Chris Hemsworth never lifted weights until he set out to become Thor. So if you’ve ever hit the gym, you’re already one step ahead
The God of Thunder Workout
Chris Hemsworth first pushed his limits at age 7, while living in an Aboriginal community in the bush north of Melbourne, Australia. He was the rare white child, there because his parents herded buffalo and ran the local food store, which doubled as the post office.
“We’d heard many Aboriginal spiritual beliefs about things. We’d been told there was a cave nearby that had spirits in it,” he says.
What’s a kid to do? This, naturally: “We built wooden swords and hammered nails into them, and we checked out the cave. My friends and I were convinced we’d meet some ghosts and devils.”
All they found were craggy walls that echoed their deep breaths.
Hemsworth still dives into places that challenge him—but now, 20 years later, those spots are more likely to resemble the Santa Monica farmers’ market where we’ve come to walk around. It’s the sort of place that was crucial for a man who had to pack 20 pounds of muscle onto his 6’3″ frame so he could play the lead in the upcoming movie Thor.
Adding that much weight required a constant intake of food, most of which came from protein sources, vegetables, and fruit. “I feel as if I’ve been busy, but all I’ve been doing is eating all day,” he says as we pass a farm stand brimming with organic broccoli. “Eating when you’re not hungry and taking in that amount of food is exhausting.”
But every bite was useful, because you can’t rely on just protein shakes to help you grow. Sure, protein was Hemsworth’s foundation. But nonprocessed carbohydrates, such as fruit, helped him rebuild muscle by slowing muscle protein breakdown. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, which can strengthen cardiovascular health, and their antioxidants aid muscle recovery. He was strategic, eating for value. For example, he didn’t bother with rice but scarfed quinoa. “It’s one of the few grains that actually has protein,” he says. It also has healthy fats and fewer carbohydrates than most grains.
Food was only a third of the equation. “Rest and exercise were equally as important,” he says. Sounds sensible enough. And it’s a formula anyone can follow. Need proof? “It wasn’t until Thor that I started lifting weights. It was all pretty new to me,” he says. Before that, he’d built a foundation of fitness purely by playing sports. He surfed as if it were his religion; he boxed; and he even played Australian Rules Football, a sport that’s like the overstimulated love child of soccer and rugby.
But when he hit the gym, he needed to build dense muscle that would show onscreen. That meant dedicating himself to a regimen that incorporated ever-changing challenges. His trainers constantly forced him to vary weight, reps, and even speed so that his muscles never adjusted to workouts. Even minor changes, such as swapping hand placement on a pullup, can stimulate muscles in new ways. In fact, mixing things up is important no matter what kind of muscle gain you’re looking for. When your usual workout starts to feel easier, it isn’t benefiting you as much as it once did.
If you visit the gym regularly, eat right, and rest enough, how quickly will you see results? Consider this: Hemsworth trained hard for Thor while filming Red Dawn, a movie due for release later this year. If you watch that film closely enough, you will actually see the size of his neck change from scene to scene. (Who smells DVD bonus material?)
These days, with filming over, Hemsworth has dialed back the gym visits—but he hasn’t left them entirely, and he’s playing plenty of sports. After all, for any sequels he’d have to retain his size—which would disappear quickly if he didn’t stay active and eat enough. He learned that the hard way, when he shrunk after only a 4-week vacation. “My body doesn’t sit at that weight,” he says.
But with enough work, it will.After bulking up for the role, Chris Hemsworth was too big for his Thor costume. So he ate less and did metabolic circuits to burn calories without sacrificing muscle. A few weeks later, he was the right size—and still looked big. You too can focus on muscle definition, not just size, with this Thor-inspired workout from Eric Cressey, C.S.C.S., the author of Show and Go.
Men’s Healht May 2012 by Lara Rosenbaum