If you want to learn exactly how Glen Powell built his incredible physique for Top Gun: Maverick, one man has all the answers.
When Glen needed to transform his body in just seven weeks for Tom Cruise’s blockbuster Top Gun sequel, he came to see Nick Mitchell.
Nick is widely regarded as the world’s leading personal trainer. He is the CEO and founder of Ultimate Performance – a global personal training business with a track record of 25,000+ jaw-dropping body transformations with everyday clients.
If anyone could get Glen in big-screen shape for the role of a lifetime in a matter of weeks, it was Nick and his Ultimate Performance team.
The mission was simple. Glen needed to get lean, look muscular and carve out show-stopping abs for a shirtless American football montage that pays homage to the iconic Volleyball scene in the 1986 original.
But Glen didn’t have months to get in shape. He didn’t have the luxury of training seven days a week. And he didn’t have a legion of chefs prepping every meal.
So Nick created a smart and targeted training program using the same principles we use with thousands of our time-pressed executive clients. Here Nick shares the ‘secrets’ to Glen’s training that absolutely anyone can use to get in shape.
Nick’s revealing interview covers:
- How we set Glen’s seven-week transformation goal
- The muscles we focused on to get the ‘look’ Glen needed
- The ‘magic’ behind Glen’s training program
- The exact workout that Glen did for his chest, back, traps and abs that you can try
- Nick’s trick for keeping Glen fired up in every single session
- Old school bodybuilding technique for making Glen’s physique ‘pop’ in the film
- How Glen overcame to challenge of ‘no time’ that every busy person faces
- Glen’s results and achieving the ‘holy grail’ of body recomposition
- Nick’s simple principles that anyone can follow to get in shape, like Glen
GLEN’S TOP GUN TRANSFORMATION GOAL
What was the brief that Glen came to you with?
I think we had about six or seven weeks before the ‘tops off volleyball replica scene’. The famous beach volleyball scene that there is in Top Gun, is an American football scene in Top Gun: Maverick.
Glen’s goal was to look as good as possible. Get as lean as possible. Look dry. Just look impressive. Pow! Wow! Yeah! What impact can Glen’s physique have on camera in six to seven weeks’ time? We wanted to maximise the impact.
What can you actually do to achieve a blockbuster visual transformation in a matter of weeks?
You’ve got to have the raw material to start with. So the raw material with Glen was very, very good. He already had a solid base: he is naturally athletic, consistently exercised, and he is a fast responder to weight training.
Everyone always says this about the celebrity that they train. “Oh, he works so hard. He’s such a great guy, blah, blah, blah.” They always say this, right? So I feel a bit reluctant to just follow the usual party line, but genuinely well, look, you’ve seen the videos of him training.
He is a very dopamine-driven guy that loves high energy, hard, all-out exercise. And that speaks to my soul. If I’m good at training someone, that’s what I’m good at training. So it was a bit of a marriage made in heaven there.
CREATING THE BODY GLEN WANTED FOR TOP GUN.
What ‘look’ did Glen want to bring to Top Gun, and how did you piece together a program to deliver the body he wanted?
What I did was just analyse what was going to make him look good. What poses, what stances, what positions does he look his best in, or does he pop the most in? Then he’s going to practice those. And that’s what you see in the movie.
There is a shot of him and it’s on some of the Top Gun billboards, right? That’s what we practiced in the mirror. You practice it. You practice the angles. What angle do you want to hold? What needs tensing, and what muscles do we need to bring up? What detail do we need to bring out? What do we want to focus on in order to enhance that look?
What were the key muscles you wanted to train to bring out so Glen could look his best on the big screen?
It’s the mirror muscles. It’s the front. You are not trying to create big, massive muscles. You can’t create massive muscles in that amount of time, but you can create detail by getting people leaner, sharper, and certain muscles fuller in a relatively short space of time.
The eye is drawn to the detail. You can have a big man with big slabs of muscle, and then you can have a smaller man still with muscle, smaller slabs of muscle, but everything is clearly delineated, right?
Everything is sharp, everything is crisp, and the eye is drawn to the detail. And when you see the detail versus the big slab, the detail looks more impressive.
Which areas of Glen’s body did you need to work on specifically to bring out the detail in the muscle?
Chest, shoulders, and traps. People forget to work their traps. But the trapezius muscles are very easy to develop. So let’s work those to give a look of strength and power. What can you do with the vascularity in the arms? You might not get the arms bigger in a short time, but can you do something that makes the arms a little bit veinier – a little bit more detail. Abs, serratus, intercostals – all of that kind of stuff.
