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How Kit Harington Got Ripped For Game Of Thrones

Jon Snow: warrior, statesman, King in the North, infamously knows nothing. But as notable as he is for his parentage and ability to pull off a daring ebony fur, he is perhaps just as well-known for his physique. Indeed, from Game of Thrones to Testament of Youth, Kit Harington has taken his chiseled body to screens large and small, and reviews never fail to note, amidst plot details and criticism, exactly how jacked the dude from the Wall manages to be. 

But maintaining that level of physical definition is no mean feat. It takes discipline, detailed training regimens, a whole bunch of complex carbohydrates, a well-stocked spice cabinet, and a pretty serious variety of sports and routines to keep things fresh. We dug into how the actor got — and stays — in such impeccable shape. As it turns out, it goes way beyond chasing after a big white wolf all day.

Training with stunt actors

From Game of Thrones' brutal, body-twisting battle scenes to the sword and sandal action of Pompeii, Harington has had to conquer quite a few stunts. Turns out, this is a solid way to get and stay in shape. As an actor, Harington has had to learn to manipulate his body in a multitude of ways, and as an action star, he takes this to the limit. One of his favorite ways of doing this is by training with stunt actors, thus cutting out the middleman and learning action choreography as he trains in a way that is consistent with the character he is inhabiting. 

As he told Vanity Fair, his role in Pompeii demanded daily training of this nature for four hours — in addition, of course, to the specialized diet he was put on. But there's no better way to learn than doing whatever it is you aim to do, and as such, there's no better way to learn to portray a warrior than by training like one actually does.

Working on his swordsmanship

Harington doesn't just train like a fighter, however — he wields like one as well. His workout routine has involved everything from one-handed swordsmanship to dual wielding, and ranged from the type of fighting that employs lightweight sabers to the sort that incorporates the kind of weighty, long-handled broadswords Jon Snow most commonly uses. His sword training was so intense for Pompeii in particular that the Game of Thrones staff noted a change in his technique — and loved it. 

"When we gave Kit back to them for the new season, [Game of Thrones director Neil Marshall] said, 'Kit has become a really great swordsman. Thank you so much,'" remarked Pompeii director Paul W. S. Anderson. As Harington went on to note, the type of fighting necessary for his role in Pompeii was very different from what he does with the Night's Watch. It's far flashier and has an emphasis on gladiatorial showmanship that Jon Snow's character does not bother with. As such, he came back to the Thrones set with a whole new skillset — one that doesn't come into play on the celebrated fantasy series, but has made him a more fluid and physically skilled actor.

A specifically calibrated diet

Exercise is only part of getting in shape, of course. It has to work harmoniously with a lot of things, from a solid sleep schedule to adequate hydration and mental wellness. But above all, it must be paired with a well-balanced diet, attuned to the individual's needs, and that's exactly the kind of diet Harington follows. When honing himself into a lean, mean Hellenist machine for Pompeii, he and co-star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stuck to an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet that was "designed specifically for our bodies to be attuned to lose fat and pop out muscles." 

As Harington told Men's Health, he "was eating all the time: loads of good carbs, like brown rice and sweet potatoes. And lots of chicken." This can, of course, get boring fast, which is where so many aspirant athletes fail. The key, one of Harington's trainers noted, is seasoning. With the right preparations, even the humble sweet potato can taste one of a thousand different ways. Personally, he recommends a special blend of salt and 15 herbs called Herbamare.

Cable-based workouts

Picking any one exercise can be overwhelming. While the plethora of information on everything from hyper-specific diets to totally obscure weight machines can be a boon at times, it can also be a curse. How does one choose where to begin? How much time is any one person willing to devote to trial and error? When it comes to Harington's workouts for Game of Thrones, there's one type of exercise that has proven more useful than the rest: cable-based workouts.

His trainer, Dalton Wong, developed a program that used these exercises to mimic his in-character moves: "We were doing a lot of full-body movements, rather than the typical isolation exercises," he told Men's Journal, "lots of cable routines that would allow his body a fuller range of movement, because he would have to take that sword around the head." Given that he's often swinging that very same sword wrapped in layer upon layer of heavy fur and leather, working with flexible cables is exactly the right course of action.

