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How Zac Got Jacked

How Zac Efron—star of “Neighbors 2” and next year’s “Baywatch” movie—shed his teen idol image and transformed himself into a bona fide leading man with the Internet’s most enviable physique.
Jeff Lipsky

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a preview-only version of Zac Efron's cover story in the June 2016 issue of Men's Fitness. For the full story, including exclusive content, click here to download the issue on FRIDAY, MAY 20 or pick up a copy on newsstands on MONDAY, MAY 23.

If you want to see Zac Efron with his shirt off,

you needn’t look further than his slate of recent and upcoming films: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, out last month, in which he’s often shirtless; Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, slated for August, which has him basically shirtless on the movie poster; and next year’s big-screen adaptation of ’90s TV series Baywatch, in which he’s routinely running on the beach—no surprise here—shirtless. A Google Images search for Efron yields hundreds of photographs that will make you feel terrible about your own fitness, as will looking him up on Instagram, where he’s lately contributed plenty of beefcake photos from the Baywatch set, where he and co-star Dwayne Johnson spend their off-hours engaged in bare-chested truck-tire-flipping contests.

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So how does the reinvented superstar, he of the ripped abs and refreshingly disarming self-deprecation, even find the time to breathe—let alone redefine his stature in the moviegoing imagination? We caught up with him in Los Angeles, in one of his mercilessly short breathers between filming Baywatch and Neighbors 2, to talk about the "Efronaissance," how he got so damn jacked (hint: it's not easy), and that time he almost snapped his spine while parachuting from a helicopter with Bear Grylls.


He's at His Physical Peak

“Right now I’m probably the physically strongest I’ve ever felt,” he says. “Not in terms of bench press or how much I can squat, but in how quickly I could get out of this room and destroy everything in my path. If the zombie apocalypse happened right now, I’d definitely be able to defend myself.”

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Zac Efron Knows You Think He’s a Jackass...

“I step back and look at myself and I still want to kick that guy’s ass sometimes,” Efron says of his former self. “Like, fuck that guy. He’s done some kind of cool things with some cool people—he did that one thing [Neighbors] that was funny—but, I mean, he’s still just that fucking kid from [High School Musical].” 

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... But That Doesn't Mean It's True

Neighbors co-star Seth Rogen: “For sure, I assumed he’d be a guy I wouldn’t like very much. But he was very self-effacing and self-deprecating, and I remember really liking him. He won me over.”

“What’s surprising about him is how sympathetic and vulnerable he seems,” Rogen says, “probably because people view him a certain way and he’s been shit on. He’s someone you sympathize with, and that’s really hard to do when you look the way he does.”

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Zac Efron Earned His Baywatch Body

Efron’s fitness goal, especially for Baywatch, is to be “fast and light.” His physical archetype is Bruce Lee. “I want to be lean,” he says. “When I put on a T-shirt, I don’t want people to go, ‘Oh, that guy’s a bodybuilder.’”

On his diet: “After a while your body stops craving junk food and you look forward to these meals,” he says. “There’s this trigger that happens after two or three weeks of dieting and eating healthy food, where your body switches its primary energy source from burning mainly carbohydrates to burning fat,” he explains. “And when it switches over, all your cravings change. You go, ‘Holy cow, I want kale and vinaigrette shredded with beets and a little bit of sweet potato!’”

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The Rock Is Pretty Much the Best Gym Partner Ever

Dwayne Johnson, Efron says, is exactly what any of us imagine him to be: a superhero in corporeal form, “like the genes just clicked and made this dude.” Efron wakes up at 5 a.m. to train—but the Rock rises by 4. “He’s getting less sleep than I am and he already did a post on Instagram at 5:30, doing the most ridiculous leg day you’ve ever seen,” Efron says. “He’s reached nirvana—muscle nirvana.”

The admiration, it turns out, is mutual. “Athletes know how hard it is to prep, train, and diet for a competition,” Johnson says. “It’s months of focused sacrifice all leading up to one particular event that takes place in one night. In the case of Baywatch, Zac’s had to apply the diet and training strategy of an elite athlete, but he’s also had the ‘added bonus’ of needing to maintain that look for months while we’re shooting. Zac committed to be the best version of himself possible and did it. He came in looking like a fucking animal.”

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For the full story, including exclusive content, click here to download the issue on FRIDAY, MAY 20 or pick up a copy on newsstands MONDAY, MAY 23.


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