How to Look Like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
For his role in American Sniper Bradley Cooper gained around 40 pounds of lean mass in 12 weeks, starting at 186 pounds and eventually bulking up to 225 pounds. Damn. While I’m very skeptical it was actually all lean mass, I’ll say that you can gain massive amounts of muscle and look like Bradley Cooper too, without having to workout 4 hours per day, pound supplements like it’s your job, or have a trainer with you constantly. Interested? Yea you are. I’ll show you how, but I have to give you this disclaimer: Gaining muscle takes time! Don’t expect to train a little, eat a little and gain 40 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks. You’ll learn how to gain muscle in the most efficient way possible, but first, let’s examine the workouts it took to stimulate the type of muscle growth Bradley Cooper needed for his role as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Much different from how Gerard Butler and the actors in 300 got ripped.
Bradley’s Exercise Plan
- Intense weight training two times per day focusing on strength in the morning and muscle building in the evening
- Up to 4 hours of working out in a day
- Progressive training, adding volume (More sets) every 3 weeks and working up to as many as 10 sets by the end of the program
- Saturday and Sunday off to allow for adequate recovery
Basically, to look like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper you have to train a little. Go figure.
If you look more in-depth at his workout program you’ll notice a few other things:
- Use of multi-joint movements like deadlifts, various presses and rows. To be effective in gaining muscle you’ll have to do more than bicep curls and calf raises (Sorry to break it to you). Exercises that work multiple muscle groups should make up the majority of your muscle building program. As you can see from Bradley Cooper’s workout plan, he did just that.
- Focus on the shoulders, traps and triceps especially. Want to look big? Having big shoulders and traps is vital. Besides doing heavy pulls, twice per week Cooper worked shoulders, traps and triceps. Did it help? Have you seen how big he looks in the movie? Point proven.
- High volume Friday PM workout. With a full two days of rest during the weekend, Cooper did an especially high volume workout for his Friday evening session, his last workout of the week. Looking closely at his workout plan you’ll notice particular care in the recovery aspect of his training.
Bradley’s Nutrition Plan
You’re not going to look like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper by simply exercising hard – you’re going to need to pay close attention to your nutrition and eat a lot. Like, a shit ton. Yes, that’s an exact amount. Let me explain.
The specifics on what foods Bradley Cooper ate while he bulked up nearly 40 pounds to play Chris Kyle aren’t currently online, but a couple of things that he did for his nutrition are:
- Cooper had an extremely in-depth supplementation plan. This might be an understatement – His supplementation plan was straight up ridiculous! It consisted of consuming various supplements before workouts, after workouts, prior to bed and pretty much all day. On his most intense training days he consumed supplements as many as 9 different times throughout the day including:
- Micro-PA (Used as a pre-workout 1 hour before training to aid in muscle growth through improved protein synthesis)
- Finibar (Also used as a pre-workout to provide sustained energy for the intense training – includes around 40 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat)
- Indigo-3G (To help control how carbohydrates are handled by the body to optimize muscle, not fat, gain. Taken within 30 minutes of working out)
- Plazma (For optimal performance and recovery during intense periods of training)
- Mag-10 (Stimulates protein synthesis, aiding in muscle building efforts)
- He also consumed 5,000-6,000 calories each day, eating every 55 minutes. Some reports even said he consumed as many as 8,000 calories in a day. According to Men’s Health, he had a personal chef prepare 5 meals per day, besides all the supplements he was taking. Like I said before, you need to eat a shit ton of calories if you want to gain that much muscle mass.
Muscle Building If You Aren’t Bradley Cooper
Wait, so you don’t have four hours per day to train or the money to spend on a ridiculous amount of supplements like Bradley Cooper, but you still want to gain muscle mass? No worries, I’ll help you out. You don’t have to be on the American Sniper workout plan that Cooper used to gain muscle, but you do need to follow some of the core principles of his plan to have the most success.
Your Muscle Building Nutrition Plan
The most important thing you’ll learn about when trying to gain muscle mass, especially the amount of muscle mass that Bradley Cooper gained for American Sniper, is that you need to eat more. I’ll repeat this again for emphasis – EAT MORE. You can workout as much as you want, but if you aren’t providing your body with enough fuel you simply aren’t going to gain muscle mass. Just look back to what Bradley Cooper was doing. The guy was eating 5,000+ calories each day. 5,000 calories! If you want to get bigger, you need to eat more, plain and simple. If you end up putting on too much body fat while trying to gain muscle, scale it back and spend some time getting lean.
