Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most eclectic actors in modern cinema. From gay cowboy to troubled paranoid schizophrenic suburban teen, to LA cop, mountain climber, sick boy in a literal bubble, ambulance-chasing videographer, and a ton of others — Gyllenhaal is a well-rounded actor who digs deep in order to truly become the roles in which he is cast.
But “digging deep” oftentimes doesn’t just mean learning how to act like someone else; it requires becoming that someone — acting like them, adopting their mannerisms and even transforming oneself to resemble their likeness.
When Gyllenhaal was originally cast as fallen-from-grace champion Billy Hope in the boxing drama Southpaw, people were shocked. At the time, most of Hollywood really only knew Gyllenhaal for his role as the scrawny lead in Donnie Darko, or the scrawny boy in the bubble from Bubble Boy, or the scrawny sexually conflicted cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. He'd done End of Watch a couple of years earlier, but “scrappy LA cop” is a hell of a lot different from “champion prize fighter.”
People were shocked yet again in the months leading up to the film’s release, when photos started surfacing of Gyllenhaal looking like, well, a bad ass prize fighter. He was completely stacked.
Luckily, Gyllenhaal was very public about how he transformed himself from the scrawny obsessive ambulance chasing videographer in Nightcrawler (a role he lost 30 pounds for, by the way) to the hulked-out mad man he was for Southpaw. Here’s how he did it.
To Act Like a Fighter, He Trained Like One
In a promotional video released before Southpaw’s debut, director Antoine Fuqua revealed that when Gyllenhaal first signed on to the film, he told Gyllenhall that in order to act like a fighter, he had to train like one.
To Fuqua, that meant being in the gym working out twice a day, every day — even on Sundays. Fuqua even set him up with experienced boxing coach Terry Claybon out of LB4LB Boxing Gym in Los Angeles to make sure Gyllenhaal was doing everything to a T. For reference, Claybon was Fuqua’s own boxing coach, and also trained some of the greats — like Muhammad Ali.
The other thing Gyllenhaal said helped him was having Fuqua as a partner. Knowing the training would be super intense and very difficult for Gyllenhaal, Fuqua actually trained right along side him. They’d train as early as 4:30 a.m. for their first session, and then show up later in the afternoon for another — and Fuqua was there every step of the way.
In total, even without counting the 2,000 sit-ups he did every day, as well as his 8-mile daily run, Gyllenhaal worked out for anywhere from four to six hours every single day.
Intense Cardio and Strength Conditioning
When all was said and done, Gyllenhaal tacked on a total of 28 pounds of lean muscle for his role in Southpaw, and with as much cardio as he was doing, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scratching my head trying to figure out how. But, the proof is right there on the screen.
As I mentioned up top, Gyllenhaal started his morning — every morning — with an eight-mile run. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. Gyllenhaal would wake up every morning, do 1,000 sit-ups (yes, seriously) and then run a staggering eight miles — all before the day’s “training” even began.
It didn’t stop there. Claybon also had Gyllenhaal doing 15 minutes of intense jump rope training, and if you think “jump rope” and “intense” don’t belong in the same sentence together — feel free to go try it out for yourself.
Additional conditioning and strength training included, on average, another 1,000 sit-ups; a mix of over 100 pull-ups, tricep dips and push-ups; and extensive medicine ball training.
Footwork, Shadow Boxing and Bag Work
Of course, there’s no fight prep without a ton of footwork training, shadow boxing and bag work — and there was plenty of that.
Gyllenhaal needed a lot of help with his footwork, so they’d practice it for three rounds and a total of nine minutes per session. This wasn’t set in stone — sometimes they’d go for hours.
After working defense on the footwork training drills, they’d move on to shadowboxing. Six rounds — for a total of 18 minutes — spent learning forward-step movements, throwing punches, working combinations and learning all the moves Gyllenhaal would need for the movie.
Finally, they’d move on to the bags, transitioning from heavy bag to speed bag for another three rounds, at nine minutes apiece. It was here Gyllenhaal trained not just on punch accuracy, but also on things like technique, mixing offense and defense, and really learning how to kick ass.
The Mighty Tractor Tire
One of the cornerstones of Gyllenhaal’s daily workout routine was his work on the 250-pound tractor tire. It’s technically considered strength and conditioning training, but it was such a huge part of his daily routine that I thought it deserved its own mention.
Here, Gyllenhaal would do traditional flips, something like 20-ish times, which makes for an incredible total body workout. When he burnt himself out on that, he would also do some extensive sledgehammer training. In other words, he’d beat the fucking dust off of the tractor tire with a massive sledgehammer. Surprisingly, this exercise doesn’t just improve stamina and power, but it’s also an excellent core, hand and forearm workout.
Exact Routine (as per TRAIN Magazine)
Ok, great. So we know a little bit about how Gyllenhaal trained for his role in Southpaw, but do we know exactly what one of his daily routines looked like? Well, actually, we do.
Gyllenhaal sat down with the folks from TRAIN to discuss, in detail, what an average day in the gym looked like:
- 1,000 sit-ups
- An 8-mile run
- 1-2 hours of boxing/sparring
- 1 hour of core workouts
- 1-2 more hours of boxing/cardio
- 1 hour of weightlifting (shrugs, bench press, tire flipping, etc.)
- 1,000 additional sit-ups before bed
And that was it. Every single day. For an even more in-depth look at his precise workout routine, head here.
Six or Seven Meals per Day, Every Day
Of course, all of this intense working out would have been for nothing were Gyllenhaal not eating right. In fact, he was quoted in several places as saying that his entire look for the film really came from his diet.
On average, he would eat six or seven meals per day, every three hours or so. The general idea was that he’d load up on carbs in the morning to help give him the fuel to burn through his workouts, and then shift to a higher protein diet in the afternoon and evening to help build and repair all that muscle.
In an interview with Bodybuilding.com, Gyllenhaal said the following:
“My diet would consist of lots of eggs, chicken, fish, bananas, apples, almonds, cacao beans, raisins, goji berries, rye bread, pasta, couscous and potatoes, and lots of steamed vegetables and salad: avocado, tomatoes, broccoli, and other dark-green leaves. Nothing was fried, and everything was as natural as possible. I would drink plenty of water throughout the day, as well. In terms of supplements, there was vitamin D3 and vitamin C, and then also protein shakes.”
So, there ya have it, folks. No voodoo, no steroids, no bullshit — just good old fashioned hard work.
Next up, here's how Terry Richardson remained fashion's worst-kept secret for so long.