Ever Wonder What It Takes To Look (and feel) Like a Superhero?

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Now that we’re smack dab in the middle of summer, it seems a week never goes by where a new “Super Hero” movie isn’t released or at least right around the corner.  In the past few months alone we’ve seen the likes of Thor, The Green Lantern, and X-Men: First Class rock our world, to name a few.  And heck, the new Captain America movie is only a few short days away.

In any event, as is the case whenever a new super hero movie comes out, and we all geek out over their general badassery (except for Batman & Robin, that was just god awful), what’s even more intriguing is how the actors (and actresses) seemingly transform their bodies overnight.

Sure we can chalk it up to proper lighting, camera work, and a little CGI here and there – but there’s no denying the fact that, for many of us, we’d KILL to look half as good as they do on the screen.

So, you can imagine my excitement when two of my good buddies, John Romaniello and Matt McGorry – two dudes who are pretty well put together themselves – gave me a sneak peak at their new project while I was down in NYC a few weekends ago:

The Super Hero Workout:  Build a body that can fight crime, thwart evil, and save the world (while looking AWESOME). 

I liked it so much, that I made an executive decision and printed it out so that the entire Cressey Performance staff could start following it.

We’re about a week in, and LOVING it.  I honestly haven’t had this much fun training in eons.

Granted, with how I feel as I type this – completely TRASHED by the way – I’d be lucky if I could resue a kitten from a tree.  But I have no doubts that by the end of the twelve weeks – my abs will be arm wrestling tanks!

Nevertheless, Roman was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions I had about The Super Hero Workout, and what resulted (below) is one of the most entertaining interviews I’ve ever done for this site – and that’s saying a lot.

Without further ado:

Tony Gentilcore:  So, Roman, for those of my readers who don’t know who you are, can you give them a Cliff’s Notes version of what it’s like to be you?  Don’t forget the part where you deadlifted 660 for a triple a few years ago pretty much hated life for like a week.

John Romaniello:  Haha, you mean condense my life into five sentences?  Not possible…I’m known for my prolixity. But, I’ll try. Okay – abridged version: I was a fat (well, pretty chubby) kid growing up; I played sports but wasn’t ever great at them.  I sort of enjoyed lifting because I was always naturally strong (as many chubsters are) and had a propensity to gain muscle (as many chubsters do)…years later I’d realize that I’m a textbook endo-mesomorph.

Anyway, when I was 19 I saw a picture of myself, decided I hated the way I looked, and joined a gym.  Did everything “wrong” for 6 months, but somehow went from a very chubby 193 to a super shredded 160 during that time period–while gaining size on my chest/back measurements, increase my bench press…all of that.  Newbie heaven.

Coincidentally, the apex of my transformation happened just towards the beginning of summer that year…and obviously that summer was like no summer before.  I think I wore a shirt for maybe 5 cumulative minutes.

Having fitness change my life so much made me want to learn more about it, and I read everything I could get my hands on.  This led me to get certified as a trainer and eventually make it a career.

Along the way, I competed in bodybuilding (did reasonably well, but found it unsatisfying), and got pretty strong. Of course, strong is a very relative term, but I was strong for me–365 bench for 2 reps, 550 squat for 5 reps (315 ass to ankles for sets of 8-10, if you must know), and as you mentioned, I pulled 660 for a trip.  Well…I pulled 660 for a double and then a really shitty third “rep” – and that one put me under the bus.  I woke up the next day feeling like I got beaten with Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer).

Professionally, I did some modeling, and that allowed me to train other models, which led to some actors and eventually pro athletes.  Which meant that I had to keep getting better as a trainer and coach and just keep learning.  Along the way, I began writing for magazines (shout out to T-Nation, who published me when I was 20), and eventually brought my brand of tomfoolery to the interwebs.

Sorry…that’s as short as I can make it.

TG:  Something tells me you were (and still are) a comic book nerd?  What are some of your favorites?  Along those sames lines, with the popularity of “Super Hero” movies in Hollywood as of late, what is your short list for best adaptation and worst?  How excited are you that Anne Hathaway is playing Catwoman in the next Batman sequel?  

Roman:  Oh man, that is a loaded question.  This is going to be hard to narrow it down.  For starters, I have to say that I think one of the most compelling storylines ever was Marvel’s relatively recent Civil War series.  For those who don’t know, it takes a sort of “realistic” look at how shit would go down if there were super heroes.  Basically, an accidental death is caused by a superhuman, and the government gets pissed and decides enough is enough–we need to know who you are and what you can do.

From there, a bill is proposed and a public push is made for super heroes to reveal themselves.  Some of them do–Peter Parker reveals himself as Spider-Man, and as we’ve seen in the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark does likewise.  A number of heroes REFUSE to do this, thinking it makes them and their loved ones unsafe.

