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Celebrity/Actor Training and Exercise Programming/Split

Serious question for CT

The background:
I’ve done a lot of reading (out of curiosity) about Actors bulking up for movie roles. I’ve researched their trainers, and their approaches, their diets, etc.

I consistently find that hitting each muscle group once per week approach or, less commonly, twice per week is the norm.

(Yes I know some actors use steroids but I think many do not and make major transformations)

With all of this logic out there pointing natural trainees towards high frequency low volume as most effective, why is the opposite used by so many celebrity trainers seeking big and fast changes in size and composition?

(Usually I read each muscle hit hard for an hour to 90 minutes once a week.)

Thanks in advance! Love your videos and your candor. You’re my favorite trainer to watch!

That’s an interesting and complex topic. I’ll try to use a bulletpoint approach since I might go all over the place with this.

  1. Do you REALLY think that most actors who do crazy transformations are not using performance enhancing drugs? Really? Ok, if you are offered 15 million dollars to play a role under the condition that you need to be in awesome shape… and you only have 4 months to get there. If I told you about connections to get drugs without getting caught, you are telling me that you wouldn’t take it? Most actors do. Most of them are not passionate about training. They do it for a role. They will be looking for any short cut possible. HECK, you have no idea how many actors (males and females) are using growth hormone and/or testosterone from “anti-aging clinics” (do a search for “actors growth hormone”) and they barely workout! I can pretty much guarantee you that most amazing transformations were helped with PEDs. A lot of these actors undergoing transformations are in their 40s (or older). I don’t care if you are a beginner or how good your trainer is, you don’t gain 30lbs of muscle while getting leaner, in 4 months, at 40+ without using help.

  2. Ok, let’s pretend for the sake of the argument that some of them are natural (I’m sure some are). Understand that these guys have recovery advantages that, while not equaling PEDs, can give them a huge advantage. If you have nothing to do all day; no work, no stress, no physical labor except for training it gives you a huge advantage in recovery. Add to that private cooks that can custom-cook your meals and also massage therapist and the likes the enhance recovery. Even those who are natural, still have recovery advantages over the normal person.

  3. Understand the power of illusion. When you are really lean, you can look totally jacked on screen by using the proper angles, lightning, etc. Hugh Jackman was in great shape from some of the Wolverine movies. But if you look at training pictures from that time he simply look lanky and lean with a small amount of muscle (search for Hugh Jackman deadlift or Hugh Jackman training). But in the movies he looks like a monster. A lot of these guys are A LOT smaller than you think they are when you see them on screen. They wouldn’t even stand-out in a t-shirt in a regular gym (there are exceptions of course). Van Damme and Stallone were around 175lbs for example. One of my clients is a strongman and gym owner in the UK, and they shot some parts of Thor near his place and even Chris Hemsworth is not big. He is fairly tall, with wide shoulders/narrow hims and was decently lean. But not what he would call jacked. Heck even Arnold was “small” (for him) in his movies.

  4. Most of these guys who undergo the transformations are not gym rats. A lot of them don’t train at all and those who do rarely train hard. So when they start to train for a role and go balls out they will progress pretty much regardless of the program they do.

  5. A lot of actors have the L.A. lifestyle; they party a lot, some take drugs other a lot of alcohol, they don’t sleep much, they eat too little protein and too much crap. When they go from that to a spartan lifestyle it will REALLY speed up their gains.

Basically we are talking about the following equation:

Beginner gains + Getting really lean + Better lifestyle/recovery + PEDs (in more cases than you think) = looking jacked ON SCREEN.

But in reality it is often quite different.

BTW when you see an actor looking jacked and 1-2 months later he looks like he never trained, it’s pretty much a sure sign of PED use. You don’t suddenly lose 20lbs of muscle in a month even if you stop training, unless that 20lbs was built by using PED.

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I can appreciate everything you just said, but ultimately doesn’t my question remain equally as valid?

Even if most of them take drugs, which I’ve read quite a few whose trainers were vehemently against them, why wouldn’t they use a high frequency low volume approach. For the steroid using actor, is a high volume each muscle group once per week more optimal than lower volume high frequency?

I’m not sure I understand how drugs shift the advantage from one training method to another.

Thanks again for your answers. And yes, recovery, hand picked diets, massages, etc of course make sense.

But many transformations don’t look way crazier than the ones I see at up fitness.

Dude, do you really think the trainer will go out and say that they recommend using drugs??? I’ve noticed that oftentimes those are the most vocal anti-doping guys are those that have something to hide.

  1. Because when you use drugs you don’t need as much frequency because the drugs trigger protein synthesis, you don’t need to trigger it with more frequent sessions.

  2. Because when you use drugs you can recover from more volume and likely grow better from volume work.

  3. Because the trainers they hire have always worked a certain way and they will use their habitual methods when training an actor. In other words they might not be aware or be comfortable with other approaches.

