June 03, 2020 10 min read

While a lot can be said about superheroes and the roles they play as storytelling elements, they are, essentially, mythical warriors who’ve somehow reached levels of strength, speed, and intelligence far above than a regular person.

It’s no surprise, in that case, that most of the superheroes that grace the silver screen and physical specimens of people—played by actors who’ve received months, if not years, of personal training from the industry’s best. Not to mention that they’ve just been getting more and more ripped.

Case in point: Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine from Marvel’s X-Men comic book series is seriously ripped.

With his last Wolverine role played in 2018’s Logan, Jackman officially became the actor with the longest career as a live-action Marvel superhero (along with Patrick Stewart). The 17-year time span encapsulated 9 movies in which Jackman reprised his role of Wolverine—not to mention 17 years in which the actor become increasingly jacked.

Before continuing; do yourself a favor and check out a photo of Jackman in 2000’s X-Men, compared to a photo in one of the later X-Men movies. 

Incredible, right? Even in 2018’s Logan, Jackman still looks incredibly more cut and stronger than his original breakout role in 2000. Not to mention that he’s now in his early 50s, and still looks like he could jump right back into the character. So, barring any assumptions that he’s the Wolverine in real life too—what’s his secret? 

We’ll break it down below, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it all comes down to hard work both in the gym and on the plate. 

From Chicken Legs to Adamantium Claws 

On the screen, Jackman exudes animalistic power—much like his character’s namesake would imply. Not only does he look big, but he looks strong, cut, and mean. The last of these we can’t help you with, but we can definitely try to get you wolverine-big, strong, and cut.

Nicknamed “chicken legs” back when his acting career was just getting off the ground, Jackman hasn’t always been the specimen of a man he is today. Quite infamously, he’s insistent on keeping in shape between movies—not just packing on pounds for his Wolverine role. So he’s now had decades of properly training and eating to get his physique, but it all comes down to the multi-week building blocks.

Jackman’s routine to get into shape draws from a wide range of strategies. While it sometimes depends on the role (for example, he had to get much leaner for his role in Les Miserable), the Wolverine look is all about getting big and getting lean. While difficult, it can be done with the right focus and enough hard work.

Jackman does regular cardio, including stretching and some bodyweight exercises such as push-ups. But his bread-and-butter exercises are the weightlifting big three—deadlifts, bench presses, and squats. A few years ago, he even joined the 1000lb club by being able to lift a combined weight of 1000lb across these three lifts in one day.

His trainer, David Kingsbury, has encouraged him to stick to lower reps while increasing the weight. This technique stimulates myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is necessary for strength gains. On the other hand, is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which happens when one does a higher amount of reps for less weight.

What makes the Wolverine who he is, is a combination of these two. Kingsbury believes in starting out with heavier weights and lowers reps, and then finishing off with higher reps and lighter loads—at least with the 4-week training blocs that they use.  

Hugh Jackman.

Progressive Overload and Training Blocs

Another ingredient to Jackman’s physique is the concept of progressive overload. As the name suggests, progressive overload is a method of strength training that has you gradually increasing the tension and stress placed on your body, thereby increasing strength along the way. By continuously increasing the loads, the body is forced to adapt in order to deal with the greater stress placed on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

How’d this look like for the Wolverine? Well, Jackman’s trainer took a percentage of his 1-rep max (1RM) for his main lifts as a baseline for what he should be lifting each week. For the first 3 weeks, the weight was continuously raised until the fourth week. This last week was used to lower the weights and increase the reps until it started over the next month.  This is what that looked like:

Week 1:

  • Set 1: 5 reps 60% of 1RM
  • Set 2: 5 reps 65% of 1RM
  • Set 3: 5 reps 75% of 1RM
  • Set 4: 5 reps 75% of 1RM

Week 2:

  • Set 1:  4 reps 65% of 1RM
  • Set 2: 4 reps 75% of 1RM
  • Set 3: 4 reps 85% of 1RM
  • Set 4: 4 reps 85% of 1RM

 Week 3:

  • Set 1: 3 reps, 70% of 1RM
  • Set 2: 3 reps, 80% of 1RM
  • Set 3: 3 reps, 90% of 1RM
  • Set 4: 3 reps, 90% of 1RM

Week 4:

Set 1: 10 reps, 40% of 1RM

Set 2: 10 reps, 50% of 1RM

Set 3: 10 reps, 60% of 1RM

Set 4: 10 reps, 90% of 1RM

The next bloc would begin again at Week 1, but this time Jackman would add 5% to 10% of his 1RM on top of what he was already lifting. If you want to take this regime for a spin, it’s recommended to add 5% if you’re progressing gradually and 10% if you’re doing just fine.

