July 28, 2020 11 min read
The consensus on the casting decisions for The Avengers has been largely positive. And Chris Evans as Captain American was not only an early example but also one that’s turned out to be one of the best matches between actor and on-screen alias.
However, unlike the Captain, Chris Evans didn’t have the benefit of being injected with a special serum and zapped with Vita-Rays. Like the rest of us, he had to work hard to get the Captain America aesthetic, even though it may seem to everyone that he naturally fits into the role.
Evans had to work incredibly hard throughout the course of months in order to pack on 30 pounds of muscle for the role—while also trying to maintain some level of flexibility and athleticism.
And while we’ve looked at other superheroes in the past, the Captain is a unique case.
While he received his abilities through experimentation like so many other superheroes, Cap was never meant to be a superhuman. The serum and radiation were only meant to increase his own human abilities to the highest degree, not give him new ones. This is what makes him so recognizably human—and for our purposes—so worthy of imitation.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the specific workout routine that leaves you looking (and feeling) like Cap, let’s take a look at what Evans himself had to do to become the superhero that we all know and love.
Naturally lean, he had to not only pack on 30 pounds of weight, but it had to be lean muscle mass as well. Not to mention that he’s allegedly not too crazy about the gym either.
Utilizing the principles below with the workout routine further below, the power (or at least the aesthetic) of Captain American will be in your grasp as well.
While his body was really taken to the next level with his role as Steve Rogers, Evans is no stranger to having to look good on the big screen.
While naturally skinny, he’s been utilizing a personal trainer to get him into shape as early as 2005’s Fantastic Four as the Human Torch.
The things to touch on before deciding to get a personal trainer are worth more than just a few paragraphs, but the results coming out of having a professional help you are very, very real. For the role of Captain America, that personal trainer came in the form of Simon Waterson, a celebrity trainer.
The main benefit of having a personal trainer is that your workout will be tailored to you specifically. While most physiological things between people are largely the same, there are unique aspects to each of us that make “one-size-fits-all” workouts, not very fitting. And if you’re training with some kind of deadline for a role as important as Captain America, then having a personal trainer becomes that much more important
Personal trainers are also extremely useful when it comes to motivation. Not only can they make the workouts more enjoyable for you, catering to your own interests and goals, but they can also push you to really eke out everything possible out of your body—not letting gains get left behind on the table.
If you consider that Evans often found himself puking after his 2-hour workouts, then this starts to make a lot of sense.
When looking at Evans’ training routine, one of the biggest factors was the compound exercises.
Unlike isolation exercises that hit just one muscle group, compound exercises utilize different joints and muscle groups to complete the movement. It might seem like you could simply do isolation exercises for each of the worked muscle groups, but compound exercises come with other benefits.
Not only are different muscle groups learning how to work together and synergize (allowing for a higher degree of functional and athletic fitness), but they also release more growth hormones which in turn, get you bigger muscles.
Good examples of compound lifts would be exercises such as squats and deadlifts, both of which utilize almost every muscle group in the body.
Furthermore, Evans also made sure to do heavy lifts and low reps, as opposed to high volume lifts with many reps. This is somewhat different than a lot of other actors who train for roles where they have to look ripped. Heavy lifts and low reps tend to elicit strength gains and big, bulky muscles, while the many-rep method is usually for the aesthetic muscles.
While no one can deny that Evans looked amazing, he needed those heavy lifts to bulk up his naturally lean frame.
But while Evans mostly opted for the traditional and heavy lifts, that doesn’t mean he didn’t dabble in other methods of training.
For one, he always cycled through training at different angles and even different grips. Even though the focus muscle might have been the same, it’s important to hit the muscle group from every angle to elicit the best gains and achieve a well-proportioned look. This could even mean doing things on knees or standing, depending on whether he wanted to incorporate more abdominals or not.
Evans and his trainer also incorporated bodyweight movements along with plyometrics (jumping exercises such as box jumps) in order to keep the superhero nimble, flexible, and explosively powerful. This was complemented by the gymnastics classes that Evans took, which helped him pull off any acrobatic maneuvers that were required in the scenes.
Both plyometrics and gymnastics had him keeping his heart rate high, which helped with endurance and general conditioning. This in turn helped with long days of filming and pulling off fight scenes the right way.
These bouts of high-intensity movement also helped him avoid something: cardio.
If you weren’t sold on looking like the Captain, we bet you are now.
But before you do away completely with the “dread-mill”, make sure you’re coming at things from the same angle as Evans.
He is, after all, a naturally skinny dude and the role needed someone with massive muscles. For his goals and the baseline he was starting at, cardio would have hurt the Captain America aesthetic he was shooting for. While the benefits of cardio are too long to list and we’d never advise against it, this just highlights how flexible training routines are if you keep in mind where you want to go and where you’re coming from.
