How To Train Like a Movie Star Preparing For the Lead Role in an Action Film

Nick McKinless workout
Nick McKinless is a professional Stuntman/Stunt Coordinator, Filmmaker, and Strength Athlete. He’s personally trained a few of Hollywood’s finest including Anne Hathaway, Ralph Fiennes and Mickey Rourke and has worked on films such as Troy, The Matrix and Kick-Ass to name a few!

He’s also accomplished a few things and won a few titles in the strength world:

• 1996 IAWA Weightlifting Champion @ 90kg
• 2005 Champion of Champions 2nd Overall
• 2006 Britain’s Strongest Man @ 105kg
• 2010 World’s Strongest Hands 3rd Overall
• 2011 British Grip Champion
• 2012 English ‘Open’ Stone Lifting Champion
• The ‘great’ feats of strength – Closed Ironmind No.3 Gripper, Lifted the Thomas Inch Dumbbell, Lifted the Dinnie Stones, The Blue Stones of Old Dailly, and The Criccieth Stone

Enter Nick
Is it possible to really get in ridiculously good shape in 3-6 months?

Unless you’re starting from obese or stick thin then yes it is!

Movie stars are renowned for getting in crazy shape for a movie role but I am here to tell you that they use a LOT of tricks to enhance their look. They usually have 3-6 months to get ready for a role. They will have been cast well in advance and pre-production on a movie can last months so there is time.

Exceptions to the rule are Dwayne Johnson, Hugh Jackman, Sylvester Stallone and top action stars like Scott Adkins. These guys LOVE their training and train even when not preparing for movies.

Movie stars do have certain advantages though.


With Robert Downey Jr. on the set of Sherlock Holmes, photographed by Guy Ritchie. 


Movie stars by their very nature of being ‘the beautiful people’ tend to have very good genetics. Even the untrained ones can put on muscle or get lean because their starting point is usually that much better. Many movie stars were good athletes in college and they have that base to begin with. Add that to their god given talent and you have a recipe for success.

Work Ethic

Actors works hard! If you think acting is an easy career choice think again. Movies today are run virtually 24/7 and the hours are brutal. Learning lines is difficult, delivering them convincingly is even harder. If you don’t leaner your lines you’ll get a bad reputation and that means no work.

I’ve known actors that get up at 4am to eat breakfast or drink a healthy shake. Then they hit the gym for an hour. After that they skim over their lines, often in the make-up room where they are being fussed over by one or two make-up girls.

Then they get to set at 7am for a full days work which might include running pages of dialogue, remembering a fight sequence with 5 or 6 stuntmen and possibly doing wire work stunts as well. They may then have to do press work for the film or a previous film in the evening. Attend dinners and functions and then check lines for the next day. Their day might finish at midnight and then it starts again.

Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise come to mind when I think of actors who worked unbelievably hard for their films. They had a stunt double or two but look closely and a ton of the action is actually them fighting, falling and mixing it with the stuntmen. Make no mistake, acting and especially action acting is tough.



Yes ‘some’ of them will take performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). However, think about it. They are not cheating anyone because there is no drug testing for movie stars. It’s not professional sports where drug testing is used and where getting caught would be bad for their careers. If anything these guys and girls are enhancing their god given talents and their exceptional hard work with the icing on the cake. No one gave a shit that Arnold was taking drugs for Conan or The Terminator, all they cared about was that he looked the part, learnt his lines and looked awesome killing people with a massive sword!


Sometimes an actor only needs to be in shape for a few days or weeks. That way they can cheat a little by doing a water and carb loading trick that professional athletes, especially bodybuilders use to get lean fast. Of course this only works if you are already in pretty good shape.


With The Wrestler himself, Mickey Rourke. 

Here’s a VERY brief explanation of how it works. Do some proper research (google) to find out the intricacies of this process. Basically you reduce your carbs for 3-5 days whilst also increasing sodium intake. This gets the body into a carb depleted mode and the muscles looking flat. Then water loading starts. Eventually drinking up to a gallon of water a day for 3-5 days. This means being near a toilet! The final stage is to stop drinking water for 1-2 days whilst bringing back the carbs so that the muscles start to look full again. By stopping the water intake the body will get rid of the excess water as it has been tricked into losing it by the overload the previous days. Now you should have large full muscles with no water under the skin. This is probably what Ryan Reynolds did for Blade Trinity to get himself so lean.

Another trick is creative make-up and lighting. Not everyone’s abs in 300 were as defined as they seemed. Many were enhanced with shadows created by make-up and lighting effects.


Everyone of those top action stars will train differently but I will give you a brief guide to how I have done it before. What you must understand is that I will train people with limited time and so every exercise and the way it is performed has to be exacting otherwise we are wasting valuable time.

Train the legs

Some will say train the squat or the deadlift. The deadlift is a great exercise but you can get very strong without adding any size with the deadlift. However, with the squat, it is rare to not increase bodyweight when weights increase. I say squat. Train for width rather than depth. Width will always give you the illusion of power. A thick chest might seem impressive but unless you have the width it will be lost. Width means two key things: shoulder and lats.

Train to be athletic

I’ve had to teach some actors that looked pretty good to do fight scenes and they had two left feet. Basically they were all show and no go. In movies, we can cheat certain things but you can’t cheat a bad runner or a sloppy mover. Getting actors to move in their training is just as important as adding muscle.


Training Ralph Fiennes.

Check out the next page for an example workout:

Training example

Day 1

  • Squat – 5×5
  • Leg Press – 1×30, 1×20, 1×12-15
  • Leg Curl – 1×30, 1×20, 1×12-15
  • Abs circuit

Day 2

  • Seated Military Press – 5×5
  • Chins – 5×5
  • Biceps – 1×20, 1×12-15, 1×6-10
  • Triceps – 1×30, 1×20, 1×12-15
  • Various jumping exercises

Day 3

  • Bench Press – 5×5
  • Lat Pulldowns – 1×30, 1×20, 1×12-15
  • DB Fly – 1×20, 1×12-15, 1×6-10
  • Rear Delts – 1×20, 1×12-15, 1×6-10
  • Push/Pull Sled

Day 4

  • Boxing/Pad Work
  • Sprints

I know what you’re thinking. Is that it!? Well no. All of this is performed with PERFECT FORM, INTENSITY and PROGRESSION. I can not injure these guys so I have to work them hard and that can only be done if their form is perfect. I will use some intensity methods such as supersets, drop sets, pause reps and I will mess with them to make them more competitive with themselves. Most people really don’t know how hard they can work so I try to bring out the beast in them! I will also have progression in mind from the start, setting goals and making sure we smash them along the way. Add to this a solid eating plan and with the dedication these guys possess we get the job done.

If you wanna be the next Van Damme or Jason Statham you better be a great athlete be willing to work ridiculously hard and be ready for the fight of your life.

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