Legs. He’s got good, strong legs. So, for instance, we didn’t do any kind of bodybuilding-style leg training. We would do leg training, but more from a movement perspective and more from doing strongman type exercises, like work on the track pushing a sled, pushing a prowler, and farmer’s walks. This helped to ramp up his metabolism and burn calories as much as anything else.
I didn’t want to use the limited amount of exercise time – and critically, the limited amount of recovery time – overtaxing his body and working legs. It’s all about the ‘money shot’ – and the reality is, the legs are not going to count for the money shot. This is the money shot (upper body). So this is what we maximise.
BUILDING GLEN’S TRAINING PROGRAM
How often could Glen get into the Ultimate Performance Los Angeles gym each week to train?
It was much the same as with many of our busy, time-pressed executive clients. It was three to four times a week. He had very limited time. I had limited time.
What too many people do in the personal training industry is they don’t think about what their client is going for. So they would’ve trained Glen’s legs, and they would’ve trained his hamstrings, and they would’ve done a balanced program and all that stuff.
Well, we didn’t have a balanced goal. We had a very short space of time to achieve a certain look in very, very specific postures poses – the ‘money shot’. So we had to really maximise that.
GLEN’S TOP GUN WORKOUTS
Glen did not have time to train 5-6 days a week.
With his filming commitments, he had limited time in the gym (1 hour maximum, 3-4 times a week), so his program was largely based on bringing out the mirror muscles – “the money shots” that would have maximum screen impact.
His workout split was:
If the frequency of training was high for a given week, we would add a strongman and abs-focused extra session.
We did not train “legs” as a direct body part because we wanted to focus on the ‘look’ which necessitated frequency of stimulus on the upper body while maximising recuperation for the upper body.
HOW GLEN STAYED MOTIVATED IN EVERY TRAINING SESSION
How motivated was Glen in training to complete this seven-week transformation?
Unbelievably motivated. Here is a young man on the cusp of the biggest movie break of his career, going into one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic boys’ movie of all time. Starring opposite the biggest male movie star ever. And he’s got a very specific role.
His role was to be the cocky, brash, good looking, aspirational-physique guy who takes his top off and bam! I mean, his motivation was sky-high. He doesn’t need motivation because he’s just – again, I sound like every trainer talking about their celebrity client – the guy is the most upbeat, positive person you’d ever wish to meet.
Were there any tricks you used to keep Glen’s motivation and intensity where it needed to be in training?
Glen, when he is in shape, he’s going to sweat a little bit. So the top will come off in the gym when he’s feeling confident with himself. To get him going, I’ll give him a little slap. Not necessarily slap around the face. I give him a little slap, and it got to a point where he would be like, “Slap me! Slap me!” Bam! And you know, my big paw print marks on his back.
Someone might look at that and go “whoa, this guy is abusing his client!” It’s all consenting adults, first of all, right? So whatever consenting adults do is fine.
It’s not about punishing. It’s not about hurting someone, right? It’s “Wake up! Feel it! Wake up. What are you going to do? Life is not a rehearsal.” He’s not the guy to cop out on an exercise, but if he was backing up on something or when the going was getting tough, it’s “what would Tom Cruise do? What would Tom Cruise do?” Tom Cruise is all in. Everyone knows Tom Cruise is all in!
So when you see the imagery of the videos of Glen training, and it might look like it’s hammed up for the cameras, it’s really not. It’s all-out war, every single time. And that’s what he enjoys. And that works for me, especially because that’s the kind of training that I enjoy doing for myself. And I enjoy doing with other people.
HOW WE MADE GLEN’S PHYSIQUE ‘POP’ ON SCREEN
How did you get Glen looking great in the all-important Top Gun beach scenes?
We did the poses while he was resting between the sets. Using the money shot example, if you think you’ve got a money shot in a movie, you don’t practice that money shot at home by yourself once a week. And you don’t just lift weights and diet for that money shot. What you actually do is it becomes almost like an isometric exercise, and the more you practice flexing in a certain way, the more control you’re going to have over your muscles.
And the more detail you can bring out, if you’re lean enough, the more striations that can be shown through, for instance. A little experiment for someone that doesn’t know this, if you flex your left quadricep, and you’re lean enough to have some muscles show up. Don’t flex the right one, flex the left one every single day. Spend five minutes flexing the left leg for a month.
