In Creed III, Michael B. Jordan’s titular character shows up retired and a bit out of shape. Or, more precisely, he’s not in unbelievably fit shape he displays in the franchise’s first two iterations. Adonis Creed, it’s revealed, looks good; he’s just a bit less hungry than the film’s antagonist, played by Jonathan Majors, who is fresh out of prison and absolutely yoked. Over the course of the film, both men train and fight and Jordan, who also directed the movie, drags his character from the luxury suite to the high-rep, low-frills life of a boxer.
Throughout the Creed franchise, Jordan’s character’s looks more like a superhero than a boxer: very jacked for a guy who competes in a sport where the typical training doesn’t involve heavy weights. Jordan’s literal body building in these films (and in Black Panther) is the work of Corey Calliet. He’s a personal trainer and former competitive bodybuilder who brings that sport’s high rep, high volume, high-specificity approach to Jordan and his now-lengthy list of actor and musician clients—including A$AP Rocky. (Jordan, a friend, was his first client.) Under Calliet, bodies get built.
GQ sat down with Calliet, who recently opened his books to new clients—not necessarily celebrities—about Jordan’s character in III, two-a-day workouts, and how he can get anyone in shape in 16 weeks.
GQ: What shape was Michael B. Jordan in to start? I recall reading that he wasn’t super cut before the first one. Does he stay in good shape now?
Corey Calliet: I’d say 65 percent. Because his life’s so strenuous—always traveling—it’s hard to maintain a shape like that all the time. We have four months before filming to get in tip top shape.
In years where he mostly stays in shape, it’s not as hard. But we had the pandemic, and so it was a fluctuation of the body not being in tip top shape—but being in good shape— and then laying off. We needed a maximum amount of time. And with him directing Creed III and running the show, there were more things to worry about, and more stress, than just getting in shape.
I’ll talk about Creed III’s training in a second, but I wanted to ask about the CrossFit training prep you did on Without Remorse and Creed II. What did that entail? Was it complexes, Olympic lifts, high reps? Or was it more hybrid training?
It was more hybrid training for Creed II; I did a lot of CrossFit training for Without Remorse. For Creed II, we wanted a lot of boxing, since that’s the discipline. A lot of cardiovascular work. Going into the movie there was a lot of weight training. After that, a month or so before filming, we did a lot of boxing and conditioning work to get camera ready.
What do you get out of doing functional work like kettlebells, medicine balls, or ropes? I know they help function, posture and mobility—but how do they show up aesthetically?
Conditioning—they’re all conditioning to me. Getting that heart rate up—that’s what’s most important and is why I program that work. It’s good to help with movement. But for the look, it’s conditioning.
How’d you change it up for III?
For Creed III, we started with weight training so we could put muscle on and wake his body up, but smaller increments, because the pre-production he was doing as a director was serious. I tried to throw in everything possible. There’d be weight training, and in the evening, cardio. Mid-day, we’d do boxing. We got his body doing everything before filming since he was going to do everything during the film.
What sort of weight training were you doing? Barbell work, high reps, volume training?
I do a lot of drop sets. I love drop sets. Sometimes we do volume. If I’m not doing just drop sets, I do very very high reps. And not lifting so, so heavy, but moderate weight, so you can still feel it.
Why drop sets? [With drop sets, a lifter performs a rep to failure, then drops the weight by 10%, then lifts to failure again—then again with lower weight. It’s great for muscle growth.]
I like the breaking down of the muscle. For the muscle to grow, it needs to break all the way down. I like to do a lot of sets; I do drop sets on almost everything except for triceps. I don’t worry about them on small muscles; it’s overkill on triceps.
Was there a specific shape or aesthetic you were going for here with the Creed character? He’s a boxer, but he looks like a lifter. Was there a different aesthetic for Jonathan Majors’ character?
The storyline is: Mike’s coming out of retirement. No retired boxer is going to look like they’re fighting regularly. But I wanted him to be bigger than in II; my goal is to make the actor look better than in the last one.
For Jonathan Majors’ character, he’s coming out of prison, where all you do is work out. I wanted to make sure he looked like a boxer. When he got to me he was in good shape; I just needed to make him be in great shape.
What differentiates a boxer—why are they in such good shape? Is it the cardio, is it the rotational movement?
It’s the most conditioning-heavy training you can put your body through. It’s cardiovascular, it’s plyometric and there’s a lot of aerobic exercise. Your body is steadily in shock, and always changing. A lot of boxers also stay in a nutrient deficiency—their body survives off what it has, eating off the fat, even off muscle. The training and intensity forces the body to change like it needs to.
How’d you specifically periodize the workouts leading up to Creed III? I know you start with weights—is there an initial conditioning phase? Is it strength first, or size?
