Having wowed critics and audiences with his performance in the first Iron Man movie, this summer Robert Downey Jr reprised his lead role in the sequel, Iron Man 2. But having dropped to just 68kg to play Sherlock Holmes in the famous detective's latest film outing, the Hollywood star had to pack on around 10kg of hard muscle in just two months before filming for the sequel started.
To get him back into shape, Downey enlisted Brad Bose, the personal trainer behind his remarkable transformation for the first Iron Man movie. “We didn't have much time to get Robert back to the physique he had before Sherlock Holmes, so we went down the old-school training route to put on muscle quickly,” says Bose. “We'd train five times a week for about 45 minutes and use sledgehammers, tyres, kettlebells and weighted wheelbarrows through obstacle courses. Robert is very competitive, so we did a lot of timed exercises that he could always try to better.”
“We didn't want him to get ripped to shreds or look like a bodybuilder because his character is a playboy millionaire,” says Bose. “He needed muscles that looked full and functional. I wanted him to be constantly challenged: it's the only way to stay interested and motivated and ready to push yourself that bit harder. We decided on using equipment such as kettlebells and Indian clubs that require a good deal of skill, so you always have to give 100% to ensure that you are progressing.”
A major focus was to craft solid shoulders. “We wanted to give him a strong, square frame, so Indian clubs were a great choice,” says Bose. “He'd use a 2.5kg club and do figure-of-eights around his head and body 50 or 60 times. The weight isn't heavy but the sheer number of reps really burns out the muscles.”
Bose also got Downey to do bench presses with an unstable weight to recruit the shoulders and core into stabilising the body during each rep. “We used a barbell with kettlebells attached to each end by stretch bands, but you can use a slosh pipe just as effectively,” he says. “Anything unstable will force your muscles to work harder.”
Unlike trying to improve your bench press, which can take months to see an improvement, Bose says that this style of workout pays immediate dividends. “You can see the results everywhere in a very short space of time, which is great for staying motivated,” he says. “For instance you'll cut seconds off your timed weighted slalom very quickly.”
For a sample session, try this Iron Man 2 workout.
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Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.