Wolverine. Superman. Captain America. In our generation’s take on superhero films, main characters are becoming more badass than ever, and it’s awesome. We’ve all seen these films, and most likely been inspired, or at the very least impressed, with the powerful physiques these characters have built.
Now, when I think of the training someone like Wolverine might do, it’s hard to imagine him using machines to isolate his upper pecs and then walking on the stair climber for 45 minutes. No way in hell. There’s a picture of Hugh Jackman deadlifting some serious weight, and I’m familiar with the tactics of his trainer – as expected, it is far from what is commonly seen in most commercial gyms.
While I can’t promise that anyone can look like a big-screen superhero, I can offer tips to get you well on your way to having the traits that are often overlooked by many of us meatheads. Traits like explosive power, speed, the ability to move your own bodyweight fast, and pure strength.
I’m about to drop some training principles that your program should include if you want to be jacked and functional, and you have no interest in joining a Crossfit “box” or following a workout DVD. Look at what you’re doing, and see if it lines up with these training tactics. If your goal is to be a bodybuilder, this may not be for you, but if you want to add some function and athleticism to that muscle, get ready to learn.
Get freakishly strong at compound movements.
Pick multi-joint, big exercises, and get very strong at them. I don’t care how much you can do on the lat-pulldown if you aren’t good at bodyweight pull-ups. Deadlift variations, squat variations, bench press, overhead press, pull-ups, and Olympic lifts like the clean and press are great to focus on. I’ve never seen anyone squat 400+ pounds or bench press more than 315, and have a small, non-muscular physique. Get strong and powerful.
Use explosive, fast movements and plyometric techniques in your training.
You don’t need to always grind out slow, controlled repetitions in your training. It’s great, and much better than half-repping or bouncing weights, but there is a time for speed and power. Try using things like clapping pushups, box jumps/jump squats, and speed lifting with light weights in your program, as part of the warm-up or a separate day.
The strongest power lifters in the world, using the Westside Barbell method incorporate dynamic days, where they drop weight and focus on speed. If you find yourself getting stuck and unable to add weight to your lifts, try to work on speed and power for a while.
Master your bodyweight.
Push-ups, pull-ups, vertical jump ability, and multi-direction training are very over-rated. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using machines/barbells, but it’s equally important to be able to control your own body. Do weighted chin-ups, pushups with your feet propped up on something, and lunge front to back, side to side, and all angles in between. Do some box jumps or long jumps.
Having all the muscle in the world is useless if you can’t do anything with it.
Condition your body, don’t settle for boring cardio.
I remember reading an article once, with a title along the lines of “Cardio is for prey, conditioning is predators.” While it’s very aggressive, I would tend to agree with the basic premise. It’s much better to train your body to be fast and powerful, rather than let it adapt to slowly walking or jogging all the time. But hey, it’s your call in the end.
If you do want to work on your conditioning, sprints are the best way. Sprint up a hill, on a track or field, or if you’re stuck inside at the gym, do interval sprints on an upright bike or even treadmill. If you have access to a sled, push and pull that thing.
The classic example is to look at a sprinter and look at a marathon runner – who looks more muscular and intimidating? Obviously other factors come into play when it comes to one’s physique, but you get the point.
In closing, it all comes down to being more athletic. Sure, it’s nice to look good, and if you’ve worked hard for an impressive physique, then you should be very proud. However, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to build some athleticism into their program if they aren’t already doing so.
Even if you hate superheroes, you probably admire some of the great athletes out there – I’ve worked with athletes of all levels, beginner to professional, and I promise you, their training includes many of the principles listed above. So whether you goal is to be more like Christian Bale’s Batman, or develop the freak athleticism of someone like LeBron James, there’s something to be learned from the advice above.