The Rock’s Workout

From his glory days in the ring as the WWE’s biggest draw to starring in a recent slew of box office smash hits, Dwayne Johnson, aka, The Rock, has always been a born entertainer. But in spite of his reputation as Hollywood’s resident gym-freak, there’s more to The Rock’s success than weights and workouts alone. By Peter Wallace

With his segue from professional wrestling icon to bona fide movie star undoubtedly complete, Dwayne Johnson has evolved into the ideal leading man, securing turns in a host of recent blockbusters, from the Jumanji and Baywatch reboots to all-action encounters Rampage, San Andreas and Skyscraper and the massively popular Fast & Furious series.

This career change is nothing new, with current and former WWE superstars such as John Cena, The Miz and the late Roddie Piper all having sought to make their mark in the movie industry. None, however, have been half as successful as Dwayne Johnson, who has developed from initially one-dimensional roles that sought to make best use of his 195.5cm, 118kg frame, into a scene-stealing showman who is more than comfortable in front of the camera.

“I had a lot of problems with my identity and figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be.”

Ups and downs

“Hawaii represents a time in my life where I went through hard times,” the 47-year-old says. “Off and on, I spent seven years of my life there and it was a very special time, but also very tough. My family got evicted from our house when I was 14. I remember coming from school and seeing my mother in front of the house weeping. There was a padlock on the door, and I felt this total sense of helplessness.

When looking at Johnson’s current career trajectory – which sits at an all-time high, replete with billion-dollar film franchise appearances, World’s Sexiest Man accolades and potential presidential runs in the mix – it’s easy to think that the California-born star has always enjoyed such a life. The truth, however, is markedly different, with Johnson’s formative years in Hawaii having been beset with struggle.

“I had a lot of problems with my identity and figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. I was getting into a lot of trouble early on in high school and I was arrested multiple times when I was 15 and 16. I was mixed up.”

It was then that Johnson found his apparent calling in American football, earning a full scholarship to the University of Miami, where he won a national championship. A draft into the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders seemed to confirm Johnson’s as-yet-untapped potential, before events once again took a turn for the worse.

“I was probably at my lowest at 24 years old when I was cut from the football team I was playing with in Canada, and I had just seven bucks in my pocket,” he recalls. “I had nowhere to live and I had to move back into my parent’s house and that was a low blow. I was lost, I didn’t know where I was going to go, what was going to come next because I couldn’t see a future.

“All I had known was football up until that time in my life and I was crushed. That had always been my dream and suddenly the dream was over, and I was left feeling empty and devastated. I was lying on my sofa crying. I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone.”

Fighting spirit

Professional sport, of course, is littered with the half-forgotten remains of would-be champions and nearly men. For Dwayne Johnson, what began as a professional and personal nadir became, in time, “also the best thing to happen to me”.

“I learned during that period that no one was going to hand me a life,” he says. “I wasn’t going to get back on my feet feeling sorry for myself. I had to pick myself up and keep going and fighting and grasp and claw and scratch at every opportunity that came my way.

Dwayne Johnson
“I give myself a ‘cheat day’ once every week or every two weeks.”

“I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and find a new dream. I turned to bodybuilding because that was something, I knew I could do and enjoy the feeling that training gave me. That led to me into wrestling where I was able to use some of my natural charisma and all the emotions that I was used to bottling up inside me. I was able to gain self-respect and set definite goals in my life.”

More so than any of his sporting or cinematic achievements, it is Johnson’s superhuman physique that has long marked him out from the crowd.

“I’m still a bodybuilder at heart,” he says. “I am totally committed to doing the kind of training and daily discipline needed for me to maintain my physique. I’ve always trained hard, whether it was as a football player or as a wrestler, but bodybuilding is very special to me. I’ve always enjoyed the feeling that comes from going to the gym and spending several hours a day training and transforming my body to what I want it to look like.

“It’s the one thing in my life that I’ve always felt that I could control, even when everything else was out of my control and I felt lost. Bodybuilding has given me a set of goals and a feeling of confidence in my abilities and I use that kind of mental discipline to push me forward in everything I accomplish in life. If you have belief and motivation and are willing to work hard, nothing can stop you.”

