Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is now streaming on Disney+ and ahead of its launch, we were able to sit down with a number of experts to talk about their incredible work with the one-and-only God of Thunder and how he pushed himself further than ever before.
To kickstart our week, we caught up with Ross Edgley, a renowned extreme athlete and sports science author who, in addition to his work on a few episodes of this series, also trained Chris Hemsworth for Thor: Love and Thunder, where we saw the Australian actor transform his body into its absolute most powerful form.
Edgley appears in the episodes, "Shock" and "Strength," aiding Hemsworth in his preparation for two insane challenges - a bone-chilling arctic swim and an epic rope climb - and Hemsworth couldn't be happier to have him in his corner, as the extreme adventurer and ultra-marathon sea swimmer is best known for becoming the first person in history to swim 1,780 miles all the way around Great Britain in 157 days.
Check out the full video interview below and please remember to SUBSCRIBE to my channel!
ROHAN: I think we're all pretty accustomed to seeing Chris as a God on-screen, but this series makes him feel very human. What did you learn about him through training and about his resolve?
ROSS: I'm glad you said that, Rohan, just because I think it was like a testament to his character that he was so prepared to be a beginner again. We talk about the ice swimming so often because it was just completely alien to his physiology, we went from - it was like 40 degrees, Australian summer, Byron Bay, gorgeous, surfing, sun is shining, and then just 24 hours later, we were in the Lofoten Islands with only five days. So, there was no sort of period of easing into it.
As soon as we landed, I was like, right, we need to start throwing ourselves off the harbor, you know, into into the water, and I think it was just his ability to learn, and also, I talk about a lot about his work capacity, just your body's ability to perform and positively tolerate training of a given intensity or duration, sort of coupled with his work ethic, that I suppose the training that we put in place - I say this a lot, I wouldn't recommend it to like 99.999% of people - It's almost like the Bulgarian training method, where the Bulgarians produce more Olympic weightlifters than anywhere else in the world, despite being so small, but they broke more champions than they made because they just lifted heavy every single day, five, seven hours a day, 365 days of the year, whereas Chris was almost like that Bulgarian athlete who was able to tolerate it.
So, five days training, brutal, and then exactly the same with the rope climb, just the mileage that you did on the road, but all from ground zero. That was what was so nice for him just to accept he's a beginner and to get there, it's going to be brutal.
ROHAN: Between the arctic swim and the rope climb, which challenge had you more concerned about Chris' safety?
ROSS: That is a good question, you know, Rohan, just because I think the swim, I knew what could go wrong, but we might have seen signs that things were going wrong, like hypothermia creeping in and things like that. So, I was really concerned about the swim, but I was probably more concerned about the rope climb.
Reason being when you start looking at somebody's kinetic chains, how the muscles, joints and everything work cohesively together - on a rope climb up, you can snap a bicep tendon so easily. So, I suppose with the rope climb, things could have gone very wrong, very quickly, whereas on the ice when things would have gone wrong, slightly slower. So, I was a little bit more concerned about the rope climb.
However, just the the amount of training that he did, the rope training to coincide with Thor as well. He just built this almost bulletproof body, like all those biceps, obviously get a lot of airtime on films and stuff like that. They're also just bulletproof, and I almost call him like this thoroughbred horse because, you see in the series, I just flogged him. I was just like, constantly cracking the whip, and he would come back for more, he'd wake up the next day and go cool, what are we doing today, and it's the same on the ice swim, a lot of people would have just tapped out and gone in a new, whereas it was his ability to just suffer really within the realm of sport science that was most impressive as a coach.
ROHAN: In one of the episodes you're in, you talk about shocking your system with extreme heat or extreme cold - I think you say even thirty seconds at the end of your daily shower can help - but, for someone just getting started, how often would you recommend shocking their system?
ROSS: Do you know what, Rohan, Chris was just basically an extreme example, like the whole show was so entertaining, but it's like, you don't have to swim in an Arctic lake, that's not what we’re getting at, and I think just that cold shower, just 30 seconds afterwards, whereever, even if it's three days a week, that still is triggering that body's response, like that anti-inflammatories, boosting the immune system.
So, I think that's one of the biggest takeaways, that it's just understanding that we humans, I talked about this before that so many people now go to the gym and you say what do you think? At maximum training biceps training glutes training abs, no one ever goes into the gym into a plunge pool and says today I'm trading the vascular constriction of my capillaries and boosting my immune system not doing what I need. But it's this valuable.
