Nobody knows how to help you pack on superhero size better than trainer Don Saladino. Need proof? All you need to do is scan your video collection for his résumé. Saladino’s the man who got Ryan Reynolds Deadpool-ripped and made superheroes out of Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), and David Harbour (Hellboy).
Saladino's spent years getting himself cover-guy jacked too, living, eating, and breathing fitness to sculpt the 210 pounds on his 6'1" frame. “I started lifting weights when I was 16,” he says. “And I dove into all of it—hard. I read everything I could get my hands on, even basic shit.”
That’s been obvious ever since early 2008, when Hugh Jackman walked into Saladino’s New York City gym, Drive 495, aiming to get diesel for Wolverine: Origins. Saladino quickly hired Jackman a chef, assigned him nap times, then planned out workouts. “We had nine months to pack on as much lean mass as possible,” he says. “We had to put in work both in and out of the gym.” He’s honed his training philosophies ever since then, and increasingly shares them with his followers on Instagram. And if you follow these tips, he’ll help you get seriously swole too.
If you want to look like Wolverine, train like Wolverine (which is also one of the first things Saladino told Jackman). That means doing more than “toning up.” Lift your heaviest and push the bounds of your strength. “People overlook pure strength,” says Saladino. “Clients sometimes tell me, ‘I don’t want to get bigger.’ But I still want you to get strong.”
Saladino’s advice: Once a week, on a major exercise like a squat or deadlift or bench press, do your warmup sets. Then do 3 sets of 3 reps each. “Just getting under that load and feeling that load once a week is enough,” he says. “And your heart rate will rise more than you think.”
Want abs? No, you don’t need to train them for an hour daily. Just create “tension” throughout your entire body on every single exercise, from biceps curls to pullups to squats. “On every exercise you do, are you really focusing on creating tension? You should,” says Saladino.
How? Aim to have perfect posture, tightening your abs, glutes, and shoulder blades on every move. You may struggle to do this at first, but Saladino has an easy fix: “A great tip on any move is to envision somebody is trying to knock you over,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll have people get in position for a squat, then I’ll try to gently push them this way and that. You always want tension.”
Get Carried Away
You may run and jump for cardio, but have you ever just…walked with heavy weights? If not, it’s time to do the loaded carry, one of Saladino’s favorite exercises and a move that’s in nearly every single workout for his superhero clientele.
Pick up a pair of heavy kettlebells or dumbbells and walk 25 feet, then walk back. That’s 1 set; aim to do 2 to 3 sets at the end of all workouts. “This is going to clean up your posture, and it’ll really burn strength into your core,” Saladino says. “And it’s another way to get you moving with heavy weights.”
There are endless variations of carries, which can keep this from getting boring. Try holding the weights at your shoulders, or even carrying a weight overhead and the other carrying the weight at your side.
Find Your Best Squat
Saladino’s workout programs almost always include squats and deadlifts, because both exercises promote whole-body muscle growth. But that doesn’t mean you always need to do the heavy back squats and barbell deadlifts that most guys at your gym do. Saladino built client Sebastian Stan into a Marvel star without having him do any back squats at all.
“My first session with Seb, I started having him do a lot of goblet squats,” Saladino says. “Everyone thinks you have to put the bar on your back. You don’t. But you do have to train legs.”
Start with the goblet squat: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest, feet about shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward. Bend at the knees and hips, lowering your torso until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Pause, then stand back up; that’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 at least twice a week.
Leave The Gym Feeling Great
Yes, to see the better-body results you want, you need to push yourself hard in the gym. But you don’t need to leave every workout feeling beaten down and exhausted. “That’s not going to get you muscle,” says Saladino. “Anyone can make you puke. You need to leave here feeling better than when you came in, mentally and physically.”
Running on three hours of sleep? Get your workout in, but dial back the intensity. That’s exactly what Saladino did when Billy Crudup showed up at Drive off a red-eye flight and proclaimed that he felt “like shit.” Saladino’s fix: 20 minutes of breathing drills for Crudup, followed by single-arm bench presses and rows. “You won’t be able to go as heavy on unilateral stuff,” says Saladino, “so you won’t put as much pressure on yourself to lift heavy.”
You will have a good workout. And in the end, that’s your goal.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health