How did the actors who wowed us as the Avengers get their amazing onscreen physiques? It wasn’t Hollywood special effects, but months of intense workouts that delivered those buff bodies.
Trainers Bobby Strom, Brad Bose, and Steve Zim who prepped Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr., and Chris Evans respectively share the diet and fitness secrets that helped whip these A-listers into fighting shape.
In The Avengers, Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as super-spy Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), whom she first played in 2010's Iron Man 2. For about two months prior to filming, Johansson worked with personal trainer Bobby Strom to ready herself for the role.
"We picked up with the same program we'd used for Iron Man 2," says Strom. "It had a proven history."
During her 90-minute, high-intensity workouts, Johansson lifted dumbbells and straight bars as well as worked with resistance bands, medicine balls, Bosu balls, and TRX. She also did Olympic-style lifting and platform jumping, exercises that required explosive movements, to build muscle as well as develop cardio fitness.
Her workouts were built around sets of 25 to 30 reps, which Strom had her do in one of two rotations: either five exercises each done four times or 10 exercises each done twice.
Strom also put her on the treadmill for 15 minutes. Each minute, she sprinted for 20 seconds and rested for 40 seconds. Then, he got her out of the gym and into the parking lot.
"I would wrap a band around her and pull her backwards as she tried to sprint," Strom says.
During their time together, Strom focused on definition rather than muscle mass.
"You want to see that definition in the biceps, triceps, and shoulders, but you don't want the muscles so big that she loses her femininity," Strom says. "The studio didn't want her looking like Thor."
Robert Downey Jr. had just finished filming 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows when he started prepping his body for The Avengers. He had eight weeks to put on 25 pounds of muscle.
"It required cutting down the cardio and the high reps and increasing the weight lifted and making him more explosive," says personal trainer Brad Bose. He also trained Downey for both Iron Man films. "This required more bench presses, shoulder presses, pull-ups, etc. We basically went back to a modified old-school workout."
High-intensity workouts ran up to 45 minutes. Lower-intensity sessions that focused on what Bose refers to as "detail work" lasted for 70 minutes.
Among the many exercises in a typical upper body workout were pull-ups, dips, instability bench presses, low rows, and pushups done on a Bosu ball. Most were done in three sets of eight to 12 reps.