Lines are drawn, sides are chosen, and shit goes down.  Teams are splintered, and long-time friends wind up embroiled in a battle that is both personal and political.  An example is Iron Man and Cap America (who doesn’t reveal himself)–the two founding members of the Avengers are at each others throats.

It’s really, really captivating and risky material, but I think it’s really incredible literature.

I’ll touch on the “movie” question by mentioning another series–Frank Miller’s take on Batman.  Batman: Year One served as the basis for nearly the entire script of Batman Begins, and they did a fantastic job.  I would say the recent Batman movies are the best adaptations–but that’s in part because the more recent comics lend themselves to that.  Spider-Man would be another one (particularly the first film, which I think captured the origin story very well).

The problem with Super Hero movies (ie, the reason many of them suck), is that it’s really, really tricky to cast them.  When you cast your main character, you’re really casting two roles, and usually the actor is only good at playing one of them.  For example, Ben Affleck, I thought, made a LOT of sense as Matt Murdock–cocky, intelligent, capable.  However, as Daredevil, he just fell flat.

The same can be said about most of the guys who played Batman.  George Clooney is completely believable as a playboy billionaire.  But, c’mon–he’s not Batman.  Alternatively, Michael Keaton seemed to be a good Bruce Wayne in the way he played at having a hidden darkness.  His Batman was okay.

Christian Bale makes a great Batman–he’s physically imposing, and when he’s not over-doing the gravel-voice, he can be menacing.  He ALSO makes an incredible Bruce Wayne…because in a lot of ways, he’s just playing a “saner” version of Patrick Bateman (from American Psycho), and he’s pretty great at that.

Toby McGuire was pretty convincing as both Parker and Spider-Man, which is why those films worked well.

The Superman films from the 80s were great because Christopher Reeves was convincing as both Clark and the Man of Steel.  He made it work.  Brandon Routh, on the other hand, is just so damn pretty that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for any person to view him as capable of being awkward.

Add to that the fact that in today’s somewhat cynical society, Superman isn’t really a compelling character–he’s too perfect, too pure.  He didn’t have to sacrifice for his powers.  All he had to do was show up.  Sure, his family died, but he never met them, and wound up getting adopted by some great folks.  I could talk about this forever, but I think it’s really hard to see, currently, how a Supes movie would be any good.

I’ll just mention also that one of the reasons the X-Men films are generally good is for the opposite reason–you’re only casting ONE character.  Wolverine is Wolverine.  Cyclops is Cyclops.  That’s it.  No real duality.  That’s makes it easier.

Finally, I love Anne Hathaway, so yes, I’m pumped to see her as Catwoman.

Um…yes, I guess you can say I’m kind of a comic book geek.

TG:  NERD ALERT!!!  Then again, who am I to talk when I went to the midnight release of the last Harry Potter book.

Okay, lets get to the meat and potatoes.  How did you and co-author, Matt McGorry, come up with the idea for The Super Hero Workout?

Roman:  Interestingly, we came up with it sort of independently of one another.  I was watching Thor and I was really impressed by Chris Hemsworth’s physique.  He’s jacked.  And not just “jacked for Hollywood,” but fully jacked.  Then he was on the cover of every fitness magazine, followed by Details etc.  And every interview talks about his workout.  And I was thinking, “what the hell is it about these physiques that people find so compelling?  I should do something here.”

About 3 days later, I was having a conversation with my buddy Craig Ballantyne, and he said that a bunch of his readers were asking HIM to do a Super Hero Workout–he didn’t think it was a good fit, so he mentioned it to me.

I sort of view it as a sign.

I let it marinate for about a week, and then I was over at Peak (Performance, Joe Dowdell’s gym), Training with Matt and mentioned it to him.  Well, his jaw just about hit the floor…

As it turns out, about two years ago, he had the idea to do a Super Hero book–a hard copy, print book; he’d even written a treatment for it.  He wound up putting it aside because of his acting career, but he clearly still had some passion for the project. I just couldn’t deny it–the stars were aligning.

So I asked him if he’d like to write a book with me.  Now, his set up for the workouts was different than mine. Completely different.  I sort of know more about the characters and what makes them fun (for me at least), so I thought setting up into phases was a good idea.  Once we had that mapped out, we each started writing workouts.

Additionally, a GOOD chunk of the text in the book (intro and all that) came from Matt’s original treatment.

TG:  I can only imagine the epic HIGH FIVE that followed when you two decided that this project was a “go.”  Getting a little more specific, what do you feel separates this manual from the masses?