You may be wondering how many more calories more you should be consuming. A good amount to start with is 500 more calories than what you are currently eating. Since it takes around 2,800 calories to gain a pound of muscle this will allow you to gain around a pound of muscle per week (Though some fat gain is nearly inevitable). Of course, you can be more aggressive with this number like Cooper did, but then you run the risk of gaining too much fat along with muscle. You can do a quick google search to find plenty of formulas for figuring out exactly how many calories you need to consume each day to gain muscle mass, but if you have an idea of what you currently eat and simply add more you’ll be alright. The choice is your as to how ambitious you are with your caloric intake, ultimately your nutrition and exercise program will dictate what kind of gains you make.
Tips for Eating More
How do you go about consuming more calories? Stuff your face with pizza and ice cream constantly? Not exactly. Well, not if you want to gain mostly muscle and not fat. Here are 5 ways you can consume more calories to help fuel your muscle building efforts:
- Drink your calories. With the amount of calories you’ll need to eat to gain massive amounts of muscle it can be difficult to do it all by simply eating all of your food. Drinking your calories will help you out. Try creating a Super Shake (With protein powder, fruit, veggies and some type of healthy fat) to give you a caloric boost.
- Eat often. Want to try consuming all your calories for the day in one or two meals? Good luck. A better idea – Eating more often. Bradley Cooper was eating every 55 minutes to prep for American Sniper, but you don’t have to go that far to gain muscle. Try eating every 2-3 hours throughout the day.
- Eat early and late. To help you consume the necessary calories for massive muscle building you should start with a hearty breakfast (i.e. eggs, veggies, oatmeal, berries) and continue eating late into the day. Many a bro trying to bulk up and gain muscle has tried adding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before bed to help gain more mass. While you don’t have to do exactly that, consuming more late in the day before you go to bed will help you eat more.
- Track your food intake. Write down everything you eat. More often than not if you are struggling to gain muscle mass you aren’t eating enough (You should know this by now, but I’m using good ole’ repetition to reinforce it…You’re welcome). You can use a nifty app like MyFitnessPal to track your food intake and see exactly how many calories you are consuming – no more guessing games and no more skinny you. Boom.
Muscle Building Foods
You have to eat more food to gain muscle, but what foods does this include?
To start off, you’ll eat foods that are high in protein each time you are eating. Protein is the macro-nutrient most important for building muscle, so you’ll need to include plenty in your diet. A good starting point for how much you’ll consume each day is 1 gram of protein for each pound of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds you’ll consume 200 grams of protein – simple enough. You may end up going with even more protein if you really struggle to put on mass, but this will get you going.
Fitness coach Mike Vacanti wrote a great article on different protein sources not too long ago that you should definitely check out, but here are some great sources of protein:
- Cottage Cheese
- Greek Yogurt
- Beef Jerkey
- Whey Protein (Supplement, but I’ll talk about that later)
Besides foods high in protein you’ll also need plenty of carbohydrate-dense foods. These would be foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes and oats – they’ll provide fuel for workouts and help you replace your body’s depleted carbohydrate stores (muscle glycogen for you fitness peeps) after workouts so you’ll be able to get after it in your next training session as well.
Veggies and healthy fats aren’t going to be your major focus immediately before, during or right after your workouts, but as part of a complete diet you’ll consume both with every meal. These will help ensure you are getting adequate nutrients and all your bodily functions are efficient.
Sure, eating enough food is of utmost importance, but consuming enough protein and getting all the essential nutrients you need can be difficult – that’s where supplements come in.
Supplements also can aid in muscle building, but you don’t have to take them 9 times a day like Bradley Cooper did to gain muscle. Hell, you don’t have to take them at all. However, they do make life a little easier, especially in regards to consuming enough protein each day for optimal muscle building. The top 4 supplements you can start with for building muscle are below:
- Whey Protein. Protein is going to provide you with the building blocks for building muscle. With that being said, it can be difficult to consume enough by just eating food. Whey protein provides a convenient way to get more protein in your diet – simply mix it with water or milk and you’re good to go.
- Fish Oil. Most people in the U.S. are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which is sad considering the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and consuming more will help you build muscle as one of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids is increased insulin sensitivity (Basically, an increase in this can help you build muscle).