That's what I love about the series that Chris is going to get people thinking beyond sort of repetitions and weights, it's like, no, there are other adaptations within the body that exist far beyond the gym.
ROHAN: While I think most will go indoors during the winter months, could it actually help our long-term health if we continue to exercise outdoors to help our bodies acclimate to the colder temperatures?
ROSS: That is exactly it, I think. So often, I think we call it climatization. It's actually about looking at the different variables. So, when you're in a shower, and you're turning it on, just for thirty seconds, you're controlling all of the variables, it's basically just you and a showerhead. If you want to then expand beyond that, there are then plunge pools, again, you're quite strictly controlling the variables there, because you're just plunging into an ice bath and the water is quite still around you. If you then want to actually sort of evolve beyond that, you can go into a lake or river, but there you need to understand that the water is quite often moving around you.
So, if it's moving around you, it's almost like windshield, it can be cold outside, but the wind is even colder. Not only that, you're then wading into the water, so there's that vasoconstriction of your capillaries, so your arms are going to feel like lead, your feet are going to feel like they've got lead weights on, and then if you really want to take it further, there are Arctic fjords, there's swimming around Scotland, and then that's when you start to look at tides, wind, waves, jellyfish, sea life that's not always friendly.
So, you know, there's degrees of it really, and it just depends what you want to train for, because a lot of people might just say, I just want the physiological adaptation and also mentally, it helps me, that release of endorphins. It's like, well, if that's what you want, thirty seconds of cold showers is more than enough, but if people turn around and say, ‘Oh, actually, I want to start looking to ice swim. That's when you need to almost go through those tiers, those levels of difficulty.
ROHAN: We saw that you were heavily involved with training Chris for Thor: Love and Thunder, while also simultaneously training him for that rope climb. What was the process of getting him to the biggest he's ever been then helping him cut to be able to perform the rope climb?
ROSS: Yeah, yeah, but what was interesting actually, Rohan, is he climbed the rope Thor-sized, so there wasn't necessarily that bulking up and slimming down all that much between those two roles. So, I think what I loved about that, and I said that on the episode, that I think Chris said, ‘I'm gonna be Thor sized, is that good or bad?’, and I said it was terrible.
Like, you know, at 110 kilos, people don't climb 100 foot ropes dangling 1000 feet from the brim, you just don't do that. An Olympic gymnast, for instance, will be 55-60 kilos. So, Chris was essentially two of them glued together, climbing 100 foot rope. So, when you are basically looking at an athlete and an actor-hybrid like Chris, you go, well, we need to be that size, we can't really manipulate your body weight. So, the only other alternative we have is to make him more physically robust and stronger.
So, he's able to carry themselves up there, and I think that's why, like I said, I talk about those bulletproof biceps, that if Chris hadn't done the work, and just those hours on the rope, it was almost like - I call it almost horsepower programming because it's just this, like slow, methodical just getting the work in, hours on there, then he would have actually pulled a bicep tendon or something, but it was just the fact that he was so physically robust that the end result was a successful rope climb despite being 110 kilos.
ROHAN: The climb seemed especially hard on Chris' wrists and ankles, with him even breaking his ankle ultimately. What kind of recommendations would you provide to help strengthen those areas before engaging in extreme physical activity?
ROSS: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that just because I think so often, certainly in sports science, people think of weight training as improving the strength of your muscles whereas in reality resistance or any stress stimuli to the joints can also improve ligament and tendon strength. It's called mechanical transduction. So, I think it was really good to get him to think beyond that, rather than just these big, amazing muscles that look great on a film set or on a beach. It's like we want the small intricate muscles as well, and I think, again, to build those, so often, especially on a rope climb, because it's a really unique movement.
In sport science, we call it the SAID principle. So, the specific adaptation to impose demands, and all that means is you get really, really, really good at what you repeatedly practice. So, if you want to be better at golf, you don't take up tennis, you start swinging and drill those motor patterns, really specific. So, I think for Chris, and I loved how it was captured on Limitless.
The unavoidable truth was, if you want to get good at rock climbing, you need to live on the rope, and you see Elsa and his kids as well. It was a real family sort of affair for Chris. It was like, right, he's doing four hours on the rope, and he’d just disappear, and we'd bring him his food, and he would just be eating his food while disappearing up and down, and he knew that if he didn't do that, like I said, things could go very wrong very quickly, and I think that was just a testament to, again, his work ethic. It was brutal, the conditioning.
