Alan Ritchson packed on 30 pounds of muscle to play Reacher — here’s how

Alan Ritchson (as Jack Reacher), Martin Roach (as Picard) in a diner in an episode of Prime Video's Reacher
(Image credit: Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

Whether you’re a fan of Amazon’s new show Reacher or not (one of our picks for the best new shows and movies to watch), there’s no question about how incredible Alan Ritchson looks on screen. The actor, who has taken on the part of Lee Child’s retired military police officer, Jack Reacher, packed on 30 pounds of muscle to play the TV show’s protagonist.

But how did he do it? 

Speaking on the Kelly Clarkson Show, Ritchson revealed before the show, he was 205 pounds, so he had to seriously bulk out to play Jack Reacher. Below, we take a deep dive into his chosen workouts and nutrition plan, but we warn you now, some elements are far from conventional. 

Looking for more celebrity workout inspiration? Here’s the ab move Jennifer Lopez swears by, how Taron Egerton built his impressive physique, and how Ryan Reynolds built his six-pack for Deadpool 2

What workouts did Alan Ritchson do for Reacher? 

Alan Ritchson standing outside

(Image credit: Alan Ritchson/Instagram)

In an ‘ask me anything’ interview on Reddit, Ritchson revealed he added strength training to his routine to bulk up his body to play the retired military officer. Standing at 6 foot 4 inches tall, Ritchson was already a big guy, who was in great shape before accepting the part but to convincingly play Reacher, he had to gain muscle. 

In an Instagram post, Ritchson shared that he often opted to do lower weight, high rep strength workouts, as well as bodyweight exercises, writing, "Here’s a fun fact - hypertrophy and strength training are two different things. Usually they compliment each other. High weight low reps (think - 4-6) will increase strength. Some growth in size (hypertrophy) will occur. But not as fast as if you did lower weight and higher reps (think - you can’t do more reps than 15-25 each set for 4 sets). Body weight exercise like push-ups, pull-ups and dips can add plenty of size if you don’t have access to a gym. All you really need is you and the discipline to push."

Here are the bodyweight moves Ritchson used to bulk up for Reacher:

Dips: “If I could only do one thing for the rest of my life, I think it would be dips” Ritchson told Men's Health in a YouTube video. Dips work the triceps and the chest hard. To do a dip, grab either side of a dip station, with your palms facing inwards and your arms straight. Hover your legs off the floor, and slowly lower yourself down, until your elbows are at 90 degrees. Be sure to keep your elbows in by your body, and don’t let them flare out. Drive yourself back up, that’s one rep.

Pull-ups: When it comes to torching his arms and abs, pull-ups were Ritchson’s method of choice. To do a pull-up, grab the bar with your hands facing away from you, your arms should be fully extended and shoulder-width apart. The move here comes from your shoulder blades — think about squeezing them together as you pull yourself up, until your chin is just over the bar, once you’ve got to the top of the movement, lower down slowly and with control.

Sit-ups: Another well-known bodyweight exercise, sit-ups target all of the abdominal muscles. To do a sit-up, lie on your back, with knees bent and feet firmly on the ground. Place your hands behind your head, or place each hand on the opposite shoulder, so arms cross over the front of your body, whichever feels more comfortable to you. Slowly lift your upper body off the ground, keeping your chin tucked into your chest as you do so. Lift your body up towards your thighs, so you're essentially sitting upright. Next, slowly lower your body back to the start position.

Press-ups: One of the best ways to build your arm muscles using just your bodyweight, the humble press-up is a brilliant move. To do a push-up, start by getting into a plank position, with your weight underneath your shoulders and your palms flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Straighten your arms and engage your abs, thinking about sucking your belly button into your spine. You should have a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head. Slowly, with control, bend your arms and lower your chest to the floor, pause, then raise back to your starting position.

Running: Ritchson also said he did a lot of cardio to get in shape for the role, often running. Here are some of the best treadmill workouts for every level of runner.

When it comes to weight training, Ritchson relied on the following moves: to grow his arms and chest, Ritchson used high-volume supersets of cable tricep press downs, with overhead extensions. He’d then do four sets of 25 hammer curls, followed by 25 hammer presses, 15-25 skull crushers, before doing some “21 curls”, which is where you perform seven curls from the bottom of the curl to the middle, seven from the middle to the top, and seven with a full range of motion.

Alan Ritchson flipping a tire

(Image credit: Getty/ Denise Truscello / Contributor)

What did Alan Ritchson eat to bulk up for Reacher? 

Of course, if you’re doing all that exercise, you need to be consuming a hell of a lot of calories to ensure you’re bulking, not losing weight. In a recent appearance on The Kelly Clarkson Show, Ritchson said  “Have you ever put on 30 pounds? It’s a full-time job to eat enough to put on 30 pounds. I had an assistant whose only job was to bring me food. It was like a conveyor belt of smoothies and protein."

Alongside the protein shakes, the actor also revealed his slightly unconventional methods of making sure he was getting enough calories in — ordering the crew fried chicken and cookies. “You can get pretty clever with this," he told Derek Hough. "I would order the crew Popeye’s chicken sandwiches (and) cookies, just so I could get the kind of calories I wanted. It looks like a goodwill gesture. 'Leave a dozen of those in my trailer, please!'"

Popeye’s chicken sandwiches aside, one thing is for sure, he looks a hell of a lot more like Reacher than Tom Cruise ever did (no offense Tom), and he’s done something right, as Amazon has already announced they have renewed the series for Reacher season 2.

Like all diets and exercise regimes, it goes without saying that what worked for Alan Ritchson might not work for everyone else. Before undertaking a new workout regime or changing your diet, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor or personal trainer. 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.