This is part two of an ongoing series called “You’ve Got 31 Days” — i.e., the number of days you have to get in shape this May, before taking your shirt off becomes obligatory. All month, we’ll be testing a fitness routine from one celebrity or athlete each week. From Marky Mark to Dwayne Johnson to Arnold Schwarzenegger, we want to know if these regimens live up to the physiques of the superstars behind them.
In the ‘90s, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a niche star who many knew in passing, but few knew intimately outside of pro-wrestling circles or the exclusive turtleneck-fanny-pack club.
These days, The Rock is part of our daily life. You can’t walk down the street or thumb through an Instagram feed — much less sit through the trailers before a movie — without seeing Hollywood's chrome-dome laughing, flexing and being an all-around mirthful human. Baywatch, The Fate of the Furious, Moana, Rampage, Jumanji ... he’s been everywhere, man. And he isn’t slowing down.
One of the many reasons for his success? His apparently namesake physique, of course. A few months ago, Johnson uploaded the training regimen he used to get in rock-hard shape for the role of Dr. Bravestone in the upcoming Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. So I took it for a test drive.
Below, you’ll find the details of the workout (including links to the full plan) and how I fared. I’m no gym rat — just an average guy who grew up playing sports but put fitness on the backburner in favor of my career — so my experience should represent a pretty fair assessment of whether The Rock’s plan is feasible for normal human beings.
“We're all busy, we're all tired, we all got families to feed and work to get done. Whatever it is, find your anchor. Use it and project it. It'll help bring you balance in this crazy thing we call life.” — Dwayne Johnson via Instagram
Day 1: Back
Exercises: Vince Taylor Hammer Strength 1-arm pulldown, reverse-grip cable pulldown or Hammer Strength pulldown, one-arm dumbbell row (two-second pause at top), Charles Glass-style hammer high row, wide-grip cable rows (using pulldown bar), superset with rope pullovers, hyperextensions (hands behind head), dumbbell shrugs.
Off the bat, just looking at the eight exercises, it’s clear this is going to be much tougher than my first week of Marky Mark’s VHS tape. But on my way to train, my body felt prepared, craving a truly limit-pushing workout. Then, bounding up a flight of stairs, I tripped, almost falling into the gym door. Not a good omen.
Starting with back day had me in a false sense of security, because unlike legs and arms, the potential immobility of my back doesn’t pose an immediate threat to my daily existence. But the easier-seeming moves kicked my ass the most. The one-arm dumbbell row wrecked my back with the added two-second pause at the top that Johnson indicates. I ended with hyperextensions (figuring a body-weight exercise would be a breeze), but had to become that overzealous gym grunter just to get through the three sets.
The Rock's Instagram is good for a pep talk. I listened to this one before every workout.
Day 2: Chest
Exercises: Standing cable fly (cables set halfway up), Star Trac incline fly, Hammer Strength incline press, flat dumbbell press (palms facing), flat dumbbell fly superset with pushups to failure.
After stretching, I wanted to tackle the intimidating seven sets of the standing cable fly first. Two sets in, a guy in a tank asked how many I had left (because, despite there being plenty of open machines, him and his partner just had to use mine?). “Like two or three?” he asked. Try five, bub — I’m going full Dwayne-Highest-Paid-Actor-In-The-WORLD-Johnson over here!
I said I’d let them work in, but they declined, most likely intimidated by my now-swole-AF physique. But as the session went on, I depleted all of my intimidation supplies; chest day brought me to absolute muscle fatigue despite being only five exercises long. The last one, a flat dumbbell fly with pushups to failure, broke me. As I went on the ground to do pushups, my arms quivered and gave out before I could even begin to do one. I cooled down on a stationary bike, soaking my shirt with sweat while watching Baywatch trailers on TV.
Exercises: Legs — Barbell glute bridge, leg extension (single leg), leg press, walking lunges, vertical leg press, lying leg curls (single leg), glute-ham raises. Shoulders — Reverse fly machine, incline bench bent lateral raise, dumbbell side lateral raise, dumbbell front raise (palms up and palms facing), standing dumbbell shoulder press.
As it turns out, I’m fallible (unlike The Rock, apparently). I had to combine leg and shoulder day because a heavy workload and night at the theater made me miss a day at the gym. To make it easier on myself, I switched back and forth between leg and shoulder exercises so I could give each muscle group more of a break than usual.
Not to say this day felt any easier, as it required the most pre-workout research. Anyone can go into the gym, hit the machines, look at the diagrams and get in a solid sweat session. But when it comes to the barbell glute bridge (something I had never encountered) and other exercises involving free weights, if you don’t look up the correct form, you’re not only going to look like a fool — you may seriously injure yourself. So I watched videos on the glute bridge, then went head high onto the gym floor and pressed that barbell with my buttocks like I’d been doing it since birth. But after all was said and done, finishing with the vertical leg press, my legs shook walking up the stairs. Think Grandpa Joe when he first gets out of bed in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and you've got the picture.
FYI: I used baby weights compared to what The Rock is using here.
Day 5: Arms
Exercises: Cable curl, EZ bar spider curls (lying on incline bench), superset with standing EZ bar curl, dumbbell preacher curls, reverse-grip pushdown, EZ bar skull crusher to close-grip press, single-arm cable kickback, rope pushdowns to leaning overhead extension.
The skull crusher (what Wahlberg called “nosebreakers”) to close-grip press was also included in my Week-One workout, when I tested Marky Mark's Form… Focus… Fitness. That’s where the similarities end, though. The arms routine follows suit with The Rock’s whole total-muscle-failure theme.
This session fell on the first day of open house week at my gym, so it was packed with New Yorkers wild-eyed with the fear of not having a beach-ready body. But during the four, five, even eight sets of these exercises, I watched these newcomers sleepwalk through curls and presses without breaking a sweat. So even when my triceps were on fire in the middle of the rope pushdowns to leaning overhead extensions, I kept thinking WWJD (What Would Johnson Do?) and pushed through to the Promised Land.
Day 6 and 7: Rest Days
Johnson recommends taking two rest days a week when doing this intense of a routine, but he uses this slide on Under Armour website to note other elements of the training regimen to build in throughout the week. Including: a pre-workout set focusing on abs and calves 2-3 times a week; incorporating planks and hanging leg-raise isometric holds every day; and doing 15 minutes of post-workout cardio five times a week.
The Rock keeps the Marky Mark tie-in going with a shout-out.
Conclusion: While the specific details of this workout are lacking, and it doesn’t include a diet plan, it is 100% the real deal. It seems like Dwayne Johnson typed this out and handed it over to the Under Armour team, and they transcribed as is. And if it’s good enough for The Rock, it’s good enough for me.
That said, it’s imperative that you do your research to understand the proper form for each exercise, as well as use weights that make sense for you — not what you see in Johnson’s Instagram. Yes, he lifts more than you, and in the grand scheme of body shapes, he’ll probably always be bigger than you. On the bright side, this grueling program will undoubtedly put you on track to be a miniature version of The Rock. I know I’m keeping it on file for when this series is done.
Next week, I take on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s workout regimen. Have a suggestion for one you want me to test? Send it to me at email@example.com.