Ryan Gosling is that guy for a lot of people. Women want him, men want to be him (or vice versa), and it seems every film he’s in—whether he’s playing the screw-up detective, tattooed dirt bag bank robber, mysterious stuntman/getaway driver, love-struck poor guy, bioengineered human hunter or any of the dozens of other roles into which he is cast—you can always count on one thing: he’s going to be in damn good shape.
Gosling adopted one of his most intense fitness regimens ever while training for his role as Julian in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. Julian is an English gangster who runs a Thai boxing gym in Bangkok as a front for his drug smuggling business, which meant not only would Gosling have to be able to look like a big, intimidating criminal, but that he’d also have to learn a thing or two about Thai boxing.
According to his trainer and Muay Thai gym owner Kui Puk, Gosling put a lot of time, effort and discipline into sculpting his body and getting in shape for Only God Forgives, and if you’ve seen the movie, you know it definitely showed. Here’s how he did it.
A Simple, Traditional Thai Fighter’s Diet
It’s not uncommon when actors train for roles in fight or action films that the rumor mill starts swirling. You hear whispers about things like steroids or them going on “One Cheerio a Day” diets or all types of crap that somehow made it feasible for these actors to get in the shape they did for their roles. Fortunately, none of that’s true in Gosling’s case. He ate right, trained hard and made sure that when the cameras were rolling, he was ready to play the part.
While training for Only God Forgives, Puk suggested Gosling stick to a traditional Thai diet of fish, green veggies and rice. Yes—gasp—Gosling was purposefully eating carbohydrates while trying to lean out and get fit for the role. The diet—including the white rice—is actually perfect for packing on lean muscle and bulking up a bit for the physically demanding role because he was packing on muscle with lean protein, benefiting from all the vitamins and minerals of the green veggies, and using those simple carbs to digest quickly and provide much needed fuel for his workout and recovery.
On the whole, fish is an excellent source of lean protein, which is great when you’re trying to keep your physique lean and mean. Since Gosling was trying to look shredded and bulk up a bit, fish worked perfectly with the carbo-loaded rice he was eating. Fish is also chockfull of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which are great because rather than getting stored as body fat like other fats, they get burnt off while our bodies are working hard or in recovery. They’re also high in minerals that help boost metabolism, which keeps our bodies burning fat even when we aren’t working out.
Vegetables—particularly green ones—are super high in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to our bodies when we’re putting them through the kinds of rigorous physical training to which Gosling was subjecting himself. They’re high in minerals like fiber, iron, calcium and potassium, as well as vitamins like K, C and B-6. Many are also anti-inflammatories and are packed with antioxidants, too, which is an added bonus when constantly beating on your body.
Finally, you may not be aware of this if you aren’t big into bodybuilding, but white rice is actually an excellent carbohydrate to help your body recover after a hard workout. Rice is a fast-digesting food packed with simple carbs that, when eaten before a workout, help give your body extra fuel to work with, and after a workout, provide fast-digesting carbs to help drive amino acids to muscles and help get your body into recovery mode as quickly as possible. Plus, if you’re already low in body fat as Gosling was before he started training, your body’s metabolism is likely high enough to eat through all the carbs you want to throw at it. Some bastards just have all the luck. So long as you’re moderating your intake of simple carbs like white rice, the benefits are definitely clear.
Tons of Upper Body Strength Training
When it comes to packing on muscle and increasing size, strength training is where it’s at. While Puk has been tight-lipped about Gosling’s exact workout plan, there’s no doubt that it involved a ton low-to-moderate rep, heavy weight training. The trick for Gosling’s physique here is that Refn imagined him as someone who wasn’t completely stacked, but would probably make you think twice about talking shit to at the bar. Think scrappy, but svelte.
And that’s exactly how Gosling appears in the film. He’s lean, but his shoulders, back and chest are huge, which leads me to believe there was a lot of emphasis placed on things like pull-ups, bench and shoulder presses, a variation of dumbbell work (flys, incline flys, etc.), rows, etc.
How you choose to work those muscle groups is up to you, but definitely make sure you’re focusing on your upper chest and pecks, shoulders and back. In other words, I don’t think he spent a lot of time in the squat rack for this role.
His Secret Sauce: Muay Thai Training
One thing Puk wasn’t so tight-lipped about was how he got Gosling ready to kick ass and take names like a real Thai fighter. The answer: Muay Thai boxing. They didn’t cut any corners, either.
Puk has gone on the record as saying Gosling was in the gym training hard at least five days a week, and that his Muay Thai sessions would last for roughly two hard hours at a time.
Muay Thai is a great workout because aside from being fun and interesting, and aside from offering people a viable self-defense skill (and aside from being a crucial part of Gosling’s role as Julian), it’s also a great way to get some high-intensity interval training going. Cardio work is a big part of every solid workout regimen, especially if you’re trying to drop body fat and lean out. While some of the most popular options include work on a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical, Puk opted to have Gosling in the ring working gloves and bags.
You can actually see a little bit of Gosling’s work with the gloves during this brief featurette (see above) about the film. Gosling looks like he has himself a pretty quick left cross. If that doesn’t look too intense to you, give this video a watch, and then imagine Gosling banging like that for two hours straight. Yeah. It’s tough, but as you can see, it all paid off in the end.
Also just want to put a quick disclaimer down here that Gosling is actually only in, like, one fight scene in the entire movie, and he gets his ass handed to him by an old guy. But hey, at least it looks authentic, and he looks good doing it.