How to Get Action Star Fit With This Crazy ’80s Workout Trend
In “Rocky IV,” Sylvester Stallone’s character trained with rudimentary exercise equipment while Drago — his invincible, intimidating opponent — trained with state-of-the-art machines. One of these machines was the VersaClimber, a thin, self-powered vertical climbing tower.
It was huge in the ’80s. And now celebrity trainer Jason Walsh is helping it make a comeback.
He’s designed custom fitness programs for “Blade Trinity” star Jessica Biel and recently Matt Damon for the Jason Bourne series. “Each action role is different,” Walsh says. “I avoid cookie-cutter programs. Some roles may require hand-to-hand combat, while others need boxing training or endurance.”
When dreaming up a new cardio workout for his action-star clients, Walsh recalled decades ago when actors’ fitness alone could turn them into superstars.
“I chose the VersaClimber as part of Matt’s training because of its safety and versatility,” he says. “All classes use full-body motions, recruiting major muscle groups at one time. We do crawling and running movement patterns that help counter all the sitting many of us do all day.”
Get ready for an intense, full-body workout.
Sculpting an Action-Star Physique
The movie-loving public has a very specific mental image of what action stars look like, and we can credit Bruce Lee with starting this high standard. But what many people like after watching these flicks is being able to feel and look as powerful as Matt Damon or Jessica Biel’s characters.
So Walsh lays out the training priorities to his clients. “Before getting Matt’s body lean, his routine is all about becoming resilient and moving well.” And what works for Matt Damon can work for many people.
The VersaClimber provides a cardio-conditioning experience and high-intensity workout that produces just enough stress on the body to build muscle and bone density, says Walsh. But these fitness climbing classes are low-impact.
So how can people benefit? “You’re fighting gravity,” says Walsh. “And you can adjust resistance or stroke length, so you’re getting good stress without hitting a hard surface.” And even though the VersaClimber is a cardio workout, it still provides full-body resistance. You use your legs, arms, shoulders and back to climb, Walsh says.
“We use the VersaClimber with intervals: Do 30 seconds, 45 seconds, one minute or go for feet. Climb 100 feet or 200 feet, and then get down on the floor and do exercises for a cross-training effect.” (See below for Walsh’s strength-training workout.)
Walsh insists cardio conditioning is only one component of unleashing your inner action hero. Adding strength training builds lean muscle that fitness climbing helps reveal by burning a ton of calories. “I recommend a foundation of three days of strength training, three days of cardio conditioning and a day of recreational stuff like biking or rest — whatever you like,” he says.
Nutrition also plays a huge role. As filming neared for Damon, Walsh calibrated the protein, fat and carbs ratio of Damon’s diet to reduce his body-fat percentage to the degree that audiences can clearly see the results on screen — rippling abs, powerful legs and defined back muscles.
Make This Workout Your Own
Walsh’s L.A. studio — Rise Nation — could be Superman’s fortress. And it’s where today’s butt-kicking stars are made. It’s intense.
But Walsh also created fun classes for beginners, who can progress at their own pace. “Smaller strokes [steps] and slower pace to build up to longer strokes, which is more demanding.” Walsh says. “Then level 3 is your action star-level conditioning.”
“But you could further reduce intensity and grab the lower rails that don’t slide to hold on to and use only your legs,” Walsh says. “Even with this adjustment, you’re not always standing as you climb. We want to drop the hips back and down in a quarter-squat position with a stepping motion.”
If you can’t make it to class, Walsh suggests running stadium steps or tall apartment building stairs, performing spider crawls or stepping on a stair climber without leaning your weight on the rails.
Young Hollywood sees Rise Nation’s fitness climbing class as their ascent into action-hero superstardom. Walsh loves this. Even more, he loves that fitness climbing helps people transform themselves into icons of sculpted resilience. With this peak conditioning, no mountain could be high enough to keep them from feeling and performing at their best.
Walsh’s Action-Star Workout
Ready to get action-star ripped? Here’s a workout from Walsh that mixes cardio and strength training:
Do five sets of six reps for each of the exercises below. But do the sled push for 30 to 45 seconds. Use a heavier weight, since you’ll only be doing six reps of each. Finish with 20 minutes on the VersaClimber (or a stair climber).
- Bulgarian split squat
- Hip thrust
- Sled push
- Front squat
Based in Toronto, Monique Savin has been a journalist since 2005. As a columnist and multimedia producer, she has worked with national newspapers such as "The Globe and Mail" and various magazines.