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How Keanu Reeves gets ripped for his action movies

While he's an undeniable action movie superstar today, back when Keanu Reeves first launched his acting career in the mid-1980s, few could've guessed that he would go on to be considered one of Hollywood's go-to picks for shoot 'em ups. His breakout in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure didn't exactly portend the butt-kicking blockbusters to come, and even his turn as Johnny Utah in the heist/surfer thriller Point Break didn't give much indication of the bulked-up hunk we'd see in later flicks.

Bona fide action powerhouses like Speed and the Matrix trilogy gave us a glimpse of the future, but even as Neo, he was kind of a scrawny guy. Like, in The Matrix, he started out as a computer programmer — not exactly a career that's known for its beefed-up members. For 2014's John Wick, however, Reeves went the whole nine yards in terms of getting in stellar shape, and by this point in the franchise, it's safe to say that he's certifiably ripped. One doesn't become the world's deadliest assassin without having some serious fitness cred.

But if you're wondering how Reeves became the musclebound movie star that he is today, well, prepare to learn kung fu and fight Russian mobsters as we take a look at how the actor got ripped for his action movies.

The Keanu Reeves physique

For starters, let's take a look at Keanu Reeves' basic physical stats. At 6'1", Reeves is slightly taller than the likes of fellow action hunks like Jason Statham and Matt Damon but shorter than monsters like Jason Momoa or Joe Manganiello, falling somewhere in the middle alongside the Chrises — Pratt, Hemsworth, and Evans. And depending on his physical condition at any given time, it's widely assumed that his weight is somewhere around 175 pounds.

That actually places him in a fairly middling range in terms of musculature and BMI, which should come as no surprise. Reeves' physique has never been "huge." Rather, he's tended to be a fairly trim, if somewhat toned, with his high points in terms of mass coming during the filming of Speed and throughout the John Wick movies. So for Keanu Reeves, fitness has never so much been a matter of getting "swole" but instead a question of being toned and ready for big stunts and high-intensity, often martial arts-based action sequences.

Reeves was hanging ten in Point Break

Keanu Reeves made his first foray into action with the 1991 bank-robbing surfer flick Point Break (now there's a niche genre for you). This not only meant that he had to be capable of performing stunts and that he had to be believably fit for shooting action scenes, but that he also had to learn how to surf.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Reeves and co-stars Lori Petty and Patrick Swayze all spent two months taking lessons from the world-renowned pro surfer Dennis Jarvis. As Jarvis explained, Reeves had never surfed before, and all three actors were "beginners." Still, even though Reeves was inexperienced, he gained a passion for the sport and continued to surf as a hobby.

Surfing is a challenging sport that demands a great deal of strength, especially in the shoulders, chest, legs, and core. While Reeves didn't necessarily get "buff" for this particular film, the effort he put into learning to surf surely moved him into a new level of physical fitness and capability.

Doing stunts for Speed

Reeves' physical capabilities and leading man charisma in Point Break earned him the starring role in 1994's Speed. This was the first movie where we could see him really pack on the muscle, and while we don't have a lot of information on how he got into shape for it — presumably, he leveraged the tried and true combination of healthy diet and exercise — we do know that he went to extra lengths to perform some of the most demanding and dangerous stunts himself.

Perhaps the most notable example of this was the notorious bus boarding scene, in which he leapt from a Jaguar to the speeding bus. Reeves wanted to tackle the stunt himself, according to a very worried director, Jan de Bont (via Entertainment Weekly), who said that Reeves had become "addicted to the adrenaline." In preparation for the stunt, Reeves practiced secretly off-set, and during the actual scene, he just went ahead and jumped, much to the director's shock. While it might seem like a big risk, the payoff was in the final, thrilling product.

How Keanu Reeves trained for The Matrix

Is The Matrix an action movie? Or a sci-fi flick? Or maybe some combination of both? In any case, it's packed to the brim with mind-bending stunts and intense fight scenes, and for many people, this was the first time they got to see Keanu Reeves in full action-star mode.

But it might surprise you that for all the action scenes Reeves filmed in The Matrix, intensive workouts really weren't part of the routine. His character, Neo, was never intended to be buff — he fought with his mind more than anything, after all — and even when he was training for the martial arts scenes, he had to take it somewhat easy due to a spine injury.

That doesn't mean, however, that Reeves didn't put in plenty of sweat and effort. According to Kung Fu Magazine, Reeves and co-stars Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss went through four months of kung fu and wire work training to ensure that they had the martial arts skills necessary to nail the complex choreography required to shoot the movie's extraordinarily complex fight scenes.

Dieting on ... steak and wine?

Typically speaking, when you hear hyper-fit celebrities discuss the rigors of getting in shape, you'll notice a lot of talk about how prohibitively strict their diet was and about the foods they missed. For example, when actor Kumail Nanjiani got into shape for his role in The Eternals, he complained that the process involved snacking on nothing but sugar snap peas

Keanu Reeves, however, has a very different approach. It seems that his limitations are somewhat more broad. "Low sodium, low fat," he told Men's Journal, "and the night before a big fight sequence, I still eat a steak." It's a habit that he began while filming The Matrix and that he seems to indulge whether training for a movie or not. Reeves elaborated that during "civilian living" between films, his diet doesn't change much, and that he enjoys, "Steak. Red Wine. A nice single malt with a big ice cube."

