The Report

Hollywood’s best bodies (and how to get them)

Get ripped like Messrs Jake Gyllenhaal and Brad Pitt with these muscle-building moves lifted straight from the movies

  • Mr Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw, 2015. Photograph by Mr Scott Garfield/Photo12

The Sons Of Anarchy star Mr Charlie Hunnam once complained that Mr Brad Pitt had “ruined it” for his peers with 1999’s Fight Club, making a six-pack as much of a prerequisite for working in Hollywood as an Equity Card. In fact, there were many notable prequels – not least Mr Arnold Schwarzenegger, who heralded a particularly “big” era on the big screen with his early films such as Conan The Barbarian. And while Mr Pitt may have set a benchmark, the bar has been subsequently raised – with a sizeable quantity of plates on either end.

Indeed, the physiques of actors exercise a peculiar fascination: more so than even sportsmen. Via magazines such as Men’s Health, we strive to emulate their gym routines, and through sites such as MR PORTER we ape the styles that best show them off. The following show-reel illustrates how physical ideals have shapeshifted, from the slightly indistinct celluloid of Mr Burt Lancaster to the ultra-sharp 4K of Mr Jake Gyllenhaal.

Mr Burt Lancaster in From Here To Eternity (1953)

  • Photograph by Columbia Pictures/Kobal Collection

An accomplished gymnast who measured 6ft 2in by the age of 14, Mr Burt Lancaster netted a basketball scholarship at New York University, but quit to become a circus acrobat. His leading-man qualifications were noticed by a Hollywood agent when he made his acting debut in a short-lived Broadway play. It was his role in the film From Here To Eternity, which follows the tribulations of three US servicemen in the months leading up to Pearl Harbour, that really saw him emerge as a symbol of latent masculinity.

The exercise: handstand
Gymnastic skills hone athleticism and build a balanced upper body: there’s a shot of Mr Lancaster doing a handstand in a blazer, slacks and loafers. Practise against a wall, both by walking your feet up it and by kicking up against it. (Unlike Mr Lancaster, keep your body straight.) When you can hold one comfortably, do vertical press-ups.


Mr Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967)

  • Photograph by Collection Christopher/Photoshot

While eating those 50 eggs would constitute bulking, Mr Paul Newman remained lean on account of a daily routine of three miles of running and one hour on an exercise bike, followed by weight machines and slant-board sit-ups – from which he had to take a hiatus after developing a hernia. The results of the regimen are plain to see in Cool Hand Luke, in which Mr Newman plays a gutsy prisoner fighting a personal war against the officers in charge of his chain gang.

The exercise: side plank
Sit-ups have gone the way of crunches (see Mr Christian Bale, below). To develop obliques – the bits on the sides of your abs – to rival those of Mr Newman, without less desirable lumps appearing, try the low-risk, high-reward side plank. Lie on one side, legs stacked and propped on your elbow, then raise your hips so your body forms a straight line. Hold for as long as you can.

Mr Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon (1973)

  • Photograph by Alamy

Absorbing what is useful and rejecting what is useless – namely body fat – the fighter’s training ranged from spinning hook kicks to old-school barbells and (then) high-tech resistance machines. It was, of course, necessary for a film as physical as Enter The Dragon, which saw the actor hit and kick his way through a small army of baddies sent by Hong Kong vice lord Mr Han. Mr Bruce Lee’s physique, like his philosophy, still inspires today.

The exercise: dragon flag
This aptly named move is Mr Lee’s own invention (borrowed for Rocky IV). Lie on a bench and hold on with your hands behind your head. Swing your legs up to vertical then lower under control, keeping your body straight. If the barrier to entry is too high, bend your knees.