- Multi-Vitamin. Taking a daily multi-vitamin is good habit for everyone, regardless of your workout goals. To cover your bases on nutrient deficiencies which will again help with bodily functions, start taking a multi-vitamin if you haven’t already.
- Creatine Monohydrate. This is one of the most well-researched supplements around. Creatine can help you lift more weight due to increases in maximal force production (It essentially gives your cells more energy). This is great if you’re trying to put on muscle and need to complete intense strength training sessions with heavy weights.
The often neglected side of nutrition is hydration. Drinking enough water throughout the day and especially before, during and after workouts is vital. Water plays an important role in muscle contraction and with efficient muscle contractions you’ll be able to trainer harder as well as longer – important for your intense weight lifting sessions you’ll use to pack on muscle. You’ll hear a variety of recommendations for hydration with the minimum typically being around 8-10 cups of water per day. This is alright for someone not doing any exercise, but with the needed training for gaining muscle you’ll want to increase this significantly, with 14-16 cups per day of water not being absurd.
To save time and money buy your food in bulk and cook your food in bulk. It’s much easier to handle this all on one day per week doing your grocery shopping and making large quantities of food for the week. A little planning and preparation will go a long ways in helping you succeed.
Nutrition is the most important piece of any body transformation, but to gain muscle you’ll need to have some kick-ass workouts as well.
Your Muscle Building Exercise Plan
If you want to build muscle, that should be your only focus and everything you do should be geared towards building muscle – your training and nutrition. By concentrating all your efforts towards one goal you’ll have the most success. If you want to lose body fat and gain muscle my suggestion is to focus on each one individually for 6-8 weeks at a time. With that being said, many different muscle building exercise plans can work. It may not be something that trainers willingly tell you, but it’s true. However, while any plan can work, the most effective plans involve two basic things: Compound exercises and progressive overload.
Compound exercises are those that work multiple muscle groups. These include exercises such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, rows, pull ups and so on. The majority of your exercise plan for gaining muscle should consist of these types of exercises. Unless of course, you don’t want the quickest results possible. In that case, do whatever your heart desires. I know you will make the right choice 🙂
Progressive overload is simply the idea of doing a little more work over time. Bradley Cooper utilized progressive overload by adding mores sets every 3 weeks. Though it doesn’t exactly state it in his workout program I’m going to also assume that he progressed the weights each workout as well. To incorporate progressive overload in your workouts, do the following:
- Perform more reps of the same weight for an exercise
- Add more weight while doing the same number of reps
- Add more sets of an exercise
- Do a more difficult version of an exercise
Organizing Your Training
Let’s just say that many different plans can work. That doesn’t mean you can go and do one set of squats every two weeks and expect to get results. Consistency still plays a huge role in gaining muscle. The good thing is that you don’t have to train 5 days per week to do so. Your training can be based on your specific schedule and still be effective. Some of the typical ways to organize your training are below:
- Body Part Split Routine – Training one or two body parts each day this routine normally involves 5-6 training sessions per week. Typically this is used by bodybuilders and advanced lifters.
- Upper/Lower Body Split Routine – Typically done 4 days per week, this plan alternates one day of upper body lifting with one day of lower body lifting.
- Upper/Lower/Total Body Routine – Normally used for someone training 3 days per week, this program would involve one day of upper body training, lower body training and total body training per week.
- Total Body Routine – This involves training your upper body and lower body in the same session, normally 2-3 days per week.
How do you decide on which routine is best? You can start by looking at how many days per week you want to devote towards training and how much experience you have.
Advanced Lifters – If you’ve been lifting for a few years and have already developed a significant amount of muscle mass you’ll probably want to use a total body routine three times per week or a body part split routine. The total body routine would allow you to work the major muscle groups three times with a specific emphasis on one each day – You could use something like legendary strength coach Dan John’s lite version of the Mass Made Simple program. While this type of training can be very effective, body part split routines have been proven to work over and over again by bodybuilders all around.
Beginner Lifters – As a beginner, you would do better with an upper/lower split routine or an upper/lower total body routine. Training your entire body three times per week could be a bit much depending on your training intensity and a split routine would be an unnecessary amount of days to train if you don’t have any experience. Especially as a beginner it’s important to improve technique and movement patterns to ensure as you are lifting heavier and heavier weights you avoid injuries – a body part split routine doesn’t allow you to do this because you’ll only work the movements once per week.