This kind of training regime (as long as you’re eating enough and resting) is guaranteed to smash through any plateaus you might be facing. With progressive overload, you’ll constantly be punishing your body—but it will thank you later. 

Switching Things Up

But while progressive overload will get you stronger, it won’t necessarily get you an absolutely ripped physique like the Wolverines. We’ll talk more about this when it comes down to diet, but Jackman went through bulking and cutting phases throughout his training.

Although he ate clean the entire time to make cutting easier, it was still necessary to be putting on mass while cutting fat because of the stringent movie production timelines. What helped was an initial bulking phase which helped him get up to the weight he wanted to be at, and then a cutting phase in order to get ready for filming. The timeline of these phases obviously depended on the timeline of the movie production in question, but it was usually 4 to 5 months altogether.

This is an option if you’re on a race against time, but most people have a year-long bulk/cut phase which will benefit you to a greater degree—it’s just that the results won’t come as fast. For example, a winter bulk followed by the summer cut just in time for beaches to open. 

But the bulking/cutting cycle wasn’t the only variety introduced to Jackman’s routine. His trainer is also a big believer in switching things up, which might come as a surprise when you consider that his training revolves strictly around the big three classic lifts.

But even the traditional stuff can benefit from adding some pizazz. Routine is important, and so are the three lifts, but it’s just as important to add variety into your routine and “confuse” your muscles. While the jury on muscle confusion is still out, adding variety through different inclines/declines and unique movements and ranges of motion can help in increasing general strength and the mind-muscle connection. 

Not only that, but it’s also a good way to keep up your motivation—everyone gets sick of doing the same thing over and over again. Adding a little variety, a little spice, can help mix things up enough where not only your body’s benefiting but so is your mind and willpower.

Wolverine-Level Intensity 

Another good mind trick to maximize your time in the iron temple is to train in the morning. Both Jackman and his trainer would get up as early as 4 a.m. if filming began at 6 a.m. that day in order to get in a good workout before daybreak.

Not only does this set you off on the right foot for the day, but if you make it into a priority in the morning, you’re much less likely to miss a training session. Especially with the busy schedule that Jackman kept, making time in the morning was essential when it came down to gaining those last few lean muscle mass pounds.

Depending on whether he was cutting or bulking, Jackman would also sometimes add in a cardio workout later in the day along with his regular cardio during training. And when it came down to the session itself, the intensity was paramount.

Spending no more than 90 minutes in the gym, and sometimes just 60, Jackman would make sure that his workouts were quick and intense. Along with up to 30 minutes of cardio—10 minutes at the beginning as a warm-up and 20 minutes at the end of the workout—the lifts themselves would be hammered out as quickly as possible while controlling form and speed. 

This was accomplished partly due to the use of super-sets. This is a technique where you don’t rest in between sets when moving from exercise to exercise. The time between this change should be minimized in order to really build up the fatigue in your muscles. Not only does this allow for greater hypertrophy and endurance, but it also serves to make your workouts into Wolverine-intense bouts of exertion.

How Jackman Turns into the Wolverine

As we already mentioned, the man lifts are all done as percentages of the 1RM. Not only that, but the percentages also change from set to set and from week to week in order to ensure proper progressive overloading.

Below is an example of some of the workouts that Jackman and his trainer used in order to make the Wolverine into a terrifyingly powerful superhero. And not only did they succeed, but they also made it shine through the camera.

