Health and Fitness

Train Like Tom Holland With This Legit Superhero Workout

Your friendly neighbourhood ectomorph mixes strength, speed and cardio for functional fitness that still looks good in spandex, with help from PT George Ashwell
IMAGE Instagram / Tom Holland
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Five years ago, when a virtually unknown actor by the name of Tom Holland was auditioning to play the third incarnation of Spiderman in 13 years, he decided to break out the big guns. With rumours circulating that Holland was close to nabbing the role, a video emerged of him performing a goddamn backflip off a palm tree.

Cue Marvel execs readying the suitcase full of cash there and then.

Five films later the rest as they say, is history.

Maybe Spiderman isn’t your thing. That’s fine. But you can’t deny the physicality Holland brings to the red and blue spandex. Now branching out into roles such as a war veteran turned killer (The Devil All the Time), an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer (Uncharted) and a heroin-addicted former marine (Cherry), it’s clear Holland is aiming less for friendly neighbourhood nice guy, and more for brooding tough guy.

Naturally, each of these roles entails a specific level of physicality which, for a slight of frame actor can take some work.

This is where PT George Ashwell comes in. As co-founder of Before The Lights, a private training space balancing personal training, injury rehabilitation and nutritional advice, Ashwell has a shedload of experience training actors for the screen.

“One of my best friends is an actor so I started taking on acting clients through my friends,” he explains. “It became a bit of an expertise of mine, doing quick turnaround stuff. I don’t tend to get more than 6-8 weeks with a client.”

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Ashwell was recommended by Holland’s agent just before filming began on Spiderman: Far From Home in 2018. At the time, Holland had been working with a different trainer but was struggling with a series of injuries which were limiting his progress.

“Our ethos is to teach you how to fix the root of an injury, not just manage the symptoms,” Ashwell explains. “With most of my guys, I’m not intending to work with them forever, I want them to be able to look after themselves.”

The Mission

While Holland’s second Spiderman outing was mostly about working through injuries (the details of which Ashwell is keeping close to his chest due to client confidentiality), Cherry posed a whole new set of challenges.

The upcoming film sees Holland starting out as a high school age child, before becoming a marine and eventually a drug addict. Three very different physiques that Ashwell had to prepare Holland for with very little time.

“They shot all the skinny stuff first, then the school kid stuff then the army stuff,” says Ashwell. “I thought that was probably the best way to do it.”

To prepare to play a drug addict, Holland spent six to eight weeks on a calorie deficit diet – something we don’t recommend you try for yourself.

“It was quite hard, lots of low-state cardio, slow runs and sweaty HIIT sessions,” says Ashwell. “We couldn't lose all the muscle – we couldn’t go full Machinist – because he needed to bounce back quite quickly.”

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Building Up

After the skinny scenes were shot, Holland had to bulk up. But because filming was continuous, there was no convenient break where he could go off and spend two months hauling barbells around.

“Normally you have a day where the actor has his top off, so you’re working towards that,” Ashwell explains. “It’s like if you’re working with a footballer, you want them to peak at the World Cup final. We didn’t have that here.”

Instead, the mission was to slowly build weight throughout filming. To make training as painless as possible, they set up a gym in Holland’s house complete with versa climber and free weights. Park runs helped round out Holland’s marine physique.

Because Holland had to balance building muscle with making the drug addict section of the film believable, Ashwell focused on multiple muscle groups each day for steady, even progress instead of a rapid bulk.

“Because we weren’t aiming to bulk up too much we could do more muscle groups in one go,” he explains. “It’d be a whole body circuit split into perhaps a posterior chain legs exercise with a horizontal push and pull, (so chest and back) then anterior legs (like a squat) with a vertical push and pull.”

Holland’s previous injuries also added another level of consideration.

“Tom is one of the most body-aware people and is very easy to train, but we’re trying to make sure he doesn’t get hurt which is why we don’t tend to do more linear, body building type movements,” Ashwell explains. “We do more functional stuff in order to make sure he doesn’t get injured.”

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The Tom Holland Workout

This HIIT routine will build a solid base level of fitness, swapping fast gains for sustainable muscle. Complete four sets with as little rest as you can handle between exercises. You have one minute’s rest between sets.

Bear Crawls

Reps: 60 seconds

Rest: None

Start with one minute’s worth of bear crawls back and forth covering the length of the room. Dig deep; these will open the body up to new planes of movement, helping to increase functionality and prevent injury.

Shoulder taps

Reps: 20 each side

Rest: None

Next, stay down for 20 reps of press-up position shoulder taps. Engage the core, grit your teeth and push through the burn.

Dumbbell thrusters

Reps: 20

Rest: None

Grab a low weight and perform 20 reps of dumbbell thrusters – holding the weights at your shoulders, squat down then drive up and lift the weights over your head, locking out your arms. Again, this is great for building functional muscle.

Renegade rows

Reps: 20 per arm

Rest: None

Straight into renegade rows. Get in a push-up position holding two dumbbells, then brace your core and row your right hand up to your right hip. Pause, slowly lower, then repeat with the other arm. Keep the weight low, unless you're an actual superhero.

Push-ups

Reps: 20-30

Rest: 60 seconds

Finish with 20-30 press-ups. Struggling through the last few rounds? Use a higher surface like a bench to help you across the finish line. Once you've wrapped that up, take a 60-second breather, then go again until there's no fuel left in the tank.

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors.

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