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April 12, 2021 10 min read

Sylvester Stallone is one of the greatest actors in American cinematic history. He’s been a shining chiseled hero in films that have gone down in history as some of the greatest movies that have come out of the Hollywood film tradition. He’s played bombastic dudes like Rambo, in some of the coolest scenes we’ve ever seen in movies.

His time as Rocky has touched lives for decades. He’s been a symbol for men, and he’s been a jacked symbol of strength for just as long. What’s his secret? How does he keep it up? We’re gonna bust it wide open and lay it all out so you can get our body strong and long-lasting like Stallone.

Cover and cd of the soundtrack of Rambo 2

Sylvester Stallone’s Legacy

Sylvester Stallone is one of the prototypical rags to riches stories that spur Americans towards greatness. He was the child of two hard-working parents. His father Francesco "Frank" Stallone Sr. was a hairdresser and beautician and his mother Jacqueline "Jackie" Stallone was an astrologer, dancer, and promoter of women's wrestling.

They were both the kind of multi-faceted laborers that would produce someone as unique and unstoppable as Stallone. It seems like exceptional results are just deep in their family’s blood. Sylvester Stallone’s brother went on to become a musician and dabbled in acting as well.

Even his birth was something unique and difficult that contributed directly to his signature swagger and the almost mythological backstory he has. He was born in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. His birth process was fraught with complications. Eventually, forceps were brought out to pull baby Sylvester into the world, but they were a little rough.

Sylvester Stallone’s signature cadence of speech, that voice that makes him seem so down-to-Earth and approachable was a direct result of a difficult introduction to the world. The doctors severed part of a nerve in his face, forever paralyzing parts of his face, making him a unique character in the stage of life.

That kind of rocky (no pun intended) start didn’t hold him back for a minute. Stallone wanted to be an actor, and after fumbling around the acting world, and failing time and again early on. While attending college, he fell on hard times, he was sleeping in bus stops and taking whatever job he could get his hands on.

He had a small role in a movie called That Nice Boy in the late’60s, and a few years later he found himself in a starring role in a softcore film called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s. He recounts it was a pretty mild movie, especially by today’s standards. It paid the bills and gave him a leg up when he was in a dark place.

He told Playboy “it was either do that movie or rob someone, because I was at the end – the very end – of my rope." He didn’t stay at the end of his rope for long. Eventually, he started landing bigger roles more regularly that paid him more money, which led to more jobs, and notoriety.

He was well on his way to becoming a household name after that wild party at Kitty’s. Eventually, he was starring in off-Broadway plays, taking odd jobs and expanding his mind with Edgar Allen Poe, and practicing his writing. You can tell from his early career (and sometimes the lack of career) that Stallone’s life is all about hard work, dedication to a goal, and the ability to structure his life in a way that allows him to work on himself as well as the work he’s pursuing.

That hard work eventually pays off when he finally breaks into the big leagues with Rocky. That movie could not have been a better fit for Stallone and his life. A down on his luck boxer that needs to obsessively craft his body and mind into the best possible shape, while fighting desperately against the whims of the world so he can reach the heights of success that he always knew he was capable of is something that Sylvester Stallone knows well, and he really brings it to life on the screen.

After raking in the cash and the public acclaim, Sylvester Stallone has never once let his physical well-being slip through his fingers. Even well into his seventies, he’s maintained a level of fitness that most people can only aspire to. He seems to defy the limits of the human body the same way his legacy is going to last for decades beyond his eventual passing.

There are worse role models than Sylvester Stallone, and if you’re trying to get your body to look even a fraction as good as his own has his entire life, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better routine and diet than his own. At his height, he was training twice a day.

This is an effective way to make sure you’re thoroughly hitting every single muscle in the group you’re focusing on for the day. It’s the perfect way to make sure that you’re properly isolating each muscle, giving it the proper time to shine, and really working all the way through its full range of motion to encourage the perfect amount of muscle growth in the long run.

Training twice a day is what some of the greatest bodybuilders of the modern-day would do. Their workouts will take up a significant amount of their days, giving them ample amounts of time to train. It’s also way more intense than the average person should ever be aiming for.

This is the kind of workout that you’ll get when you’re learning from a former Mr. Olympia. Sylvester Stallone trained with Franco Columbo, he’s one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best friends. One of the single best opportunities afforded to Stallone when he became Rocky, was this connection here. It totally turned his health around and gave him the knowledge and tools of a champion.

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms, and Abs
  • Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday: Calves, Thighs, Rear Deltoids, Trapezius, and Abdominals
  • Sunday: Rest

Stallone trained six days a week, twice a day. The rest day he takes on Sunday is key to his success. It’s the day that gives your body the time to earnestly repair all of the damage you’ve done to your muscles in pursuit of the perfect physique.

His workout routine isn’t stuffed full of industry secrets though. It’s basically just an alternating split. He focuses primarily on compound exercises that minimize the amount of time he spends in the gym, but other than that, he’s not really doing any sort of insane high-intensity training or specially formulated supersets.

It’s just the daily dedication and the twice-daily schedule that gave Rocky that well-muscled look in his movies. The beauty of Stallone’s workout routine is the structure. He wasn’t tied down to any particular exercises executed with obsessive precision or anything.

This workout routine is simple, he just focused on finding exercises that would work out every muscle in the group thoroughly and made sure to take the time not to pass over anything. This allows you to slot in new exercises when you feel like you’ve plateaued.

It covers and easily discovers problem areas, constantly giving you new challenges to overcome, and giving you the opportunity to perfect your body and regimen. At his height, the real secret was in his diet. For example, in Rocky III Stallone had managed to wear his body down to less than 3% body fat.