Becoming The Rock

Dwayne Johnson was now on a different path, one that would see him follow in the footsteps of his father – Rocky Johnson – and grandparents – Peter and Lia Maivia – as the first third-generation professional wrestler on the WWE (or WWF as it was known then) roster. Over a period of 20 years, Johnson became American wrestling’s greatest asset as “The Rock”, bringing the sport to a new generation of fans and securing a place in the pantheon of wrestling icons.

“Wrestling in front of a live audience is an extraordinary feeling,” he says. “You feel such an incredible energy when you’re in the ring. It takes a physical toll on you, but it’s incredibly exciting.

“I wouldn’t have had a career in Hollywood if it hadn’t been for wrestling. I made a name for myself and built up an identity with the public that followed me when I started working on movies. Wrestling was also a huge boost to my self-confidence.When you’re standing in the ring in front of thousands and thousands of screaming fans and you’re performing in front of them it’s an incredible feeling. You never forget that.”

Even given his hallowed place in WWE history, Johnson’s desire to make his presence known in Hollywood was an uphill struggle.

“It was always my dream to be an actor,” he says. “Watching Rocky changed my life and that character became my role model. I got into wrestling because that was a family tradition and that it would be a good way of making a name for myself that one day could lead to Hollywood.

“I actually developed my own Hercules project long before I actually got to play him, but no one took me seriously. I had to slowly, very slowly, work my way into the business doing films like The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King and even after that it was very hard for me to get parts. I made it a point to learn everything about how the business works and do whatever it takes to succeed. Then I tried doing comedies like Be Cool and Get Smart because comedy came naturally to me and I knew I was good at it.”

Dwayne Johnson gives his all

By 2014, Johnson was finally given the chance to play the eponymous Roman hero in 2014’s Hercules. Befitting of the project’s long-held place in his heart, when it came to prepare for the role, Johnson says he “gave everything” he had.

“I saw this as one of biggest challenges of my life,” he reveals. “I’m not just talking about doing weights and all the other physical preparation involved, but also studying the mythology, immersing myself in a lot of what has been written about Hercules, and also working with a dialect coach. I have never trained for anything – not for football, not for wresting and not for any other film – the way I prepared for Hercules.

These days, seeing Dwayne Johnson’s name in proverbial lights is second nature to film fans around the globe. Recent years have seen the star lending his talents to a host of the highest-grossing films to have come out of Tinseltown, and he’s currently staring down a number of similarly big-budget opportunities on the horizon, such as Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the as-yet-untitled third Jumanji instalment and Disney’s Jungle Cruise theme-park-ride-to-film adaptation.

That’s not to say that Johnson has ever seen fit to forget the challenges of yesteryear. His all-action persona, usually accompanied by that famous wide smile, has made Johnson an eternal fan favourite, whether that be in the ring or on screen – but in reality, even megastars like Johnson sometimes feel the pressure mounting on their (unusually broad) shoulders.

“If I’m having a bad day, I need to go off to a quiet space and shut out the noise,” he says. “Because in life, what we do, there’s always a lot of noise. In Hollywood and entertainment there’s a lot of chatter and there is always a lot of noise, and a lot of news that’s cycling and it’s just non-stop. So sometimes I need to get away from that and find a quiet space, whether it’s my bedroom or my truck or my trailer, and I’ll just reset myself and be calm and do a little meditating, or I’ll try to figure out exactly what the problem is and what’s bugging me.

“There’s a lot of people who depend on me and I feel like a lot of the work that I do, it starts with me. Inevitably, I am galvanising a lot of people and bringing them together. That in itself will give enough motivation to put your best foot forward try to work with a smile.”

Staying hungry

It’s perhaps this element of Johnson’s identity that has best served him throughout his career. True, even among his Hollywood peers, his imposing physicality has rendered him unique, but he is quick to stress that regardless of how much he can bench, a positive mindset is the bedrock of lasting success.

“It’s not necessarily about being very muscular, I like having that structure to my day,” he says. “When I get up in the morning, I have this need to get active, whether it’s doing cardio or yoga or Pilates or jogging or meditating. I anchor my day around those activities, and it gives me this incredible feeling of energy.

