Actor Jake Gyllenhaal is no stranger to transforming his physique for a role. Over the years, the respected and prolific actor has starred in many physically demanding roles. However, preparing for Road House might’ve been the most demanding. In this contemporary retelling of Patrick Swayze’s 1989 cult classic, the BAFTA winner stars as John Dalton, who gets hired as head of security for a pub.

However, unlike the 80s action film, Gyllenhaal’s Dalton is a mixed martial artist. The actor had earlier stepped into the shoes of a pro boxer for Southpaw and supervillain Mysterio for Spiderman: No Way Home. However, starring in the remake provided a unique physical challenge for Jake Gyllenhaal. The Nightcrawler actor spent over a year transforming himself into an 184 lb UFC middleweight at 5% body fat while being athletic enough to keep pace with former UFC champ Conor McGregor. The transformation wasn’t easy. Gyllenhaal had to go all in to look like the UFC fighter he was set to play.

How Jake Gyllenhaal got into fighting shape


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Jake Gyllenhaal’s longtime trainer, Jason Walsh, gave some valuable insights into the 43-year-old’s insane training regimen. In a clip from a Men’s Health interview, Gyllenhaal shared how serious they were regarding his prep. “What we’re doing is real,” said Gyllenhaal, sporting a red bruise on his abs. “Don’t mess around and don’t do this at home,” said the actor. So, with the tone set, let’s find out just how real things got.


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The actor’s longtime trainer said every workout started with getting the actor’s heart rate up. They also integrated extensive mobility drills into the regime. Since the 43-year-old had to be supremely athletic while carrying muscle, mobility was crucial to avoid injuries. Jake Gyllenhaal worked with a specific apparatus called the Proteus, specifically designed to train athletes in every place of motion.

Gyllenhaal finished his warm-up and trained in explosive movements on the Proteus before moving to bodybuilding exercises. Walsh made Jake Gyllenhaal do squats, deadlifts, weight pushups, dips, and other weighted movements for muscle building. On top of this, he added elements of sports-specific functionality wherever possible. A prime example would be working with a sandbag.

Instead of regular crunches and lunges, Jake Gyllenhaal practiced offset loading while performing lunges with sandbags on one shoulder. Another example would be the bag jumpover, which simultaneously trains the core and improves cardio. It also mimics the movement an MMA athlete would need to perform while trying to ground and pound the opponent.

Walsh explained that while gaining muscle was a priority, they had to balance it with sports-specific and functional training. Like his transformation for Southpaw, the actor needed athleticism to match none other than Conor McGregor. McGregor was the first double champ in UFC history and conquered the featherweight and lightweight divisions. Owing to this, Gyllenhaal had to train like a MMA fighter as well.

Gyllenhaal trained grip strength and isometrics

Jake Gyllenhaal had to specifically train grip strength and isometrics because MMA involves a lot of grappling. While he had trained for strength and stamina to portray a boxer in Southpaw, grappling training added a whole new dimension to his workout regime. The Brokeback Mountain actor’s trainer also switched up the traditional hypertrophy training formula.

Instead of going for a set number of reps and rest periods between sets, Jake Gyllenhaal did “timed sets.” His trainer kept the pace high and his heart rate up. In essence, every session trained his cardio emulating professional MMA training.

While each round inside the octagon might last just five minutes, it required herculean cardiovascular ability just to last for a single round. Since the Donnie Darko actor’s screen adversary is a champion mixed martial artist, Jake Gyllenhaal also needed to learn how it felt to train like an elite. Another aspect that Walsh introduced to the 43-year-old’s training was cross-lateral loading.

“Cross-lateral loading is very important to all sports, especially to MMA fight training,” said Jason Walsh. What’s cross-lateral loading? It’s when both sides of your body work simultaneously. For example, in the cross-lateral limb raise, you lift your left arm and right leg to train your core and repeat with the alternate set of limbs for reps.

Jake Gyllenhaal did load cross-lateral movements like suspension trainer push-pull, where he would pull with one arm and push with the other. These techniques, coupled with traditional striking and grappling training, transformed the actor into a mixed martial artist. However, the Road House star also needed to eat right to fuel his intense training.


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The diet that had Jake Gyllenhaal shredded

To get to 184 lbs while maintaining around 5% body fat, Jake Gyllenhaal ate around 2400 calories per day. It might not sound like a lot compared to most muscle-building diets. However, the actor was in no rush as he trained and ate consistently for over a year. Gyllenhaal also ate a whole-food diet without eliminating any foods.


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While Gyllenhaal’s trainer didn’t share the exact details of his diet, we know how the actor ate during Southpaw. The BAFTA award winner ate six meals. The first meal contained 277 calories, while the second and third meals had 402 and 370 calories, respectively. However, Gyllenhaal’s fourth meal was the biggest at 788 calories, followed by the fifth at 588. His final meal was nothing more than a protein shake. All six meals totaled 2438 calories, with 208 gm protein, 180 gm carbs, and 105 gm fats.

Hence, it’s safe to say that transforming into ex-UFC fighter John Dalton was no easy task. In fact, it took considerable time, unique training, and a resilient mindset to nail the look of a professional mixed martial artist.

Written by

Sagnik Bagchi


One take at a time

Sagnik Bagchi is a senior bodybuilding writer at EssentiallySports. A passionate fitness enthusiast himself, Sagnik uses his knowledge of bodybuilding to focus on the coverage of major events like the Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic.
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Edited by

Abhishek Manikandan