That left leg is not going to get bigger or strong, but I absolutely guarantee you that left leg is going to show more muscular definition than the right leg after a month. This is just a fact. So again, what we did, in between sets, whilst resting, we were practising, practising, practising, practising. A lot of these body comp visual aesthetic lessons are things that I’ve learned from bodybuilding over the last 35 years.
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES GLEN FACED DURING HIS TRANSFORMATION
What would you say to people that say, “Oh, it’s easy for these pampered celebrities to get in shape”?
It’s easier for the ‘pampered celebrity’ to get in shape if the pampered celebrity is training with Nick Mitchell, because he’s going to get to train with me. But you still have to do the work.
No, I’m not lifting the weights for him. I’m not getting him up at five in the morning to get to the gym early and then go and go off somewhere to do the flying lessons and then film until late in the night, and then do it again the next day. I’m not the one that’s preparing his food and feeding him. People always say, “Oh, well, they’ve got the chefs. They’ve got this. They’ve got that.” Tom Cruise has. The Rock has. The rest of them don’t.
They are relatively successful people, just like the overwhelming majority of clients are relatively successful people, but they don’t have professional chefs preparing all their food. They’ve got to sort their food out themselves. They’ve got to get themselves to the gym. They’ve got to do the work themselves. Is it a little bit easier with me in your corner? I would like to think it is. I’d like to think I add some value.
But they’ve got to do the work. And you will find that some celebrities getting ready, don’t put the work in, and you’ll find that others do. There will be a commonality between the people who are really going places in their careers. Those actors and actresses going places in their careers will put more work in with their trainers because it’s part of their job. But you’ll also see that with, with clients. There’s a commonality between the go-getters versus the excuse-makers across industries and across professions.
THE RESULTS GLEN ACHIEVED
What body transformation metrics did Glen hit from start to finish – whether weight or body fat?
With Glen, we didn’t really track metrics. We were most interested in how he would look on camera than numbers. But, as I recall, his actual weight didn’t change, but he got leaner and leaner and built more and more muscle, which is the holy grail when it comes to body recomposition.
You can’t do that forever. We managed to have his body weight stay the same and he got leaner and leaner. You can do that for six or seven weeks. You can’t do that week in week out for 50 or 60 weeks. You reach a threshold, and then things change. Those fast results change and slow down.
How much difference can you make to someone’s physique in six or seven weeks?
You can make a huge difference. If someone is committed, you can make an enormous difference in a very, very short space of time. In a month, massive. Everyone can significantly change their physique in a month. You can’t create a world-class physique in a month, but every single person can make massive inroads into how their bodies look in a very, very short space of time if they are prepared to commit.
And it’s all about how prepared are you to commit? How many boxes are you prepared to tick? There are 100 things you need to do. If you’re prepared to do 30, you’re not going to progress as much as you’re prepared to do 70. Glen was probably prepared to do 90. And then it’s your genetics. Are you a fast responder? Are you a slow responder? Glen’s got good genetics as well.
Are you pleased with the results you achieved with Glen?
I always think, ‘oh, what could we have done better?’ Again, this sounds so cliche, but I’m actually very pleased and proud for Glen for what he’s achieved so far, because you’re not going to find a more deserving or grateful guy to be honest with you. It’s very good when you see one of the good guys win.
Glen one month into his Top Gun transformation program at Ultimate Performance.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM GLEN’S TRANSFORMATION?
What can the average person take away from this? Or learn from Glen and the principles we used to get him in shape?
You get out what you put in. The law of specificity always applies. What are you working towards? What do you want to achieve? What look do you want? What do you want to get out of your training? And when you’ve decided on that, have a plan and work that plan as hard and as committed as you possibly can. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.
What we do at U.P. is a beautiful thing in so many ways because it’s not arbitrary. It’s not left to chance. Everyone’s results vary because everyone has a different starting position and a different genetic response. But everyone can make dramatic and significant body composition, aesthetic, and health changes in very short spaces of time. It’s all down to how hard you work and how committed you are. It doesn’t have to be “I’m going to spend 15 hours a week training. I’m going to track every morsel of food.” It doesn’t have to be that way.
The more you can do, the better. The more committed you are, the better. But it’s very easy to create a plan that works around you, works around your lifestyle, works around your stresses and your strains. And once you have the plan, go gung ho. Go all in. Glen went all in and had tremendous results. He’s gone all-in in his life, all-in with his career and having tremendous results there. So it’s really that simple. It’s a beautiful thing. You get out what you put in. You can never ask for more than that.