If you want to get in incredible shape, go to prison. That's what The Expendables star Jason Statham did three years ago. While prepping for his role as convict Jensen Ames in the sci-fi action flick Death Race, Statham strolled the yard at California's Corcoran State Prison and watched how the inmates got into what the 38-year-old actor admiringly calls "prison shape" (versus what he disdainfully describes as "gym shape"). The ripped cons worked out with explosive strength moves but little equipment. "They had banned weights from the prison yard," Statham recalls. "They didn't have the big, fat machines you have in the typical gym. These guys were using their own bodies for lifts, pullups, situps, and squats. They employed full-body-weight exercises and old-school gym techniques that seemed to work wonders."
Elements of what Statham saw at the state pen are now staples in his own six-day-a-week routine. His trainer, Logan Hood, best known for whipping the 300 actors into Spartan shape, designs workouts that manipulate your own body weight and then add weights so that your muscles retain a functionality—and you maintain your athleticism. Hood is a former Navy SEAL who now runs Epoch Training, in Los Angeles. He believes that every move during a workout should be functional and natural so that the body projects the tension of a coiled spring.
So far, the strategy has succeeded for Statham, who has emerged as one of Hollywood's most coveted actors, when the role is required to kick someone's ass. Today he's shredded—abs, chest, and arms barbed and muscular without looking ponderous. The mixed martial arts enthusiast (and former diver with the British national team) stayed active before he was discovered by director Guy Ritchie and given a starring role in the gangster-and-ganja epic Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. What the actor found, however, was that looking fit and staying fit were totally different challenges.
He knew that to stay castable and bankable as an action hero and to convincingly play such roles as Handsome Rob in The Italian Job and Chev Chelios in Crank, he needed to make some changes. Statham prides himself in doing his own stunts, and continuing this athleticism in bigger and more complex starring vehicles required a more serious training regimen.
Statham heard about Hood through fellow British actor and former footballer Vinnie Jones. Hood met with Statham and asked him one question: "How far are you prepared to go?" Hood says he can see after one workout how people handle being uncomfortable. "I get them in [my gym], and I can look in their eyes and see if they're full of shit," Hood says. But with Statham, Hood knew from their first day of training that the buff Brit was a natural athlete who understood mechanics and movement.
What inspired Statham about Hood is that "he leads by example," he says. "Everything he asks me to do, he can do. I had met a couple of Hollywood trainers, but when I met Hood, I was hooked. He's like a machine."
To prepare for each of his physically demanding roles, Statham trains hardcore for eight weeks prior to filming. For Death Race, Statham trimmed down from 189 pounds to a lean 168 in 11 weeks with interval-based training: intense circuits designed to elevate his heart rate. Then they transitioned into a steady weight-training circuit using barbells, kettlebells, and sandbags. They worked on achieving that wiry body type they had seen in the prison yard. For Transporter 3, Hood tweaked Statham's regimen slightly, adding a bit more bulk—more squats, heavier weights—better suited to assume his ex-Special Forces character.
To play a knife-wielding mercenary in his newest film The Expendables, Statham added two hours of combat training with 87Eleven (the stunt guys behind The Matrix) to his hour-long workouts. The goal was to have Statham's fast-twitch muscles moving and functioning at peak efficiency for the extensive fight sequences. His target weight was mid-170s, a range in which Statham "looks his best and can still be athletic," Hood says.
And Statham certainly needed to look his best next to the film's stellar cast of all-star action legends—Sylvester Stallone directs and headlines; Mickey Rourke, Dolph Lundgren, and Jet Li co-star; and there are even cameos by Bruce Willis and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Watching Sly, he's the man," he says of the 64-year-old Stallone, who still does his own stunts. "And he's got forearms as thick as my legs!"
Statham was taking off for Australia the week of his MF interview to work on The Killer Elite with Clive Owen in which he plays (ironically enough) a Navy SEAL. He and Hood were winding down their workouts and shifting into on-set mode. Still, it's a brutal session: 10 minutes on the rowing machine, then pushups, pullups, squats, and barbell front squats. "We never do the same thing twice," Statham explains. "We mix it up. You know how you know a good workout?" he asks. "When right before you do it, you're like, 'Oh, fuck, that's gonna kill.' Because you can't hide in this gym. You can't hide from what's ahead of you."