How Liev Schreiber Got Tree Trunk Arms for 'Chuck'

Credit: IFC Films

Heavyweight brawler Chuck Wepner was known for his ability to take a punch. It’s what earned him the nickname “Bayonne Bleeder," and that same grit inspired Sylvester Stallone to write the first Rocky movie. But the guy didn’t just take hits. He could dish ‘em, too, and managed to swat down a handful of fighters, including Muhammad Ali (albeit controversially).

“I really don’t think that Chuck gets enough credit for his stamina and his cardio,” says Liev Schreiber, who plays Wepner in the new movie Chuck, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. “He was going up against the best heavyweights in history. That is a testimony to his excellent conditioning.”

Schreiber, a guy who has been boxing for 18 years, felt personally driven to do justice to Wepner onscreen. Looking back at old footage from those fights from the 1970s, it became clear the figures of boxers back then were nothing like the shredded and supplemented bodies of today. Wepner was put together like a grizzly bear with tree trunks for arms. So in addition to a weight program developed with help from trainer Don Saladino of Drive495, Schreiber reported to boxing coach Michael Olajide, Jr. of Aerospace Boxing Gym.

“I was trying to put on as much weight as I could,” Schreiber says. “Chuck was 230 pounds with an 18-inch neck, and I was doing my best to get as close to that as possible, but I still ended up shy by a few pounds.” Nevertheless, the final result is impressive and, amidst the compelling drama, the boxing scenes show an era when men were built on sweat and right hooks.

Here’s how they pulled off that classic look in the modern age.

The Brawler Arm Program

Weights (By Don Saladino)

“This project was a little different than past ones, because it wasn’t about getting super defined,” Saladino says. “This was about getting him powerful and big.”

Boxing (By Michael Olajide, Jr.)

“By using dumbbells and having Liev throwing wider punches, he really strengthened his core,” Olajide says.

  • Jump Rope: 5-10 minutes
  • Shadowboxing (with 5-pound dumbbells): 3 rounds of 3 minutes (1 minute rest)
  • Shadowboxing (without dumbbells): 3 rounds of 3 minutes (1 minute rest)