How Sean Penn Transformed His Physique for The Gunman

Sean Penn in a still from The Gunman
(Image credit: Courtesy StudioCanal)

He might be 54, but double Oscar winner Sean Penn is turning his hand – and his newly muscular torso – to an action role for the first time in his illustrious career in The Gunman. Penn plays sniper Jim Terrier, a mercenary assassin forced into hiding when the target sights are honed on him by a Congo hit squad. To convincingly portray a trained killer, Penn used a combination of compound, functional weight training moves to pack on lean muscle without compromising agility, and armed himself with the lethal hand-to-hand combat skills of krav maga.

Below, fitness expert Niko Algieri has devised the workout that would get you into Jim Terrier’s enviable shape.

The Gunman Workout

“The first thing that’s evident in the film is Penn’s perfectly proportioned and balanced physique,” says Algieri. “But it isn’t all for show. He’s mobile as well as powerful. For that Penn would have used military-style, full-body functional training, starting workouts with compound moves and focusing on building muscle with body part splits later in the session. This Gunman workout will help you move heavy loads quickly, stimulating your nervous system, forcing the release of testosterone and meaning you’ll develop power and grow muscle fast.”

1 Thruster

Sets 5 Reps 5 Rest 90sec

Take the bar from the squat rack when standing. Rest the bar across your upper chest with your hands holding it in place and your elbows as high as you can get them. Keeping your chest up, back straight and core tight, squat down until your thighs go past parallel to the floor, pushing your knees wide to maintain stability. Then explode up, keeping your weight on your heels. As you approach the top of your squat, transfer the momentum to your shoulders and press the bar overhead. Lower the bar to catch it on the top of your chest and shoulders and repeat.

Algieri says “Squat all the way down until your hip crease breaks 90°. From there, explode up using your quads and glutes to accelerate into the overhead press.”

2 Sumo deadlift high pull

Sets 5 Reps 5 Rest 90sec

With your feet twice shoulder-width apart, grab the bar with an overhand grip and your hands just closer than hip-width apart. Keeping your chest up and arms straight, lift the bar to waist height, driving your hips forwards. As the bar rises, draw your elbows high to bring the bar to chest height, keeping it close to your body throughout, and shrug your shoulders. Reverse the move to return the bar to the floor.

Algieri says “Make sure your knees track over your toes by pointing your feet outwards slightly and make sure you control the bar when lowering it, so it doesn’t jerk you forwards as you finish the lift.”

3 Power clean

Sets 5 Reps 5 Rest 90sec

With the bar on the floor, grasp it with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, and your shins close to the bar. Keeping your chest up, hips back and back flat, raise the weight to chest height by powerfully pushing through your heels and driving your hips forwards, keeping the bar close to your body. Quickly drop into a half squat, bring your arms under the bar to catch it on the top of your chest and stand up. Carefully return the bar to the floor.

Algieri says “Think explosive and focus on two pulls. Rapidly extend your ankles and knees at the same rate while keeping your arms straight for the first pull. As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forwards and pull up on the bar as if you are shrugging to bring it high enough for you to drop under it.”

Jim Terrier’s Upper-Body Exercises

Sean Penn in the film The Gunman

(Image credit: Courtesy StudioCanal)

On completing all three powerful lifts, focus on a body part with these isolation exercises for four sets of 10 reps each for a muscular upper body like Sean Penn’s in The Gunman.


Incline dumbbell flye “These help develop your upper pecs and gives your chest a fuller, muscular look,” says Algieri.

Triceps dip “Work your chest through a deep weighted stretch while also hitting the triceps and front deltoids.”

Press-up “The classic press-up is amazing for chest and triceps development. Add more weight by wearing a weight vest or have a partner load 10kg plates on your lower back (safely).”

More chest exercises


Military press “This standing shoulder press move builds strong front and rear deltoids and works your core throughout.”

Reverse flye “This exercise will help balance and strengthen the often overlooked and under-stimulated rear deltoids.”

Lateral raise “The final killer. Your arms will feel like they’re going to drop off.”

More shoulder exercises


Standing cable curl “This mimics the classic standing biceps curl for fuller arms.”

Preacher curl “This seated biceps isolation move takes other muscles out of the equation so you’ll hammer your biceps to the limit.”

Standing hammer curl “Switching up the angle with these targets any overlooked muscles in your biceps and protects your wrists.”

More biceps exercises


Cable pull-down “Aim for full flexion and extension without moving your upper arm.”

Half dip “Like the dip, but keep your body upright and only bend your arms to 90° so you target your triceps.”

More triceps exercises


TRX complex (pike into knee tuck into mountain climbers) “Jim Terrier has a solid core in the movie, and the fastest way to achieve this is by hitting this TRX tri-set. Perform 10 reps of each move without rest. Rest for 60 seconds and repeat for four sets in total.”

More core exercises