I understand. Im not naive. But I’ve read and followed Duffy Gaver, for example, who was a CrossFit guy and trained Chris Hemsworth for his first Thor. I know his philosophy is anti steroids. Im not saying all trainers at large. But a few key ones. Mark Twight from gym jones is another.

All this being said, you would never recommend a natural trainee to do this kind of volume work because it’s not optimal, correct? Regardless of genetics and recoverability.

This high frequency low volume thing is fairly new to me, but I understand the concept. Just wondering if it’s a rule or if it works for some and not others, even naturally.

Reading enough of these actor accounts and their trainers and seeing their progress always makes me wonder why they aren’t doing high frequency training. In fact, I’ve never read one of them using that methodology

I explained this in depth in a few articles.

Muscle growth is mostly about stimulating protein synthesis. A natural need the training session itself to trigger protein synthesis in the trained muscle. Protein synthesis is increased in a trained muscle for around 24h then it comes back down to normal. So if a natural train a single muscle once a week, his body will build that muscle for 24h and for the other 5-6 days no muscle is being built, unless he trains is again.

Steroids artificially triggers protein synthesis… it stays elevated 24/7. So even if you train a muscle only once a week you are still building it for the rest of the week.

Plus, steroids decreases the impact of cortisol (because it uses the same second messenger on the cellular level). Less cortisol = capacity to do more volume.

BTW if I were training an actor I would use more volume than in the low volume/to failure approach. But I would still use a higher frequency. Because an actor has no other stress during his days so he can tolerate more volume.

ALSO I know some trainers who worked with actors and a lot of them use the following split:

DAY 1 - Chest/Back
DAY 2 - Legs
DAY 3 - Biceps/Triceps
DAY 5 - Shoulders
DAY 6 - abs
DAY 7 - Repeat

Now… it looks like everything gets trained once a week… but the shoulders (the most important muscle too look jacked on scree with traps) get hit to some extent 3x a week (you hit shoulders when you do chest and also when you do triceps if you do close-grip bench and dips); triceps also get hit 3x per weel, biceps get hit twice. So there is more frequency than it looks like.

That’s his “public” philosophy. That doesn’t mean that things are not different in private. OR the actor can take steroids and GH without telling the trainer (I’ve had clients do that to me).

And if the guy is from Crossfit or Twight’s school of thought, they do a lot of conditioning work that hits the whole body… which gives them more frequency.

That’s not what I’m saying. The title “Best Damn Program for Natties” is misleading and an editorial choice. I use higher volume with plenty of clients. It does depends on genetics, neurological profile, schedule, nutritional status, etc. But I never train a muscle less than 2x per week.

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Didn’t realize that about steroids. Too bad they aren’t good for you, because that’s pretty amazing.

Ok all of that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the responses. I’ve read a lot on this and, believe it or not, there is a massive amount of online interest in this. I answered a question on Quora that generated well over a million reads. Just on my answer! And I’m not even you. Haha. So for what it’s worth it a popular topic

Everything works, but not everything works for everybody or everybody equally.

Low volume very high intensity and high frequency will work with everybody because it doesn’t exceed’s anybody’s recovery capacity.

Now one thing I’ve always said is that the more you train WITHOUT EXCEEDING YOUR CAPACITY TO RECOVER the more you gain.

The problem is that most people overestimate their capacity to recover.

But if someone is genetically gifted to tolerate more volume (this can be either due to hormonal, neurological or physical (fiber type dominance for example) factors) then doing a low volume approach will not give him maximal results because he could be training more.

The problem is that if you do more than you can recover from, you don’t grow/improve at all.

Yet most elite athletes use a higher frequency.

And what the actors recall/mention and what they actually did might be two different things (most don’t know shit about training). For example if at the end of every workout the actor does something like farmers walk, sledgehammer striking or other type of strongman/conditioning stuff they are hitting the whole body. So they could be doing a body part split first then doing some whole body conditioning which would cover the frequency angle.

Right. As a type 2a I’ve done quite a bit of different things, because I get bored. It’s hard to know if you’re doing too much. Recovery isn’t limited to soreness. I don’t think I know the markers of over training well enough to recognize them. But generally I must tolerate volume more because my body usually craves more.

Guess that’s the value of having a trainer, which I’ve never had. Another advantage to these actors

I find it boring because it is not applicable to “real people” with real lives and real jobs. To me that’s just another form of gossip

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Right. And that’s true, which is why I generally read about their trainers. Actors don’t remember much in detail because they don’t care

That might be true. But it’s the main example of physiques in the public eye. Probably why it gets so much attention. Every guy wants to look Ike Thor

BTW read this article… as you can see there is plenty of frequency:

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Thanks for all of your responses. When I can I’ll sign up for your online training. It’s a down-the-road thing for me but I’ll do it at some point!