How Paul Bettany Trained For Legion

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Paul Bettany calls himself a "beer and bread man" who didn't exactly have the kind of body he needed to portray Michael, the chiselled archangel who tries to save humanity in the 2010 film Legion. The 6'3", 38-year-old Brit began his transformation by cutting his food intake to small lean meals, such as chicken and steamed vegetables, every four hours. He then enlisted New York City trainer Mike Hood to help build a body worthy of a superhero.
For maximum results in minimal time, Hood started Bettany with five days of interval circuit training every week. Because Bettany's abs were going to be on show a lot during the movie, each workout began with several core exercises, then moved on to a three-round circuit. "The idea was to blast his body to get a lean, ripped look. His heart rate was elevated throughout the workout, he was never sitting around."

Paul Bettany Interview

What was your fitness routine like before you started training for Legion?

I was a beer and bread man, so it was a big adjustment. Motivation wasn't a concern – I have an extreme work ethic. If someone pays me a lot of money to build a superhero's body, I'll do everything in my power to get that look.

Did the physical transformation help you get in the right frame of mind to play such a self-assured character?

Absolutely. Everyone that does weight training knows that you stand differently after you do back and shoulder work. I feel much stronger and more aligned after working out. I'm very lucky to have Mike Hood as a trainer. He's really a great motivator because he's funny – he'll keep you laughing through your workout.

You had to quickly gain 40 pounds for your next film – the Darwin biography Creation. How hard was it to see your hard-won body disappear?

Eating whatever I wanted all day long was fantastic for the first couple of weeks, but then it became a slog to stuff myself all the time. I had to do it though – Darwin couldn't look he'd hit the gym.

Sample Workout

If you want to build a body like Bettany in Legion, use Hood's programme below. Start with section A – core exercises, then do three rounds of section B – circuit training.

One session should break down as follows:

  • Section A 
  • Section B (round 1) 
  • Section B (round 2) 
  • Section B (round 3)

When doing section A, take as little rest as possible between exercises. Once you've completed that, move straight onto section B, doing 15 reps of each exercise. Skip for two minutes between the three rounds of Workout B to keep your heart rate elevated throughout the workout. Initially, use light weights to ensure you make it through the entire workout.

Section A - Core Exercises

From cable crunches to barbell roll-outs, section A is all about the core – feel the burn as you build a Hollywood-worthy six-pack.

1 Knee raise

  • Hang from elbow straps.
  • Hold your feet together off the floor.
  • Try not to swing.
  • Use your abdominals to draw your knees up towards your chest.
  • Hold for a second at the top of the move.
  • Lower slowly without letting your body swing.

2 Cable crunch

  • Use a high cable and rope handle.
  • Kneel on the floor, and grasp the handle
  • Lean forward keeping your body straight.
  • Use your abdominals, not your arms, to pull the weight down.

3 Barbell roll-out

  • Position yourself on your knees with a barbell in front of you.
  • Grip the bar just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Start with the barbell directly beneath your shoulders.
  • Keep your back and arms straight throughout the move.
  • Use your abdominals to control the movement, making it slow and deliberate.
  • Roll the bar as far out as you can before you feel you might break form, then return.

4 Gym ball back extension

  • Position yourself face down with the ball underneath your abs.
  • Wrap your body around the ball.
  • Jam your feet against a wall for support.
  • Lift your back until your body forms a straight line – don't over-extend.

Section B – Circuit Training

Go for three rounds of section B, doing 15 reps of each exercise, and skip for two minutes between each round to keep your heart rate elevated. Start with light weights to ensure you can complete the entire workout.

1 Bench press

  • Keep your knees bent 90°, feet flat on the floor.
  • Your head and shoulders should be supported by the bench.
  • Hold the bar with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core muscles.
  • Lift the bar from the rack and hold it directly above your chest.
  • Lower the bar slowly to your chest and press back up powerfully.
  • Press down with your feet as you press the weight.
  • Don't arch your back during the move.
  • Return the bar to the rack once finished

2 Incline bench press

  • Set the bench to 30-45°.
  • Hold the bar directly above your chest with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Brace your core muscles.
  • Remove the bar from the rack.
  • Lower the bar slowly to your chest and press up powerfully.
  • Keep your elbows to your sides.
  • Don't arch your back.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.

3 Lat pull-down

  • Adjust the pad so it sits snugly on your thighs to minimise movement.
  • Use a wide grip.
  • Look forward.
  • Keep your torso upright.
  • Pull the bar down in front of you to your chest.
  • Resist the temptation to lean back too far to aid the movement.
  • Squeeze your lats at the bottom of the move.

4 Alternating dumbbell shoulder press

  • Start in a standing position with one dumbbell raised and the other at shoulder level.
  • Look forward.
  • Keep your torso upright and your core braced.
  • As you lower one dumbbell, raise the other.
  • Use your core muscles to stabilise the movement – don't rock from side to side.
  • Keep your hips aligned with your torso.

5 Barbell curl

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back and your elbows tucked into your sides.
  • Hold the barbell in front of your legs with an underhand grip.
  • Keep your core muscles braced for support as you curl your arms up.
  • Stop before your forearms reach vertical.
  • Don't rock back and forth to use momentum.
  • Lower slowly to the start.

6 Seated dumbbell curl

  • Keep your head up and your back flat against the seat back.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand down by your sides and start the move with your palms facing forward.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Curl your arms up.
  • As you reach the top of the move, turn your wrists outwards to put extra pressure on your biceps.
  • Keep your core muscles tight throughout.
  • Your elbows should stay tucked into your sides throughout the move.