As a London personal trainer, I’m always interested in the workouts of Hollywood actors when they prepare for their roles.
In American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper plays US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Bradley Cooper hired celebrity personal trainer Jason Walsh to help him bulk up from 185 lbs to a staggering 225 lbs in 3 months.
Bradly Cooper’s Workout
The ‘big four’ exercises dominated his workouts: squats (legs, glutes and back), deadlifts (whole body strength), bench press (chest, shoulders, triceps), and pullups (back and biceps). These are the 4 big beasts of the exercise world: multi-joint exercises which maximise the recruitment of muscle-fibres, and create a whole-body anabolic (muscle-growth) effect.
The cornerstone of his workouts was the deadlift in all its various forms: stiff-legged deadlift, Romanian deadlift, sumo deadlift (wide stance), landmine deadlift, all with a variety of grip widths.
In the film you see Bradley Cooper deadlifting a 425 lbs barbell in the Iraqi military base outdoor compound, and it’s for real. He uses a specially designed barbell which enables you to keep your centre of gravity throughout the lift.
In training, Bradley Cooper’s deadlifting regime also incorporated the landmine deadlift. This involves barbell set on the floor, and weighted on one end only, where you lift the barbell by standing facing the outside of the weighted plates, gripping the end of the bar. This exercise can also be performed by standing facing the bar (as in the standard deadlift) but at one end, and lifting from the weighted side only.
Safety tip for performing the deadlift:
Lift the bar initially from a squat rack rather than straight off the floor. If you do lift from the floor, lift the first rep (and all reps) primarily with the muscles of your legs and glutes (bum muscles), not your back.
Maintain a neutral spine throughout, never round your back, keep your chest up, keep the movement slow and controlled, and build up the weight slowly and incrementally, advancing to heavier weights only once you have mastered the technique. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Get a personal trainer or gym instructor to check your technique.
Bradley Cooper’s Weight-Gain Diet
During the 3 months of brutal workouts, Bradley ate big. Reports vary from 5,000 calories per day to 8,000 calories per day. Based on my experience as a personal trainer, I think it’s highly unlikely he ate more than 6,000 calories per day, given that he worked out several hours a day which you cannot do on a full stomach, and given that he didn’t want to become obese.
When you train big, you need to eat big, but it has to be the right kind of food.
There is very little detail in the media about exactly what Bradley Cooper ate, but in order to build serious muscle he would have to do the following:
1- Eat a lot of protein for muscle growth and repair: red meat, salmon, chicken, eggs. Bradley also drank high-quality protein shakes to get extra protein into his system efficiently (high quality protein shake means low in sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, and a protein with the highest possible biological value such as whey protein)
2- Drink a lot of water between meals to stay well hydrated, as you lose a lot of water in sweat when you work out with heavy weights. Water is also crucial to flush out toxins. Crucially, water bonds with glycogen (the stored form of glucose in the body, from digested carbohydrates) in the muscles to achieve the bulked-up look Bradley was aiming for (one molecule of water bonds with three molecules of water).
3- Eat plenty of complex carbohydrates to fuel the workouts and keep the muscles bulked up (glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver). You cannot possibly perform heavy workouts and bulk up on a low-carb diet, and it would be totally self-destructive to even try. So Bradley Coopers carbs would include wholesome foods like oats, chickpeas, sweet potato, rye bread. Top tip: avoid junk-food carbs when bulking up, unless you want to become fat. Keep the carbs unprocessed and as close to their natural state as possible.
4- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to maximise intake of vitamins and minerals, vital to keep your immune system topped-up during a period of heavy workouts. Intensive exercise can have an immune-depleting effect if you’re not eating enough of the right foods. The micro-nutrients in fruit and veg are also needed for a multitude of functions including energy release and muscle growth.
Bradley Cooper’s Personal Trainer: Jason Walsh
Celebrity trainer to several Hollywood stars, Jason Walsh is an expert in getting A-list actors ready for any role. Jason has a wealth of experience which began when he coached swimming and track & field sports at the University of North Carolina. Then he progressed to working under the world-class strength & conditioning expert Mark Verstegen at Athletes’ Performance in Arizona.
When Bradley Cooper came to Jason Walsh, Jason had under 3 months to help Bradley pack on 40 lbs in weight. You can’t put on 40 lbs of pure muscle in 3 months, but you can pack on a combination of muscle, glycogen stores, and some fat. This was perfect for Bradley’s role, which was to replicate the physique of real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.