Why short-term challenges are Luke’s superpower
As Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer, Luke Zocchi has had a lot of practice in achieving big goals in a short space of time. From bulking up in a pandemic-pinched time frame for Thor: Love and Thunder, to sizing down safely for In the Heart of the Sea, this duo delivers when the clock is ticking.
But it’s not just Chris getting results. Luke has embraced the power of the short-term challenge to achieve his own fitness goals and believes it can have benefits that last a whole lot longer.
“Short-term challenges teach you how to stay disciplined and consistent with nutrition and training. And consistency is key for achieving long-term goals,” he explains.
Luke believes short-term challenges can help your long-term goals take flight.
We caught Luke in the midst of a body composition challenge, finding out how much body fat he can lose and how much lean muscle he can put on in the space of 8 weeks (and measuring the results with DEXA scans).
“I feel like I have a new motivation to train hard and eat well,” Luke says.
And when this short-term challenge is over, he’ll dive straight into his next one: training to run his first marathon.
Luke, what is it about a short-term goal and a hard time limit that works for you?
I love the challenge of working really hard for quick results. It may sound a bit backward, but when you have a short time frame, I feel like the goal is more achievable. It definitely gives you extra motivation to work toward that goal.
A short-term goal also teaches you discipline that you can use throughout your life. I’m firmly in the camp of sustainable lifestyle changes over going to extremes, but knowing that I’m physically and mentally capable of challenging myself gives me a lot of resilience.
What other short challenges have you tried in the past?
When I scored the cover of Men’s Health Australia I had 3 weeks’ notice and I was not in the best condition. Talk about motivation – appearing on the cover of a magazine with your shirt off will do it for you!
Short-term goals can also help build mental resilience. When I was in Prague with Chris shooting Extraction 2, I was challenging myself to jump on the assault bike every day, trying to burn 100 calories in under 8 minutes. It took me 3 weeks to achieve it.
You’ve obviously done a lot of short-term challenges with Chris to prepare for film roles. Is there one you wouldn’t want to do again?
Doing the Ron Howard film In the Heart of the Sea, where the characters were lost at sea and starving to death, was a huge challenge.
We only had 4 weeks to achieve that and it was really intensive, not a lot of fun. Chris was intermittent fasting and cycling every night on a stationary bike. I had been doing a lot of boxing training with him, but we found his upper body wasn’t getting any smaller due to the resistance of hitting the pads. So we had to fade his upper-body mass by jumping onto the bike.
I definitely don’t want to glamorize it: Chris got very skinny and a little hangry at times. It is definitely the type of challenge you would only take on for a film role – and it was really grueling for Chris at his level of fitness, let alone anyone else. I would say this is an example of how NOT to set a short-term goal. You have to go to extremes because there’s no way to do it in a healthy way in a short timeframe.
Short-term challenge vs long-term goal – how does your mindset change between the two?
With a short-term goal, there is no room for error. You may be giving something up as part of the challenge, so you have to stay disciplined and focus on the finish line. With a long-term goal, it’s more about taking a sustainable approach – you don’t have to deprive yourself and if you slip or have a setback, that’s okay. You reset and get back to work.
What changes have you made to your diet for your current 8-week challenge?
I have cut out alcohol, I’ve tried to cut sugar and I’ve cut out all processed carbs – this is the longest I’ve gone without pizza!
Monday mornings are super easy since cutting alcohol. My energy levels are up and stay level throughout the week. I’ve also noticed I’m performing better in the gym. I’m actually feeling so good I’m a bit nervous about having a drink again! I didn’t know that it was possible to feel this good. Now I know how Bobby felt when he quit drinking for a year.
By the way, it’s not all cutting things out. I’ve added creatine and BCAA supplements to my diet. I’m also blending a drink of greens with probiotics and enzymes every morning.
Get the lowdown on creatine and more in Centr’s muscle-building supplement guide.
How are you balancing marathon training with your current body composition challenge?
I am being strategic by only running 1-2 times per week at this stage, because I’m trying to hold on as much lean muscle as possible for the 8-week challenge. Once the challenge is over, I’ll ramp up my running training.
Are you going it alone on these challenges, or sharing the pain and the glory with friends?
Oh, definitely with mates. We usually come up with the ideas together, then experience the positives and negatives together – suffering through cold morning runs, pushing each other to go harder, all craving pizza with different toppings.
We’re also learning from each other. The marathon is way out of my comfort zone, I’ve never run one before, so I’ve appointed one of my friends as my running coach – although I haven’t told him yet!
I’ll also be calling on Centr’s very own master of endurance Dan Churchill for tips. Have you seen how many marathons that man runs these days? It’s incredible. It definitely makes it easier to have people around who understand what you’re going through and why you’re doing it.
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