How Christian Bale Went From Pathetically Skinny to Super Buff

When Christian Bale appeared in the 2004 move The Machinist he was a scary sight. His dramatic weight loss was so extreme that he looked like an emaciated skeleton. That he was able to go from that to the physique he revealed less than a year later in The Dark Knight is the most amazing transformation we have ever seen.

Bale Before and After

When he filmed The Machinist, Bale weighed in at a mere 120 pounds. For his turn as Batman, he rocked the scale at 189. How did he achieve these amazing results. Did he turn to steroids or other artificial means of packing on muscle? Or was it all down to discipline and hard training?

An Actor’s Devotion to his Craft

When you take a look at Christian Bale’s body of work, you can’t help but be impressed at the lengths he has gone to in order to inhabit the characters he plays. While the dramatic weight loss for The Machinist was the most extreme example, he has demonstrated an iron will and steely discipline on many occasions as he manipulated his diet and exercise regime in order to either add or gain weight. This made him the ideal choice to take on the Batman challenge.

For his role in The Machinist, Christian had to lose 63 pounds in just three months. He did it by virtually starving himself. His diet consisted of just a single apple and a can of tuna. Despite this pitiful level of caloric intake, he then threw himself into intense workouts. He managed to go from 184 down to 121 pounds in just 12 weeks.

Even though this crazy amount of weight loss sounds very dangerous, the whole thing was done under the supervision of a doctor, nutritionist and personal trainer. Christian knew when he was preparing for the role in The Machinist, that his next gig was to play the caped crusader. His long term strategy was to eventually gain back all the muscle with an extra few pounds added for good measure.

The Bulk Up Begins

Bale comparison

Between the last day of filming on The Machinist and his first screen test for Batman, Bale had only six weeks. He immediately threw himself into a bulking routine. The diet was going to be the key. He didn’t have time to slowly start rebuilding calories. It needed to be huge and immediate.

He began eating every 2-3 hours. At every meal his goal was to get 50 grams of protein intro his body. This was to be achieved by concentrating on lean proteins such as pork, steak and lamb. He would also eat up to 18 eggs per day. Protein drinks, consisting of hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate, would also add to the calorie count.

The total calorie count that Christian consumed every day while claiming back the weight that he’d just lost was between 3500 and 4000. He ate clean in that he didn’t touch junk food or even alcohol. The Bruce Wayne physique had to be lean and agile not slow and pudgy.

Muscle Scorching Workouts

Christian is no stranger to hard, heavy exercise. In fact, he has a reputation as one of the hardest training guys in Hollywood. His training to play Batman consisted of explosive movements with heavy resistance, and compound exercises. H also added in plenty of agility and plyometric type work to develop the speed and fluidity to transform him into an authentic looking superhero.

The reliance on just a few compound exercises allowed Bale to go all out on the exercises that really matter when it comes to packing on quick mass. A compound exercise is one that requires a large number of muscles in the body to work together in order to do the work. They are multi joint movements, the most common ones being squats, deadlifts, bench press and military press.

Here is the precise gym protocol than Bale followed during the six weeks between wrapping on The Machinist and doing his first screen test for Batman.

  • Chin up
  • Seated Cable Row
  • Clean Pull
  • Power Clean
  • Bench Press
  • Squat

Even though there are just six exercises here, by the time they were done, Bale would be completely exhausted. The Chin Ups and Seated Cable Rows were done first as a super set. This means that you go directly from one exercise to the next with absolutely no rest between. This set the scene for the grueling moves to follow. Four supersets were performed. On the Chin Ups he’d go to failure and then be spotted for an extra couple of reps by his training partner. Reps on the Seated Cable Row were 12 each set

Clean Pulls are a classic powerlifting move that require you to explode a bar from the floor to a position at chin level in a single motion. This is a raw power move on which Bale would pyramid his sets down as the weight ramped up. The rep scheme over four sets was 12, 10, 8, 6.

Bale performed the bench press on the Smith Machine, which has a guide track that allows you to push the bar along a pre-set path. Using the machine allowed him to make use of drops sets, where he would push out as many reps as he could (usually 6-7) before his partner stripped a plate off each end of the bar. He would then do another 3-4 reps. The partner would then strip off more weight and he would pound out a final few reps.

BatmanOn the bench press, a similar reps / weight system would be used as with Clean Pulls (12/10/8/6 reps). The drop set would be performed on the last set only.

The final power move was the classic squat. Christian’s goal here was simple; go as heavy as possible with perfect form. After a warm up set of 12 reps, he performed 4 sets of between 6 and 8 reps.

This weight workout would be performed 3 times per week on alternate days.

On between days, Bale performed agility training. It consisted of the following:

  • Sprints: 5 sets of 30m / 5 sets of 40m
  • Freehand Jump Squat – 4 sets of 10/8/6/6 reps
  • Power Jumps – 3 x 15
  • Burpees – 3 x 14
  • Box Jumps – 2 x 20

Speed and agility training would take place at a very quick tempo with virtually no rest between exercises. This was in contrast to the compound workouts, in which rest periods of up to 3 minutes between sets allowed for maximum recovery.

A New Body Emerges

The physique that Bale presented at the fist screen test for The Dark Knight blew the director away. The emaciated look of just a few weeks ago was nowhere to be seen. Instead he was ripped, massive and heroic looking. This transformation will forever stand as a testament to one man’s dedication to his craft and provide an inspirational example of just what the human body is capable of.

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