Whether you’re playing a classic comic character or a new version of a legendary hero, there’s nothing cooler than strapping on a uniform and beating up the bad guys.
For these films, actors are paid to truly own the character—meaning they need to get into the gym to get jacked enough to be a believable superhuman. Hell, real movie stars look good all the time, but when it comes to starring in a comic book adaptation, actors take things to the next level—bulking up to play gods, aliens, villains, and every other sort of big and brawny guy in between.
Here's a look at some of the top muscle men on the big screen and a glimpse into their workout routines to see how they trained to get “super.”
Superhero Name: Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America
Movies: The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age of Ulton, Captain America: Civil War
The Hero: Evans totally owns the role of Cap throughout his appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), making his hero the anchor of the Avengers alongside his team of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Before he becomes the all-American hero, Rogers is a puny and frail little thing deemed unfit for military service. But he refuses to give up on his dream of protecting his country during WWII and volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into the "perfect" specimen of human development and conditioning, using Super-Soldier Serum and "Vita-Ray" treatment.
How He Did It: Since the Super-Soldier Serum isn't a real thing, Evans had to get his massive, chiseled physique the old-fashioned way when he first donned the shield in Captain America: The First Avenger. The actor—who claims to have a very high metabolism and loses weight easily—had to increase his food intake, particularly lean proteins, dramatically, and stop all cardio too. He hit the gym four to five days a week for three months, training for two hours a day, focusing on two muscle groups per session. As with his Avengers co-star Hemsworth, the key to getting so big, so fast was variation—each muscle group was worked from every possible angle to constantly stimulate his muscles and keep him in a constant state of transformation until he reached his goal.
Chris Hemsworth, Thor
Name: Thor, Norse god of thunder
Movies: Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok
The Hero: Hemsworth plays the mighty Thor in the MCU and since the hero is basically a god, the 6'3" actor had to do his best to look the part in the series of films. Hemsworth also starred in Snow White and The Huntsman, in which he is ordered by an evil queen (Charlize Theron) to take Snow White (Kristen Stewart) into the dark forest to be killed so the Queen can eat her heart, but winds up becoming her protector and mentor. Notice a theme here in Hemsworthy roles?
How He Did It: To put on muscle fast for Thor—and later in Thor: The Dark World, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok—Hemsworth, who says he'd never lifted before becoming an actor, adopted a weight-training routine based on the principle of muscle confusion. The actor constantly varied the amount of weight, number of reps and the speed of his lifting so his muscles never adjusted to workouts. Hemsworth reportedly worked with many of Thor's tools—think sledgehammers and kettlebells—to become the massive guy he is now, and the intensity of his workouts required a near-constant intake of calories including protein from lean meats and complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables high in fiber, which promotes cardiovascular health, and antioxidants that aid in muscle recovery. And oh yeah, he did some work with pullups too.
Tom Hardy, Bane
Movie:The Dark Knight Rises
The Hero—erm, Villain: Okay, Bane isn’t a superhero, but we’ll let it slide. Tom Hardy totally transformed the role of the physically dominant villain, becoming a goliath of muscle and strength to take on Batman (Christian Bale). Hardy has had other roles that required body transformations like Bronson and Warrior, but nothing was as demanding as this film. The character is a physical juggernaut who developed intense strength in a cave-like prison. It wasn't enough for him to be jacked, either: Hardy is shorter than Bale, so Hardy needed to stack on absurd amounts of muscle to convincingly play a guy who could thrash the Dark Knight one-on-one.
How He Did It: Hardy's trainer took an unconventional approach to the old-fashioned muscle confusion technique by splitting up Hardy's workouts into brief, four-times-per-day sessions. The workouts typically fell first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, in the early evening, and before bedtime and lasted for approximately 20 minutes with a focus on strength training. Beginners should plan to start with just the morning and evening workouts before adding in the other two as you become more comfortable with the regimen.
Henry Cavill, Superman
Name: Clark Kent a.k.a Superman
Movies: Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, untitled Man of Steel sequel
The Hero: Donning the red cape as the all-American Man of Steel is a tough task for any actor. And because Cavill is British, he was under even more scrutiny when he suited up for Zack Snyder’s first outing in the DC Entertainment Universe (DCEU). The September 2016 Men’s Fitness cover star embodied the role of Clark Kent with wisdom, hopefulness, and a chiseled physique, helping to save Metropolis from the evil General Zod.
While preparing for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, Cavill went hard in his training, and we mean hard. Cavill laid out his workout for Men's Fitness, using explosive step ups, kettlebell exercises, power cleans, rows, squats, ring dips, chinups and much more to get “super” jacked as the Man of Steel. Cavill certainly looked the part in Dawn of Justice—he was practically bulging out of his costume.
Ben Affleck, Batman
Name: Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman
Movies: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, The Batman
The Hero: When Affleck was first announced to take over the role from Christian Bale (for a new line of films not connected to the original trilogy by director Christopher Nolan), internet fanboys damn near revolted. But Affleck turned things around quickly, as fans found that his take on the character in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of the best things on screen in 2016. Everyone loved the Bat-fleck. Affleck needed to embody the musclebound, physically powerful Batman and he passed the test with flying colors.