Here’s How to Train Like a Superhero

You don't need superpowers to do super things in and out of the gym.

Strength sports aren’t easy. Training for powerlifting, strongman, weightlifting, CrossFit, or bodybuilding is all tough. So why do any of it? Many athletes might tell you they started training because they wanted to be more. They believed there was something to reach for. Strength athletes are often in search of the person they want to become.

If that sounds like your basic superhero origin story to you, you’re not wrong. Many strength athletes are fascinated by non-powered superheroes — think Melinda Qiaolian “The Cavalry” May, Black Widow, or Batman. These heroes are physically (and psychologically) ready for everything.

A person with braids stands with dumbbells in their hands with yellow mist surrounding them.
Credit: Mike Orlov / Shutterstock

But they didn’t get there overnight. There’s a whole lot of training that goes into becoming Batwoman or Mockingbird. Training as the every-person, a superhero without literal superhuman strength needs to build comprehensive physical readiness rather than concentrating on a specific type of fitness

Sure, you can specialize your skills — archery, anyone? — but you need a broad base of overall athleticism and strength first. Which means you need a solid strategy. You’ll find everything you need to train like your favorite superhero here.

How to Train Like a Superhero

Superhero training is like training to be a well-rounded multi-sport athlete — almost CrossFit-esque in nature. Training to be a superhero is about being physically prepared for anything, building and maintaining a broad range of physical abilities, and cultivating inner tenacity.

Here are the things you need to incorporate into your training to be a well-rounded superhero:

General Physical Preparedness

Sure, many of the non-powered comic book heroes pull off some pretty super feats that border on impossible. Even so, they still represent a powerful standard as to what someone in peak physical condition can achieve, given enough resources, time, and space to devote to their training.

Ask any serious parkour athlete — running on rooftops is a pretty specific skill that would need to be practiced at length and in isolation. But that’s not where you start. First, you’ll build general qualities like speed, power, strength, mobility, and agility — i.e., general physical preparedness. Then, you can channel this general ability to build a specific skill.

How to Improve General Physical Preparedness

If you want to boost your overall fitness, you’re going to have to do a little bit of everything. From work with barbells and sandbags to heavy loaded carries and seemingly endless pull-ups, general physical preparedness means you can run for miles and pick up those heavy loads.

This means you might dabble in a little bit of everything — weightlifting for hoisting those heavy barbells, strongman for the uncanny ability to heft ungainly objects, and CrossFit for the nearly superhuman conditioning and endurance to survive WOD after WOD (workout of the day).

More on General Physical Preparedness

If you’re not sure where to get started on your overall fitness journey, these articles have got you covered.

Mental Focus, Recovery, and Resilience

If you really want to get on Batwoman’s level, you’ve got to be willing to push your own mental limits and train past what you previously thought possible. Train hard and focus on each training session as completely as you can. 

Your capacity for intense focus dramatically improves how well and how quickly you learn whatever skills you’re aiming for. Respect your body’s need for recovery, but try pushing yourself a little bit more than normal in each session — that way, your mental toughness will improve a lot over time.

How to Improve Mental Focus, Recovery, and Resilience

As a superhero, you’re not just picking up heavy things and putting them back down again. You’ve got to control your breathing and nerves — how else will you calmly have a witty exchange with your nemesis amidst all that fighting? — and get a handle on your stress management.

Incorporate meditation and breathing exercises into your daily training routine to help hone your recovery. Breathing exercises can also help improve physical performance and help steady your mental and physiological state.

You’ll also benefit from strengthening your commitment to recovery beyond your usual warm-ups and cool-downs (which you’ll want to do in spades). If you’re able and willing, this might mean regular, intentional exposure to extreme cold, hot, and other physical stresses. Incorporating cold plunges and saunas into your recovery routine can help your body get adapted to all kinds of challenges — while also helping you recover. (1)

More on Mental Focus, Recovery, and Resilience

It’s not enough to go through the motions of your workout. Instead, check out these resources to start honing your focus and cultivating mental toughness on and off the platform.

Combat-Style Training

It’s difficult to discuss superhero training without mentioning martial arts or some form of self-defense training. If you want to train like a superhero, barbells aren’t going to be enough. You’ve also got to be conflict ready. This isn’t just about actually fighting — the best superheroes often only fight when they’ve got no other choice.

There’s a whole host of benefits that come along with martial arts and self-defense training. Martial arts build situational awareness, which ties back to cognitive performance and mental focus. It also improves muscular endurance, conditioning, rotational power, and coordination. These will all serve you well on and off the platform.

