When Fight Club first hit the big screen in 1999, people weren’t just blown away by the big-screen adaptation of one of Chuck Palahniuk’s most renowned works or the story of Tyler Durden and the unnamed narrator; they were amazed by Brad Pitt’s incredible body. Say whatever you want about the film’s plot, or the acting, or the cinematography, or anything else you want, really, but there is no denying that Pitt brought his A-game with him onto set.
In fact, his physique for the film was so rock solid that it’s still a topic of conversation on bodybuilding and nutrition forums, internet blogs, and even Highsnobiety articles, nearly 20 years after the film’s original release.
But what was Pitt’s secret? Blood of a virgin babe? Two cartons of Newports a day? A coke habit? Truthfully, it wasn’t magic; it was hard work, determination and a strict diet.
Pitt was at just five-to-six percent body fat for the film, which means that on his 5-foot, 11-inch frame he was probably clocking in at around 155 pounds. In order to get down to that weight and keep that kind of physique, it was a lot of hard work.
High Reps and Low Weight; One Muscle Group per Day
For Pitt’s role as Tyler Durden, he wasn’t focused so much on being a big meathead as he was being shredded and punchy. Edward Norton’s character was a smaller guy, and since Durden was supposed to be a more aggressive and badass version of him, it made sense to keep him small.
As weightlifters and bodybuilders will tell you, there’s a real easy way to sum up weight training: if you want to get big, lift heavier weight with fewer reps; if you want to lean out and tone up, put up less weight with more reps. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the rundown.
Pitt also focused on one muscle group per day. Mondays were chest day, Tuesdays were all about back, Wednesdays were shoulders, Thursday was arms (biceps and triceps), and the rest of the week was dedicated to cardio and resting.
Pitt’s exact workout routine was this:
Monday — Chest
Push-ups — Three sets of 25 reps
Bench press — 25, 15 and eight reps at 165, 195, 225 lbs
Nautilus press — 15 reps at 80, 100, 130 lbs
Incline press — 15 reps at 80, 100, 130 lbs
Pec deck — 15 reps at 60, 70, 80 lbs
Tuesday — Back
25 pull-ups — Three sets to fatigue
Seated rows — Three sets at 75, 80, 85 lbs
Lat pull downs — Three sets at 135, 150, 165 lbs
T-bar rows — Three sets at 80, 95, 110 lbs
Wednesday – Shoulders
Arnold press — Three sets at 55 lbs
Laterals — Three sets at 30 lbs
Front raises — Three sets at 25 lbs
Thursday – Biceps & Triceps
Preacher curls — Three sets at 60, 80, 95 lbs
EZ curls cable — Three sets at 50, 65, 80 lbs
Hammer curls — Three sets at 30, 45, 55 lbs
Push downs — Three sets at 70, 85, 100 lbs
Friday & Saturday – Cardio
Treadmill — one hour at 80-90 percent of maximum heart rate
Cardio, Cardio, Cardio
As I mentioned above, Pitt managed to get himself down to five-six percent body fat for his role as Tyler Durden. If you’ve never really given a shit about fitness before, that percentage is merely a number. You read it and say, “Okay, I gotta be six percent body fat, gotcha.”
But if you’ve ever stepped foot in a gym or you’ve ever been on a diet, you know that abs typically begin to show somewhere around 13 percent body fat, and anything under 10 percent will look pretty shredded. The fact that Pitt was able to bring his body fat down that low is pretty damn remarkable. And it’s worth noting that there’s simply no way he could have done it just with strict dieting and weight work.
The real secret to Pitt’s physique was cardio. If you want to look like Tyler Durden, you have to accept as early on as possible in your journey that you’re not trying to be big, but that you’re trying to be toned. Weight training will help develop those muscle groups, but only cardio — a significant amount — is going to burn enough fat to really make your muscles show.
Pitt was only doing two hours on a treadmill per week, but he made those two hours count by really pushing himself and working at 80-90 percent of his maximum heart rate. That’s some serious fucking cardio.
Diet Is More Than Half the Battle
This topic tends to be confusing for people because every now and again some big-ass weightlifter will post a video of their daily caloric intake and brag about how they have to consume like, 10,000 calories per day or some crazy shit like that. But it’s important to remember that those people have entirely different goals for their bodies than Pitt did.
For his role in Fight Club, Pitt ate extremely clean, consuming a diet mainly of chicken and fish, brown rice/pasta, green veggies, and oatmeal. Eating this clean isn’t easy, and it involves several meals throughout the day, in heavy moderation.
Allegedly, an average day of eating for Pitt while prepping for the role looked something like this:
Breakfast: Eggs (six whites, seven yolks) and 75g of oatmeal with raisins. Occasionally, Pitt would replace the eggs with a protein shake if his schedule was tight.
Midmorning Snack: Tinned tuna in whole wheat pita breads
Lunch: Two chicken breasts, 75-100g brown rice or pasta, and green veggies
Mid-Afternoon Snack [Pre-Workout]: A protein bar or whey protein shake and a banana
Post Workout: whey protein shake and a banana
Dinner: Grilled fish or chicken, brown rice or pasta, vegetables and salad.
Evening Snack: Casein protein shake or low fat cottage cheese (slow release protein).
For all this food, you’re looking at less than 2,000 calories for the day. It’s hard to place an exact number on it because it really all depends on the particular brand of protein powder (check out seven of the best supplements that actually work right here), the size of the shakes, the servings of rice, etc.
No matter the exact count, it’s clear that Pitt ate extremely clean. He ate only as many carbs as his body needed to power him through his workout, and pumped his body full of the protein necessary to build and repair the muscles he was working.
Next up, 7 workout supplements that actually work.