When it comes to working out, 2013’s highest grossing Hollywood action star, Dwayne Johnson, might be the best in the business. And when given the chance to play the son of Zeus in upcoming summer blockbuster Hercules: The Thracian Wars, ‘The Rock’ took his training to a whole new level. In an exclusive interview with TRAIN, the movie icon reveals how you too can build the body of a demigod
After watching his latest movie in theaters, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wants you to come away with just one thing on your mind – he wants you to think you’ve just witnessed the biggest, meanest, baddest and, more importantly, most definitive version of Hercules ever seen on the big screen.
For the majority of Hollywood’s action stars the task of realistically portraying an ancient Greek demigod would be more challenging than combining all the 12 labors the mythical son of Zeus had to undertake, according to legend. Many have tried in the past, many have failed. And even for Johnson, with 260lb of muscle already clinging to his massive six-foot-five frame, it would prove no mean feat.
But, after spending the majority of his life in the gym training to be a professional football player, world-renowned pro wrestler and one of Hollywood’s highest-ever grossing movie stars, it was a labor he had all the weapons to overcome.
Here, in his own words, Johnson reveals how he obtained the skin-stretching muscle he needed for his starring role as Hercules and explains why nutrition is the most important facet of getting big.
When you’re a former professional athlete-turned-actor, who already has a physique idolized by millions, you might think it would be easy to rest on your laurels. But not so with Dwayne Johnson. And that’s why he was Hollywood’s highest grossing movie star of 2013 – his four films earning $1.3 billion.
If there’s one thing life has taught the former national championship-winning college football player, it’s that you only get out what you’re willing to put in. And that’s why he dedicates so much of his time and energy to making sure when he steps onto the movie set he’s at his physical peak.
“For different roles my condition and training and diet does alter,” Johnson states. “Depending on the role, it will really dictate the type of training I do. For Hercules, it was a 22-week diet, while for G.I. Joe: Retaliation it was about a 14-week diet, and for Pain & Gain I wanted to come out looking bulky, big and dangerous, so we adjusted accordingly.
“For Hercules, I went for the demigod look: big and mean. When you’re playing a character like the son of Zeus, you only get one shot at that. The intensity of the training was definitely up, as was the volume of training. I really wanted to make it the definitive version of Hercules. We wanted to make it darker in tone and we based it off Steve Moore and Admira Wijaya’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars graphic novel, which is pretty dark.”
He adds: “And then the intensity of preparation for the movies depends on the role. The training, nutrition, fight choreography, weapons training and stunt planning, are all altered accordingly. I always go in committed and try to make it the best it can be.
“For Hercules, I wanted to respect the mythology, or with Fast & Furious, I wanted to respect this massive franchise. For the G.I. Joe movies it was similar because it’s already an established brand. You’ve got to look the part.”
To look the part for Hercules, Johnson elevated his training significantly, using a six-days-on-one-day-off schedule for six months to help him bulk up. At the beginning of each morning, Johnson would complete a 50-minute cardio session before working on a specific body part depending on what day it was, with his legs being the only muscle group that received more than one workout per week.
“I start working out around 4am,” he explains. “When I’m filming I do cardio and I lift before going to set. I train about six days a week, and even when I’m not filming I get up between 3am and 5am just to train. I love training when the sun is coming up because I think it just allows me to put on my headphones and step off the crazy treadmill that is everyone’s life. I have my headphones on, and I’m 100% focused. There’s no wasted time or effort when it comes to me and the weights.
“I work out for about 90 minutes, or maybe an hour and 45 minutes. When I hit the gym, I’m coming! I train hard, I come to kick ass – clanging and banging. With something like Hercules I was in costume and make-up for a few hours before shooting, so I’d have to get in the workout early.”
And while other actors may slack off with their training schedules once they’ve got a movie in the can, Johnson is in the gym all year round.
“Working out anchors my day,” he says. “For me, training is my meditation, my yoga, hiking, biking, therapy all rolled into one. I love it. Generally, I’m always shooting or preparing to shoot for something, so that’s why I like keeping my conditioning in a certain zone. But even if I wasn’t, it would launch my day; it makes me feel good.”
A meal for Gods
Although Johnson will be the first to tell you his vigorous training sessions have helped him get where he needs to be physically, he also follows an incredibly strict diet which he sticks to before and during filming.
But once again he felt he needed to up his game for Hercules, so Johnson and his nutrition team created his ‘12 Labors’ diet, filled with large amounts of protein, carbs and fats, to make sure he was in the best shape of his life.
“Generally, I eat six or seven times a day,” he says. “It’s about getting enough protein to aid lean muscle growth, and everything is very precisely measured depending on what targets I’m looking to hit for that day. Lots of protein, good carbs and veggies. Nutrition is so important, it can’t be stressed enough.
“For Hercules, it was a 22-week diet, full on. I’d eat a bunch of egg whites, filet mignon, chicken, fish, oatmeal, broccoli, asparagus, a baked potato, cream of rice, salad and complex carbs. All of this measured and weighed.”
He adds: “It was all about hard work, discipline and balance. I had carbs with every meal, so there was always a balance of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Then part of my daily regime was my glucosamine and then also a multitude of multivitamins. Then I had glutamine, branched chain amino acids, chondroitin and one protein shake a day, which I drank after training.”
Another vital part of his diet was getting the right supplementation. After years of playing football and being a WWE wrestler, Johnson has had his fair share of injuries, and now, having turned 41 last year, it’s become even more difficult to get into top-notch physical shape without his body falling apart.
“When I hit 40, that’s when I really began to start training smarter,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve always tried to educate myself on my nutrition, about supplements, what I’m eating, when I’m eating, exercises, calories and so on. Eventually I hired an awesome conditioning coach who helped me.
“And when we get into our 40s, all of a sudden we start feeling aches and pains. I take glucosamine and chondroitin for my poor joints.”
Role of a lifetime
With his dedication to fitness and nutrition second to none among Hollywood actors, Johnson has firmly cemented himself as, literally and figuratively, the biggest action hero in the world.
And even though he’s dazzled on the big screen as Roadblock in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Luke Hobbs in the Fast and the Furious franchise, Johnson believes playing Hercules is he biggest role of his career, and a dream come true.
“When I first broke into movies, Hercules was one of the projects I had in the back of my mind’” he recalls. “I always thought, ‘Man, I would love to do that one day.’ This was definitely a passion project for me, and I’m really happy with what we’ve accomplished. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this movie.”