There’s one thing nerds and meatheads will always have in common—they both want to be superheroes. Whether you’re a longtime gym rat or not, if you grew up reading comic books or watching action movies, you wished you could have had sleeve-ripping arms like Wolverine, the athleticism of Captain America, strength like Thor, etc.
Well, now you can. Or as close as you can get without undergoing genetic mutation, government experiments, or divine intervention. Introducing our Superhero Workout series—fitness tips, exercises, and routines designed to transform you from a mere civilian into the defender of the planet you knew you were always meant to be. Check back here all week for plans to acquire your favorite superhero’s particular skill or attribute, which we’ll bring you one at a time.
Today, we offer the blueprint for Captain America’s super power.
THE CAPTAIN AMERICA WORKOUT
Captain America is known for many things: a strong jawline, a somewhat overdeveloped sense of patriotism, and, frankly, great hair. Not to mention super strength, speed, and endurance—and the sickest shield skills you’ve ever seen.
And then there’s his jumping ability. Depending on which version of the comics you look at, Captain America’s vertical leap is at least 10 feet, allowing him to jump straight up and grab the ledge of a two-story building.
In the more recent Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve seen him leap straight up onto high ledges, effortlessly hurdle cars, and jump out of a plane without a parachute.
Power and explosivity are skills that any trainee should be able to develop. Not to the same extreme, perhaps, as the good captain, since you probably won’t have government subsidized pharmaceuticals to transform you. But you can build the leg power to easily touch the rim of a basketball hoop, shoot for a devastating takedown, or sprint to catch a bus when you’re running late.
The below drills are the next best thing to adding a little Super Soldier Serum to your morning protein shake.
One of the best training methods for improving strength and power is to pair a heavy weighted exercise and an un-weighted, explosive exercise. The exact science on how this works in the body isn’t clear, but it’s thought that the combination increases the recruitment of muscle fibers or perhaps turns down the muscles’ natural regulators that inhibit the amount of force they can produce. It’s an effect known as PAP—post-activation potentiation.
Using PAP on squats makes for a high-intensity workout that will not only have you getting serious air on your jumps but will also fry your thighs and hamstrings thoroughly. Watch as each successive set you do moves faster and feels lighter.
Complete 2 sets of the back squat, going immediately into jump squats after the second set. Rest as directed and perform another set of heavy squats followed by another set of jump squats right away.
That’s 1 round. Perform up to 5 rounds, but stop when you feel yourself slowing down or if the weights start feeling heavier. Rest at least 2 minutes between rounds. Do this workout only once per week.
1. Barbell Squat
Sets: 2 Reps: 5 Rest: 60 sec., 0 sec.
Set up in a squat rack or cage (not shown). Grasp the bar as far apart as is comfortable and step under it. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and nudge the bar out of the rack. Step back and stand with your feet at shoulder width and your toes turned slightly outward. Take a deep breath and think about twisting the ground up beneath your feet without actually moving them—actively screw your feet into the ground so you feel your hips and glutes tense up, but don’t let your feet shift.
Bend your hips back and then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can while keeping a long spine with your head, spine, and hips aligned. Push your knees outward as you descend. Extend your hips to come back up, continuing to push your knees outward.
2. Jump Squat
Sets: 1 Reps: 5–10 Rest: 45 sec.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and squat down about halfway. Jump as high as you can. Land with soft knees and begin the next rep.
3. Barbell Squat
Sets: 1 Reps: 5 Rest: 0 sec.
4. Jump Squat
Sets: 1 Reps: 5–10 Rest: 120 sec.
Part of what makes a superhero super heroic is his gas tank. Imagine if Captain America could only run, jump, or fight for 20 seconds and then had to sit down for several minutes to catch his breath. When the world is in danger, there’s no time to check Facebook—heroes have to be able to perform explosive and highly-taxing movements repeatedly until the job is done.
Enter the barbell complex, which conditions the muscles as well as the cardiovascular system to work intensely and perform explosively for long periods and recover to be able to kick ass again quickly.
Load a barbell with a light weight (25 pounds each side may be enough to start). Perform the following exercises in sequence, completing 6–8 reps for each in turn. Do not let the bar rest between exercises—the movements are designed to flow from one to the other. That’s 1 round.
Complete 3 rounds, resting as needed between them. Perform 10 reps for each lift in the second round and 15 reps in the third (reduce the weight accordingly).
1A. Romanian Deadlift
Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width grip and stand with feet hip-width apart. Twist your feet into the floor to generate tension in your hips. Tilt your tailbone back and bend your hips back as far as you can. Allow your knees to bend as needed while your lower the bar along your shins until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Keep your spine long and straight throughout. Squeeze your glutes as you come back up to lock out your hips.
1B. Hang Clean
From the bottom position of the Romanian deadlift, explosively extend your hips and knees as if jumping while at the same time shrugging your shoulders and pulling the bar straight up in front of your torso. As the bar reaches chest level, bend your elbows so that your palms face the ceiling and catch the bar at shoulder level, upper arms parallel to the floor. Bend your hips and knees as you catch the bar to absorb its impact and then stand straight up.
From the finish position of the hang clean, squat as low as you can while keeping a long spine. Come back up and use the momentum to help press the bar overhead.
1D. Alternating Reverse Lunge
After your last thruster, lower the bar to rest on your traps. Keeping a vertical torso and long spine, step back with one leg and lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the floor and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Come back up to standing and repeat on the opposite leg. That’s one rep.
Heave the bar off your traps and overhead using momentum from your legs. Lower it to the floor. Stand with feet hip-width apart and tilt your tailbone back. Bend your hips back to reach down and grasp the bar with hands just outside your knees. Keeping a long spine with your head in line with your hips, take a deep breath, brace your abs, and drive through your heels. Pull the bar up along your shins until you’re standing with hips fully extended and the bar is in front of your thighs. Keep the bar pulled in tight to your body the whole time with your shoulder blades pulled together and down (think “proud chest”).