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MINDSET – Road Less Traveled

Chris Hemsworth: Redefining the Action Hero

By Melinda Fulmer

Actor Chris Hemsworth’s sculpted, muscle-bound physique in the “Thor” and “Avengers” series of films has not only attracted legions of fans but also has served as inspiration for many to work that much harder at the gym.

But as awe-inspiring as Hemsworth’s chiseled frame has looked on film over the years, it hasn’t always felt so healthy, Hemsworth admits. Long hours in the gym each day and endless rounds of animal protein used to leave him feeling sore, stiff and exhausted at the start of the earlier films.

“I would achieve the results … but I would be incredibly fatigued, and my mood would be off,” Hemsworth says. “My approach now is much more strategic and sensitive to it being a lifestyle of fitness. It’s not just about aesthetically looking a certain way but being functional, as well.”

Cross-training for better results

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Hemsworth now mixes in yoga, martial arts, functional bodyweight exercises and even meditation with the classic weight training to boost his energy for those long hours on set in films such as next month’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Mixing it up also has helped him feel more loose and comfortable while engaging in the activities he loves, such as surfing and rolling around on the floor with his three kids India, Sasha and Tristan at home in Byron Bay, Australia.

Hemsworth has parlayed his active lifestyle into a personalized digital health and fitness app and program, Centr, created by Hemsworth and his hand-picked team of internationally renowned experts, including elite trainers, celebrity chefs, meditation teachers and well-being experts. His wife, actor and fitness author Elsa Pataky, is among the experts that contribute to Centr along with Special Ops trainer Joseph Sakoda aka “Da Rulk,” Hollywood trainer Gunnar Peterson, Hemsworth’s personal trainer Luke Zocchi, vegan bodybuilder Torre Washington, yoga instructor Tahl Rinsky and chef Dan Churchill—all of whom are teaming with the actor to lead users step-by-step toward their goals.

“My road to putting on the muscle for “Thor” now definitely requires a whole lot of work, but it’s far more enjoyable than it ever has been,” Hemsworth says. “I feel healthier, fitter and more functional now than six or seven years ago when I first started.”

“Staying motivated for me has always been about the variety of training … and involving myself in as many different methods as possible,” he continues. It’s easier to stick with a workout when it’s constantly changing. “The physical benefits and results are far better from shocking your body in different ways,” he adds.

Becoming Thor

For Hemsworth, transforming into the Norse god for Marvel movies is no small feat, requiring two to three months of heavy weight training six days a week to pack on the necessary muscle.

Before the first “Thor” and “Avengers” movies, Hemsworth would body-build for up to two hours a day and eat a steady stream of steak, eggs, turkey, lamb and other animal protein every two to three hours in an effort to bulk up his naturally lean 6-foot-3-inch frame, says his trainer Luke Zocchi. It was difficult, Zocchi says, just to keep that amount of muscle on for the duration of filming.

By the time “Avengers: Age of Ultron” rolled around, Hemsworth says he was struggling with stiffness and the fatigue was making him more prone to irritation and injury. But worst of all, his favorite pastime was affected because he lacked the mobility to move around on a surfboard as well as he once had.

“I would try to surf and my body would sort of freak out and say, ‘Hey, I’ve never moved in this way before,’” he says.

Changing the approach

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Zocchi and Hemsworth worked on overhauling his training and diet, and Hemsworth began doing yoga one or two days a week with his wife, actress Elsa Pataky.

At the same time, Hemsworth tried out a vegan chef to begin expanding the repertoire of plant-based meals he liked to eat. By the time “Avengers: Infinity Wars” rolled around, Zocchi estimates that 90 percent of Hemsworth’s meals were plant-based, with little to no impact on his build.

Hemsworth still eats meat, but these days, it’s a smaller part of his overall diet.

“I’ve learned how important nutrition is and how important your mental well-being and approach to it is,” Hemsworth says. If these pieces are off or he hasn’t gotten enough rest, he says he doesn’t get the same results.