Day 1: Chest and Shoulders

  • Bench Press
  • Dumbbell shoulder press: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Behind-the-Neck Press: 4 sets of 10  reps          
  • Cuban press: 3 sets of 10 reps     
  • Dips: 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Lat Raises: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Front Raises: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Rear Shoulder Flys: 3 sets of 8 reps
  • Overhead Press: 3 sets of 8 reps

Day 2: Legs and Abs

  • Back Squat: 4 sets of 5 reps
  • Front Squat: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Leg Press: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Calf Raise: 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Leg Raises: 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Ab Wheels: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Knee Raises: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Decline Sit-Ups: 4 sets of 10 reps

Day 3: Back and Biceps

  • Weighted Pull-Ups: 4 sets of 5 reps
  • DB Rows: 4 sets of 12 reps
  • Bodyweight Rows: 4 sets of 10 reps 
  • Incline DB Curls: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Zottman Bicep Curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Cross Body Curls: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Pronated Curls: 4 sets of 8 reps

Day 4: Chest and Arms

  • Incl Bench Press: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • DB Press #1: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • DB Press #2: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • DB Press #3: 4 sets of 6 reps
  • Cable Flyes: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Narrow Grip Bench Press  
  • Triceps P-downs: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Dips: 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Diamond Grips: 4 sets of 8 reps

Day 5: Core and Legs

  • Deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 4 sets of 10 reps      
  • Zercher Squats: 4 sets of 12 reps 
  • Incline Sit-Ups: 4 sets of 10 reps
  • Barbell Landmines: 3  sets of 10 reps

This is just one of the examples of a training routine that Jackman used, but as already mentioned above, training and diet changed when it came to bulking and cutting. The routine that we’ve highlighted above would be good for a bulk, but a cutting routine would look something along these lines:

Leg Day Example

  • Back squat: >85% 1 RM  3 sets of 6 reps
  • Leg press: >85% 1RM 3 sets of 6 reps
  • Bulgarian split squat: 60-80% 1RM 3 sets of 14 reps
  • Dumbbell lateral lunge: 65-85% 1RM  3 sets of 10 reps
  • Medicine ball slams: 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Hanging leg raise: 3 sets of 10 reps

And of course, the above would be complimented by cardio—and a lot of it. Both for his bulking and cutting phases, Jackman utilized a 10-minute cardio warm-up before his workout and then anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes afterward. When trying to get leaner, he would usually try to fit in a second cardio session in the afternoon in order to burn off any carbs that he might’ve consumed. 

All in all, it’s an extremely trying workout routine—for good reason. Working on the set of a movie, there were strict deadlines that Jackman had to follow with the necessary physique to pull off the Wolverine look. But the exercise isn’t usually even half the battle. 

Wolverine.

What the Wolverine Eats

In order to gain so much muscle mass while also keeping it lean, diet came first and foremost when trying to sculpt the Wolverine. There are two main takeaways that each of us can use in our daily lives to get us one step closer to becoming super-human.

The first is carb cycling. While not quite the keto diets that we’ve looked at in the past, the main emphasis is still placed on limiting carb intake. However, carb intake is only limited on rest days, when there’s minimal or no physical activity. Not only does this keep you lean, but it’ll also give you enough fuel on your working days in order to seriously smash through your exercises.

This is especially important if you’re trying to gain lean muscle mass—or at least as much of it as possible. Not enough fuel to power your movements and you risk leaving gains on the table. Too much fuel, and you might not be as shredded as you’d hoped to be.

The second component is intermittent fasting. An extremely effective way to lose weight and keep it off, this diet plan has you fasting for most of the day and only eating in predetermined windows of time. So, for example, this can look like an 8-hour window from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. That doesn’t sound too bad for all of its potential benefits.

Secret Ingredients

Jackman also used creatine, BCAAs, and L-Carnitine, in order to aid in bulking and cutting. Especially at his age, these supplements definitely must’ve helped tremendously when it came to what was asked of him and his body. 

Jackman’s trainer has also commented that the most difficult part of getting him in shape was to find the time. In between their busy schedules and only sleeping 5 to 6 hours a night sometimes, it was difficult to give it their all when training. 

Unlike the Wolverine, most of us have the benefit of not working on a movie set, yet still having the tools at our disposal to become the Wolverine. While we can’t promise any sideburns and facial hair from the above training routines, we can definitely promise a shredded body.