Again, it made no sense. He needed to bulk up like a heavyweight mixed martial artist or rugby player or NFL player, but then train like an Olympic gymnast. It made no sense, but what he did, that's why as a coach and as a friend, I was just blown away, it really puts him in that highest 1% point of athletes that could have done that.
ROHAN: Something I really admired about your coaching was all the positive encouragement you were giving Chris throughout both of your episodes. You're being very real with him always, but also know exactly what to say to get him back on track. Do you often see that real-time change from the positive talk?
ROSS: Again, I'm glad you picked up on that just because I think what was so nice about Chris, and again, it's a testament to his character, is it was just tough love, and he would respond so well to it. So logically, he knew, as you said, on the rope, I wasn't shouting, it was just as a friend, as a coach. I was like, you're not resting, that's the worst thing you can do, and certainly on that, for instance, knowing even that Chris has a martial arts background as well, and there's so many times where he will just bite down on his mouthpiece and just start swinging.
He's almost, you know, you've got that dog in you and some athletes have it, some don't, and I think on that rope climb, there was that one point where I say, right, it's no longer a rope climb, it's a fight, and we do not lose fights, and that's when he was like, ‘Right, okay, why didn’t you say so?’ And, technique goes out the window, how much do you want it now? And that can be taught to an extent, but I think a lot of people, they just have it, and I think Chris just has it.
You saw it in the ice swim, but you also saw it in the rope climb that a lot of people what he'd achieved up until those points, if he had tapped out, that was still an amazing effort, but Chris, he just holds himself in such high expectations of himself, and then, just at the end, I mean, you see on the road climb, I just got goosebumps. I was almost crying because it was months and miles on the rope, and what you saw there wasn't just 100 foot rope climb, it was the sum and substance of so many hours of strength and conditioning. So, I think that's why me and Chris were a little bit emotional towards the end.
ROHAN: Like you've said, Chris is an extreme example of a human being, but if you were say, training me, what are some immediate changes or goals someone like me could strive for that are not only realizable but can also help my own longevity?
ROSS: So, the goal is longevity. Yeah, I think there's a few different ones. One is strength training, in any capacity. I think so often, people sort of, say I don't like powerlifting, I don't like Olympic lifting, I don't like - that's fine. Pick one that you want to do calisthenics, bodyweight, it doesn’t matter, because I think - certainly more recently, looking at behavioral science, the best workout in the world is useless on paper, if you can't actually follow it. So, it's destined to fail if you're not going to enjoy it.
So, I think that's one to begin with, just making sure that you enjoy it. Secondly, I think, too often people don't have a clear cellular signal that they're sending to their body. What I mean by that, Robert Hickson, and his studies in molecular biology are amazing. Basically, he looked at concurrent training. Concurrent training is when you train for strength, speed, and stamina all in one session, and he found that you, and I quote, ‘dilute the potency of the stimuli.’
What I mean by that is, I think too many people go to the gym, and they will run 20 minutes on a treadmill, stamina, aerobic fitness, nothing wrong with that, but then they see their friend training biceps, so they run over and they start training biceps, that's your body's ability to generate force, and then they might go and jump in and do a boxercise class or MMA jujitsu, which is slightly more anaerobic. So, your body leaves going, what did you want us to adapt to? What was the cellular signal, you've diluted the potency of the stimuli.
So, I think so often, and I love that we covered this so much in Limitless, brilliantly done by Peter Attia, which is just what are you training for? And, I think if you can't say that in a single sentence, your body doesn't understand the cellular signal. What I mean by that is, if somebody is running on a treadmill, Zone 2 , so their bodies, their heart rate is not going over 120-130 beats per minute, and you stop somebody and say, ‘What are you doing?’, and they go, Zone 2 training, 45 minutes to improve mitochondrial efficiency. It's so specific and you go brilliant. Or you see somebody over in the corner, and they're powerlifting, and you say, ‘Sorry, can I stop you? What are you doing?,’ And they say, strength training, my body's ability to generate force to combat atrophy and sarcopenia later in life, you go, amazing, so specific.
So, whatever you're doing in the gym, make sure you're sending a clear cellular signal to the body to adapt based on studies in molecular biology. That was a long answer. *laughs*
What if you could combat aging and discover the full potential of the human body? Global movie star Chris Hemsworth explores this revolutionary idea in the new National Geographic original series, “Limitless with Chris Hemsworth,” created by Darren Aronofsky and hailing from his production company Protozoa Pictures and Jane Root’s Nutopia. Entertaining, immersive and life-changing, “Limitless” rewrites the rulebook on living better for longer. Coming to Disney+ November 16.