Becoming a badass super hero is rigorous work. Just ask Zachary Levi, who spent the last 18 months getting ridiculously ripped for Shazam!, the latest entry in the DC Extended Universe. For Levi, exercising with a number of trainers and learning how to adjust to the physicality of the role was challenging, but ultimately fulfilling.
“I'm so grateful. I got paid to get into the best shape of my life,” Levi told Men's Health. “I'm stronger now than I've ever been, and am so invested in my own health and wellness.”
Levi’s intricate stunt and fight choreography rehearsals were the most strenuous he ever experienced for a role. “I really wanted to do as much as they allowed me to—that’s the stuff that's the least normal," he said. "If I do a comedy or drama, I'm typically just reenacting real life; I do that all the time. But what I don’t get to do is superhero life: flying off a building, shooting electricity off my hands, and explosions.”
To build a physique worthy of a silver screen superhero, Levi had an elaborate workout strategy with several trainers. “Everyone had a different warmup. I learned so much from them—it’s been fascinating,” he noted.”Going to the gym not only helps me physically, I feel better emotionally and mentally too.”
Levi started working out 5 or 6 days a week, almost exclusively heavy lifting and heavy eating. Initially, he was working in Los Angeles with a trainer named Grant Roberts. “I was having 3500-4000 calories a day, pushing as much weight as possible for the first couple of months," he said.
The production transferred up to Toronto for four months, where Levi learned stunt and fight rehearsal, working with a trainer named Kyle Ardill of SWAT Health. "I put on 10-11 kilograms in the first two months of working out and I was able to bulk up a good bit," he said. "Still, we needed to carve all that down and make it functional.”
Levi went into a huge functional training phase with SWAT, which consisted of a six-day-a-week routine, alternating heavier and lighter weights, more reps, cardio and hip workouts. He also did German volume training to make the muscles denser and stronger.
The former Chuck star praised the gym's P.T. department, noting that they helped him improve his posture—he has flat feet—and also keep his two "massively torn" shoulder labrums in check. Most importantly, they showed him the way to properly carry himself. "As a tall guy, I've always kinda rolled my shoulders forward, and they were able to help correct that," he said. "That helps the rest of my muscular skeletal system in a much healthier way—and also prevents injury.”
Levi went to New York and was training with Dirk Myers of Dogpound Gym, doing lots of high intensity, functional core and heavy weights, and then worked with Don Saladino, owner of Drive 495 Gym.
The Trainer For The Stars
"With Don, we went even deeper into functional training while still maintaining strength,” Levi said. “We would do some real heavy push/pull days, a lot of work with kettle bells, and Turkish get-ups. He was super into the jump, throw, carry workout.
“My vision for Zach was to develop a superhero-looking physique—a body that looks and feels strong and that can perform," Saladino added. "He's tall, with a great frame, which makes him so fun to work with.”
At that point, Levi had carved down to 97 kilograms, and Saladino was focused on “strength, body composition, and mobility” for the actor.
“Zach’s meals combined a protein, carbohydrate, and veggie with every meal," he said. "Depending on how fatty the protein was, we would mix in a healthy fat as well. He was very regimented with this, while packing meals, etc. for travel.”
Saladino detailed Levi’s workout breakdown: “Day 1, full body power, Day 2, shoulders and arms hypertrophy, Day 3, mobility and steady state cardio, (Recovery day), Day 4 lower body strength and hypertrophy, Day 5, chest, back (upper push pull) strength and hypertrophy, Day 6, suit-up day: A miscellaneous day of carries and accessory work.”
Levi is still maintaining his healthy regimen, eating healthy—protein and vegetables—with a few carbs. “My energy levels are much better when I can eat clean, though I do love thin crust New York pepperoni and pineapple pizza. It’s everything I want in my mouth!”
Levi The Entrepreneur
Levi found the health and fitness world so interesting that he started his own plant-based protein and pre-workout supplements company, Flow Supplements. “I want to help encourage and inspire people to be their healthiest, strongest self," he said.
“The older I have gotten, the more I have come to understand myself," he continued. "I think genuinely what drives me the most is when I see something that I think could and should be better. I wanted products that were more healthy for me and I think consumers want that too.”
After Hours Fun
By now if you have seen Shazam! you know there’s a whole set of characters that get introduced toward the end of the movie, one of which is played by actress Meagan Good.
When filming the movie in Toronto, Levi would occasionally go out to local restaurants or clubs for a little bit of recreation. “Very few people would recognise me, as I was very clean shaven and much larger than I had ever been in my life, wearing a baseball hat and a hoodie," he recalled, noting that Good was actually the most recognisable of their bunch. "All eyes were on her wherever we would go. A couple of times, I would get these dudes sidle up to me, scoping out our little group, and say, Yo man, how long have you been working security for Meagan?’
He was thrilled when that would happen—maybe, just maybe, his hard work in the gym was really paying off. "Holy shit, this workout I’m doing is really looking good," he remembers thinking. "These guys think I'm her heavy!’”
A Supersuit-Sized Mystery
While the Shazam! suit makes Levi look even more yolked, it was far from the most comfortable piece of clothing he's put on.
“It was super tight," he said. "I had to become one with the suit very early on—like, OK, we're in this together—and it was quite difficult to go to the bathroom in. But all of that was a small price to pay in being a superhero,” he said with a laugh.
Levi hopes that if there's a Shazam! sequel, he can go back to the designer to have them adjust the garment to be more comfortable.
Back when the film was in the middle of production, there were several fans online who, after checking out Levi’s abs, questioned their legitimacy.
“The silliest thing about it was that it was even a question,” Levi said. “Anyone who understands anything about muscles understands those aren’t all completely natural. There’s augmentation to my supersuit, and almost every supersuit that I know of."
There are a lot of insanely ripped superheroes out there, between Thor, Aquaman, Captain America—the list goes on and on. But Levi doesn't see how any of it could be 100% without the help of a little bit of movie magic. "It’s not even physically possible to be in that kind of [superhero] shape," he added. "At least not for me.”
He added that he laughed when he heard people say I bet there’s some padding there.
“Like, no shit! That’s like saying I bet there's sugar in Coca Cola," Levi said. "What are we even talking about?!”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US