The John Wick workout that will help you look like Keanu at 58
I don’t have posters on my bedroom wall but if I did I promise you they would feature Keanu Reeves. The John Wick franchise is as beautifully shot as it is filled with perfectly choreographed fantasy battle scenarios featuring the incredibly fit Hollywood actor. Suave, grey bearded and almost exactly my age, Reeves is redefining midlife. This workout is the foundation of his fitness programme.
There are many ways to stay active in your late 50s – ceramics, gardening, bridge – but for Keanu Reeves it’s more along the lines of fighting an ultra-violent global crime syndicate with an array of martial arts and deadly weapons. The latest John Wick includes 14 action sequences, none of which involves pruning or salt glaze.
Being given access to the workout philosophy that keeps the 58-year-old running, kicking and punching in film after film is slightly like being handed the world’s most desirable anti-ageing serum. Also, this marks a pinnacle for my undignified man crush.
Keanu’s LA-based personal trainer, Patrick Murphy, is known for shaping Hollywood stars into the people they need to be for a role – his clients include Zac Efron, who he helped hone the incredible physique displayed in Baywatch, and Australian model and actress Ruby Rose. He’s one of the most passionate and educated fitness authorities in the US.
His mission for the uncannily youthful Reeves was to overcome his injuries, have him moving with appropriate poise and enable him to maintain a level of physical activity far beyond the capabilities of even the most gym-enthusiastic fiftysomething.
Murphy says of his client, “Keanu endured the most physically demanding run of movies I’ve ever witnessed an actor go through. He filmed John Wick 1, 2, 3, Matrix 4 and then John Wick 4, basically back to back to back. His body went through the proverbial wringer. My main focus was to keep him as pain-free as possible with restorative, corrective exercises. My positive adaptation method helps clients with recovery.”
Murphy’s workout, mainly using unstable surfaces and exercise bands, is perfect for people in their late fifties. Our bodies have acquired a past and we are in danger of losing muscle, balance and speed. Hefting huge weights is risky if technique is less than perfect. This is a very unusual set of exercises and is ingeniously conceived to repair, strengthen and protect with minimal threat of injury.
Jordan Lue, elite trainer at gym chain Third Space, sees the benefits of this approach for the more mature athlete. “As we age, we start to lose muscle, strength and power. By challenging our mobility, we can get some great outcomes. Using resistance bands and encouraging the muscles in the higher repetition range is taking away some of the absolute weight so they get the stimulation they need but won’t be threatened by the heavier load.”
Although few of us will have to cope with using a firearm while riding a horse, anyone who has ever lifted an over-full rubbish bag or rescued a toy hiding beneath a sofa will understand the importance of balance,
co-ordination and flexibility.
“The goals were recovery exercises to help stabilise the joints, balance and co-ordination exercises, muscular endurance, daily massage bodywork to release any trigger points, daily ice baths – and also to keep Keanu moving. The more issues, the more movement necessary,” says Murphy.
The workout is unlike anything I normally do. Conventional weight training – bench presses, squats, pull-ups – is largely symmetrical and my movements are linear. But introducing an unstable surface, an element of balance or using only one half of my body at a time totally changes the feeling. My entire torso has to work in unison to keep me in place, I need to focus on how I’m dealing with the bands and soft mobile surfaces, and all the muscles that keep me upright are battling.
I have long harboured the suspicion that, if needed, I could step into an action role covering for someone like Keanu and be both fearless and agile. I think it goes with regular gym attendance and an Amazon Prime subscription. I’m nearly 60, but how hard can it be? However, a few minutes trying to perform exercises on a wobbly ball are a very sobering reality check. I’m momentarily asking myself whether I could fire a gun while riding a galloping horse after all.
I checked with Murphy on whether age was a factor in the way he trained Keanu. “The stunt training – that is, judo, ju-jitsu, ‘gun-fu’ (a close-quarters gun fight), choreography rehearsals and more – can cause wear and tear on anyone, at any age. Keanu is a veteran in the action film game and thrives on all of the hard work. He has the mindset and mentality to get the job done.”
I realise I may have been making something of a fuss about my occasional back twinge. I’m vowing to be more Keanu, significantly more John Wick, to stay on the balance ball until I’m horseback-ready. To anyone reading this in Hollywood, I’m pretty committed to my important work in health journalism but if Keanu ever wanted a pause in his schedule, for the sake of the franchise, I’d be open to discussions …
All exercises 10-15 reps. 40 minutes AMRAP (as many rounds as possible)
Band straight arm pull-downs
This is for your back and shoulders. Arms out straight in front of you and then pull them down towards the floor, keeping the arms straight.
Dumbbell one-legged balance reach curl press
This is a balance and stability exercise – it becomes much easier with practice. Stand on one leg, knee slightly bent and, holding the dumbbell with both hands, tilt.
Band lateral raises
A powerful shoulder-building exercise, and a great alternative to dumbbells. Hold the band in one or both hands and stretch up to shoulder height and back down.
Balance ball leg levers
This works the glutes and strengthens the spine. Lie stomach-down on the ball which ideally should be resting on a bench, then hold the bench with your hands (or place palms on the floor) and, with straight legs, move your feet up and down.
An under-rated classic that hits chest, shoulders, triceps and core. Elbows slightly out from your side, body stiff and straight, control your descent, chest to the floor and steadily raise yourself up.
Band reverse flys
This targets the upper body. Keep abdominals tight throughout and head straight. Arms begin in front of you, then pull the band wide either side of your head.
Cable one-legged balance reach stand one-arm row
Another balance move that hits the hamstrings and the whole leg. Hold the cable in one hand, bend the knee on the same side and perform a slow motion running movement without placing your leg on the floor.
Balance ball spine extensions
This strengthens the spine and also works the core. Rest on the balance ball, stomach-down, feet on the floor and, with your hands behind your head, lift your head up using abs and lower back.
Mat single-leg hip thrust
This hits the glutes and is a buns-of-steel perennial. Lying down on the mat, or with your shoulders against a bench, with your bottom raised, take one bent leg off the floor and raise it up and down.
Mat nerve glides
Nerve gliding is a therapeutic move that eases any pain originating from the spine. Lie on your back and bend the hamstring up and down again.
Mat spinal flex / leg-lift combo
This is a Pilates-style movement that engages the core muscles and helps spine mobility. Lie on your back, flex the spine and raise both legs into the air.
Shot on location at Third Space London