As a medium, superhero films have matured and evolved drastically over the years. They went from being relatively niche products associated with nerd culture to mainstream, worldwide phenomena that make billions of dollars at the box office. But as the standards for the quality of the movies themselves have (generally) risen over the years, so too have the standards for the physiques of the lead characters. Characters with Godlike powers should look the part, right? This preference towards the leading man being a chiseled Adonis has seeped into almost every other action-adjacent genre. In addition to having acting chops, leading men in such movies are now pretty much required to be covered in muscles and have a body fat percentage in the low single digits to have a shot at the part.
But here’s the thing: while these superhero physiques may look impressive, they are not something that the average person can realistically build and maintain. And in some cases, the lengths these actors go to in order to reach these results can be unhealthy in their own way.
When an actor is cast in a super heroic or similar role, they typically have at least a few months to dedicate to preparing for the role. Prep work is essential for every actor. Regardless of the role or specific method they pursue, they have to work and perform research in order to embody the character they are portraying. And in the case of action stars, the body is often part of the character. Being professionals, working on their body now becomes their job for that phase. Most will dedicate several hours a day to their training regimen. The average working person simply doesn’t have enough hours in the day to spend that amount of time training or the money to access the world-class trainers that they work with.
Their diet is another key factor. Many lament that mealtimes become an outright chore when you have to power through mountains of chicken, beef, broccoli, and kale with minimal carbs and seasonings each and every day. With the sheer volume of food, they have to consume each day to build mass, adding too much seasoning to each morsel can result in unhealthy sodium levels. Diet is important to any healthy workout routine, but extreme looks require more extreme diets.
And all this work doesn’t stop when the shoot is over. For actors who sign contracts to play the same character across multiple films, they must maintain their routines between shoots. It takes constant work and maintenance to keep their body looking sharp all year long.
And finally, one thing that they may not even ever mention in an interview is their use of performance supplements like steroids and testosterone enhancers. While not every actor may rely on them, the pressure of living up to such lofty expectations may drive them to look for every advantage they can get.
While not meant to devalue the hard work and dedication on the part of the actor, another important factor is the fact that they have the benefit of an entire film crew helping them to look their best. A team of makeup artists may contour their bodies to better define their muscles. The composition of the shot can help them to pose heroically while lighting experts make sure every detail is visible. And in some cases, the VFX team can remove imperfections and blemishes or add extra details to make the resulting shot more impressive.
Other practical steps may be taken to keep the aesthetic going. For instance, while shooting Captain America: Civil War, the production schedule did not allow Chris Evans to maintain the same training routine. As a result, he lost muscle mass over the course of the shoot. He had to wear smaller and smaller shirts over the course of production to keep the same strapping look in later scenes. Some actors even dehydrate themselves in controlled ways to minimize their water weight by the time they are set to film a shirtless scene.
The main point is that the standards of beauty and masculinity that Hollywood and mainstream media promotes simply cannot be representative of the average person. A whole lot of time, money, and effort goes into creating the image of perfection. While it may be nice to look at and the results are undeniably impressive, you should not feel pressured to live up the image of these characters. They are meant to embody traits that exaggerate or surpass human ability. For us regular humans, the healthy function of our bodies should take priority over how they look. That is not meant to minimize the value of training and exercise at all. Healthy lifestyles often lead to nice-looking physiques. But tempering our expectations for the results can help us to lead happier, healthier, and balanced lives. We can enjoy superheroes and the performers that bring them to life for what they are, but we do not need to compare ourselves to them. At Junkyard Training, our goal is to help you reach your ideal physique that is best for your health, your profession, and your lifestyle.