Back in 2019, Bond’s sports and exercise science (SPEX) team were approached with a most unusual proposition: how would they like to put one of the world’s biggest, and fittest, movie stars through his paces?
That star was none other than Hollywood A-lister Chris Hemsworth, and after four years of waiting, their fitness testing has finally made its way to screens around the world, streaming on Disney+ in the documentary series from National Geographic, Limitless with Chris Hemsworth.
From 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, the visually stunning 6-part series sees Chris team up with some of the world’s leading longevity experts to take on tests that push him and his body to the limit, in a bid to unlock the secrets of living a better, longer life.
Dr Robert Palmer is a dual alumnus of Bond’s Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science (CRICOS 080641D) and Doctor of Philosophy (Exercise Physiology) (CRICOS 063150J), but at the time of Chris’ fitness testing, Robbie was a hard-working PhD student and research assistant at Bond’s Institute of Health & Sport (BIHS) at Robina.
When Robbie first heard that Bond’s internationally recognised sports and exercise science team had been asked to fitness test Chris Hemsworth at his home gym in Byron Bay, he was dubious.
“To be frank, I thought it was a stitch-up,” Robbie says. “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.”
Robbie was honoured and excited to be appointed Lead Applied Scientist for Data Collection for the Limitless project. This role saw him liaise with renowned international sports scientists, design and carry out a scientific protocol to provide accurate physiological and performance data, and report back to the UK and European lead scientists for the project.
Together with the skilled laboratory team from BIHS, made up of Jacqueline Boundy and Kristin Bower, Robbie underwent months of detailed preparation and planning in the lead-up to the day of testing.
“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.
What fitness testing did our SPEX team do with Chris?
Bond Institute of Health & Sport Laboratory Officer Kristin Bower reiterates that the integrity of the process, and of the data, was key.
“We ensured that our state-of-the-art, highly sensitive and highly valuable equipment was ready; able to be transported safely and set-up precisely to perform accurately on the day,” he says.
The primary test conducted was an assessment of maximal oxygen uptake on a stationary bike, better known as a VO2 max test. The test begins at a modest intensity but gets progressively harder, putting more and more strain on the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to the working muscles until they can no longer match the demands of exercise.
“When that happens, fatigue quickly takes over and [Chris] reached the point of complete exhaustion,” Kristin says.
“This allowed us to calculate the maximum amount of oxygen Chris was able to get from the air, transport it and utilise in the muscles. Additionally, we measured blood lactate concentration which helps understand the response of different energy systems in the muscle.”
What was Chris Hemsworth like?
Kristin said he relished the opportunity to see whether a Hollywood star who looked fit was in reality ‘technically’ fit by putting him through his paces.
“I’m pleased to report Chris Hemsworth actually is really fit!” he says. “He’s also really tall and made all our equipment look incredibly small next to his buff frame.
“He took the testing very seriously and put everything he had into it, leaving nothing at all in the tank.”
Robbie was very impressed with how welcome the Bond team were made to feel by the production crew from Nutopia, Chris’ support team, and the man himself.
“I remember being on my hands and knees taping down the cables with safety tape when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted a coffee,” he says. “Lo and behold, it was Thor himself, just being a good bloke and offering me a drink.
“Both Chris and his trainer were genuinely interested in the testing, asking us loads of questions about what we were doing and why.
“We got the sense they appreciated our expertise and like us, valued the integrity of the testing and our data," Robbie says.
What did you learn from the experience?
“It was very humbling to experience a glimpse into that world,” Robbie says. “It was a big responsibility with a lot of moving parts, but I enjoyed the challenge.”
“The main thing I learned was just how powerful the combination of theoretical and practical scientific training that I have gained at Bond has been.
“I also appreciated the teamwork and combined effort of staff and students involved. Bond is like a little family, so it was nice to see it all come together and to experience it as a team.
“As someone who suffers from ‘imposter syndrome’, it was a great opportunity made possible only through my studies. It proves to me that amazing opportunities await us if we apply ourselves and take on challenges – even if initially, they scare us!” Robbie says.
Have you watched the whole doco (or just the bits you're in!)?
Kristin says he was very interested to see what the end results were for Chris and how his body handled the various regimes he was put through during filming.
Robbie agrees. “I 100 per cent watched the entire series,” he says. “I am a sports and human performance nerd to my core, and proud of it.
“The whole premise of extreme human physiology that the series is based on ignites curiosity in me. What will be revealed could potentially advance our understanding of human capability and longevity.”
Exercise and sports science at Bond
Learn more about the hands-on Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science, which takes a microscope to the science of human movement and how it relates to performance and sport at the highest levels.