Coach’s sister title Men’s Fitness spoke with Hugh Jackman’s trainer in 2009 when the first Wolverine movie hit our screens. Seven years have elapsed but two things seemingly haven’t aged since then – the advice his trainer, Mike Ryan, gave us and Jackman’s body. In fact, in 2016 MF reported that Jackman had joined the 1,000lb powerlifting club, which means he cranked out a 235lb (107kg) bench press, 410lb (186kg) deadlift and a 345lb (156kg) squat in one day.
Below, Ryan reveals what the guys in Australian gym Physical Factory called Jackman when he first started hanging around (we bet they don’t call him that now) and outlines a training plan of four workouts in one week, covering the chest and triceps, legs, back and biceps, and finally shoulders and abs. We’ve also included a sample one-day diet covering supplements, protein shakes, smoothies and plenty of protein-rich foods for good measure.
“It’s all about evolution,” says Mike Ryan, personal trainer to Hugh Jackman. But Ryan is not talking about the movie and its cast of mutant superheroes – he’s explaining the training plan that Jackman followed to build the rock-hard physique needed to play the blade-fisted Wolverine.
“From one workout to the next I’ll always have something new to add to the equation,” Ryan says. “Our sessions are based on established principles, but we’ll always try and bring new ideas to the table. And Hugh now looks the most ripped he’s been for any movie.”
Ryan knows more about Jackman’s training than anyone, having been closely involved with the actor’s physical development for almost 20 years. “I was working as a trainer at the [Australian gym] Physical Factory in 1989 when this young guy came to work just handing out the locker keys and towels. He was getting a hell of a lot of attention from the women in the place, and I thought, ‘Who does this bloke think he is?’ It turned out to be Hugh and we quickly became friends, and soon he asked me if I’d show him how to train properly, because back then he was very, very skinny. We used to call him Chicken Legs.”
It was the start of a partnership that saw Ryan flying around the world to keep the increasingly in-demand movie star in shape for films such as Van Helsing and the X-Men series. Ryan was also drafted in to sculpt the physique of Brandon Routh for the lead role in 2006’s Superman Returns.
“When we were building Hugh up for the Wolverine movie, we got a call from Baz Luhrmann who was directing Hugh in the movie Australia. Baz said, ‘Come on, guys, back it off! He’s getting too big.’ And you can see Hugh getting bigger in the film. In Wolverine, Hugh looks big onscreen, but really he’s just ripped. That’s the secret to looking good. It’s not just about getting big, it’s about getting ripped.”
Jackman has to fit his training around hectic filming schedules, so he and Ryan are usually in the gym at the crack of dawn. “We have a philosophy of training first thing in the morning,” says Ryan. “Research suggests that people who train in the afternoons consistently do workouts of far less intensity than those who do train in the morning. When Hugh has a 6am filming start, that means we’ll be in the gym by 4am.”
A typical Jackman workout takes an hour to 90 minutes, including warm-up and cardio sessions. “We never start a weights session without a minimum ten-minute cardio warm-up. Never, ever,” says Ryan. “After a session we often finish with 20 minutes of cardio, which could be a run, or run and swim.”
Ryan bases the weights workouts on big compound lifts and adds some twists. “The fundamental training principles are based on the core body-building moves such as squats, deadlifts, presses – simple moves, but I mix things up. We change the angles on the bench, play with the tempo, weight, time, rest. The same workout can be done ten different ways by making these small changes.”
Ryan splits the sessions between muscle groups, so one day might target chest and triceps, while another day focuses on back and biceps. “I believe in controlled overload,” he says. “To push the muscles to failure by the last set, we’ll superset compound moves with isolation ones – for example, go from a dumbbell bench press straight into a flye. By the last set you need a spotter to help you squeeze out those last couple of reps.”
One look at Jackman’s Wolverine physique proves that Ryan’s training methods work, so give his plan a try. We can’t guarantee superhuman powers, but it will get you ripped and ready for action. “I call him my masterpiece,” says Ryan. “He just keeps getting better and better over the years.”
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How To Do These Workouts
- Warm up first with ten minutes of cardio and light bodyweight movements.
- Do the pairs of exercises as supersets, performing one set of the first exercise, then moving immediately on to a set of the second exercise.
- Rest for the stated time before repeating.
- Choose a weight that you can manage with perfect form, but which leads to muscular failure by the end of the final set.
- Take one second to lift the weight, pause for another second, then take two to three seconds to lower again.
Mike Ryan’s Training Tips
- “Train in the morning where possible. It’s the best way to ensure intensity.”
- “Always warm up sufficiently – not just with cardio, but by doing the movements before adding weights.”
- “Work on progressive overload, always keep increasing the weight, and keep a training diary to record your progress.”
- “Mix things up – constantly change the tempo, speed, incline, grip – anything so that you’re not always performing the same movement.”
- “Feel the movement. Focus on each muscle activation rather than simply aiming to finish the set.”
- “Work with a trainer – it will help with motivation.”
- “Don’t overtrain: learn what your body can cope with.”
- “Get plenty of rest – at least seven hours of good sleep a night.”
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.