Mr Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV (1985)

  • Photograph by Bridgeman Images

The ultimate training montage pits Soviet science against good ol’ American grit: a case of art imitating life, as Mr Dolph Lundgren has a degree in chemical engineering. The Swede also has a penchant for Tom Ford suits as well as karate ones (cinched with black belts), but the outfit he is largely associated with, however, is a pair of Soviet-red boxing shorts. Wearing these he slogged it out over several rounds with Mr Rocky Balboa, who had sworn vengeance after Mr Lundgren’s character killed his best friend.

The exercise: clean and jerk
Off screen, Mr Lundgren adhered to a classic bodybuilding six-day split; on screen, he performs this Olympic lift with a weight as unrealistic as anything in the series. Squat down and grab the bar, then pull it up explosively while simultaneously dipping under to catch it in front of your shoulders. Straighten your legs and press overhead. If you die, you die.

Mr Brad Pitt in Fight Club (1999)

  • Photograph by Fox 2000 Pictures/Photo12

Despite its scorn for “guys who packed into gyms, trying to look like how Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger said they should” – and declaration that “self-improvement is masturbation” – a generation decided that a real man looked like imaginary friend Mr Tyler Durden, the chain-smoking philosopher-cum-fighter portrayed by Mr Brad Pitt in the film about white-collar masculinity and the draw of the fight.

The exercise: sprinting
Legend has it that Mr Pitt just turned up on set looking like that. While his workout secrets remain shrouded in mystery, he shone a spotlight on the inguinal crease, AKA the diagonal lines from your hips down. We all have them, but body fat renders them invisible; sprinting hits your midsection and, crucially, knocks out the blubber concealing the abdominal “V”.

Mr Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000)

  • Photograph by Lions Gate/ Neal Peters Collection

Another razor-sharp satire of a figure who has become aspirational, Mr Bret Easton Ellis’ investment banker with a taste for homicide, Mr Patrick Bateman, is often seen as a blueprint rather than a monstrous parody. And that’s thanks in no small part to Mr Christian Bale’s physique (as displayed to full effect in the famous exercise scene), which was more cut than his character’s hapless victims.

The exercise: skipping
Doing a thousand crunches is a time-killer, and the move itself is considered rather outdated. Instead, try using a skipping rope (a staple of Mr Jake Gyllenhaal, below), which will slice off the fat concealing your abs. Keep your jumps as small as possible, landing on the balls of your feet. Alternate between double and single leg, and jumping forwards, backwards and side to side.

Mr Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine (2013)

  • Photograph by Twentieth Century Fox/Kobal Collection

Sideburns aside, the most impressive thing about Mr Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the Marvel character is that he has maintained his mutant musculature for nigh-on two decades, defying age almost as much his alter-ego does. In the 2013 film – the second standalone vehicle for Mr Jackman’s character – Wolverine is a much-reduced figure. His healing powers have leached away and, for the first time, he is locked in a true life-or-death struggle against a mysterious samurai. Perhaps the apogee of “Huge Jacked-Man”.

The exercise: deadlift
“Hugh is a strong guy, so I trained him like a strong guy,” says his PT Mr David Kingsbury. “We’d focus on big moves such as the deadlift.” Push your hips back to grasp the bar. Then drive through your legs to lift, squeezing your glutes at the top. Don’t round your back: unlike Wolverine, your spine is not unbreakable adamantium.

Mr Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw (2015)

  • Photograph by Weinstein Company/Kobal Collection

Greeted with a collective “OMG”, Mr Jake Gyllenhaal’s startling metamorphosis into Billy Hope, a professional boxer trying to get his life back on track after the death of his wife, was achieved through eight miles a day of running, hundreds of pull-ups, press-ups and dips, thousands of sit-ups and innumerable punches. On the plus side, he earnt carte blanche at Chipotle.

The exercise: tractor tyre flip
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the otherwise standard pugilistic montage. Standing close to the tyre, squat down and grab it, leaning in with your weight on the balls of your feet. Drive through your legs and, when the tyre clears your waist, use one knee if necessary to right it onto its treads. Then push it over and bid your other spare tyre farewell.