Jason Momoa Shares His 'Game-Changing' Kettlebell Workout to Bulk Up
Jason Momoa was born to play Aquaman in the DC Universe. He may not strike a resemblance to Aquaman from the original comic books, but that’s for the best. At a hulking 6’4″, 240 pounds, Momoa can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the Justice League as King of the Seven Seas.
But portraying an Atlantean superhero with the strength to lift a 200-ton ocean liner doesn’t come without work, even for Momoa. To become the monarch of the undersea realm of Atlantis, Momoa relied on a team of specialists to put the finishing touches on his already imposing physique.
In the years since Momoa first played Aquaman, the actor’s training has evolved to be less grueling and a lot more “nurturing,” as he likes to call it. Men’s Journal spoke with Momoa about the work he did to step back into a 40-pound supersuit for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.
Men’s Journal: From the get-go, did you have any apprehension toward playing a DC superhero?
Jason Momoa: I’ll be honest, I was scared when Zack Snyder first told me I was going to play Aquaman. I was like, ‘I think you may have the wrong guy.’ But then he started to describe what the character was going to be like, as well as his background, and it started to make sense to me. I’m half Polynesian, raised in Iowa. Like him, I’m coming from these two different worlds. So once I had that information, and was able to visualize what Arthur could be, I got really intrigued. [Director] James [Wan] came into the process later and took it to a whole new level. The world that he built is really special. Growing up, I loved the ocean and all I wanted to be was a marine biologist, so to get to do a movie like this is extra special.
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As far as superheroes go, Aquaman isn’t exactly by the book. What are the benefits to that?
There’s this preconceived notion of what a superhero should be in these universes—and then there’s Arthur. He’s not really what you expect from someone joining a crew like the Justice League. He’ll punch Batman, try to fight Superman, and try to kiss Wonder Woman. He’s not afraid of consequences and he doesn’t feel beholden to some arbitrary code. This life isn’t a reality he’s been striving for, it’s something that’s been throw at him. He’s a loner and he’s a bit crude. Eventually he does come to accept his destiny, where he’s brought into the team. He finds that when he reunites with his father and Mera, along with all the other Atlanteans.
Tell us mere mortals what it feels like to put on the Aquaman suit?
I don’t care who you are, when you put on that suit there’s a special power you feel. The original suit is so epic. It’s unreal to have on. The new blue one is lighter and easier to wear. The original is the best, though. Nothing comes close to it. The wardrobe looks unbelievable in these movies. There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re on set for a film like this. One moment you’re talking with the grips in your regular clothes, then you go change, come back in the suit, and even those guys are floored. There’s definitely a different way of carrying yourself when you’re wearing it.
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How has your training evolved between the Aquaman films over the years?
My training these days is very intentional. In the end, what I really want is to be able to do as many stunts as possible. For the guys I’ve played in the past who’ve been physical, there are different ways they approach life and a fight. Aquaman is not going to look or move like Khal Drago or Conan the Barbarian. It’s not a shock that by doing workouts that support these guys’ fighting styles, I end up more like them than I ever would just trying to do cookie-cutter exercises.
I’m a big guy to begin with, so usually I’m coming into these roles with all the mass I’m going to need. I treat the training like putting on my armor. And for a movie like Aquaman, and the stunts we do, I need that armor for the battle scenes. The fight scenes are brutal on the body. And if you think of preparing for a movie realistically, you’re not going to change my body drastically in a few months—at least not in a healthy way.
What were your goals for the second installment?
It’s about being as natural as possible with my movement and in the fights. If what I’m doing is all about trying to look unnatural, then the chance of being able to keep it together gets a lot more difficult. You can see it when a bodybuilder cheats on their diet or loses focus for just a week or so. If you try to accomplish a strong but natural physique for yourself, it’s going to be a lot better in the end. And it’s going to be a lot easier to maintain the whole year through, which is how long some of these productions take. I’ve also had so many injuries over the years that now I’m more interested in the exercises that take care of me as much as they make me strong.
What training tools or methods have you relied on to move well but grow size and strength?
