looking intense and utterly shredded, quipping, "@joshbrolin, you still have some work to do."

Reynolds also knows his limits, and doesn’t make a big deal out of them. Everyone is different. Reynolds sometimes draws comparisons to himself and another famous X-Men actor (and fellow People‘s Sexiest Man Alive): Hugh Jackman, who hung up the claws on playing Wolverine after a graceful exit in Logan.

"Hugh Jackman has a dedication to his craft that I’m afraid I don’t share," Reynolds said when asked about the insane diet and schedule Jackman reportedly adopted at one point, requiring the actor to wake up to eat at 2AM to ensure he was getting 6,000 calories a day. "If I’m up at 2 in the morning, it’s because something has gone terribly wrong."