Another more recent change involved adding meditation to the end of his workouts, Zocchi says, zoning out on his back on the mat and just breathing for five to 10 minutes to get his head straight before returning to set.

Interestingly enough, Hemsworth says he actually prefers the less bulky version of himself, and he is relieved when he can set aside the hammer for a while and engage in a much broader range of activity, as he did to prepare for playing Agent H in this summer’s forthcoming “Men in Black: International,” a spinoff of the Tommy Lee Jones/Will Smith franchise that plays to his comedic chops, as well as his brawn.

“We lifted nowhere nearly as heavy [for this role],” Zocchi says. “And we have started doing more functional bodyweight training five days a week.”

In fact, Zocchi says, now there’s no reason Hemsworth’s workouts have to take much longer than 40 minutes, even when he’s preparing for a big role. “We always train with a lot of intensity, [but now], we [also] take bigger rest periods,” Zocchi adds.

Focusing on recovery

Indeed, to ensure that the 35-year-old actor can retain his action-star status for years to come, rest and recovery have become a bigger part of the equation.

While Hemsworth has been lucky enough not to sustain any major injuries in all his years of heavy lifting for “Thor,” Zocchi says, like most people, he will occasionally get a sore back and relies on massage and stretching to get back on track.

Just as important, he says, Hemsworth is careful not to push too hard with strength training if he’s feeling too sore or tired. Instead, he will focus on cardiovascular activities such as playing soccer, basketball and tennis, which he did recently with pals on set in India, “none of which I was any good at it,” Hemsworth says with a chuckle. The main idea was just “having a laugh at yourself and with your mates.”

Hemsworth says it’s this group dynamic that stokes his competitive nature and keeps him going with a workout before or after long days on set. On location, he will often work out with Zocchi, his assistant, his stuntman, and even his hair, makeup and wardrobe team if they’re up for it.

These days, after fine-tuning his food, workouts and mental well-being practices, training for a role feels less like a “disciplinary training regimen” as it had in the past and more of an active lifestyle choice.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the body does respond in a much more efficient way if it’s treated with respect rather than just beating the hell out of it and expecting results,” Hemsworth says. “The maintenance and rest and repair are just as important.”

Train Like Thor

Workout tips from Chris Hemsworth’s trainer Luke Zocchi

To get insight into Chris Hemsworth’s intense physical training regimen, we talked to his trainer and childhood friend Luke Zocchi, who not only preps Hemsworth for roles but also travels to set with him, helping the action hero maintain his muscles over months of shooting.

Here are Zocchi’s key take-aways for staying in peak shape, wherever you are: 

  • Try bodyweight training. When you’re constantly staying in hotels, the gym equipment can be sparse. That’s when it’s great to turn to functional moves such as bear crawls, burpees and other dumbbell-free exercises such as kick sits.
  • Fit in exercise in bursts. While on set, Zocchi is a big fan of the 20/20s or doing 20 squats and 20 push-ups every hour during work.
  • Create a challenge. When Hemsworth doesn’t feel like cranking out any more exercises, Zocchi knows it’s time to appeal to his competitive nature. “I’ll say you just sit there and I’ll do it and you can watch it. It’s how I trick him into things,” he says with a laugh.
  • Maximize your time. If you check out Zocchi’s Instagram @zocobodypro, you’ll see that most of his workouts don’t take much longer than 20 minutes because he’s doing circuits that work multiple muscle groups at the same time.
  • Give yourself a break. If you’re training for five or six days a week, you can’t always perform at your absolute best, Zocchi says. If you’re too sore, drop the weights and just get some movement in.

Editor’s Note: Chris Hemsworth recently launched a subscription-based app, Centr, to bring fans fitness, nutrition and lifestyle guidance from his dream team of chefs, meditation experts and trainers—as well as his wife, actress Elsa Pataky.

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Author

Melinda Fulmer

Melinda Fulmer is a veteran writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience writing about health, food, and fitness. Her work has been featured in major media channels such as the Los Angeles Times, MSN, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Entrepreneur, HGTV.com, Prevention.com, and Details magazine.

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