The mystique that surrounds Hollywood and its ripped men stem from a general lack of fitness knowledge by the average filmgoer, and the number of enhancements undertaken to get that perfect shirtless scene; thus being the distorted reality of the Hollywood physique
With the release of almost any major blockbuster, audiences are more often than not, treated to the almost obligatory physical transformations undertaken by the many established male actors or up-and-comers attempting to boost their box-office appeal. With studios attempting to capitalize on these physique transformations, one may find themselves bombarded by the many magazine shoots and online features of these actors, flaunting their ripped physiques during the lead up to a blockbuster film’s release.
Indeed the Hollywood physique is perhaps one of the most prevalent images in pop culture that has dispersed into the wider public conscience: a wide V-taper, washboard abs and big biceps; all being physical traits that, on the big screen, portray the ideal male physique. While women have always been subject with undue scrutiny for their appearances, men are often sidelined in the discussion of positive and realistic body representations in the media.
The infamous practice of manipulating one’s body composition, through bulking up or cutting weight, has long been a norm in Hollywood for both male and female actors; as such physical transformations often allow for varied acting opportunities. A dramatic physical transformation has all the potential in overhauling an actor’s career considerably as they now conform to the visual standards dictated by the industry.
Where once they might have been the funnyman in a popular television sitcom, they are now Hollywood’s go-to action star and leading men as studios attempt to capitalize on their new or renewed sex appeal; this seems to be most prevalent in male actors in their 30s, as they now graduate to increasingly demanding commercial roles as opposed to their earlier film roots which likely didn’t have as much box-office potential. Chris Pratt is a prime example.
With claims of "gaining 18kg of all muscle in eight weeks" to "from fat to fit" body transformation posts are being plastered over fitness magazine covers to viral celebrity Instagram posts. Members of the public may find themselves being overexposed to these Hollywood physique transformations which may set unrealistic expectations for those hoping to undertake their own transformations. The current research available states one may naturally put on a maximum of 18 to 22kgs of lean muscle over a lifetime, depending on their genetics.
As per the norm, a large number of the Hollywood physical transformations seen on the screen are carefully enhanced for selected scenes with make-up, angles, optimal lighting techniques, dehydration, last minute muscle pumping workouts and, in some cases, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) namely anabolic steroids. While most would equate the use of steroids to bulky bodybuilders or pro-athletes, the use of steroids does not automatically transform one into the Hulk; the reality is that the difference between an actor and a bodybuilder will often be the dosages of PEDs and diet.
The use of anabolic steroids is perhaps the film industry’s worst kept secret, as further evidenced with the number of A-listers who have been named as clients by the dealer of a recent steroid ring bust earlier this year. The negative stigma behind these PEDs comes not only from their illegal nature (unless prescribed) or potential health ramifications but also due to the general public perception that equates steroids to "cheating." The benefits of PEDs are as follows but not limited to: increased testosterone levels (beneficial for older actors), enhanced recovery time, increased protein synthesis, and with the use of HGH (human growth hormone) retaining their youthfulness.
To say every actor uses PEDs is incredibly biased and flawed, as achieving a Hollywood-caliber physique is undoubtedly possible without the use of such substances. However with building muscle, one must recover as much as they hit the weights and diet, with claims of undergoing “4 hour workouts” to “working out 2x a day, 7 days a week” many an actor defy biology as they toil away with minimal physical damage afterwards. Indeed the use of PEDs would dramatically decrease this recovery time and allow actors to get in shape by studio deadlines; as such their claims for their transformation seem suspect or in most cases, exaggerated.
While the use of top-of-the-line supplements, elite personal trainers and a regimented diet plans would undoubtedly allow these Hollywood actors an advantage in building muscle over the average male. One has to remember the role genetics play in shaping ones physique, to assume that everyone could simply train and diet their way to their goal is unlikely as the final outcome is dependent on things such as muscle insertions, skeletal frames, and body fat distribution, etc.
Often these claims made by the PR teams and studios should be blamed instead for creating an unrealistic representation of male physiques in the media. Misrepresenting and inflating the amount of weight and the ratio of muscle-to-fat put on is a tactic manipulated by studios and their PR teams from the get-go; what sounds more impressive: putting on 18kg of all muscle mass or 18kg of mass (11kg of muscle with 7kg of fat)?
The Hollywood physique is not an impossibility for those hoping to transform themselves, however one may be unlikely to do so within the time frame many actors claim. This should be kept in mind when considering one’s fitness goals. The mystique that surrounds Hollywood and its ripped men stem from a general lack of fitness knowledge by the average filmgoer, and the number of enhancements undertaken to get that perfect shirtless scene; thus being the distorted reality of the Hollywood physique.
Zoheb Ahsan is a young filmmaker, an occasional writer and fitness enthusiast. Having previously studied Political Science at Carleton University in Canada, he is currently enrolled in Film Production at Solent University, UK