Roman:  You know, that’s the thing about it–The Super Hero Workout is different because it’s different…but also the same.

Let me explain it this way: at Cressey Performance, you train high-level athletes, and you design program to address various things.  In the industry, we talk about high-level concepts like “strength qualities,” and it’s cool to geek out about it and write programs based on those concepts.

Well, I thought, for the average person, what if we focused on “fitness qualities” (power, endurance, mass, leanness), and then created phases based on each one.  From there, I thought about arrangement…and when I did that, I began to see that each phase should draw inspiration from a different hero who sort of exemplified the quality that given phase was intended to focus on.

From there, the book kind of wrote itself–and so really, while it’s ONE 12-week program, it’s intended to help you completely address all qualities of fitness.

Phase 1 (weeks 1-3) helps you develop strength and power and is inspired by heroes like Thor and Captain America.

Phase 2 is a two week block that’s all about increasing explosion, relative strength, and most of all strength endurance and resistance to local fatigue–because, let’s face it…not every super hero has super powers.  That one was inspired by “human” heroes like Batman and the Punisher.

Phase 3 is ALL about mass.  It’s a 4 day per week program using a modified bodybuilding split, and I have to say, those workouts are my favorite.  That one is inspired by the Hulk.

Phase 4 looks at the “whole picture.”  Now that we’ve learned to focus on each of those qualities individually, it’s time to learn how to address them together.  And so, phase 4 is a 4-day per week rotation-based block, with one day of fat loss training, one day of strength, one day of mass, and one day of pure conditioning.

It’s a progressive program, and so the way we designed the workouts, each phase builds on the one before it–in terms of both the utilization of the aforementioned fitness qualities, as well as the assumed increase in efficiency in the movement patterns of various exercises over the course of that 12 week block.

Plus, looking ahead–one of the things we did was design a “To Be Continued” workout series–that is, 5 completely restructured schedules (of 12-16 weeks) that you can do after SHW, to focus on a different goal.

TG:  Sweet!  I know a lot of people are going to love that option.  Also, I think it bears noting that this manual isn’t just for the dudes out there reading.  Rather, you and Matt understand that there are some ladies out there looking to take their physique to Super Hero status.  Can you expound on that a bit?  Namely, how is the program tweaked for women?

Roman:  Great question.

Well, as I’ve said on my blog and in a few interviews, I think that in most situations, women and men can pretty much train in the same way.  And should.  However, I’ve also said that I think program design should be goal dependent, and that means that since it’s likely that men and women have different goals, there should be some differences.

For women, Phases 1 and 2 can be done “as is.”  We feel that women should be strong and powerful.  Ladies like Nia Shanks have shown that “beautiful bad-asses” can be strong, sexy, and feminine.

However, when we get to Phase 3, that’s where a lot of women would lose interest.  As mentioned, Phase 3 is all about getting hyoooooooge.  And most women don’t want to do that.

I’ll just interrupt myself and make the obligatory qualifying statement that most women can’t get “hyooooge” anyway; they don’t have the hormones or genetics for it.  Even if they did phase 3 as written, unless they were really eating for it, they wouldn’t gain much mass.

But, that brings up an interesting conundrum – why would you WANT a client to do a program designed for a goal that they can’t achieve, ESPECIALLY when they wouldn’t want to achieve it even if they could?  What’s the point?

And so, given that, Matt and I decided that we could create a 4-week “overlay” to the program.  This is 4-week women’s specific program called “Female Super Hero Training,” and is intended to help ladies continue to lose fat and increase conditioning and strength, but doesn’t focus on mass.

Something cool–when I polled me readers, they made it clear they wanted a “woman’s touch” on that aspect of the program. So to help with the design, we enlisted Flavia Del Monte, (who looks like a super hero herself)…more importantly, she’s been having tons of great results with her female clients, and my readers really dig her stuff.  It was a perfect fit.

TG:  In my opinion, it just looks freakin FUN…so what do you feel would be the best way to describe it all? Is it a “all-in-one” or something else?

Roman:  Well, really, all bullshit aside…this really is a kick-ass program.  And, this could have easily been a program with ANY name, and marketed to help you increase muscle and lose fat.  We could have billed it as a body recomposition program, or the “holy grail” or whatever.

The fact is, as you mentioned, it “came to us” as a Super Hero book.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this approach has it’s own pretty awesome marketing hook–hell, I timed the release to coincide with the release of the Captain America movie!

But really, it’s just more fun to write it this way.  As you can tell from my comic book diatribes…I geek out over this. And I geek out over fitness.  To be able to combine that AND come up with what I know is an incredible program…well, this is the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything.

======> THE SUPER HERO WORKOUT <======



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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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