When Chris Hemsworth was announced as the hammer-wielding superhero Thor in 2009, he began a gruelling process of packing on lean muscle mass to embody the 600-pound Avenger. Since then, we’ve marvelled at Hemsworth’s impressive physical transformations across Thor (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), as well as both The Avengers (2012) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Read on to learn about the training and diet principles the Australian actor followed to transform himself into the Norse God of Thunder.
In reality, Hemsworth’s transformation isn’t the product of any radical formula or fitness marvel (but it’s easy to get swept up in silver-screen superhero hype). Take any celebrity workout, be it Hemsworth’s, fellow Avenger Chris Evan’s transformation into super-soldier Captain America, or DC-rival Henry Cavill’s morph into the Man of Steel, and they all boil down to the same three ingredients. It’s the culmination of three tried and true fitness principles that’ll yield super-human results: training, diet, sleep (as well as a superhero sized dose of dedication).
Before being cast as Thor, Hemsworth had little experience in the weight room. Twenty-six at the time, he told People Magazine, “it was all pretty new to me”. For Thor, the goal was size. Hemsworth’s trainer Duffy Gaver described the brief as “bigger, bigger, bigger (!)”. Chris Hemsworth’s efforts involved six months of aggressive weight training with the objective of packing on 20–25 pounds of mass.
“The workout was probably more difficult than filming” said Hemsworth. And take solace: scaling yourself up to superhero proportions isn’t an easy feat. Even a guy of Hemsworth’s natural frame and size admits, “my body doesn’t sit naturally at that weight … I was working out six [or] seven days a week”.
So what did Hemsworth’s workouts involve? Trainer Duffy Gaver has shared a bunch of interesting information about the process. Hemsworth spent six months in the gym, working out for an hour or two a day. “[Chris] needed to put on some size: shoulders, arms, back. A lot of bent rows, dumbbell rows, rowing machine, heavy lat pulldowns to thicken him up. Heavy shoulder work, heavy arm work.” He focussed on “bread and butter” weight training, “stuff like squats, bench press, shoulder press, and even deadlifts.”
But there’s nothing particularly revolutionary here. Even for a god from Asgard. Gaver emphasises, “it’s the old stuff, for [celebrity workouts], for bodybuilding, nothing’s changed. The stuff that Arnold was doing in Gold’s Gym umpteen years ago still works. Your effort is a necessary thing. Discipline is a necessary thing. Intensity is a necessary thing … the fitness industry makes this much more complicated than it needs to be.”
Ask Hemsworth what the hardest part of the transformation was and he’ll tell you it was the food: “The eating was probably the most difficult part, and it wasn’t the fun kind of eating either. It was copious amounts of chicken breast and various animal proteins”. Your lifestyle becomes about, “eating a lot”. It boils down to “chicken, broccoli, brown rice”, adds Gaver. “That’s the crux of it. Massive amounts of chicken and red meat.”
Last, but certainly not least, the role of sleep in the fitness trinity should not be underestimated. “It is a three-legged stool”, says Gaver. “If you want to look amazing you have to train amazing, eat amazing and sleep amazing.” (Muscles grow while you sleep, so don’t neglect it!)
Interestingly, when Hemsworth finished beefing up for Thor, he found that’d he’d gained too much size: “I was just too thick … I was too blocky.” Director Kenneth Branagh told the actor, “it’s good you’ve got the size there, let’s try and pull it back just a little bit”. Hemsworth pulled back on the eating, and adjusted his workouts from “heavy lifting” to “cardio/crossfit style things” to achieve the Thor body we see on screen. And don’t forget about the power of the pump: Hemsworth performed “lots of little dumbbell things” on-set to achieve that little-big-larger look.
Chris Hemsworth is no stranger to radical physical transformations. He dropped his Thor bulk to play Formula One driver James Hunt in Rush (2013), and became a shadow of his superheroic self for the ocean epic In the Heart of the Sea (2015). (We’ve all seen that photo.) So how does Hemsworth motivate himself to keep at it? Gaver admits, “Chris was having a hard time with his training … [we talked] about training philosophy … your intensity, how you attack the workout, is everything”. Chris “loves epic workouts”, and like the god of thunder himself, “you go in there and just crush it.”
Let’s face it: we’re not all blessed with Hemsworthian genetics. Nor do we have access to Hollywood trainers, dieticians and gyms. But realistically, you don’t need to. There are a bunch of simple methodologies that anyone can apply to their fitness regime. Stick at it with Hemsworthian dedication and you can absolutely achieve similar results: