Yep, that's what a superhero looks like. Chris Hemsworth stars in… (Photo credit: Paramount…)
The summer of superhero movies is upon us, which means millions will be looking up at the big screen thinking, "Man, those abs are awesome."
So what does it take to get pecs like Thor's, shoulders like the Green Lantern's and a six-pack like Captain America's? Things most mortals can only dream about: a top personal trainer to help you work out every day, tailored meals and Sisyphean determination.
Trainer Mike Knight, who owns the Art of Strength gym in West Bloomfield, Mich., was one of the trainers who worked with "Thor" star Chris Hemsworth for six months to get his body into chest-baring shape. Part of what determined the actor's proportions, 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 said. 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," he said, adding that although Thor's character is an imposing figure with defined muscles and low body fat, the uber-built bodybuilder look isn't in for superheroes. "It's a more athletic look," he said.
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, since scrawny legs plus a developed chest equals a lopsided physique. "We hit the legs hard," he said, "to make sure things looked in proportion." Cardio was worked into the mix via circuit training, which gets the heart rate up while training muscles.
And for those who think that if you work out 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. "You've got to eat clean," he added, so nix the doughnuts, ice cream and Frapps if you aspire to look like the god of thunder.
From Hemsworth we cut to Ryan Reynolds, star of "Green Lantern," which opens June 17. Reynolds' normal body type is on the slim side, which actually worked for this superhero role, says West Hollywood-based trainer Bobby Strom, who added he's been training Reynolds for nine years. "He flies," he said, "so he has to be aerodynamic."
Aerodynamic but still beefy--we can't have a wimpy Green Lantern, after all. Strom combined intense workouts with a diet that helped Reynolds put on muscle, not fat. He even did all the cooking.
"We're talking about grilled salmon, asparagus, zucchini, peppers--vegetables are always good," he said, "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.
Roughly seven months of training included almost daily hour and a quarter to an hour and a half-long 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 and lifting a 10-foot "slush pipe" filled with water. Did we mention 800-pound leg presses? Yeah, those too. Good times.
"It wouldn't be hard every day," Strom added, but since Reynolds wanted to do as many of his own stunts as he could, 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 designed to lower body fat and temporarily reduce water to make sure muscle definition was there.
Enough of the guys--what is the ideal female superhero physique? Both Knight and Strom said it's defined muscles on a feminine form--enough brawn to kick butt, but still shapely. Strom says the Linda Hamilton "Terminator" look, complete with ripped arms, is still a popular prototype: "Athletic, but not like a weight lifter with no neck."
At the end of the day, it's all about making an impact on the big screen, Strom said. "These people are bigger than life, and you want someone you can aspire to be. The audience wants to go, 'Whoa. Wow.' And they want to see a difference from the last time they saw that actor...when Ryan does something else, we'll make his body different again. This will be known as his 'Green Lantern' physique."