That doesn't mean he doesn't maintain any additional dieting parameters. Reportedly, Reeves tends to avoid overindulgence and stick to foods like chicken, steak, rice, vegetables, and pasta.

How Keanu Reeves avoids injury

Over the years, Keanu Reeves has pushed his body to the limits via his fair share of motorcycle accidents, and as his trainer of 25 years, Patrick Murphy, explained to Esquire that Reeves' body has been through quite a bit while training and filming physically demanding movies like the Matrix series. So being in his mid-50s, it's important that Reeves puts in plenty of effort to avoid injury. 

Accordingly, when he trains, the actor spends a lot of time on stretching and warm-ups, and his actual workout routine tends to focus on resistance bands and bodyweight exercises that "can be easier on the joints than free-weights," Murphy told Muscle and Fitness. Murphy also said, "Keanu's body was put through the wringer. I had to implement the safest, most effective program possible." This meant focusing on a high-volume, low-impact routine with limited rest. In other words, injury was avoided by focusing on performing a high number of repetitions rather than lifting heavy weights.

The John Wick workout routine

It's safe to say that John Wick is Keanu Reeves' most physical role, and since the assassin has to spend pretty much all of his time fighting bad guys, Reeves has to be pretty ripped. So how does he get that Baba Yaga physique? Well, according to Men's Health, Reeves has a workout routine that's surprisingly limited, utilizing just six central movements.

So first up, Reeves performs a reverse lunge front dumbbell raise, which is a full-body workout that hits the legs, shoulders, and chest. Next up, there's the BOSU lunge shoulder press. In addition to working out the lower body and shoulders, this particular technique is great for developing balance (which comes in handy for Reeves' tactical training). Then there's the reverse-step resistance band row, which continues the lower body workout while shifting the upper-body emphasis to the back.

Tired? We're not done yet. There's also the squat with TRX shoulder iso-hold, which is a squat variation that hits the lower body and shoulders. Then Reeves follows that up with the stability ball dynamic plank, which develops core strength and balance, and yeah, it's as awful as it sounds. Finally, he ends everything with the banded lateral walk pallet press, which helps to develop shoulder width and leaves mere mortals feeling pretty sore the next day.

And that's it. Comparatively speaking, this is a fairly light routine, but all in all, it ensures that a person is both strong and mobile, which comes in handy for martial arts training.

How Keanu Reeves develops that speed

While training for the various John Wick releases, Reeves' workouts have tended to emphasize speed and endurance over strength, which makes sense. If you watch the fights carefully, he's rarely doing anything that requires major muscle, but instead, he performs a series of highly intricate, rapid movements over a long period of time.

To develop this capability, Reeves moves through his workout in a fast-paced circuit. Speaking with Men's Health, trainer Patrick Murphy explained that Reeves cycles through his workout routine about five or six times within an hour and a half. "He wasn't lifting crazy heavy weights — it was getting his body moving, getting his muscular endurance and stability. It was just a mindset. He would leave the gym exhausted but feeling great," said Murphy, before adding, "Just think of Keanu Reeves performing a thousand reps a workout, minimal rest, and it was just go time."

As anyone who has seen the resulting fight scenes knows, these efforts have paid off. Once the action starts, Reeves doesn't seem to stop moving for the remainder of the runtime.

He knows kung fu ... and a whole lot of other stuff

While Reeves delivered a handful of fight scenes in Point Break and Speed, his first substantial martial arts training came prior to The Matrix. According to renowned martial arts trainer Yuen Woo-ping (via The Hollywood Reporter), who also worked with the likes of Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat, "We had to start from scratch training him from the basics, but he was very hardworking and put in a great deal of effort." And as we all know today, The Matrix franchise went on to become a massive hit, so all that hard work paid off.

Reeves' martial arts knowledge kicked up a notch for the first two John Wick movies, for which he trained extensively in judo and achieved expert-level skill. This went even further for the third Wick installment, for which Reeves learned Brazilian jiu-jitsu. As director Chad Stahelski said to Men's Health, "We kind of just threw away the actor thing and trained him as a stunt guy." And that training began several months before shooting, and it spanned seven days a week for four or five hours a day.

Does that seem a little intense for a paycheck? Maybe, but considering the fact that John Wick franchise has amassed a hefty $500 million at the box office with a fourth installment on the way, it's hard to argue that all that effort wasn't worth it.

How Keanu Reeves is preparing for John Wick 4 and The Matrix 4

With he releases of both John Wick 4 and The Matrix 4 approaching, audiences can look forward to a cornucopia of action-packed thrills. Accordingly, Reeves has been training to ensure that he's in top condition for the slew of stunts we're sure to see.

In an Instagram post from December 16, 2019, Taran Tactical revealed, "Keanu starting his training for John Wick 4 & Matrix 4." If you're wondeirng, Taran Tactical is a training company that helps actors like Reeves learn how to realistically use firearms. Reeves has trained with Taran Tactical before, working his way through elaborate courses and shooting AR-15s, semiautomatic pistols, and semiautomatic shotguns. And he seems to be an incredibly proficient shot, taking out all manner of targets. And with the additional training for his upcoming movies, it looks like we're in for a whole lot more of the "gun-fu" we've come to expect from the actor.