I’m sure that most of the guys start working out after seeing guys such as Chris Evans in Captain America, Ben Affleck in Batman or Chris Hemsworth in Thor and so on. These guys look absolutely phenomenal, I’ll give you that. No wonder almost everyone is trying to replicate that.
The path to achieving such a physique might not be very clear for everyone though, especially if you are fairly new to weightlifting and don’t know a whole lot about nutrition, workouts, and just how stuff works when it comes to building muscle.
Well, worry no more. In this post, I’m going to share with you the exact steps you need to take in order to go from average looking to a superhero physique.
Before we get started though, let me quickly tell you that there are no shortcuts and the road might get a little bit bumpy sometimes. This kind of a transformation does not happen overnight, and no matter what someone else might want you to think, there’s no magical pill or supplement that will get you shredded. No, you really have to put in the work.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get started on this.
What makes a superhero physique?
I think the best way to start this off is by actually looking at a superhero physique and analyze it a bit. All the guys I mentioned above have in common a lot of things: well-developed upper body, wide back, and big chest and big arms. There’s a clear separation between the muscles and some vascularity.
The abs are showing nicely and the legs are well defined as well, without overpowering the upper body though.
So in a nutshell, you need to have plenty of size on your upper body and a relatively low body fat percentage. That way you get some abs action, you have a small waist which makes your back look even wider.
Alright, so how do you get to look like that?
Training like a superhero
There are over 100 different machines in a typical commercial gym. Which ones should you use? Do you actually need to try out every single one of them? Are there good and bad exercises?
All these are questions that you probably ask yourself when you first step into a gym.
When it comes to training, things are pretty simple actually. There are quite a lot of scientific studies to help us take the most effective path to getting bigger. All researchers reached the same concussions: a resistance training routine based on heavy compound movements is optimal for muscle growth.
If the term “heavy compound movements” sounds confusing don’t worry, we’ll explain everything in just a bit.
Compound vs. isolation exercises
For those of you who don’t know, there are 2 main categories of exercises you can do when it comes to weight training. There are compound exercises and there are isolation exercises.
Compound movements refer to exercises that will activate more muscle groups at once (even though the main focus will be on a single muscle group) and use more joints when you perform the movement. Here are a few examples of compound exercises: bench press, shoulder press, squats, pull-ups, deadlifts, pushups, dips and so on.
On the other hand, you have the isolation exercises which will activate a single muscle group and will use just one joint. Popular examples are bicep curls, triceps pushdowns, lateral raises, cable flies, leg extensions and the list could go on.
As I was telling you earlier, compound exercises are known to be superior for muscle growth to isolation exercises. Does this mean you shouldn’t do isolation exercises at all?
Well, not really. What I found during my personal trainer career is that if I have my clients spend roughly 80% of their time and effort doing compound movements and the remaining 20% on isolation movements they are progressing really well.
Compound movements will allow you to lift heavier weights, but they are also very taxing o your energy. So you can end up overtraining if you rely solely on this kind of exercises. On top of that, with isolation exercises, you can really target specific muscle groups better and use specific exercises to finish off a particular muscle group.
So even though isolation movements are not the main driver for muscle hypertrophy they do have their place and purpose in a workout.
Have you noticed that the biggest guys in the gym are also the strongest? That’s because there’s a really important connection between muscle size and strength.
The stronger you are the bigger you’ll get. Or, in other words, you need to get stronger in order to get bigger. That’s why your main focus in the gym should be to constantly get stronger. Never stick with the same weight forever. Always try to add more weight to the bar, do more reps or more sets.
This technique is called progressive overloading. You are progressively increasing the difficulty of your workouts, forcing your muscles to adapt to harder and harder workouts. The muscles adapt by growing bigger.
On the opposite side, if you would stick with the same weight, once your muscles have adapted to that level of difficulty they will stop growing. There’s no point for them in growing stronger and bigger if you don’t challenge them.
Eating like a superhero
Now, what most people don’t know is that looking like a superhero or even just looking fit and toned up, will depend a whole lot on your nutrition. And trust me; doing your workouts is the easy part. You’re slamming it hard in the gym of 1 hour and you’re done.
But staying on top of your diet is a full-time job. You need to keep an eye out for your food 24/7. Sure, there are cheat meals or cheat days every other week or so, but that’s it.
Nutrition is all about calories and macros. You will need to know your way around these things really well. That’s what weight loss or weight gain is all about and the end of the day. If anyone tries to convince you otherwise they are probably a scammer or just don’t have a clue about nutrition.
Calories in versus calories out
With that being said, as a weightlifter, you need to know that once you are passed the newbie level (probably after 1 year of training), you will build muscle and strength when you are in a caloric surplus and you will drop fat when you’re in a caloric deficit.
The key is to set your calories right. When you’re cutting back on calories, so you’re in a deficit, don’t cut down with more than 25%. So if your caloric maintenance level is at 2000 kcal, for example, you can cut back to 1,500 kcal (or more).
This will allow your body to function normally, without messing up your metabolism and while preserving as much muscle mass as possible. By restricting 25% of your calories you should lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week.
When you’re bulking up, you need to up your calories just a tiny bit. Anywhere between 5-10% surplus is enough to help you gain size and strength at the maximum naturally possible rate. Going back to the above example, this means just 100-200 kcal on top of your 2,000 kcal diet.
This way you will minimize any fat gains. Remember, you want to stay as lean as possible. In a 5-10% surplus, you should gain just 0.5 pounds per week.
Lastly but not least you want to take a look at your macros, namely the protein, carbs, and fats. If you are not super strict with your diet you can skip this last step, but if you really want to nail it you should track your macros too.
A good, healthy and bodybuilding friendly macros split looks something like this: 35% protein, 40% carbs and 25% fats. When you’re cutting back on calories you may want to up your protein intake to 40% or so to preserve as much muscle mass as possible.
I know there’s a big hype around low carb diets these days, and I want to take the time to tell you that low carb diets are not at all optimal for active, healthy individuals that are trying to get bigger and stronger. Carbs are used as the primary source of energy by your muscles and if you’re going to restrict that you’re basically sabotaging your workouts.
Other than that, protein is obviously important for muscle repair and growth and then the fats are very important for keeping things running smoothly at a hormonal level, taking care of your internal organs, skin, hair, and nails.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. It’s not easy, it’s not fast, but this is the most straight-forward way of getting ripped, really. Train hard, train smart and always stay on top of your nutrition.