“You need to stay hungry and ambitious. I’m as hungry today for success and accomplishing great things as I’ve ever been. Maybe more so because I’ve already had a lot of success and you want to keep that momentum and go beyond what you’ve already accomplished.

“You keep raising the bar. It’s just like exercising. There will be a lot of days where you don’t feel like going to the gym, lifting weights, or doing cardio or going jogging, but that’s exactly what you need to do. You need to have that discipline. The more effort you put into that the more energy you’re going to have the rest of the day.”

Dwayne Johnson on…

Cheat days

From dinner plate-sized cookies to 950g bone-in rib eye steak, Johnson’s Instagram feed is a veritable smorgasbord of cheat day inspo, but his favourite remains girlfriend Lauren Hasian’s homemade brownies: “I give myself a ‘cheat day’ once every week or every two weeks. Lauren knows that I love chocolate and she’ll make this brownie mix where she puts one layer down and then puts a layer of peanut butter in the middle and then put another layer of brownie mix on top of that. I’ve never tasted anything better.”

His tattoos

“Tattoos are very meaningful in Polynesian culture; tattooing is a rite of passage. It’s spiritual. It tells a story. Symbolically these are stories that have been around for thousands of years. They tell a story of one’s life. And my tattoos tell the story of who I am and my journey in life.

“I’m a High Chief in Samoa. That’s the highest title you can have bestowed on you by the King. It was a very big day for me, the most meaningful moment in my life second to the birth of my daughter.”

His favourite sport

“I was a pretty good football player and I was good enough to earn a scholarship to go to the University of Miami… but my favourite sport to watch on TV is rugby. I spent a few years growing up in New Zealand and I played rugby in school. There’s no tougher sport than rugby!”

His Ford F150 truck

“I love that truck. I have it shipped with me wherever I’m going. I’m too big for Ferraris and most sports cars and I hate having a chauffeur drive me around. I love getting around in the F150 – it’s got these massive tyres on it and it’s got a lot of power behind it. I wouldn’t want to drive anything else.”

A Dwayne Johnson workout

MONDAY: BACK AND ABS

Warm-up

Internal and external rotations on cable machine. 2 sets of 20 reps on each arm.

Workout

Back
Do one set of 12 reps, one set of 10 reps and a last set of 8 reps for each exercise. Up the weight each set. Rest for 90 seconds between sets.

  • Pull-ups
  • One arm dumbbell row
  • Reverse grip pulldown
  • Cable row
  • Stiff arm pullover with rope
  • Barbell shrugs

Abs

For both abs moves do 3 sets of 20 reps. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.

  • Rope crunches
  • Hyperextensions

TUESDAY: CHEST AND CALVES

Warm-up

Internal and external rotations on cable machine. 2 sets of 20 reps on each arm.

Chest

  • Incline dumbbell press
  • Flat dumbbell press
  • Incline fly
  • Cable crossover (3 x 20 reps, high to low)
  • Cable crossover (3 x 20 reps, low to high)

Calves

Do 3 sets of 50 reps for each all three exercises.

Standing calf raise

Leg press calf raise

Single leg standing calf raise with dumbbells

WEDNESDAY: LEGS AND ABS

Warm-up

Hip flexor stretches, leg swings and kicks, foam rolling and glute bridges.

Legs

Take 90 seconds rest betweens sets.

  • Leg extension (3 x 20 reps)
  • Leg press (3 x 50 reps)
  • Single leg press (3 x 20 reps)
  • Dumbbell lunges (3 x 20 reps)
  • Lying leg curls (3 x 15 reps)
  • Romanian deadlifts (3 x 12 reps)

Abs

Side plank (3 reps, hold for 60 seconds)

THURSDAY: SHOULDERS

Warm-up

Internal and external rotations on cable machine. 2 sets of 20 reps on each arm.

Workout

  • Seated lateral raise (5 sets)
  • Dumbbell shoulder press
  • Side lateral raise superset
  • Cable side lateral raise (no rest between sets)

FRIDAY: ARMS

Warm-up

Internal and external rotations on cable machine. 2 sets of 20 reps on each arm.

Workout

  • Barbell curls
  • Preacher curls
  • Close grip cable curls
  • V-bar pushdowns
  • Single arm overhead triceps extension
  • Rope pushdown superset with leaning rope extension