Sam Heughan on … Working Out

In this Web exclusive, Sam Heughan, star of “Outlander,” weighs in on all the varied ways he trains.

Jordana Brown December 29, 2015

Was there a point when you realized CrossFit was working to change the way your body looked or to help with activity on set?

So we built a gym in the studio [where Outlander is filmed], and at first it was really basic. We had one bar, a set of plates, a TRX and I think a rower. That’s all we had, and I was on my own in there. I just smashed it out every evening after work.

But yeah, I definitely think there was a point when you don’t really notice your gains or something and then at some point you go, Oh my god, I’m actually deadlifting way more than I did. Or in fact, yesterday, I was doing a warm-up, and I was like, I remember this weight used to challenge me and now I’m using it as a warm-up. And certainly any of the physical stuff we do on set, a lot of the sword-fighting, I just feel very agile and strong and I don’t feel I’m ever challenged, and I think that’s definitely down to the conditioning that we do and a lot of long hours.

What’s a sample WOD that you do?

If I’m on set, yeah, it’ll be more of a WOD. It’ll be something for time, well we’ll start off with a row or an Airdyne or a ski-erg session to warm up, then do work up to a percentage, like an 80 percent 1RM on a certain lift and then maybe do five sets of whatever at a certain percentage of that. One compound lift and then finish it off with a WOD and it will be something like “Fran,” or a Hero WOD but I’ll probably adapt it, it just depends on time. If I’ve got time, then we’ll do something longer. If I need it to be short and sweet, I’ll smash it out. It can even be just intervals on the rower or burpees for time.

But every day you’re doing something?

Yeah, pretty much. It depends again on the schedule but five, six days a week, yeah. And I’ll alternate it. If I can get in, I’ll do a spin class with John [Valbonesi, Heughan’s CF-L1-certified trainer] or on Thursday mornings the Fight Camp trainers — there’s like four of them or five — they do a competitive conditioning circuit.

You tend to beat John in those competitions.

Well, anything row or ski I can beat him. It’s a little bit unfair, but when we do like kettlebell swings or wall balls and stuff, he’s pretty strong. We’ve got a couple of guys who are more muay Thai-based, but their conditioning is intense.

What are your favorite lifts?

I love deadlifts. Though it’s something you can lose quite easily. When I lost weight at the end of last season, I very quickly dropped the weight I could lift. But even though I couldn’t get the bar up, the technique was still there, so I felt that my body kind of remembered.

I used to alternate grip a lot, but I don’t anymore because I found that if I did that, I’d slightly put my hip out or strain my back muscles, and I’ve also found that not alternating has made my grip strength better. Which means I can’t always lift as heavy, but then you build it up and certainly, my 1RM is slowly building again.

Hated lifts? Besides burpees?

Thrusters. I hate thrusters. Or wall balls. They’re the same thing aren’t they? Just horrendous. I don’t know why, they just really fatigue me. Terrible.

Last year John and I regularly, like maybe once a week, did 100 burpees for time. It’s just such a mental challenge. And actually, as part of My Peak Challenge last year, we had a five-minute AMRAP of burpees. It’s funny, even just doing that regularly, I found my burpees went up really quickly, but now it’s horrendous. As soon as you get out of the habit, they’re not fun.

To read the full interview with Sam Heughan, buy the January/February 2016 issue here.

My Peak Challenge, Heughan’s charitable initiative, raises money for blood-cancer research by encouraging participants to set a fitness goal and offering a full 60-day training and nutrition program to help them meet it. For more information or to join, go to mypeakchallenge.co.uk.


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Jordana Brown