We start with size, with low conditioning. After we have the size, we get the conditioning up and trim the size down. Once we get to the middle part of prep, the training goes to a lot more conditioning. At the end it goes to all conditioning. The weights blows you up, the conditioning brings you down, and the nutrition is what shapes you.
That anticipates the next question. Do you do bulk, cut, maintenance with the diet—do you vary macros by the day? How’s it work leading up filming, and what changes during filming?
I don’t really count macros like that. I start off with a base diet, and I either add on or take off, and start trickling down from there. I try not to take food away as much as possible, because you need it throughout the workout phase. As we train and change, the food might change a bit, but I try to keep it the same throughout. When we get close to filming, I start pulling things away so the body will change completely.
Is there a difference between the looks required here for Creed III and a Marvel movie? How is the director involved?
It’s character based. Whatever the character needs to look like, I do my research on the character, and whatever he needs to look like, that’s what I try to create. I talk to the director about the story, and the dates we have and what I need to make him look like, and that’s it. They write everything, I just create what they write.
How hard is it to nail nutrition on a longer shoot, and when Jordan is directing? Are there specific rules you have for food, or are you just taking the rice away from the meal?
I play with it. I’m not very calculated macros-wise. I look at food like an artist would look at a painting. I know when to add and take away. When it’s close to shooting, I might notice the body’s holding water; if it’s flat, how to pump the body up. But that’s only if I see the body every day. It’s very bodybuilding style, which is my background. If you need to prep to look good, that’s the diet you go to. All the other fad diets and shit, throw it out the window. This is what works.
It sounds like your bodybuilding experience lets you eyeball the macros. What are these fad diets?
Keto isn’t a fad diet, but you have to be very disciplined to do it. Lots of people can’t do it. Intermittent fasting is really good but it’s not a diet—it’s a way to intake food. So someone on IF might say, “I’ll eat whatever I want,” and will destroy themselves eating whatever they want.
I stick to a basic balanced diet—carbs, fats and proteins. It works. Another thing that’s important is eating. People don’t eat enough. People will train, train, train and eat a cup of rice and some water. They’ll say they feel full for the day. But your body won’t change if it doesn’t have the nutrients it needs. It’s most important that you eat. That’s the main point and what I do with my clients: make sure they eat a lot throughout the day.
Bodybuilders seem to have a pretty accurate perception of food quantity. Do your clients come in overestimating, underestimating portion size?
Of course. Everybody does. Too many people are scared to eat like they should if they’re training. They’ll think, “That’s too much, I can’t eat that.” But they’ll notice that after their body adapts the water starts to fall off and the metabolism speeds up. They’ll always be hungry. People are afraid of the first 14 days: you start eating a lot and you think you’ll get fat. But you’re not going to. The fat’s going to come right off. You need to feed your body so your body can speed its metabolism up.
What role does sleep play in getting the actors cut and yoked here? I know with long days on set, or with some very successful people, there’s less. Do you throw the hammer down or work around it?
I work around it. It’s hard to get sleep. Naps are important. If you can’t get that eight hours at night, nap tend to work; even shutting something down for 30 minutes works. And sleep on the weekend will help your body change even faster. That’s when the muscle grows.
What sort of calories get burnt on set? Are there days when Michael’s say, boxing all day? Do you have to bulk those days? Did training volume go down on those days, or are lifts made easier? How’s your job different on set.
On set everything’s on the go. I pay attention to how Mike’s feeling; I give him what he needs when he needs it. If he has to box all day, I’ll make sure he has food and water—maybe more carbs, or something sweet to give him energy to get through the day.
Are the lifts programmed easier during the shoot?
As long as there are dumbbells and bands around, we keep it simple and easy. The workouts are about muscle contraction and getting a pump.
When you’re training rappers like A$AP Rocky—is it a specific aesthetic, or was it more about getting the blood flowing?
They wish to look like what they want—and that never happens with rappers. You end up being there just to make sure they’re healthy and able to get through shows. If you get them to look good, that’s a bonus. But most rappers, the lifestyle and how they live, it’s kind of hard to get in great shape. So you make sure they’re good. And I mentor their mental, so they can get through the life that they live.
You’ve said all you need for your own workouts is a treadmill and dumbbells. What do you do, and how much do you vary it? What exercises can people keep in mind to start?
If I’m traveling, I do full body. All of the time. If I have a pair of dumbbells, there are so many different exercises I can do, between plyometric exercises, dumbbells for strength training exercises, treadmill for conditioning exercises—I can do that anywhere.
For people starting, full body is ideal. Some good exercises to keep in mind are push-ups, walking lunges, barbell squats, and a chorus of plyometric exercises: squat jumps, chest press. Floor press, if you don’t have a bench. And burpees. As much as people hate burpees—I can’t stand them. I’m 230 lbs., I jump and run fast and I’ll sprint 10 times before I have to do 100 burpees. But it’s one of the best conditioning exercises you can do. And the worst, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed.