The Fitness Secrets of One of Hollywood’s Most Prolific Martial Artists

Scott Adkins has starred and stunted in more than 60 movies and TV shows since the late ‘90s

November 15, 2021 8:24 am
Scott Adkins in One Shot.
Scott Adkins in "One Shot."
Screen Media Films

Scott Adkins is without question one of the greatest living martial arts actors, and arguably the most prolific. Over the course of his already impressive career, he has consistently pushed the boundaries of onscreen action, from screen-stealing roles in Doctor Strange and The Expendables to his signature work in the successful MMA-centered franchise Undisputed. 

No matter what the project is, Adkins can always be counted on to bring incredible physicality and extraordinary martial arts ability. It is that kind of dedication that has raised him to the top of the genre, and it hasn’t been easy on his body. Grinding through multiple battles in every film means not just dolling out damage, but also taking plenty of it. 

For Adkins, the goal is to stay in the game as long as possible, and keep making bangers while he does it. There are no signs of slowing either, as he has been hard at work on John Wick 4 and Accident Man 2 at the same that his latest projects — Castle Falls and One Shot — hit screens big and small. InsideHook recently spoke to the English actor about his journey into the genre and how he stays in combat shape.

InsideHook: When you first started out in the action movie business, what part did training play?

Scott Adkins: I used to increase the training quite a bit when I was getting ready for a martial arts film. I wanted to get my body prepared for the abuse, and give it the endurance of what it takes to be fighting all day, every day. These days, when I finish a movie, I spend any spare time that I get working to rehab any strains or injuries. And I try to fix myself up so that I can get back into the fray. I feel like Humpty Dumpty sometimes, like I just need to put myself back together again so I can get back on the wall. Hopefully I don’t fall off.

How do you train for your movies now?

I have a gym in my house. I have loads of Century Martial Arts equipment that I have gathered together, like their BOB. Flexibility is incredibly important, and stretching. I remember how I was able to move when I was 18, and you want to try to keep that. I naturally was doing a lot of work on my legs with the martial arts, but that was all by happenstance. It is okay to be strong, but if you are doing it at the cost of flexibility, that will come back to bite you.

That is something that I didn’t know in the past, and wish that I had, because I didn’t work on it hard enough when I was a young guy. The rest of the body got pretty tight and broken in places. If I knew back then what I knew now, I probably wouldn’t have trained as hard as I did. I know that I was pretty rough on my joints, and there is a sell by date that comes with those parts. You learn to be smart about it, but of course when you are young you can get away with it. I have all the experience now, and I know how to make these movies. I just need to keep the machine well oiled and I can continue to do it.

Before starting a day of action on a film, how do you get warmed up?

First thing in the morning I will have a nice stretch. It is good to free the body up early, and start in the right way. So the day of an action scene I will be sure to do an extra long one. Especially if you were doing a whole lot of action and beat up your muscles just a day before. Of course, you don’t always get that kind of time on a movie set, but if you do, you have to take it. I won’t do a static stretch before a scene, more of an in-motion kind of stretch to put your body into different movement patterns.

You’ve worked with some of the best actors in the world, what did you learn from them?

Marko Zaror, who is a fellow martial artist and actor, taught me a great deal. I greatly admire him, and he also has become a great friend. He gave me some great training tips back in the day, plyometrics and explosive movements. He taught me how to jump higher and push harder.  I saw him training like an athlete who was preparing for the Olympics.

I remember training with Arnold Schwarzenegger on The Expendables, doing a back and biceps regime. I can’t say that I learnt that much from the experience, because by that time I had read every single one of his books already. But it was just a thrill to get the privilege to work out with him. Arnold was doing a bit of maintenance, doing a bit of back and biceps. It was funny, because he was giving us a difficult time about going too hard, “Come on guys, I am just trying to do some maintenance here.” But it was hard not to want to get the most out of that kind of moment.

Since I have had the privilege of training with kickboxing champions and UFC fighters. You pick up little things all of the time with these people. Getting to make movies with this huge collection of fighters from different disciplines is a great way to expand your own abilities. It makes you a better martial artist.

Scott Adkins is a martial arts actor.
Scott Adkins

Before you had a chance to work with the greats, who did you look up to?

I don’t want to leave anyone out! For me personally I have to say Van Damme first, but I have to say Steven Seagal. Not to mention the guys who might be considered B-movie martial arts stars that must be given respect like Gary Daniels, Richard Norton and Jeff Speakman. They aren’t B-movie stars to me, they are legitimate and the real deal. Then there are the legends, like Bruce Lee, who will always be the man. The main man. He is the face of martial arts, and definitely the face of kung fu movies.

Being a fan of Van Damme and Universal Soldier, it must have been incredible to join that franchise.

Definitely, I never imagined that I would be starring in a Universal Soldier film. I remember watching the first one in the theater as a kid, I think it was the first over-18 movie that I saw. I snuck in. But my favorite Van Damme movie was Double Impact, because there was “Double the Van Dammage”. That may be the best tagline a movie has ever had.

There have been a lot of great moves in your movies, but are there any in particular that you are especially proud of?

When I did Undisputed 4, the fight coordinator was Tim Man. He is known for doing these crazy kicks in his projects, and he gave me 10 new moves to do just for that film. I was already pretty deep into my career, about to turn 40, and now I was being give 10 completely new kicks to do. I was proud to be at that stage of my career and still able to raise the bar.

