I tried Tom Holland’s five-move dumbbell workout – and it was tough!

Want to get in superhero shape? Then you need this workout

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09: Tom Holland is seen on May 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
(Image credit: PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Even if you hate comic book movies, you’ve got to love Tom Holland. Apart from being so damn likeable, the former gymnast-and-dancer-turned-actor brings an incredible physicality to every role he takes on, whether he’s saving the world in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, falling out the back of a plane in Indiana Jones-esque adventure Uncharted, or strutting his stuff in fishnets to Rihanna’s Umbrella on Lip Sync Battle.

Of course, Holland has been demonstrating his physical prowess from a young age, ever since he first performed in Billy Elliot the Musical. But in more recent years, his slight frame has gone through quite the transformation after packing on approximately 6.35 kilograms (14lbs) of muscle to fill out his blue and red Spidey suit.

And it’s this transformation, I reckon, that helps to explain why a recent survey by Hotukdeals (linked below) into the most popular celebrity workouts put Tom Holland in the number one spot – ahead of fellow Avenger Chris Hemsworth - after interest in how to get the Brit’s body more than doubled last year. So, with that in mind, I decided to find out what all the fuss was about and get in on the action by donning my shiniest spandex leggings and trying one of his workouts. Fair warning, it’s not easy!

What workout did Tom Holland use to bulk up for Spider-Man?

First off, a confession. I found two workouts from Tom Holland’s London-based personal trainer, George Ashwell: one that helped the actor gain muscle for Spider-Man, and one that got him in shape for his role as a heroin-addicted former marine in Cherry. I tried the latter.

The reason? Well, in all honesty, Holland’s Spider-Man workout requires the kind of upper-body and core strength that gymnasts and serious bodybuilders possess, and I simply don’t have (the idea of me performing two weighted dips - let alone five rounds of 12 weighted dips - is a bit laughable, to be frank). But for those who do want to give it a go, here it is:

Spider-Man Circuit

Perform this four-exercise circuit for five rounds. The first round is a warm-up, and the rest are considered ‘working sets’. Rest for 30 seconds between each exercise. Ashwell also recommends one minute of Functional Range Conditioning, or mobility movements, to prime the joints, before and between each round.

  • Deadlift (2x bodyweight): 8 reps
  • Incline Press With Pronation (1/2 bodyweight each hand): 10 reps
  • Dip Bar Straight Leg Raises: 15 reps
  • Weighted Dips (8 kilograms weighted vest): 12 reps

As you’ve probably noticed, this workout is all about the upper body, but there’s a good reason for that. Holland’s PT and co-founder of private personal training space Before The Lights told Men’s Journal: ‘the script that we were handed had a pretty big shirtless scene, so we wanted to make sure that he looked his very best for that.’

To achieve the right aesthetic, a goal was set for Holland to gain one stone of muscle without any increase in his body fat. And this task was made even tougher because Holland came into filming a lot lighter than usual after losing weight for his role in Cherry, plus the fact that Ashwell only had six weeks to whip the actor into shape. 

For that reason, Ashwell trained Holland every single day and continued the work throughout filming in gyms built alongside the movie’s stunt rooms in London, Prague, and Venice. Sounds intense, but Ashwell says, ‘Tom smashed it’, and I can’t help but agree if that shirtless scene from Spider-Man Far From Home is anything to go by.

Tom Holland in “Cherry," premiering globally March 12, 2021 on Apple TV+

Tom Holland in “Cherry," available to view on Apple TV+

(Image credit: Apple)

What workout did Tom Holland use to get fit for Cherry?

Getting Holland’s body right for Cherry posed a very different set of challenges for PT Ashwell because the actor’s character had three very different physiques during the film as he morphed from high school kid to marine to underweight drug addict.

In an interview with Esquire, Ashwell explained that they shot the ‘skinny stuff first, then the school kid stuff, then the army stuff’, so Holland followed a calorie deficit diet for six to eight weeks to slim down initially – coupled with lots of ‘low-state cardio, slow runs and sweat HIIT sessions’ because Holland ‘couldn’t lose all the muscle – we couldn’t go full Machinist – because he needed to bounce back quite quickly.’

Once the ‘skinny’ scenes were shot, Holland then needed to gain the muscle back again, but the process was very different to his Spider-Man bulk-up because filming was continuous, and there was no opportunity for him to leave the set and spend six weeks in the gym.

Therefore, Ashwell devised a programme that would help Holland slowly build weight throughout filming using only free weights - so the workout could be done any time, any place - with a focus on working ‘multiple muscle groups each day for steady, even progress instead of a rapid bulk’.

Try this Tom Holland workout using only dumbbells

According to Ashwell, the below HIIT routine will help you build a solid base level of fitness, swapping fast gains for sustainable muscle. Complete four sets with as little rest as you can handle between exercises. You have one minute’s rest between sets.

Bear Crawls: 60 seconds

Start with one minute’s worth of bear crawls back and forth covering the length of the room. Dig deep; these will open the body up to new planes of movement, helping to increase functionality and prevent injury.

Shoulder taps: 20 reps each side

Next, stay down for 20 reps of press-up position shoulder taps. Engage the core, grit your teeth and push through the burn.

Dumbbell thrusters: 20 reps

Grab a low weight and, holding the weights at your shoulders, squat down then drive up to lift the weights over your head, locking out your arms. Again, this is great for building functional muscle.

Renegade rows: 20 reps per arm

Get in a push-up position holding two dumbbells, then brace your core and row your right hand up to your right hip. Pause, slowly lower, then repeat with the other arm. Keep the weight low, unless you're an actual superhero.

Push-ups: 20-30 reps

Finish with 20-30 press-ups. Struggling through the last few rounds? Use a higher surface like a bench to help you across the finish line. Once you've wrapped that up, take a 60-second breather, then go again until there's no fuel left in the tank.

I tried Tom Holland’s five-move workout using dumbbells only – and it was tough!

While this functional workout was way more up my street compared to Holland’s dipping, deadlifting Spider-Man workout, it was still extremely hard. I loved the satisfyingly tough bear crawls and was initially okay to move straight into the shoulder taps, which had my core and upper body screaming after the 20 reps on each side were up. 

I also loved the full-body efficacy of the dumbbell thrusters that came next and didn’t even mind the renegade rows at first, but my upper body was ready to tap out by the time the press-ups came around. After a 60-second rest, I just about managed to get through a second round, but soon after, the 60-second rest stretched into minutes during the third round before I could get going again.

I started the fourth round with superhero-worthy grit and determination, but in actual fact, my body was defeated, and my pecs, biceps, and triceps didn’t want to play ball anymore. Then again, I’m happy to admit I simply don’t have the gravity-defying bodyweight strength that Tom Holland has. Ashwell also said he usually spent half an hour with Holland on the treatment table after each workout, so that doesn’t make me feel so entirely weak and worthless.

All that said, this workout is efficient, effective, and fantastic for targeting the entire body in one hit. And who knows, keep up with it, and you, too, could be climbing walls and swinging from buildings in no time.

See the Hotukdeals survey here.

Joanna Ebsworth

Jo has been obsessed with writing and fitness since her teenage years and spent all her pocket money on magazines and workout VHS tapes. When ITV cancelled Gladiators – causing her dreams of becoming the next ‘Jet’ to crash and burn - she decided to combine her passions and become a fitness writer instead. A qualified PT and author of several fitness guides, she has spent the last 15 years writing for many of the UK’s most respected newspapers, magazines, and online publications. When she’s not interviewing celebrities and athletes or testing fit kit, she can be found watching YouTube breakdowns of the latest MCU releases.