In today’s “How to Look Like A Superhero,” we’ll be checking out Gerard Butler’s routine in the movie, “300.”
“Madness? THIS IS SPARTA!” screams King Leonidas before he kicks a Persian messenger into a 10,000 pit that happens to exist on the edge of town. Easily one of the most testosterone-filled, uber gory, macho films ever created, 300 took the world by storm, suddenly making it okay to walk around in a loin cloth and yell things at people.
You’ve watched the movie, and you say to yourself in between your 3rd and 4th donut, “yeah, I want to look like that guy.” Well Skippy, here’s your chance to shine. To prepare for this role, Gerard Butler went through some of the most physically demanding training of any actor in recent memory to look like the true King of Sparta. Similar to Daniel Craig’s training for Casino Royale, Gerard went through many different circuits and unusual exercises to build terrifying amounts of lean muscle and destroy any body fat on him. By the time the movie started shooting, King Leonidas was one bad mofo you did NOT want to **** with. Gerard had to make three significant changes to his life during the four months getting ready for 300: his diet, his exercise routine, and his mentality. Yeah, not only did the guy have to eat like a warrior and train like a warrior, but he had to think like one too.
To accomplish the monumental task of becoming a Spartan King, Gerard tapped Mark Twight, a world-class mountain climber, who insisted on training like your life depended on it. He also kept his usual personal trainer, and often trained with both on a daily basis. After weight training, and circuit training, he’d go and do training with all the stunt/sword/spear trainers and work on his fight choreography, and then go practice the moves after he learned. When it’s all added up, Gerard often trained for six hours a day, for more than four straight months. Gerard would even lift weights in between individual shots to build up the lactic acid in his muscles and puff up their size (blog post coming on this soon). Personally, I think six hours a day is way too much training, and having two trainers is overkill, but it worked for Gerard and I won’t doubt the man with these results. He literally devoted his life to the physicality of the role, and it shows.
Back to the routine: rather than doing individual muscle group exercises every day, Gerard did exercises and routines that literally beat the crap out of him. Flipping massive tires, sprinting while being tied to a bungee cord, olympic ring exercises, and other unconventional exercises worked out his entire body and kept his muscles guessing, shocking them into continual growth and development. Think bootcamp style training, where weights and cardio and mixed in together and done without breaks. If it sounds miserable, it’s because it is miserable…and I mean that in the best way possible.
- Instead of doing regular pushups, he would put his feet on a bench, and extend out while supporting himself on just two olympic rings hanging from the ceiling. Not only would his body weight cause the rings to swing all over the place, but he would do crazy amounts of pushups on the rings, working every single fiber in his chest, triceps, and shoulders.
- By flipping tires, Gerard would get an intense lower body, lower back, and shoulder work out.
- Doing pull ups until his arms fell off. Pull ups will work every muscle in your back, biceps, and forearms.
Noticing a pattern? Instead of training with machines or barbells, Gerard wanted to train like a warrior, flipping over heavy objects, doing pull ups with his body weight, etc. To look like a warrior, you must train like one. Let’s talk about the famous 300 challenge (you can read more about it here), where you have to try and complete 300 reps of various exercises as quickly as possible:
- 25 pull ups
- 50 dead lifts with 135 lbs
- 50 pushups
- 50 box jumps
- 50 floor wipes – maybe the worst thing ever.
- 50 clean-and-presses with a 36lb kettle bell
- 25 more pull ups
Each actor on the movie’s goal was to finish this circuit as quickly as possible. One guy did it in approximately 18 minutes. My first time trying this “test,” it took me an hour and a half and I wanted to die. I’ll be trying it again soon.
Now, for you mere mortals, you can make great strides in the gym without exercising for six hours a day. In fact, I’d say that unless you’re a genetic freak or on steroids, this amount of training will most likely do more harm than good. I’m guessing that Gerard’s training varied from cardio, to strength, to flexibility, to power, to stability. I guarantee Gerard wasn’t working each muscle group every single day, because his muscles need time to recover! That’s when the real growth happens: on your days off. If you work your muscles in different ways, from different angles, with different goals each day (speed, strength, agility, etc.) you can work out like crazy and still see crazy results. Gerard, know that I’m not calling you crazy. Please don’t hurt me. I’m a big fan of Sparta.
I’ve scoured the internet looking for Gerard’s diet to prepare for this role, and I simply couldn’t find it. However, after studying similar routines and consulting various sources, I’m pretty confident I can guesstimate what he ate on a daily basis. To build muscle, cut body fat, and have enough energy to train for six hours a day, he had to eat:
- Insane amounts of protein (which can be found in eggs, grilled chicken, tuna and other fish, steak, protein shakes, and protein bars),
- Complex carbohydrates - oats, potatoes, multi-grain pasta, brown rice, eaten with his first few meals of the day to give him the energy to get through these grueling workouts.
- Limit carbs in the afternoons and evenings – because metabolisms slow down at the end of the day, and these carbs would then be stored as fat. Some disagree with this, so feel free to take it or leave it.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Water. LOTS of water.
Because he needed to not only be strong but have an extremely low body fat percentage, Gerard probably cut out nearly anything from his diet that wasn’t efficient. His body fat had to be in the single digits so you could see all the hard work he put in the gym. (Read here to find out the truth about your abs). To keep the energy levels constant, and keep enough protein in his system to constantly rebuild all his muscles after exercise, he would have to eat between 5 and 8 meals a day, spread out every 2 or 3 hours. Each meal would contain at least 30 grams of protein, a vegetable or two, some complex carbs, and water. Obviously this takes a lot of fine-tuning to ensure maximum muscle building and energy refueling without eating too much to build fat. It’s a science. Gerard treated his body like a machine and did everything possible to operate it as efficiently as possible.
Here’s a video discussing his role as King Leonidas and the training necessary to make it happen:
I’ll leave you with one of the most inspiring quotes I’ve read from Gerard about this training regiment: “You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes,” says Butler of his dedication. “That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, Shit, I should have trained more.”
“Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.”
Here’ the 300 trailer, just to get you pumped up for the rest of the day.
“Spartan, come home with your shield…or on it.”
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