I worked out like Reacher’s Alan Ritchson — here’s what happened

a photo of alan ritchson
(Image credit: Getty/David Livingston / Stringer/ Instagram/alanritchson)

One look at Reacher star Alan Ritchson will tell you that he’s no stranger to a good workout. Since a sculpted physique is a pretty strong (pun intended) prerequisite to be an action hero, the actor packed on a whopping 30 pounds of muscle to properly portray ex-military cop Jack Reacher.

As a certified personal trainer, I understand the kind of effort required for any body composition change — whether it’s gaining 30 pounds or losing it. I was curious to see what Ritchson’s gym routine looked like as he prepared for his breakout role, so I did a little research and stumbled upon this workout that he filmed for Men’s Health. Forgoing my usual heavy barbell sets, I reached for some cables, dumbbells, EZ bars and tried Reacher’s regimen instead. Read on to see how I fared.

As a reminder, what’s right for Ritchson may not be right for you. Before beginning any exercise program, be sure to check in with your medical team for the go-ahead. And if you’re a gym newbie, consider scheduling a few sessions with a personal trainer for appropriate guidance. 

What is Alan Ritchson’s workout? 

In a segment he filmed for Men’s Health, Ritchson described his philosophies behind exercise and his Reacher workouts. “I learned a lot in that process about longevity and working out in a way that prevents injury but achieves growth,” he said, referencing his sizable gains for the series. “It’s not about punishing ourselves in the gym, or taking ourselves to the point of literally destroying our bodies. It’s about just consistent, vigorous activity for short, healthy amounts of time.”

Here’s what Ritchson’s workout looked like: 

4 sets of the following superset:

Cable tricep pulldown, 15 - 25 reps
Cable overhead tricep extension, 15 - 25 reps
Cable hammer curls, 15 - 25 reps

4 sets of the following superset:

Dumbbell hammer chest press: 25 reps
Dumbbell skull crushers: 15 - 25 reps

4 sets of the following superset:

EZ bar “21”s (7 bicep curls from the bottom end of your range to the middle of your range, 7 bicep curls from the middle of your range to the top of your range, and 7 bicep curls full range)
EZ bar overhead extensions, 15 - 25 reps

10-minute run 

Extra credit:

Bodyweight tricep dips, as many reps as possible

I worked out like Alan Ritchson — here’s what happened

My resistance training sets usually max out at 15 reps, so I was excited to work on my muscular endurance courtesy of Ritchson’s plan. Here’s what I found:

It felt very imbalanced

Ritchson has some seriously enviable triceps, and now I see why — out of the seven exercises included in his plan, four of them target the triceps (and that’s not even including the tricep dips he’ll sometimes do for an extra “pump”).

Listen, I love tricep work as much as anyone. In fact, most of the tricep exercises in Ritchson’s Reacher workout are ones that I regularly include in my own routines. But you can have way too much of a good thing, and that’s definitely the case here. By the time I got to the last superset, my triceps were completely smoked while the rest of my upper body barely felt fatigued at all. This type of training imbalance has the potential to set you up for injury — which, ironically, is exactly what Ritchson claims he’s trying to prevent.

Additionally, exercises that target the back and shoulders are noticeably absent from this workout (not to mention exercises for the legs, however, most programs will split upper body and lower body work into separate days). You don’t get Ritchson’s build from doing the same 3 supersets alone, and I’m sure most of us could guess that the majority of his gym regimen hasn’t been included in this brief clip. So, it’s a little misleading to refer to this as the “workout to build 30 pounds of action-hero muscle.”

My triceps were killing me the next day

As you might expect, my triceps were out of commission the day after my Reacher workout. Thanks to a little thing called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS for short), they felt even worse 48 hours later. It was enough to prevent me from heading back into my usual exercise routine, and I had to shift my rest days to accommodate. 

Being excessively sore doesn’t indicate a good workout — it means you’ve either overworked muscles in a different way than they’re accustomed to working, or you’ve added too much weight too quickly. Chances are that if I repeated this workout, I wouldn’t be nearly as sore the next time. I don’t think I’ll try to test that theory any time soon, though. 

The workout went by quickly

On the plus side, completing Ritchson’s workout will take you less time than watching an episode of his series. Working in higher-rep ranges like the ones included in this program usually doesn’t require too much rest time in between sets, so I was able to power through the whole routine in under 30 minutes. If you’re just starting out it may take you longer, but it’s a relatively quick workout nonetheless.  

I questioned the rep ranges

It’s widely accepted in the fitness world that 8 - 12 reps is an effective rep range for achieving hypertrophy (or muscle growth), and that sets of 15 reps or more will improve muscular endurance. With that general wisdom in mind, I was surprised to see that all of the exercises in Ritchson’s workout were in a 15 - 25 rep range. Again, we can safely assume that this isn’t the only workout Ritchson did achieve his impressive size, but I was still puzzled to see that these endurance-based supersets were what Men’s Health chose to feature. 

Still, I enjoyed pushing myself to complete 25 reps of the exercises. It reminded me of my Barre class days, where I’d pulse and lift for up to 32 reps at a time (the muscle burn felt similar, too). And even if getting as jacked as Jack Reacher is your goal, most exercise pros will advise you to work in all rep ranges to reap various health benefits. 

The verdict? I didn’t totally hate this workout, but I did find it to be misleading and imbalanced. If you swapped out some of the tricep work for shoulder or back exercises, it would be a pretty comprehensive upper-body program. However, it’s unlikely you’ll put on 30 pounds of muscle without lifting a little heavier for fewer reps, at least for some workouts.     

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Jennifer Rizzuto

Jennifer Rizzuto is a freelance writer and certified personal trainer based in Long Island, NY. She covers various fitness-related topics and reviews for Tom's Guide. She also writes sketch comedy and short films, and performs frequently as an actor, singer, and improviser. When she's not writing, working out, or performing, you'll find her trying to convince her husband to get a dog.