It seems like every time a new action movie comes out the internet gets flooded with new workouts revealing some “secret” method the lead actor used to get ready for the role. In the weeks following the movie release, fitness magazines everywhere will devote entire front covers to showcasing these actors while promising to reveal their secrets inside.
At one time or another we’ve all been guilty of wanting to look like a particular actor--that’s why these celebrity workouts continue to be so popular. Unfortunately, these workouts are rarely suitable for their intended audience. I think people understand on an intellectual level that doing a certain celebrity’s workout will not result in them looking like said celebrity, but time and time again I’ve seen people who should know better waste their time on a bad routine.
First of all, having a goal to look like someone else is 9 out of 10 times going to result in disappointment. Genetic factors such as height, bone structure, muscle insertions, etc. will always be a limiting factor into how much you can change your appearance. I’m not saying you should blame your genetics for your lack of progress—everyone has within them the potential to have a good physique—what I am saying is that if you’re built like Steve Urkel, wanting to look like Sylvester Stallone is going to result in disappointment!
The real reason celebrity workouts tend to be so popular is that they play on your emotions. We all identify with certain actors (or the characters they play in a movie at least), and many times the desire to look like a specific action star has more to do with wanting to be like that action star. Many of the physiques that people strive to attain aren't really that impressive when viewed objectively. What tends to happen is that actor, through a certain role he has played, has created around himself an image that we find desirable.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in no way against wanting to look like a Hollywood action star. In certain fitness circles it’s popular to look down on people who have more general fitness goals and who simply want to look good with their shirt off. That’s not what this article is about. I’m not going to ridicule you for wanting to look like Taylor Lautner (okay, maybe a little bit…) nor am I going to tell you that beach body training isn’t “hardcore” enough. I also want to be clear that I’m not saying that every celebrity workout is useless or that it’s impossible to get results from such a program; rather, my intention is to point out general trends that I’ve noticed within typical celebrity workouts that tend to make them less than ideal for the general population.
So, that being said, here are my top reasons why celebrity workouts are a waste of time:
Besides the fact that there are usually several different versions of any given celebrity workout floating around (each one claiming to be the authentic one), the workouts themselves are often chocked full of bad information.
The Brad Pitt “Fight Club Workout” is easily one of the most commonly searched for celebrity workouts. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the worst I've seen!
Let’s take a look at one of the many versions floating around:
Monday - Chest
- 25 push ups
- nautilus press
-nautilus incline press
- pec deck machine
Tuesday - Back
-5 pull ups
-lat pull downs
-t bar rows
Wednesday - Shoulders
Thursday - Biceps & Triceps
-nautilus curl machine
-ez curls cable
Treadmill 45 minutes 65-75% MHR
Reps Range From 20-30 reps on all exercises
Funny thing is, this routine looks pretty similar to what I see a lot of guys doing at the gym, and let me tell you, none of them look like Brad Pitt! The rationale behind this workout plays on the old, “high reps equals lean/toned muscles while heavy weights make you big and bulky” myth. Then, for good measure, there’s the token 45 minutes of cardio to keep you in “fat burning mode.”
The truth is, the real secret to Brad Pitt’s physique in Fight Club is his super low body fat percentage (probably 6-8%). Considering the fact that he only weighed 150-155lbs at that time, it’s clear that he’s not really carrying that much muscle on his frame.
Remember, using high rep training when dieting is a recipe for disaster. When dieting down to low body fat percentages, your number one goal is retaining your muscle mass while slowly losing fat. The best way to do this is to train heavy in order to retain your strength while making sure you’re getting plenty of protein. Fat loss should come primarily from a careful diet, not from cardio.
Another way that celebrity workouts are misleading is in the time frames in which they suggest progress can be made. A good recent example of this is Christian Bale’s transformation from his emaciated character in The Machinist to a muscular Batman:
Christian gained an amazing 100+ pounds in about six months. Not surprisingly, Batman workouts suddenly began appearing all over the internet, all promising to show skinny guys how to pack on mass quickly. Here’s the problem though…
Christian Bale is not your typical skinny guy.
Let’s not forget his American Psycho physique:
Christian Bale is an extremely meticulous and dedicated method actor who is no stranger to manipulating his appearance for movie roles. There is a huge difference between regaining lost muscle and building new muscle. The non-scientific term often used for this in the fitness community is muscle memory. If your average skinny guy tries to bulk at anywhere near the rate that Christian did for Batman Begins, I can assure you 90% of the weight gain will come from fat rather than muscle.
A more reasonable timeframe for an average guy who is relatively untrained would be about 3-4 pounds per month (about half of which will be muscle).
Lack of Focus:
Celebrity workouts tend to get very “gimmicky.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved themed workouts as much as the next guy, but it’s easy to take things too far. Because actors in action movies often have to do a lot of combat training or conditioning in order to prepare for the role, it’s very common for their workouts to include things like circuit training, super-sets or excessive amounts of cardio.
Each of these methods of training have their place, but they can also work against each other when combined in an ineffective manner. Let’s take the popular 300 workout for example (taken from MensHealth.com):
Pullups - 25 reps
Barbell Deadlift with 135 lbs. - 50 reps
Pushups - 50 reps
24-inch Box Jumps - 50 reps
Floor Wipers - 50 reps
Single-Arm Clean-and-Press with 36 lbs Kettlebell - 50 reps
Pullups - 25 reps
This workout is meant to be done as one giant superset (no rest in between exercises), and promises to “simultaneously build muscle, increase muscular endurance, and strip fat fast.” Almost sounds too good to be true!
The problem is our bodies don’t work like that. Most people struggle enough just trying to achieve one goal. Workouts that try to do everything at once tend to accomplish very little. Instead, knock out your goals one at a time: build muscle then lose fat. Workouts like the one listed above tend to work much better for people who are already in pretty good shape. They are not ideal for those who still have a long way to go.
Here’s How to Look Like a Hollywood Action Star:
Since I generally would rather show you what to do instead of giving you a big list of things not to do, I thought I’d briefly outline the steps you should undertake if your goal is to look like a typical action star. Since this could easily be an entire article on its own (maybe it will be…haven’t decided yet), I’m going to keep it brief here and mostly speak in general terms:
1. Put your time in with a good beginner’s routine: Before you worry about specializing you need to put on a decent amount of mass and build a foundation of strength. Keep in mind, this first step could take quite a while. Don’t be that guy working on bringing out the “sweep” in your quads when you still can barely squat your own bodyweight!
2. Assess your body fat levels: If you’re at 15% or more, take some time and diet down to about 10%. Weight loss should come primarily from a caloric deficit. Get plenty of protein (your body weight in grams of protein daily is a good place to start), and lift heavy.
3. Find a tried and true bulking routine (Lyle Mcdonald’s is a good one) and through exercise selection place a slight emphasis on the following areas: upper back/lats, shoulders, arms, and upper chest. These areas, when well-developed, tend to have the most visual impact. Realistically, even at this level, trying to specialize too much should not be your main goal—yes, you still need to train legs! Make sure your workouts are still based mostly on compound movements and progressive overload.
4. Bulk for as long as you can until you get to about 15% bodyf fat. At this point, you’ll need to cut back down to a low body fat percentage. 10% is usually a good and sustainable target if you want visible abs. Lower than that is doable, but things start to get a bit tricky. Like I mentioned in step two, you want to retain muscle and strength as much as possible.
That’s it! Like I said, the above steps are just a basic guideline for how to structure your training. The next time you see a magazine article with the latest celebrity workout, take comfort in the fact that you now know better! Choose a program that works for you, not someone else!