How the Actor Got Ripped
Riz Ahmed had a clear vision of what he wanted to look like in Sound of Metal. The British actor wanted to morph into a ripped rock star since his character, Ruben, is an ex-addict punk drummer who begins to suffer devastating hearing loss.
“Riz has immense focus in everything he does,” says trainer Leighton Grant II, who helped Ahmed prep for the role. On top of his fitness expertise, there was also an element of Ruben’s journey that Grant connected closely with. “I wear hearing aids myself, so missing sounds or parts of conversation is a part of my daily life.”
Grant developed a diverse and comprehensive training program to execute over the three months they had together before Sound Of Metal began filming in Massachusetts. Since Ahmed was starting with a particularly lean frame at the time, the mandate was to build muscle during the first phrase, then shred him down during the second push.
“I was checking Riz’s weight and body fat percentage at least every other week, so we knew exactly where we was at all times,” says Grant. “Giving the history that Ruben has, the goal was for him to have a seriously striated physique when he showed up on set.”
Since Ahmed was playing a drummer, their training paid special attention to rhythm and tempo, too. That work came through especially during their agility drills and boxing sessions. “I’ve found similarities between boxing and punk drumming,” says Grant. “There’s a level of aggression and musicality that comes through both.”
Between the workouts with Grant and drumming practice with Guy Licata, Ahmed pulled off an impressive transformation for Sound Of Metal. Here’s how he did it.
Riz Ahmed’s Sound Of Metal Nutrition
During their three-month training period, Ahmed put on muscle while lowering his body fat percentage by four percent. That was accomplished by upping his caloric intake during the first phase, to help with the bulking period, then cutting that amount by 1,000 calories during the second phase.
Since Ahmed was on the movie quite a bit, not allowing for daily monitoring in-person, they started with the baseline of meals from Kettlebell Kitchen, with some meal manipulation coming from Grant. During the first period he was taking in about 2,500 calories. And during the cutting period, they switched to keto-based meals from the service, where the actor was taking in anywhere between 1,500 and 1,800 calories.
There were also home-cooked meals centered around clean protein, vegetables, and good carbs. Example breakfasts included eggs, minced beef, spinach, and sweet potato; lunch would be chicken breast, quinoa, and greens; and dinner would always be greens with a choice of protein. Depending on the type of training being done, fruit and a protein shake were added.
The Workouts That Transformed Riz Ahmed Into Ruben In Sound Of Metal
The training started with a focus on building muscle with traditional movements over the course of four days a week, split between upper and lower body sessions. During the beginning of the program, cardio was kept to a minimum. As the weeks progressed, Grant began to add conditioning to Ahmed’s training, which included everything from foot work to boxing to kettlebell circuits.
During the second phase of the program, the lifting was kept low and more conditioning was introduced. The training was upped to six or seven days a week. Since the exercise was constant, recovery became more crucial, and Grant would step in to perform instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization on occasion. Wednesdays were dedicated to boxing as a means to dial in Ahmed’s rhythm and get a great shred.
Example Upper Body Day From Riz Ahmed’s Sound Of Metal Training
Directions: Complete 3 sets of each superset, with 45 seconds between supersets, then move onto the next.
A1. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Flye x 12 reps (each side)
Lie on your back on a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip. Press the dumbbell so it’s stacked directly over your shoulder, and rest your left hand on left thigh. Retract your right arm’s shoulder blade and unlock your elbow, then slowly lower the dumbbell laterally. Allow your elbow to bend a bit until your arm is fully extended, dumbbell at chest level. Reverse the movement by engaging your pec and bringing the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat. Switch sides after 12 reps.
A2. Barbell Chest Press x 12 reps
Grasp the bar just outside shoulder width and arch your back so there’s space between your lower back and bench. Unrack the barbell and lower it to your sternum, tucking your elbows about 45 degrees to your sides. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet into the floor and press the bar back up. Repeat.
B1. Reverse Flye on Cable Cross Machine x 15 reps
Adjust two cable machines to a medium resistance and a midrange setup. Stand tall between both cables, grabbing the right cable with your left hand and the left cable with your right hand, feet shoulder-width apart. Begin with arms crossed over your chest (as if you were hugging yourself), then engage your lats and extend arms out to the sides until they’re parallel to the ground, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position. Repeat.
B2. Close-Grip Row x 12 reps
Start by putting a close-grip handle (V bar) on the cable machine. Sit on a bench (or on the floor, just adjust the stack height accordingly), and grab the bar with a neutral grip, palms facing one another. Keep your back straight as you row the handle toward your lower abdomen, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly reverse the movement—again, keeping a flat back. Repeat.
C1. Single-Arm Reverse Dumbbell Flye x 12 reps (each side)
Grab a dumbbell in your right hand using a neutral grip (palm facing in), standing with feet shoulder-width apart. With a soft bend in your knees, hinge at your hips and tip your torso forward and down so it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Let your right arm hang under your chest, left hand braced on left knee for support. Engage your lat, raising your right arm until it’s parallel to the floor, keeping a slight bend in your elbow throughout the movement. Squeeze your shoulder blade at the top, then slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Repeat. Switch sides after 12 reps.
C2. Arnold Press x 12 reps
Hold dumbbells in each hand, palms facing you. Engage your glutes and abs as you begin to press the dumbbells overhead. Halfway through the movement, rotate your palms so they face out. Extend arms fully overhead, being careful not to hyperextend your back. Reverse the movement in a controlled manner. Repeat.
D1. Plank w/ Hip Hike x 20 reps
Come into a plank position, weight over wrists, hips level and in line with back, and core engaged. Lift your hips up while squeezing your abs, then hold for a count of two. Lower back down in a controlled manner. Repeat.
D2. Bicycles x 45 seconds
Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground and knees in tabletop position. With your hands cradling your head, pull shoulder blades off the floor. Begin to go through a bicycle pedal motion, drawing one knee up toward armpit while straightening the other leg, twisting torso so the opposite elbow meets opposite knee. Repeat for 45 seconds, then switch sides.
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