Which also isn’t to say that he didn’t do any cardio at all.
While sprints were sometimes part of his work out plan, they were mostly just used for conditioning and to keep his body loose. What he did do, however, were circuits and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
There’s been a number of studies that have shown that these are more effective than steady-state cardio (but then again, it depends on your goals!), especially when it comes to conditioning. These circuits usually took the role of warm-ups before a workout and left his heart rate high and ready to go before getting into the meat of the training.
Of course, whether you go this route or add cardio is entirely up to you and where you feel your baseline is. If you’re naturally bigger, then you probably won’t get away with eating like a maniac and training like an even bigger one.
While getting a good amount of rest is always important, Evans might’ve not had that option with the deadlines he was working with.
Not only were his workout sessions a grueling 2 hours, they sometimes happened multiple times a day. And he didn’t just do the classic 5-day split either since he used his Sundays to touch up on any muscles that needed extra work or weren’t completely obliterated from the week prior.
This is definitely not recommended if you’re working at it alone, but with a world-class personal trainer, it becomes a little more doable.
Even his (rare) rest days were filled with active recovery, rather than the recovery most of us are used to. This means things like mobility exercises, or even going hiking or some other sport. Mobility would mean things like yoga, for example.
But while it’s possible to push the body to certain extremes, if you’re working as hard Evans did then it’s always optimal to have a personal trainer to guide you. Taking such a busy routine on yourself can easily lead to injuries and even stunt your growth if you’re not thinking things through.
Now that we have all that out of way, we can get into the routine itself.
As we mentioned above, you’ll be doing a low amount of sets (3) for most of the exercises and staying at a relatively low rep range. Of course, only do this if you’re using heavier weights. It’s entirely possible to do this routine with slightly lighter ones, but you’ll want to change the rep counts to reflect that.
Furthermore, take about 2 to 3 minutes between sets, and 60 to 90 seconds. If you’re doing higher reps, try for about 60 to 90 seconds of rest in between each set.
If you want Cap’s superhero physique, you’re going to have to be prepared to work just as hard as him—which means barely taking days off.
The trick here is to listen to your body and focus in on those muscle groups that you know you didn’t hit as hard as you could have in the week prior. At the same time, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
You don’t want to over-train and risk injury either since that’ll put you further back than you would’ve otherwise been. Below are some example exercises that you can choose from on your active recovery days, but they’re not necessary and it’s up to you to decide when your body’s had enough.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, but a good diet should be the backbone of any workout routine.
The routine above, and any routine, will only elicit positive results if you keep your body fueled. But not just any type of fuel, but good fuel. What does that mean? Evans is a perfect example since his diet stuck so closely to the fundamentals without any fancy modifications.
Lots of protein, lots of vegetables, and some complex carbs.
That’s basically what it came down to with fueling up Captain America, but of course, there are specifics that can be looked at. For example,lean protein is better than fatty, and a well-balanced vegetarian and vegan diet can give you great gains as well.
Get the fundamentals right and you’ll be well on your way. Below is an example of an Evans eating plan:
On that note, it’s also important to decide whether you’ll be eating at a calorie deficit or a surplus. With Evans’ training schedule then you’d be extremely hard-pressed to have to eat at a deficit to get the Captain America body. But it all depends on whether you’re looking to build muscle, or you need some weight loss.
As we saw with Evans, not only was he avoiding cardio so it wouldn’t cut into his bulking, but he was also eating at a massive surplus.
But while good food will get us most of the way there, sometimes you need that extra edge to turn a Steve Rogers into Captain America.
Much like his workout routine and diet plan, Cap’s supplement stack is a well thought out and rigorous addition to his overall regime. Once more sticking to the basics (with great success), Evans took whey protein shakes throughout the day with a casein shake before he went to bed. This latter casein protein powder was taken since it’s basically a slow-release version of whey, effectively giving your body energy throughout the night so it doesn’t start breaking down muscles.
Similarly, he also took glutamine to prevent his body from burning up muscles in order to fuel his himself—a necessary supplement when working out at the level he did. He took a concoction of Omega fatty acids in order to keep his joints functioning under the immense stresses of constantly working out and working long days at the studio.
And finally, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) were also on the menu, since they helped his body repair after the grueling workout sessions.
The workout and diet plan we’ve outlined above shows the great lengths that Evans went through to do Captain America justice on the big screen—and it also shows that we can all look like the First Avenger.
However, what makes Cap truly stand out is his integrity, courage, and hard work in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
That’s the virtue that will get us to our goals—whatever they may be. The body’s just the cherry on top.