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Men’s Health interview: Aaron Eckhart (from 2011)

Men’s Health – Intense military training made the Hollywood star stronger, faster and fitter

Marine biology

Up in the central room of the cliff-top house, sitting in his favourite armchair before the fire, the 42-year-old star who faced Batman as good-guy-gone-bad Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and is now a muscle-bound, war-hardened marine in Battle: Los Angeles, can look out to sea, meditate on his growing success and relax.

But Eckhart is not relaxing. Not a bit. Though he is surrounded by comfortable things, his life is constructed around staying hard, sharp, strong and lean. The man is powerfully built and tough as hobnail. “I see a gym in everything,” he says – and his life and new-found physique bear that statement out. He is seldom to be found lounging around at home when he could be cycling along the hillside roads, surfing the ocean, or throwing himself about the tennis court. He doesn’t like to sit still; he doesn’t want to slack off.

And this is both the great paradox of Eckhart and the great balance he has struck in his life. The Hollywood actor may have worked hard to accrue some damned good things in his career, but he is determined that age and success are not to be passports to comfort and indolence. Rather, they will be the tools with which he keeps himself in the best shape of his life.

Instead of hitting 40 and looking to slow down, Eckhart has shown that the opposite is possible. Instead of pumping the brakes, the chance is there to stamp on the accelerator. And while the thought of that might seem reckless to many men approaching middle age, raising your game rather than reining back could be the best thing you ever do.


Eckhart always wanted to make a war film. But he had no idea that making war films can be hell. To star in Battle: Los Angeles he was required to be as fit and disciplined as a regular US Marine. That meant a lot of technical training – but more importantly, he had to spend “a good 7-8 months” working on his fitness levels, in order to obtain the authentic physique of an elite modern soldier.

He immersed himself in military-style training that was tougher than anything he had ever done. The preparation was even more gruelling than he had imagined. “Every day at noon in the summer I did exhaustive training on soft sand,” he says. “I had to get my heart working at 160bpm all the time – really burning fat. I was skipping, doing short sprints, long sprints, weight training and boxing. I was doing all sorts of basic military fitness stuff: push-ups, sit-ups, climbing ropes, parallel bars, running up and down stairs. This happened every day. It got me in the best shape of my life.”

You can sample a fitness workout based on Eckhart’s here. It will give you a taste of just how hard he was prepared to push himself to get a fifth-decade frame utterly conditioned for active service. But it will also prepare you for whatever rigours you might need to withstand in the course of your life – whether you want to be ready to take part in a triathlon, run a 10K, or just feel like your back won’t go when you get out of your swivel chair.

The key, says Eckhart, was that he didn’t try to blow up his muscles with bodybuilding techniques. “As you get a get older, you get less concerned with muscle building. Now I’m more concerned with keeping my weight down.” It’s a game of stamina, now, not brute force. “I would rather have as little fat on me and be as lean as possible,” he says. Instead, he suggests that the best way to train as you get older is to think less about what you can lift, and more about how long you can keep going. Not only will you look better – you’ll be more competitive in your career to boot.

“I act with a lot of young guys who look great,” says Eckhart. “But they have muscle and no fitness. I box; I cycle – I have a never-say-die mentality. You have to really work to prove that you’re better than me.”

And there’s a life lesson there. It’s not all about barging people out of the way, or winning with blasts of strength. Real toughness comes from having the experience to see that the race is long – and requires endurance as well as power to come first at the finish line.

Bloody minded

If he wasn’t so frank and cogent about his mindset, you might think Eckhart was living in a state of denial – or even fantasy. But the truth is, he has learnt that if you have very high ambitions and make accordingly high demands of yourself, you can achieve pretty much whatever you like. This uncompromising attitude turned out to be vital when he undertook the most demanding aspects of his military training. He made sure that he pushed himself, and everyone around him, far beyond what they thought were their natural limits.

“I learnt a lot about myself,” he says. “I learnt that I love perfection. I want to get it right. I am savage about getting it right. I take things very seriously. And, in fact, I probably take it a bit too far: living and breathing it every single night.”

Eckhart lives and breathes an industrythat can seem fixated on youth. This will resonate with anyone who finds themselves in a workplace where younger, seemingly hungrier men are coming up, angling for their job, threatening a position that you might have spent years working to secure.

But just because the world is fixated on youth, doesn’t mean the world is right. And, as Eckhart has demonstrated by his stunning physical transformation, you really can will yourself to win, however strong the competition seems to be. “You have to give yourself as many advantages as you can,” he says. “Giving up is not an option.”

Corporal punishment

Although he constantly checks himself with self-deprecating jokes about taking things too seriously, it seems that a genuine introduction to military-standard fitness has changed Eckhart on some lasting level.

Life really has taken on something of a military flavour: disciplined, focussed, competitive. You can see it in the personal details. He wears his watch straps and belts in green military canvas. He keeps his hair cropped short – not quite the short-back-and-sides buzz-cut that is imposed on real recruits to the US armed forces, but certainly a civilian version.

He remains an actor, no doubt, and he hankers to make more war films. Asked about his ambitions, he talks of honing his craft, and name-checks his acting heroes. But he is definitely hooked on his new-found physicality. He says he found both pain and real satisfaction in the physical intensity of playing a soldier. “I didn’t know how I was going to get through each day of training,” he says. “But this is the only character I’ve ever been sad to leave behind.”

On one level that might read like the highfalutin’ talk of a Hollywood heavy hitter. But there’s a universal lesson there, too. At 42, Eckhart could have retreated into the slow physical declinemost men experience and sat back, prodding his fire and ruminating on a well-made, respectable career. But he’s done no such thing. Instead he’s shown that if you defy the notion that with the approach of middle-age you should slow down, you can push your physique, not to mention your achievements, on to new and higher levels.

Yes, reaching them is hard, gruelling work. But it is work that offers massive rewards. MH can’t promise that simply adopting Eckhart’s work ethic will bring you wealth, fame and a house by the Pacific. But if you learn from his mindset, then we can, if you will, make you fitter, happier and more resilient. And that, as the man by the fire will attest, is reward in itself.

Source: Men’s Health