April 12, 2021 10 min read

Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises is pretty much unrecognizable. That’s not just because of the mask and the insane voice. Hardy went through an incredibly dramatic physical transformation to play this role.

He needed to totally invert his diet and his workout routine, and he’s quoted talking about how hard it was on his body even at a relatively young 40. If you’re trying to get yourself looking like the dangerous villain that was capable of totally breaking Batman’s spirit and body, then you’re going to have to steel your own and get ready for some pretty intense workouts.

The Body

The first thing the team behind The Dark Knight Rises had to consider was how they wanted the warrior genius to look on the big screen. Bane in the comics as he’s originally designed comes across a little messy on screen.

He’s full of pipes and wires and his costume would have been difficult to film the fights in. They opted to slim down the injection system into a mask that holds Bane together, but they didn’t slim the man himself down.

Bane in the comics is based on Luchadors. He’s a masked man that’s powerful enough to totally brutalize Batman time and again. The most famous panel of Bane, and maybe the most famous panel in all of Batman’s comics is one of Bane nearly breaking Batman in half over his knee.

He’s always portrayed as a man that’s powerful beyond comprehension. He’s never quite superhuman because he’s drawn with the kind of muscle that would reasonably back up his strength. The challenge became “how do you translate that to real life?” They decided to make Tom Hardy bulk the hell up, and do it fast.

The plan was to pack on muscle and layer it behind a perfect layer of fat. Tom Hardy isn’t exactly imposing, he’s about 5 foot 9 inches, so he’s not going to be towering over many people. The muscle and fat combo gives him the kind of body you’d want a brawler to have, and brawl Bane does.

If he’s not scheming he’s up in someone’s face just throwing them around like they’re nothing. The best way to give Tom Hardy a defined physique and an imposing silhouette was as simple as bulking him up and making him look like a solid wall of insurmountable meat.

Muscular bodybuilder doing dumbbell curls.

The Routine

This wasn’t the first time that Tom Hardy was asked to take on the body of a man that trained in an unconventional environment. He played a man named Charles Bronson in the 2008 movie Bronson. Charles Bronson was a bare-knuckle boxer that was incarcerated for 40 years.

He never stopped working out during that time, and he never became less lethal with his fists.  At one point he took out over 20 guards and fellow inmates and was able to take 11 hostages. He lived a notable life, to say the least.

For this role, Tom had to emulate the diet and workout routine of a man being mistreated by the state in prison. That meant a lot of bodyweight exercises and plain meals that were high in calories. He really only did a mix of push-ups, simple resistance training and sit-ups sprinkled throughout the day.

These day-long workouts would often add up to around 1,000 reps a day. It’s not something you can do if you’re out of shape, but it’s manageable. Because you’re taking it in manageable chunks, you’re going to be able to allow your muscles to recover longer in between sets, while also being able to keep this effort up throughout the week.

This was a similar mindset he took into this Bane training. Tom Hardy tells AskMen. "My approach was to do a lot of repetitions in order to send messages to my muscles: this helps them start to grow in a way that you can’t make them in the gym. To achieve dense muscle, you need a specific kind of training.”

This means he picked a pretty small roster of pretty specific exercises so he could work out as many of his muscle groups at the same time as possible without having to spend time re-tooling his routine every few weeks. Tom Hardy famously used a push-up matrix to build most of his strength and pack on the muscle he was showing off the most.

These push-ups and their variations combined with a high-protein diet and application throughout the day give you the ability to pack on a ton of muscle and weight in a comparatively short amount of time.

The Square

  • 10, 7, 5, 3 Reps
  • Position your palms so they’re even with your shoulders. Tuck in your elbows and use your arms alongside your torso in order to engage your triceps. 

The Rectangle

  • 10, 7, 5, 3 Reps
  • These are closer to your standard push-up. Place your hands wider apart, so they’re out past your shoulders. When you lower yourself to the floor, your chest and arms will make a rectangle with the floor below you. 

The Eagle

  • 10, 7, 5, 3 Reps
  • This is similar to the rectangle, but you’re going to spread your fingers out and turn them outwards slightly so you’re activating a slightly different group of muscles.This is going to challenge your flexibility and forearm strength.
  • Don’t splay yourself out so far that you’re going to damage your wrists, it should be challenging without being damaging. 

The Kong

  • 10, 7, 5, 3 Reps
  • Get into your standard push-up position, but rest on your knuckles instead of your palms. Lower yourself towards the floor just like any other push-up, but allow your elbows to come up way behind your back.
  • This is going to be a huge shoulder and back exercise. Be sure you’re not internally rotating your shoulders too much or you’re going to incur some long-term damage.

The Diamond

  • 10, 7, 5, 3 Reps
  • These are great for your triceps. Bring your hands in together so that your index fingers and thumbs make a diamond shape directly underneath your chest. They’re also great for transitioning towards single-arm push-ups if you’re trying to master your “shredded villain” aesthetic.
Assortment of natural sources of protein from food

The Diet

Tom Hardy was trying to put on a lot of weight while undergirding it with a massive muscle scaffolding. That meant that his diet wasn’t as restrictive as other celebrity workout routines, but it still required a lot of mental fortitude to keep up with. During his training for the Charles Bronson role he says,

“We didn’t have any time to waste, so I started eating and my arse very quickly got very fat. For Bronson, I put on about 7lbs a week – with no steroids. In the end, I’d put on about 2 and a half stone by eating chicken and rice, which was my staple diet throughout the day."

He was packing on the pounds, imagine how much you’d have to be eating to pack on 7 whole pounds a week while still working out. That means he wasn’t only meeting the energy levels his body needed while hitting well over 1,000 reps a day, he was also eating enough high-calorie meals to add fat to his body.