I find training with kettlebells and resistance bands very nurturing. The moment I discovered kettlebells, it was a game-changer. I never did any kind of isolated training for my legs, because I’m part Hawaiian, and genetically that means if I train legs even just a little bit, they get huge. I’m already starting at 240 pounds, and in an ideal world I’m not going too far above that. The great thing about kettlebells is they torch the legs in a real way but also train everything else including the core, and they get you really strong. Even when the weight is just a fraction of what you can actually lift.
I have three big kettlebells I usually work with. Most of the time I use 88-pound (40-kg) kettlebells and just throw those around. I’ll do split squats, sumo squats, kettlebell swings, single-arm press for the shoulders, Turkish getups. I’ll wrap up with a 124-pound (56-kg) kettlebell. I don’t have much time these days, so it’s about how quickly and how powerfully I can bang it out. Keeping good people around me who love to train and inspire me is a huge part of being successful as well.
Are your days of heavy lifting over?
I’ll lift when I’m getting ready for a movie like this, usually with dumbbells and cable machines. But there are certain exercises I don’t think I’ll do again, like the flat bench. It just does’t make sense for me to do that anymore. There are so many other things that are better for my all-around strength and ability to perform. I still get tempted from time to time to go max lift, and to add those extra two extra plates on. But that’s when I need to have a conversation with myself and make sure I don’t do something that’s going to do more damage than good. I’ve got a little more wisdom now. I’ve been through this dance for 45 years.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about working out?
I’ve learned over the years that being injured is such a downer. It’s such a drain, mentally, especially when you enjoy getting after it. And it’s those memories of what it was like to be injured that keep me in check. So when I’m feeling good, I’m super focused on preserving that feeling for as long as possible. I’ve also realized that I get bigger after my workouts the more I rest. It’s not about pounding myself with workouts over and over again. If I take two days off, I come back bigger and stronger.
Are you still climbing? I know that’s been a long-time passion of yours.
Climbing was a big part of my preparation for the second Aquaman movie. The last day of pre-production, before we started filming, I went to this massive climbing gym in Toronto called Hub Climbing. It’s a great indicator of where I’m at physically and really fun. It’s also a great way to work out the whole body in unison. I’ve been collaborating with great people in the climbing world, like Fred Nicole, who’s my idol and I’ve designed some So Ill shoes with him. Sadly, there hasn’t been much climbing for me recently because one of my knuckles is all messed up. But I get to live vicariously through my kids who are climbing up a storm. They’re doing V8s, while I’m stuck doing V3s and V4s, if I’m lucky.
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Any secrets to keeping training fun and maintaining motivation?
There are so many different ways to work out while really enjoying life. You can get burnt out super easily if all you do is lift things just to put them down. So doing the things you love to do, then throwing in a little weight training here and there is really the formula for me. I’ve been doing a lot of boxing with Ian Streetz, who I love. I’ve been bringing him with me everywhere. Even now, he’s with me while I’m filming the Minecraft movie. I don’t get to box as much as I would like to, because we’re so busy, but I love when I get to throw some hands. My kids love to box, too. My daughter is such a hammer. I’m not going to have to worry about her at all.
Does it feel fated to be in this position playing Aquaman—and for a second go-around nonetheless?
This has been one of those destined roles. It feels meant to be. I never thought in a million years I would get an opportunity like this. And none of us expected the first one to be as big of a hit as it was. I was already proud of the movie when we wrapped, and was so excited that I got together with my producing partner to write out ideas for this followup immediately. I started writing all the things I wanted to see Aquaman go through. We were able to get it to DC, Warner Bros., and James pretty quickly and they really responded to it. I can’t wait until people see it. It’s really fun.
These movies have also given me a platform to talk about environmental issues and address some of the things going on in this world that I love. I had so many young kids coming up to me when the first one came out. And being a father, who has kids coming up in this world, who can enjoy something he’s done, it’s special. The fact I was able to maybe foster that fascination with the underwater world makes me very happy.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is now playing in theaters. For showtimes closest to you, check the official website.