The Hemsworth effect

June 22, 2023

How Bond University’s sports and exercise team helped one of the world’s biggest movie stars improve his chances of a longer, healthier life.

If Chris Hemsworth, mighty Thor himself, has work to do to improve his endurance and longevity, what hope do the rest of us have?

Plenty, as it turns out. Because, while Hemsworth’s musculature may look impressive, his training regime might not be optimal for living a long and healthy life.

A new documentary series from National Geographic, Limitless with Chris Hemsworth, reveals how the muscle-bound superhero could improve his chances of longevity thanks to rigorous fitness testing at Bond University.

“Most of us would look at Chris and give anything to look like that, but there is always room for improvement,” says longevity expert Peter Attio.

Bond University’s sports and exercise science (SPEX) team was approached to conduct Chris’s fitness testing because of their state-of-the-art exercise equipment and the team’s internationally recognised expertise.

Bond University’s Dr Robert Palmer, a dual alumnus of Bond’s Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science and Doctor of Philosophy (Exercise Physiology), was appointed Lead Applied Scientist for Data Collection for the Limitless documentary series. This involved designing and carrying out a scientific protocol to capture Chris’s comprehensive physiological and performance data, and report back to the UK and European lead scientists for the production.

But when Robbie first heard that Bond’s SPEX team had been invited to fitness test Chris Hemsworth at his home gym in Byron Bay, he was sceptical. “To be frank, I thought it was a stitch-up,” says Robbie. “But once we had our first face-to-face with the production crew from Nutopia, who’d flown to our Gold Coast campus all the way from London, it suddenly became very, very real – and I knew I had to be prepared to bring my A-game.”

Hemsworth himself took the testing process extremely seriously, motivated to learn how to give himself the best shot at achieving a healthy longevity. “Playing action roles like Thor means I’ve spent a decade maintaining super-hero type muscles but a few months ago I decided to find out if my body’s on course for a healthier future,” says Chris.

Robbie and the Bond Institute of Health and Sport laboratory team – Jacqueline Boundy and Kristin Bower – spent months planning and preparing for the testing, to ensure the integrity of the process and data.

“We needed to ensure we not only had the right equipment, but that our equipment would present us with the valid data required,” Robbie says.

Central to the process was the VO2 max test on a stationary bike, which gradually escalates in intensity to measure how efficiently the heart and lungs work to deliver oxygen to the muscles.

Longevity expert Peter Attia interpreted Bond’s fitness testing for the documentary series and concluded Chris was in great shape, but there were important areas for him to work on to improve his chances of a long and healthy life.

“Obviously, he’s in amazing shape. There are more than 600 muscles in the human body and for longevity you’ve got to make good use of as many as possible,” says Peter. “So, when I assessed Chris’s muscular power and efficiency, his flexibility and agility, I found he could be working on a wider range of those muscles, and he could improve his stamina.”

Limitless is a co-production by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (The Whale, Black Swan) and his production company Protozoa, Jane Root’s Nutopia, and Chris Hemsworth and Ben Grayson’s Wild State.

Throughout the series Chris undertakes a series of daunting physical challenges to see how well his body and mind hold up under the most extreme stress – from a dizzying crane walk, to a rope climb dangling from a cliff, cold water immersion, fasting, remote outback navigation, and breath hold training.

Chris was motivated by the results of the testing. “By targeting even more of your muscle groups and improving your endurance we can make you live longer and live better,” Peter Attia tells the Hollywood star, as he assesses the results.

“All right, well, let’s begin,” Chris declares.

Limitless is streaming on Disney Plus.