No Pain No Gain: How Mark Wahlberg Packed on 15kg in 8 Weeks

Mark Wahlberg has spent the past 20 years making a career out of flexing his muscles in music videos, on billboards and, more recently, on the big screen. In one of his most recent roles – Sun Gym Gang ringleader Daniel Lugo in Pain and Gain – Wahlberg was required to pack on more than 15kg of muscle in just eight weeks, so how did he rise to the wellness challenge?


For his toughest transformation yet, the 42-year-old actor sought inspiration from his past by calling on the skills of Brian Nguyen. Not only is Nguyen the fitness director at BRIK Fitness; he has also been Wahlberg’s personal trainer since they worked together on 2006’s American football drama Invincible. Speaking about Wahlberg’s fitness regime during his Marky Mark days, Nguyen comments, ‘Anybody growing up in the 1980s, especially around all those isolation machines, the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger and bodybuilding … I think once you’ve done it once or twice, you kind of fall in love with it. Getting back into it is always going to be easier considering your body has a lot of muscle memory.’


However, the ironic thing about Wahlberg’s Pain & Gain fitness needs is that Nguyen had to reinstate some of the outdated techniques he’d originally persuaded Wahlberg to ditch in order to get his wellbeing in shape. ‘His whole routine used to be machine after machine after machine,’ Nguyen recalls. ‘When he started working out with me [on Invincible] his body was so used to machines that when it came time to actually playing football it was a little bit unbalanced – he ended up getting some bad pulls in his quads and his hamstrings. I had to teach him about the world of functional training – the basics such as squats, lunges, pulls, carries, lifts, drags.’


But in order to look like an 1980s-inspired bodybuilder, Wahlberg had to train like an 1980s-inspired bodybuilder and, for Nguyen, there was unfortunately no getting around that fact. ‘He needed to maintain that look,’ he notes. ‘In order to create mass like that, especially in the biceps and shoulders, he had to go back to isolation machines. We did a scaled-down version of Mark’s old workouts. But once we did, Mark started getting shoulder problems again and tendonitis in the knees. It just goes to prove those machines shouldn’t be used too much or too often.’


Luckily for Wahlberg, Nguyen tailored a fitness programme to help Wahlberg avoid completely regressing to endless isolation moves. Nguyen notes, ‘He has such a good base that when it came to getting him to bulk up on top, it was easy… He did a lot of basic functional movements – kettlebell work with squats, lunges, inverted rows on the TRX – and then I started getting him into single-leg and single-arm stuff, creating more rotation’ This was alongside a diet that involved the actor ‘eating anything and everything’. However, Wahlberg needed to get big fast, so Nguyen topped off the core and isolation work with some genuine strength training.


Nguyen details, ‘One thing I had him doing was loaded carries. Mark has a basketball court in his house, so he would bring out the 40kg kettlebells and do a farmer’s walk for two lengths of the court, then he would do a suitcase carry – two lengths for each arm. Then after that he would do a waiter walk, with one arm up above his head, and that was a finisher – that’s how hard Mark worked. It’s ridiculous how much mass he put on.’ He adds that the bulk helped Wahlberg get into the role: ‘Mark loved to pick up his entourage, throw us around and get into little wrestling matches. All of us were scared of him when he started getting into character like that. But having that kind of beast inside just needed to happen for him.’

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