You build fat by taking in more energy than you need. Fat is your body’s ancient response to times of plenty. Back before we were able to secure food on a regular basis if humans came across a time they were able to totally pig out, they were often unsure of when their next meal would be.

Evolution favored bodies that were able to store that energy for later. When you get down it, your body’s ability to create fat and store glucose for when you’ve exceeded your free-floating energy levels is miraculous, and we take it for granted.

If you’re going to build a body like Bane, you’re going to need to take a similar approach. Packing on fat and muscle at the same time is hard. It’s not going to be as simple as just eating whatever you want, because you’re still trying to gain muscle. Building muscle isn’t just the natural product of working out.

Your muscles grow in a process called hypertrophy. When your muscles are brought to the brink, they start to tear. When you’re doing resistance training, especially, your muscles need to overexert themselves slightly in order to keep up with the loads you’re lifting.

A routine like Hardy’s Bane workout is going to see you constantly breaking down your muscles. You need the second half of the equation if you expect your work to pay off. You need building material to get your body to rebuild the batter and beaten muscles you spent all day wearing down.

All of this means a diet that’s rigid while still being lenient enough to enjoy the finer things in life like deep-fried foods and pints of ice cream. Tom Hardy was eating 6 full meals every single day. He’d kick his days off with a protein-packed breakfast of half a dozen eggs (2 full eggs, and 4 egg whites) along with 2 slices of toast with fruit and honey.

The rest of his meals were similarly full of all three of the key nutrients. Building a similar diet is just going to be about following what’s laid out in that breakfast. Think about huge protein-dense entrees like chicken, beef, fish, or beans, and pair it with plenty of carbs and try to get a little bit of fat in there. Your body needs energy, building blocks, and fat in order to keep itself up and running throughout the day.

Rest For the Wicked

Tom Hardy doesn’t often mention this, but be sure you’re getting a rest day or two in there. This is a workout that’s designed to beat your muscles into the ground day after day. You’re going to be going to bed sore a lot during this, and you’re going to want to tap out very quickly.

Luckily, there’s an out. You need to be taking at least one rest day, every week. Your body needs an opportunity to actually build the muscle you’re working towards. You’re going to be losing gains if you’re neglecting your rest days. Rest days aren’t just a chance to take a break, they’re crucial to every workout routine.

Not even the strongest people on the planet workout all day every day. They take rest days because they understand that running yourself ragged is only going to ruin your output. If taking a day off makes you feel antsy, don’t worry. You can still stay active. Active rest days are probably the single best thing you can do for your workout routine.

An active rest day is going to be a day you depart from your regularly scheduled routine and give yourself some light activity. It can be as simple as puttering around the house and getting your chores done like Mike Tyson and his personal trainer opted for during his height. Things like light cardio and yoga are also great options for getting your body moving on your rest days.

If you can get your blood pumping on your rest days without exerting yourself too much you’re going to be doing a great job kick-starting your recovery process. Your body works by delivering nutrients through your cardiovascular system. Getting blood pumping in your damaged muscle fibers is like opening up a canal and expediting the delivery of protein and sugars to your hungry muscle fiber ports.

Turning to the Dark Side

Tom Hardy isn’t a personal trainer, and when people are interviewing him, it’s natural to only tell folks the most interesting parts of his fitness journey, but we noticed a few things are missing from it. If you want the full picture and a successful workout routine, here are a few more things to consider:

Leg Day

Tom Hardy focuses on talking about this upper body exercise when he’s asked about his Bane routine. It makes sense, he’s always striking that “come at me” pose and you don’t see much of his lower body. However, if you’re trying to maximize your stature and your muscle gain, you have to be working on your lower body as well.

Skipping out on leg day is the bodybuilding cardinal sin. It’s easy to stick to the prison-style bodyweight spirit of this workout while incorporating your legs, just slot in some squats, leg lifts, and calf raises, and you’re good to go.

Reasonable Excess

The diet he pairs with this workout routine is much less rigid than similar workout routines. If you’re going to take any of this to heart then you need to remember that you should still be reigning in your diet and tracking your nutrients and macros. If you’re just using this as an excuse to replace all of your meals with potatoes, you’re going to be disappointed with your results.

Perseverance

Compared to other superhero workouts, this one seems like a walk in the part. Tom Hardy, however, is used to putting his body through the paces when he’s preparing for a role, so he’s used to the kind of punishment that comes from beating your body into a brand new shape in a short amount of time.

You and I aren’t like Tom Hardy, we’re not nationally recognized for our constitution to the arts, so we’re probably not prepared for how hard this workout routine can really be.

If you’re going to take this on, then you need to be prepared for the toll it’s going to take on your psyche. A hard workout routine isn’t just hard on your body, it’s hard on your willpower, so be sure to get lots of rest, hype yourself up with motivational quotes or a group of friends that can hit the gym with you or keep you accountable if you’re all working out from home.

A community can help with your drive a lot, fitness may be a personal journey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share it with your friends in order to better yourselves together.

Fiction supervillain action figure character of Bane from DC movies and comic

Becoming The Villain

Tom Hardy’s roles as muscle men are always impressive. He’s not a small guy by any means, but he’s able to make himself look way larger than he actually is by cleverly building muscle and bundling that with strategic applications of body fat.

He shows us that there’s more than one way to look strong, he’s been able to define and hide parts of his body in ways that we don’t often associate with strength and bodybuilding, but when you see him on screen you can’t argue with the results.

There’s a lot to learn from Tom Hardy and his performance as Bane, the power he exudes on screen comes from a pretty unorthodox workout routine, it’s a great reminder to add a little creativity to your workout, you can get unique results that you can be proud of if you branch out.


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