Want a superhero physique? Here’s how


Perhaps you’ve been to the multiplex to see Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern save the universe from the evil Parallax or to witness Chris Hemsworth’s Thor hurl his magical hammer at invading Frost Giants.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how those actors achieved the chiseled abdominals, powerful pecs and bulging biceps — and whether you could manage to get them yourself without their superhero powers.

The short answer: Probably not. But we can still do pretty well for ourselves even when fitting fitness into a mere mortal’s existence that involves going to work, taking care of kids, preparing family meals, changing toxic diapers and waking in the night to be regaled with tales of the slime monster in Junior’s closet.


Actors, on the other hand, are able to rely on top personal trainers to help them work out every day, chefs who prepare tailored meals and Sisyphean determination.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an aspect of their lives that they’re eager to discuss publicly, at least not with us. Requests to speak with Hemsworth and Reynolds were either promptly declined or ignored by their publicists. The same goes for Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Gerard Butler and Hugh Jackman (though Jackman’s publicist wins the prize for most flattering rejection, informing us that the actor who plays the X-Man known as Wolverine was “truly humbled” to be asked to participate in “this much needed and wonderful project”).

Instead, we went to the trainers.

Mike Knight, who owns the Art of Strength gym in West Bloomfield, Mich., was one of the experts who worked with Hemsworth for six months to get his body into chest-baring shape. Part of what influenced the result they went for, he said, was the costume, which was heavy on the red cape and light on the shirts.

“When you’re going to have your shirt off, you want to get as big as you can,” he told us. Evidently you can have too much of a good thing, though: Hemsworth got so massive, Knight said, that he was busting out of his costume, “so we had to take it down a notch.”

Knight had Hemsworth do heavy weights to build bulk and added workouts with kettle bells and mixed martial arts moves to keep things interesting. He didn’t ignore the lower body, as scrawny legs plus a developed chest equals a lopsided look. Cardio was worked into the mix via circuit training, which gets the heart rate up while training muscles.

And for those who think that intense workouts mean you can eat whatever you want and still look like a superhero, fuhgeddaboutit. “It’s 80% diet,” Knight said. For Hemsworth that meant lean protein, copious amounts of vegetables and brown rice.

Reynolds started with a slim body type, which helped for his particular superhero role. “He flies, so he has to be aerodynamic,” said West Hollywood-based trainer Bobby Strom, who’s been training the actor for nine years.

Roughly seven months of training included almost daily 75-to-90-minute workouts, but Strom says it was never the same routine twice. High-intensity training included fun stuff like 100-foot walking lunges while carrying 45-pound dumbbells, dragging tires, 800-pound leg presses and lifting a 10-foot “slush pipe” filled with water.

Because Reynolds wanted to do as many of his own stunts as possible, being in top form was a necessity. For the shirtless scenes there was ab work — twists, crunches, exercises with bands and on the Bosu ball — and a diet that helped him put on muscle, not fat.

“We’re talking about grilled salmon, asparagus, zucchini, peppers,” Strom said. “Vegetables are always good because they’re low in calories and they’re good carbs.” Also on the menu: steel-cut oatmeal with flax seeds, almond butter, blueberries and protein powder.

As you can plainly see, these regimes are physically intense and calorically depriving, which might explain why actors don’t live this lifestyle year-round. What you see on screen is not an accurate representation of what the average guy can aspire to look like on a regular basis.

So what is achievable for the regular guy (or gal), and how do we do it?

It helps to have the proper motivation. For an actor, it’s a producer who dumps a pile of money in his lap and says, “Go get in shape, fatso. We start filming in six months.” For the rest of us, what gets us to the gym is usually another of the seven deadly sins: lust.

Take Barney Barnowski, a regular 40-year-old guy who’s married with two young children and works in business development for a technology company in Calgary, Canada. He told us that his physique started to get flabby after his first child was born in 2004. Tearing one of his knee ligaments made things worse.

But after his second child was born in 2008, he said, “I had what you can call a midlife crisis and started doing weights again because I really wanted to get my physique back. I stopped drinking beer and reduced the snacking throughout the day.”

So where does a busy dad find the time to work out? Barnowski’s solution was a home gym. “It’s more convenient,” he told us. “Quite often I will do my workout after the kids are in bed at night.” Barnowski also runs on a regular basis to burn extra calories.

What keeps him motivated? “It’s the sex.”

Next we’ll hear from Jonathan Rowlands, an information technology manager at the University of Calgary with a wife and two kids. Rowlands, 43, employs the time-honored non-movie-star tactic of spending the majority of his lunch hours at the gym. This is a powerful tool for the busy working parent. It also has the benefit of forcing you to bring a lunch rather than heading out to the Chinese food buffet with coworkers.

Rowlands told us he’d been fit in his younger years, but took 10 years off from exercising after getting married, and pounds started to creep on. “I was in great shape when I met my wife and it was one of the things she liked about me,” he said. Since he started going back to the gym a few years ago, he added, she “has given me a lot of positive feedback.”

Insert wink and nudge here.

Rowlands also follows a fairly strict diet and rarely eats out, getting most of his calories from the grocery store. “I try to eat small portions during the day,” he told me. “We eat healthy meals at home and I don’t snack after dinner.”

Finally, we have 34-year-old emergency room physician Jason Barton. “I run because it’s a good calorie burner and efficient for time management, and I don’t need any special equipment,” he told us. We can attest to the convenience and efficacy; running can be done while the kids are in karate class or some other activity that requires a parental chauffeur. It’s equally practical while traveling.

Barton, who meticulously tracks his workouts in a journal to help himself stay on track, said he has a natural tendency toward being slim, “but after my divorce I decided that I wanted to step it up.” When asked about his motivation, he replied: “I wanted to get in better shape for the opposite sex.”

So for the average man, the motivation to resemble a superhero has less to do with battles between good and evil than with conquests between the sheets. Can we surmise that the same is true for women who want to look like Catwoman or Sarah Connor?

Fit females, please let us know. But be honest — or we’ll have to break out Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada. Stein is a staff writer.