The Superhero Workout

You may not be able to fly or melt a car with a stare, but you can master these seven super skills and level up from mere mortal to mistress of the universe.

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When playing Natasha Romanoff — aka Black Widow in the blockbuster Marvel Avengers series — Oscar-nominated actress Scarlett Johansson kicks ass with style, expertly dispensing with bad guys while strutting her superhero physique in a leather hide-nothing catsuit. The mastermind responsible for Johansson’s super bod is James “Duffy” Gaver, former Navy SEAL turned celebrity trainer. Gaver has created a workout similar to Johansson’s exclusively for Oxygen readers that can help everyday superheroes increase explosiveness, strength, endurance, power, coordination, speed and agility. He also offers up a fun self-test to determine where you rank among the world’s greatest cinematic crusaders and see how you can follow in Black Widow’s (silent but deadly) footsteps — catsuit optional.

Hero Helper: A Week of Workouts

Begin each workout with a cardio-based 10-minute warm-up such as walking/jogging on a treadmill or outdoors.

Day 1: The Superheroine Fitness Test

Determine your current level of super prowess with this two-part test.

Part 1

Warm up for five minutes, then perform each move for one minute. Record the number of reps you complete for each.

  • Pull-Up
  • Bodyweight Squat
  • Push-Up
  • Full Sit-Up

Part 2

Rest five minutes and then do a “bleep” test — a drill that basically entails running back and forth between two lines spaced 20 meters apart. (Download Bleep Test Lite, free on iPhone.) When the first bleep sounds, run from one line to the other. Turn around and wait until the next bleep sounds, then repeat. You’ll progress up through various levels with the bleeps getting closer together with each one. When you can’t make it to the other line before the next bleep, you’re done. Your score is your last completed level.

YOUR RANKING Lois Lane (Civilian) Batgirl (Sidekick) Scarlet Witch (Heroine)
Exercise Reps Reps Reps
Pull-Up 1-3 4-7 8-12
Bodyweight Squat 10-15 16-30 31-35
Push-Up 5-15 16-25 26-35
Sit-Up 15-20 21-30 31-40
Bleep Test Level 6-9 10-11 12-15

Day 2

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Squat 6 20
Shoulder Gauntlet*:
Lateral Raise 4 15, 12, 10, 8
Front Raise 4 15, 12, 10, 8
Bent-Over Raise 4 15, 12, 10, 8
Overhead Press 4 15, 12, 10, 8
Upright Row 4 15, 12, 10, 8
Barbell Hip Thruster 4 20, 20, 20, 20

Perform these moves back-to-back with no rest in between. Rest one to two minute between sets.

Day 3

Exercise Sets Reps/Time
Pull-Up Reverse Progression* 10 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
One-Arm Dumbbell Row 4 20, 20, 20, 20
Standing Calf Raise 4 20, 20, 20, 20

— superset with**—

4 20, 20, 20, 20
Plank 4 1 minute

* Add a rep to each set as you go. Rest 30 to 90 seconds between sets.

** Perform these moves back-to-back with no rest in between. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

Day 4

Alternate between these two moves for five sets, taking minimal rest when needed. With each set, reduce your rowing time by one minute and your box jumps by two reps. Record your total time.

Exercise Sets Reps/Time
Rower 5 5 -> 1 minute
Box Jump 5 10 -> 2 reps

Day 5

Perform these moves back-to-back with minimal rest in between. Rest one to two minutes between sets.

Exercise Sets Reps
Dumbbell Kickback 4 15
Alternating Dumbbell Curl 4 15
Mountain Climber* 4 10

* Left, right, left, right = 1 rep.

Day 6

Complete four rounds of the below workout. With each round, reduce your burpees and star jumps by two reps each. Record your total time.

Exercise Distance/Reps
Run 400 meters
Burpee 10, 8, 6, 4
Star Jump 10, 8, 6, 4

Day 7: Rest

Woman doing a power stance outdoors
Ian Travis Barnard

Want more super workouts? Check out Duffy Gaver’s new book Hero Maker: 12 Weeks to Superhero Fit (St. Martin’s Press, April 2020).

Super Skill: Explosiveness

Developing explosive lower-body power is a must to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and this means developing high-velocity power in your hips, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Since buildings are tall, generally speaking, you’ll need to increase your vertical leap and boost your explosive power.

Blow up your bod on Day 4 with box jumps. Combining this move with rowing seems simple enough, but you’ll have to dig deep to continually generate explosive power as the rounds tick by and you’re working under fatigue. “If you did nothing but this [combination] every day, your fitness level would go through the roof,” Gaver says.

Box Jump - The Superhero Workout
Ian Travis Barnard

Box Jump

Face a box (or a low wall) with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. Swing your arms back and quickly bend your hips and knees to drop into a shallow squat, then quickly extend your legs and hips, swing your arms forward, and leap up and onto the box, landing softly. Step or jump back down and repeat.

Super Skill: Strength

Superheroes — those who can’t fly, at least — all too often end up dangling precariously from a vertigo-inducing height as the villain makes a long-winded and absurdly edifying speech. What’s needed most in that moment — other than a handy assist from a sidekick — is pure, unadulterated strength, which enables you to pull yourself up to safety and put an immediate end to that stupid speech — and its orator.