You know that the majority of your program will include compound movements, but you can add isolation exercises like bicep curls, shoulder raises as well. You can add two or three isolation exercises these after you do the compound movements.
Example Exercise Plans for Building Muscle
I told you about Dan John’s free Mass Made Simple workout plan. This is a great way to get started with a 3 day per week, total body, workout program for gaining muscle mass. Dan’s the man, so take a look.
Another way to structure your training is a 4 day per week, upper body and lower body workout split. Here’s an example of a beginner program for building mass below:
Monday – Lower Body
1. Squat – 3-4 sets of 12, rest 60-90 seconds between sets
2a. Lunges – 3 sets of 10 per leg
2b. Exercise Ball Leg Curl – 3 sets of 10, rest 60 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
3a. Step Ups – 2 sets of 12 per leg
3b. Glute Bridge 2 sets of 15, rest 30 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
Tuesday – Upper Body (Push Emphasis)
1. Bench Press – 3-4 sets of 12, rest 60-90 seconds between sets
2a. Lat Pulldown or Pull Up – 3 sets of 8-10
2b. Push Ups – 3 sets of 10, rest 60 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
3a. Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 2 sets of 12
3b. Dumbbell Single Arm Row – 2 sets of 12 per arm , rest 30 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
Thursday – Lower Body
1. Deadlift – 3-4 sets of 10, rest 60-90 seconds between sets
2a. Bulgarian Split Squat – 3 sets of 10 per leg
2b. Romainian Deadlift- 3 sets of 8, rest 60 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
3a. Reverse Lunges – 2 sets of 12 per leg
3b. Single Leg Glute Bridge 2 sets of 10 per leg, rest 30 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
Friday – Upper Body (Pull Emphasis)
1. Lat Pulldown or Pull Ups – 3-4 sets of 8-10, rest 60-90 seconds
2a. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press – 3 sets of 10
2b. Inverted Rows – 3 sets of 10, rest 60 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
3a. Low Cable Crossover – 2 sets of 12
3b. Bent Over Row – 2 sets of 15, rest 30 seconds after doing 2a and 2b
(You can see demonstrations of the exercises on my YouTube Channel – go check it out)
The program above is a basic example, but it’s the perfect place to get started. You’ll notice 8-12 reps for each exercise and this is the typical sweet spot for building muscle mass, but higher and lower rep sets can also be used as part of a complete program. To make some serious gains you’ll also be doing a significant amount of volume – just look at the last few weeks of Cooper’s program when he was doing 10 sets of 10 reps, now that’s volume! You can build up to this type of volume as well if your progress the right way, slowly upping your volume week after week.
Building muscle doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to involve crazy rep schemes or advanced lifting techniques either. If you focus on doing compound exercises and progressing each workout you’ll have no problem gaining muscle – assuming you are consuming enough calories.
3 More Important Things
- Sleep 7-9 hours each night. You know sleep is important, but are you sleeping enough? Sleep helps your body recover, but it also leaves you feeling great the next day so you can absolutely crush your workouts – important for gaining as much muscle as possible.
- Track what matters. How can you make sure you’re eating enough? Keep track of exactly what you are eating. You don’t have to always do this, but for a few weeks track your food intake to get a realistic picture of where you are at. Also, keep track of the weights, sets and reps you are completing during each workout as this will allow you to progress over time moving to heavier and heavier weights.
- Understand the results you can expect. The results you get will depend on how your diet and exercise, but also your training experience. If you already have significant muscle mass it will be much harder to gain more than someone who has never even looked at a weight. With that being said, gaining anywhere from 0.5- 1.5 pounds of muscle per week is possible for males. Females could expect less than that due to different hormones in the body. Now, that’s how much muscle you can expect to gain each week. If you’re gaining much more than that it typically is body fat, which is why I’m skeptical of Bradley Cooper gaining nearly all lean mass. However, with his extreme exercise and nutrition plan I suppose it’s possible. To look like Bradley Cooper, it’s going to take some time, but you can see some significant improvements in a couple of months.
There you have it, you now know how to gain muscle and look like Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, but knowing the right things to do and actually doing them are two separate things. If you want to get results, there is one thing you have to do: Commit! Don’t just talk about gaining muscle, take the necessary steps to actually do it:
- Eat more
- Lift heavy and progress each week
- Sleep a lot
- Drink plenty of water