Of course there is the Guyver Kick, which everyone knows by now. But probably the best kick that I have ever done, and that I personally love to watch, is in Undisputed 3. I am fighting with Marko Zaror, duck a punch, jump up, and then kick out like this. I land on my back and flip straight back up. Every time I see that I think, “God you’re good, Adkins.” And I have to give a little pat on the back to myself.

Perhaps you should create a YouTube video where you just have that on a loop, and you can put it up whenever you are feeling down.

Yes, that one deserves a GIF for sure. I am going to have to make one for that.

I have to imagine, going as hard as you do, that there have also been quite a few significant injuries. How have you dealt with those?

There are a lot of films that you get injured on, and then there are some that you get badly injured on. There are a few that come to mind. I remember in Ninja 2, I badly pulled my back. It was so bad that I could barely kick, and that film had 11 fight sequences. I just had to grit my teeth, get on with it, and get through the pain. It is miserable to feel like that when you are really trying to push forward.

Six weeks before I started filming Universal Soldier I tore my ACL. I went into that production with no ACL, and at the time I didn’t realize that you could get this knee brace. That it would act like a proper ACL would, from the bottom of the calf to the top of the thigh. But all I had was a crappy thin sleeve that I pulled over my leg. By doing that I made it worse, smashed a piece of meniscus out of my knee.

Did you allow yourself to take a break after that? When were you able to fix your ACL?

I did Expendables and a few other movies before I got the surgery, because I didn’t want to turn down those roles. They were too good to give up. I made my knee worse during all of that, but I don’t regret it at all. I knew that if I came back too soon after getting the surgery, that I could tear the ACL all over again, which would mean I would be out of commission even longer. I didn’t want that, because it wasn’t cheap to get the surgery done either.

I made sure that I gave myself nine months before I did another martial arts film. I put a lot of work into rehabbing that leg, and it eventually became stronger than the one, because I was so diligent about it. I did two other movies in the meantime, that didn’t have any action.

Speaking of rehab, do you use any gear in particular for recovery after training or a film?

I remember the first time that I saw a massage gun it was being used by Georges St. Pierre’s coach. I ordered one from Canada, and ended up paying more for the delivery than for the actual product. Now there are Theraguns everywhere. But they work great.

Do you have any new exercises or programs that you have incorporated into the routine these days?

Everybody has jumped on the bandwagon these days, but recently I have to say, I have really enjoyed what the Knees Over Toes guy from Instagram has been doing. I am well into that. What he says makes so much sense. That we should be trying to strengthen the muscles all over the body, in that lengthened position. It is something that has definitely changed my approach to stretching these days. I have definitely felt the benefits from his program. It is great because you can get into those awkward positions easier and easier without having to warm up into it.

How do you make sure you are getting the right kind of energy?

I focus on just eating healthy, balanced foods. I have tried a lot of different kinds of diets, like keto, but they don’t work for me. I have always eaten lots of meat, because I come from a family of butchers. I personally need to have carbs, especially if I have a lot action to do I need that energy. I do do intermittent fasting, it has been a sensible way to keep the calories day. So I skip breakfast, and I am used to that now. I make sure to eat a sensible lunch and dinner, but I am not super scientific about it.

You’ve starred in quite a few military movies over the years. How do you make sure that you are getting it right each time?

The key is to have a great military advisor. For this movie we worked with a British Army soldier named Tom. It was his job to help make sure that the way the soldiers were moving, holding weapons and the tactics that were being used were authentic. I have done my fair share of military films, so over the course of all of them I have learned the proper way to do things in most instances.

Martial arts actor Scott Adkins in Ninja 2.
Martial arts actor Scott Adkins in “Ninja 2”
Millennium Films

How did your latest film One Shot come to be?

I was finishing a movie with James Nunn the director back in 2015, and at the end of the shoot we came up with the idea to do an action film in one continuous take. The film took a little bit of time to get off the ground and 1917 came out. I was a little upset because I got it in my head that people were just going to think that we were copying that. I thought a few times that we should throw the towel in, but James and the producers soldiered on. We shot it finally in 2021.

What primarily interested you when it came to doing a one-shot movie?

There is something about an unbroken take that captures the attention and pulls you in. The intensity level keeps rising as the plot thickens, and I think it really suits the aesthetic of the way we shot it. I think it works really well.

There are a few different modes of fighting scenes.

We wanted to stay true to the story and the tone of the movie, which is very serious. The stakes that we are looking to portray are real, they are life and death. There was a part of me that wanted to do some outlandish action, like Tony Jaa did in The Protector, but I didn’t want to mess with what we were building towards. The action works, it is great, it is visceral and entertaining. But it is also not too crazy, if you know what I mean, and that really helped us delivery authentic action.

There are a lot of great projects that you have upcoming, but is there anything that you would like to happen in the future? One that I was excited to hear from the Mortal Kombat stars Lewis Tan and Joe Taslim was the idea of you playing Johnny Cage in the next one.

That has been exciting to hear. I mean when it comes to Mortal Kombat, who really are they going to get for Johnny Cage? Are they going to make a heinous error? We’ll see. But I have to say, that would be cool.

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