Pull your weight in Day 3 with the pull-up reverse progression. Here, you’ll add a rep to each set as you go to push your limits and build super strength. “I find this technique helps people break through barriers,” Gaver says. “Our limits are so often mental rather than physical.” If you don’t have a pull-up bar, this modification works just as well.

Inverted Pull-Up
Ian Travis Barnard

Inverted Pull-Up

Take an overhand grip on a bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet forward so you’re hanging underneath the bar with your arms straight and your body in a straight line from head to heels. Draw your shoulder blades in toward one another, then drive your elbows down and back to pull your chest up toward the bar. Pause briefly and then lower all the way to the start.

Upright Row - The Superhero Workout
Ian Travis Barnard

Super Skill: Endurance

Chasing bad guys through all manner of obstacles is part of a day’s work for a superhuman, but becoming a parkour prodigy takes practice — and a lot of endurance. Training a muscle or muscle group to fatigue using a superset or giant set format pushes the limits of both your mental and your muscular endurance.

Endure the pain with the five-exercise shoulder gauntlet on Day 2. This giant set hits all three deltoids and your traps, making it a one-stop shop to shoulder exhaustion. Choose a set of dumbbells with which you can do 12 to 15 lateral raises, Gaver recommends. This is the weight you’ll use for the whole circuit.

Lateral Raise

Hold a set of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing inward, elbows slightly bent. Raise your arms up and out to the sides until they reach shoulder height, then lower to the start under control.

Front Raise

Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing rearward. Raise both arms in front of you to shoulder height, pause briefly and then lower slowly back to the start.

Bent-Over Raise

Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing inward. Hinge at your hips with your back straight and fold forward until your torso makes a 45-degree angle. Hold here as you raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides until they reach shoulder level, then slowly lower to the start.

Overhead Press

Stand upright and hold the dumbbells on either side of your head with your elbows bent 90 degrees, palms forward. Press the weights up and in toward one another to full extension, then lower slowly back to the start.

Upright Row

Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing rearward. Pull the weights up along the front of your body, leading with your elbows, until they come underneath your chin. Lower slowly to the start.

Super Skill: Power

A superhero runs into burning buildings when everyone else is running out and would never shy away from a challenging scenario, no matter how uncomfortable it is. Physical and mental power often intertwine, and the strength of will is often a superhero’s best ally during a crisis and can turn crunchtime into celebration.

Power up your lower body in Day 2 with barbell squats, implementing an old-school technique Gaver recommends called “breathing squats”: You’ll work in sets of 20 reps, pausing at the top of each rep and taking a few deep breaths before continuing. “Take as many breaths as necessary while still maintaining focus throughout,” he advises.

Barbell Squat
Ian Travis Barnard

Barbell Squat

Balance a barbell across your upper back and traps and hold it outside your shoulders with an overhand grip, elbows pointing downward. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs turned out slightly from your hips. Kick your hips back, then bend your knees while keeping your chest lifted and descend as low as you comfortably can while maintaining form. Drive through your heels and powerfully extend your knees and hips to return to standing.

Super Skill: Coordination

Clumsy superheroes aren’t a thing. Physical coordination is a must when it comes to saving the day, and uber-humans need to be able to handle anything from a clutch of henchmen to a live grenade with grace and dexterity.

Coordinate your efforts with star jumps on Day 6. This move requires precision and focus for proper execution — and to prevent an unceremonious and decidedly un-super faceplant. Its placement in the Day 6 workout after a 400-meter run and a grueling set of burpees makes maintaining a high level of coordination an incredible challenge.

Star Jump - The Superhero Workout
Ian Travis Barnard

Star Jump

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Quickly bend your knees and hips slightly and bring your arms together in front of your thighs, then explode upward off the ground, simultaneously raising your arms overhead and opening your legs so your body forms an X in space. Quickly bring your arms and legs back together, land softly and go immediately into the next rep.

Stair sprints
Ian Travis Barnard

Super Skill: Speed

To ensure you can indeed run faster than a speeding bullet, all heroes in training should work on their super speed. Any form of cardiovascular activity lends itself to speed training — running, swimming, cycling or rowing. And if you’re doing it properly, even the most grounded superhero might even feel like they’re flying.

Supercharge your speed on Day 6 with the 400-meter run. Push your pace as hard as you can and challenge yourself to get faster with every round. It’s not as easy as it might seem, though. When combined with the burpee and star jump, this workout demands determination and sharpens your ability to accelerate under fatigue.

Super Skill: Agility

Being nimble and lithe are the hallmarks of any super species, and in order to execute your requisite quick cat- or bat-like movements, you’ve got to sharpen your agility.

Exercise your agility on Day 5 with mountain climbers: Imagine the floor under your feet is lava, and as soon as your toes touch down, you’ve got to pull your foot right back up again to prevent incineration. You’ll have to tread lightly and quickly to make each rep count. Speaking of reps, Gaver has tweaked the programming so that four reps are equal to one. If you’re doing the math, this means one set of 10 actually equals 40 reps!

Mountain Climber - The Superhero Workout
Ian Travis Barnard

Mountain Climber

Get into a high-plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Press down into your hands to stabilize your upper body as you alternately drive your knees in toward your chest, keeping your hips low and your movements quick.

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