It’s not easy to do this, but he figured out how to finagle his diet in a way that practically eliminated every single bit of body fat he had. Before you get too excited, though, know that this was dangerous, exhausting, and ultimately something Stallone seems to regret.

Sylvester Stellone as Rocky Balboa in Madame Tussauds Hollywood wax museum

Stallone Style Diets

We always talk about how important a good diet is when it comes to your physical health and your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle. If you’ve been working out for any amount of time, you know how important it is to keep your tank full.

Your body depends on nutrients more than anything. You’re made from, fueled by, and maintained with food. If you can’t feed yourself well, you’re going to suffer. It’s going to make your workouts miserable and you’re going to have a tough time getting through the day.

We want to use Sylvester Stallone to talk about how bad a bad diet can screw up your workout routine. If you’re seeking out a workout routine like this one, you probably know the basics. Get your protein, cut down on fats, watch out for carbs, but what happens when you take it too far?

It’s easy to think “I’ll just depend on multivitamins” or “if I just cut down on a couple more calories, I can hit my goal a little faster.” It’s important to know how cutting corners can bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Your body doesn’t pull its punches. We all know how miraculous and resilient the human body is, but it can be vengeful too.

It’s hard to ignore your basic nutritional needs so much that your body starts to fight back, but it’s disastrous when it happens. You need to round things out, keeping up with vegetables and a supply of energy. You’ll learn very quickly that your body gets different levels of energy from different kinds of foods.

Stallone was still working himself to the bone and trying to figure out any way possible to squeeze more muscle and less weight out of his workout routine when he was trying to look his absolute best for his big Rocky break.

He says “I was on a very high protein diet which did not provide much physical or mental energy. During the period I only ate very small portions of oatmeal cookies made with brown rice and up to 25 cups of coffee a day with honey and a couple of scoops of tuna fish. Sounds incredible right? At the time my body fat got down to 2.9 which is a really dangerous level. I may have looked pretty good on the outside but inside it was [a] very dangerous thing to do.”

It sounds at first like maybe he had cracked the code, there are the proteins and energy that your body craves, but all of that caffeine, very little rest, a lack of good clean water, and missing out on crucial vitamins and minerals was wreaking havoc on his brain and body. It’s ironic that Rocky was on such a strict path to improving his health and performance, while Stallone himself was struggling against a sinister diet that was eroding his ability to concentrate and perform at his peak.

This wasn’t lost on him; he mentions “I will always believe [that] adaptation is the key to survival and that’s what [Rocky] was all about.” While he was working himself to the bone to give himself the famous physique we all associate with strength and determination, he was slowly starving himself by not paying attention to his body’s practical needs.

There’s a now-infamous picture of Stallone doing a handstand in the ring on the set of Rocky III. While talking about his insane diet during that time period, he briefly mentioned that picture. He’s not just showing off his fitness levels while reprising his most well-known role. He’s trying to kickstart his brain by forcing some blood into his starving brain.

If you’re not getting your brain and body the nutrients you need, you’re not going to be able to perform simple tasks, let alone complicated choreography. For Stallone, he wasn’t just hopping around, he was memorizing steps and regurgitating them in the ring, and if he can’t think then he’s not going to be able to operate at maximum capacity.

What does he suggest now? Well, after coming out of the other side of that harrowing malnutrition, Stallone is a huge proponent of healthy eating habits. You’re going to need lots of water, lots of food, and a wider range of nutrients to ensure your body is getting all of the vitamins you need. This is an acknowledgment that you are what you eat on every single level.

Your body is made up of proteins from your diet, your cells need water to operate, and every single inch of your being needs energy. If you’re feeling sluggish or like you’re not as alert as you used to be, then the first place you should check is your diet. Don’t run yourself ragged, and don’t deprive yourself of the simple pleasures.

Stallone’s diet is still pretty rigid, but he leaves room for cheat days. Even in the pursuit of fitness, life is about the little things. If you’ve got a craving that you can’t shake and it’s making you miserable to stick to your diet, then, for the love of God, give yourself a simple treat.

What good is cultivating an incredible physique if you’re too cranky to be around when you want to show it off. Bettering yourself is about more than just the physical results, treat your mind right, and you’ll be crushing it in the weight room.

Here’s what Stallone ate. You can see that even his regular diet, without the cheat days, is full of flavor and foods he’s sure to enjoy from beginning to end.

  • Pre-breakfast: A glass of liquid aminos
  • Breakfast: 3 egg whites, half an egg yolk, Irish oatmeal, toasted pumpernickel bread, fresh papaya, a handful of fruit like figs
  • Lunch: Roasted squash, broiled chicken without skin, salad, figs, or berries
  • Dinner: Salad, broiled fish, high-fiber toasted bread; veal on occasion

Stallone eats throughout the day, just like a lot of bodybuilders tend to, but his diet is a little bit less intense, leaving him room to focus on his life rather than in and out of the kitchen all day. Stallone’s workout routine is more about maintaining a good body without going over the top and totally exhausting himself every day.

His focus on maintenance rather than pushing the limits gives him much more room to live a little that’s a little looser than his Rocky and Rambo days when he needed to sculpt out deep massive muscles.

Sylvester Stallone

Stone Like Stallone

In his heyday, Sylvester Stallone was one of the most exceptionally fit people in front of a camera. His body was a sort of commodity that brought in insane amounts of money. He used it to tell inspiring stories about breaking through your limits, trusting the people in your life, and learning how to better yourself inside of the ring and outside of it.

That kind of pressure turned on him pretty quickly, encouraging poor eating habits that he had to totally rework later in his life. We can learn a lot from the greats though, now that you’re aware of the sort of over-ambitious pitfalls you can fall into if you’re not careful, you know where to look when you’re trying to cultivate a happy and healthy lifestyle, even late into your seventh decade on Earth.