What Can the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) Tell Us About Strength Training?

Posted on 27 Jun 2014 22:11

Critical thinking, like "evidence based training" is all the rage these days. That's great, if it was anything more than a couple of buzz-words. However, it seems that people in the fitness industry want to talk about good thinking, rather than do it. It's hard work. It's never-ending. It's kind of like deadlifts. There are those who do them, and there are those who shout "Booyah, arrrgh, deadlifts, BEASTMODE! Hardcore!" One of my main reasons for not believing that critical thinking is really something the fitness industry, at large, cares about, is that too many of its members do it selectively. In other words, they think about things they have a negative reaction to, and criticize those things, but when something happens to coincide with their general views, the thinking stops, even if it doesn't represent a credible "scientific" stance. One of these instances is anecdotal evidence, and "this works for me" prescriptions given by individual trainees, or better yet, celebrities who strength train or stay fit for movies, or what have you.

On that note, you may know that Hugh Jackman, who portrays Wolverine, does some pretty "hardcore" lifting to get ready for his roles. He engages in what even I would call strength training, and I am pretty "maximal" in my personal definition. A lot of guys would like to look like Wolverine, or at least Hugh Jackman playing the Wolverine, and Jackman had some pretty impressive deadlifts. He also has allowed the media "behind the scenes" of his training to get ready for the roles, and has YouTube videos of himself deadlifting, etc. I've even seen him and his trainer on some kind of behind-the-scenes TV thing for the Wolverine movies (I don't remember which one).

I wouldn't go so far to say that Jackman gives out advice, but his viewpoints on training are being shared around by quite a few fitness and strength professionals, including in the form of articles about what he says and does about training. To be honest, I don't really know all the details about what he says and does because I've paid very little attention. However, I am aware of some of the quotes and, well, it just so happens that Jackman's views are what many of us would consider "reasonable." Basically of the "lift heavy and keep your diet in check." No supplements, except, apparently, BCAA's (which I see as completely unnecessary). Since what he says "seems reasonable" it is treated like a "breath of fresh air" by personal trainers who are tired of celebrities and their silly viewpoints on exercise and staying in shape.

Now, let's imagine we're talking about Brad Pitt. After all, there are hundreds of "Brad Pitt Workouts" on the net. Let's imagine that Brad says quite the opposite. He uses "high volume body part splits" exclusively, never deadlifts or lifts heavy at all, and takes every bodybuilding supplement you can imagine. In fact, he spends much of his considerable wealth on supplements than he does on food. Remember, this is hypothetical. Now, just imagine the reaction if Pitt said those things. Is it "reasonable?"

Well, apply some actual critical thinking to both situations, the real one concerning Wolverine, and the hypothetical one concerning Brad Pitt: Both cases are anecdotal. Neither is credible evidence of good training practices. Just because many of us happen to agree with Jackman's way of doing things doesn't make him more of an expert or authority. It doesn't make him a professional. It doesn't mean that his experiences and results can be extrapolated to apply to a general population. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal evidence. And yet, if it is any kind of evidence, what is it evidence of? Both the body the Jackman has as the Wolverine, and the body Brad Pitt has in "Fight Club," many people would envy. Perhaps even more would envy Pitt's look in the movie Troy. Which one they envy the most has nothing to do with correctness. It has only to do with values. There is this old saying in strength training, after all: Guys either want to look like Wolverine or Spider-Man.

If Brad was able to achieve his chiseled ab "Fight Club" or more bulky but still chiseled Troy look with supplementation and commercial gym machines, guess what, the results speak for themselves. It just so happens that there are many fitness pros who would endorse his methods, hypothetically speaking, because of the results he got. And there are just as many who would equate his physique with health, completing the circle. It gets results and it's "proper." Others would reject his methods because they don't coincide with what these trainers consider proper. "He is full of shit. He doesn't know shit about training and his methods only apply to him. It's anecdotal evidence," they would say. Some of those same pros who would react that way are now quoting Jackman's views on training. Not because they think Jackman's views represent credible evidence, but because those views agree with their on. Sorry, but the old saying "You can't have your cake and eat it too," applies here. It doesn't matter how impressed you are with a heavy deadlift, you can't reject one celebrities "successful" methods and embrace the other on no other basis than you already agreed before you heard about them! Neither can be considered to be able to give general training advice to a general training population no more than ANY ONE PERSON with no experience training others and no real background education and knowledge in the field can. No matter how much I "like" what he has to say, I can't endorse his views as "evidence" for my own. As well, I'd have to have hundreds and hundreds of Jackman's to say I have evidence that my "lift heavy and eat well" prescriptions are credible, and even then it wouldn't constitute proof.

Most people are not really considering how unique such a celebrity's situation might be. Do we imagine that he ever really has problems with a large accumulation of body fat? I don't. For me, the struggle is eating enough to get results in my training. Gaining fat just isn't a problem. I can eat my ass off. If I told you, eat whatever the hell you want and train heavy, you'd have to call foul. It works for me because my body has a different sort of set-point. I don't store fat easily or for long term. If I start to put on a little, it will melt off as fast as it comes as soon as I lay off a bit on eating. Does that apply to you? Probably not. Jackman is also fond of smoking cigars. He dehydrates to look more cut before filming, much like a bodybuilder would. Should we endorse that as well? Let's be clear: He is a man with a job to do.

Another thing that many people are failing to notice is that Jackman's body has evolved greatly since the first X-men movie. His results have come over a substantial space of time. There are no magical methods that will turn you into the Wolverine overnight. That is one of the main things he has to say, after all, that it takes hard work and commitment over the long haul. Compare the two images below. They represent a span of 13 years. I would like to point out, however, that in the second image, he's 44! Yay for us older guys! Let's be real: You should hope to look this good, ever.


The Wolverine before and after: A 13 Year Span

When it comes to anecdotal evidence, we cannot embrace it based on how much we would like it to be credible, or how much we like it. We complain when famous athletes make commercials about soap, shampoo, cars, underwear, etc. as if they are experts on these things. Sometimes, they make even more serious statements about more serious topics. We complain when famous actors make statements about healthcare, such as Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine debacle. Is it because they are inappropriate authorities? Is it because, at times, they are making potentially harmful claims? Or is it because we just don't like what they have to say? In truth, nothing Jenny McCarthy says about vaccines has merit EVEN if she was pro-vaccine! And, as I've mentioned before, just because you like what Bill Gates has to say on the subject of vaccines, doesn't make him a credible source either! The same goes for the Wolverine! Sorry, but that is the way it "works." Jackman has a right to his results. He has obviously worked his ass off. He has a right to tell others about how he goes about it. And, one thing that he is quick to say is that it if downright frigging HARD. It is not easy. There are no shortcuts for hard work.

I get it. It is hard not to get behind Mr. Wolverine. He truly worked his ass off and controlled his diet very closely, and still does. He is not a loudmouth blow-hard. He's somewhat soft-spoken and he seems humble. He believes that it is easier to stay in shape than get in shape. How can you not like that message? Do I like what he has to say? Absolutely, you bet I do. He is a fellow lifter, if nothing else. The fitness industry, however, does not have a right to hold any of this up as evidence for their own practices, especially as it represents a selective bias.

This page created 27 Jun 2014 22:11
Last updated 05 Aug 2016 01:04

© 2016 by Eric Troy and Ground Up Strength. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.