Strength training focused on the largest muscle groups

Strength training has become more and more popular over the last few years across lines of gender and routine. As Harington has spent most of his career playing brawny dudes with physical jobs to do (and heads to cut off, and wolves to train, and gladiators to best in grueling bouts of showy combat...), he is no exception. But he doesn't just devote himself to any old strength training regimen — he focuses specifically on what will get him the best results. 

Wong focuses specifically on training Harington according to his largest muscle groups, developing routines that strengthen his back, legs and glutes. These exercises — largely deadlifts, lateral lunges, and upper body push and pull movements — are done for 45 minutes to an hour, at a pace so intense as to double as cardio. As anyone who's seen his muscled physique on screen can attest, this routine is clearly working.

Always warming up

It's not enough to push one's body to the absolute limit, however — the serious athlete has to spend time warming up. Harington is dedicated to this essential part of any routine, and it's kept him in the kind of fighting shape Westeros winters on the Wall demand. Wong shared one of the workout routines he developed for Harington, and a good third of it focuses solely on warm-up exercises. 

He recommends knee hugs, lunges, and something he refers to as "threading the needle," in which he has Harington position himself on all fours, thread his left hand over to the right side, lift the same arm up to the left shoulder and look up, then repeat the process with the opposite hand. This opens the chest and lengthens tight muscles. Warming up is the kind of thing novice gym rats often skip, as it seems like a waste of time, but the consequences of diving right into the most hardcore weight training, cardio, or even something as seemingly gentle as yoga can be devastating. Be like Harington instead: committed to getting your body ready for the thorough workout that ensues.

Yoga, massage, and physiotherapy

Even warming up, stretching, working out with a responsible mentor, and cooling down afterward isn't always enough. Maintenance of the body between these actions is also key to maintaining good physical shape and responsible fitness. Harington keeps himself in impeccable shape — safely! — though a regular regimen of body conditioning. "You see the guys on screen and they're in amazing shape," Wong reported, "what you don't see is everything else they do to stay in one piece: the yoga, the massage and all the physiotherapy." 

He keeps Harington running smoothly with just that kind of attention, and considers it essential to his practice. It's not the first time Harington has seen a physiotherapist, however: he employed one John Green in that capacity after injuring himself when locked out of his own apartment. Jon Snow probably doesn't have to shimmy up drain pipes when he forgets his keys, but Kit Harington lives a very different life indeed.

Working out to his body type

It's easy to get wrapped in images of physical ideals. Muscle-bound bodybuilders, ultra-jacked swimmers, hardbodied triathletes... a simple Google search will flood one's browsers with visions of perfection and the routines that can, purportedly, take anyone to those vaunted heights. Yet reality intervenes — and that's not a bad thing. The truth is that we're not all meant to look the same, and the sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we can get to the best physical shape possible. Harington acknowledges this and, as such, succeeds. 

"I'm not a 6' 3" guy who can bulk up and just look like an absolute unit, a tank," he told Men's Health. "My body type has a tiny bit of stockiness to it but it's really quite wiry, so for Pompeii that was the sort of look I had to go for — 'prison fit', like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear." He leans into being a "hard gainer" — that is, someone more focused on uncovering musculature via a swift metabolism than packing on slabs of muscle.

Changing up his routine

We've established the importance of warming up. We've gone over training for one's body type. We grasp the centrality of diet. But when all is said and done, even the most perfectly calibrated routine cannot trump stagnation. That's why having a variety of activities one cycles between is so important to staying in shape — a tenet Harington lives by. "The physical stuff is very much a part of who Jon Snow is," he noted in 2016, and over the four years I've got into rock climbing, ice climbing, sword fighting and horse riding." 

One cannot live by squats, pull-ups, or diet alone. We have to adapt, shake it up, and try new things. After all, where would Jon Snow be if he'd only ever stayed on the Wall, and never journeyed beyond it? Keeping things new, fresh, and different is the key to staying engaged with one's workout routine, and engaging fully with one's routine is the surest path to sustainable fitness.