How to Improve Combat-Style Training

Even after a few rounds of punching a bag, you can feel your shoulders, arms, back, and abs fatigue while you fight to control your breath. Training kickboxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, or giving mixed martial arts a go will train most of the base superhero attributes. You’ll notice yourself moving with more ease, endurance, and full-body coordination.

More on Combat-Style Training

Even if you’re typically more into powerlifting than taking swings at heavy bags, you might benefit from dabbling in combat-style training. Here’s how to get started.

Conditioning and Work Capacity

Arguably the most important quality in being prepared like a superhero is endurance to sustain prolonged and highly stressful activities. Most would get tired after just a couple of minutes of chasing the bad guys, much less having the stamina to fight them after and then carry hostages to safety. 

Even if you can easily run 10 laps around a track, it requires other conditioning capacities to fight, explosively scale walls, and carry a person over your shoulder down a flight of stairs. You need to separately train aerobic, lactic, and alactic capacities to have them work collectively and efficiently when needed. 

  • Better aerobic capacity means that you could run for miles or jog along city rooftops for hours. A good aerobic system means you can train longer without tiring and better because you can recover faster. (2)
  • A trained lactic system means you can produce and maintain more power, or energetic effort for longer periods of time with incomplete rest. This allows you to do sprint repeats on the air bike or repeatedly sprint and jump over high obstacles
  • Alactic capacity is the ability to continually repeat and endure explosive efforts like max jumps, high-speed short sprints, hard throws, and quick takedowns.

Put all these together, and you’ll be a well-conditioned superhero who’s ready for the short sprint battles against the bad guys’ lieutenants and the marathon wars against the big bads.

How to Improve Conditioning and Work Capacity

Uneven, offset-loaded tools like kettlebells, sandbags, clubs, and maces are great for improving your conditioning. You could keep repeating 30 to 45-second intervals with 20 to 30 seconds rest between them for upwards of 15 or 20 minutes. This would directly train lactic capacity all the while training coordination, momentum redirection, and isometric grip strength

High-intensity intervals are another great way to increase aerobic capacity. With this method, you would alternate an aerobically demanding activity with a low-level bodyweight exercise for 20 to 60 total minutes. An example would be riding a stationary bike for 45 seconds at a 70-percent effort, hopping off, resting for 15 seconds, and then doing push-ups or sit-ups for 45 seconds. Rest for another 15 seconds and repeat.

Replacing the bike with heavy sled pushes or drags, farmer’s walks, or sandbag carries is a great alternative as long as you’re using a manageable load. Aim to keep your effort at 70 percent intensity to keep the focus on aerobic training. This will then not only build a huge aerobic capacity, but also train local muscular endurance and work capacity, coordination, isometric strength, the durability of connective tissue, and even bone density.

More on Conditioning and Work Capacity

Strength athletes don’t always give cardio training its fair shake. These resources will help you figure out how to train concurrently to accomplish all your goals.

Power and Speed

Endurance and strength are important to superheroes. But running a slow and steady 10k isn’t generally on the superhero to-do list. You’ll also need to quickly exert a lot of force. Superhero training has to include upper and lower body plyometrics, jumps, throws, and sprints

Without this type of power and speed training, you can’t jump high, hit hard, or flip over someone. You know, a superhero’s average Tuesday.

How to Improve Power and Speed

There are bound to be some superheroes out there with backgrounds in weightlifting. Barbell lifts like the snatch and clean & jerk require a whole lot of power, speed, and precision. Training in weightlifting is a solid option for superhero training.

Weirdly-shaped and off-balance objects like sandbags, kettlebells, maces, and clubs are also great for repeating quick, explosive efforts. This could be done by doing a forceful kettlebell swing, sandbag hold, jump squat, or push press. Work for three to six seconds, rest for 10 to 20 seconds, and repeat for six to eight sets.

More on Power and Speed

Sometimes, to speed up, you have to slow down. In these articles, you’ll learn exactly how to work with speed training to improve your power and reactivity.

Total-Body Strength 

Superhero training means improving total muscular endurance and isometric (static strength) at every angle so you can pull, push, and move your body repeatedly without exhausting. Bodyweight exercise is often best for this. Build toward trying to do 30 unbroken pull-ups, 100 push-ups, and handstand holds. 

But superhero training isn’t all about bodyweight training. It also means becoming capable of picking up and moving something impossibly heavy. Because, you know, sometimes buildings fall on you.

How to Improve Total Body Strength

Learning to manipulate your own body weight is certainly an enormous part of being a superhero. It doesn’t matter what you can bench press if you can’t hoist yourself up into the air ducts for a last-minute escape. But you also want to develop a raw type of strength that can help you lift a car off an injured comrade. 

You can add reps and complexity to bodyweight exercises and still won’t ultimately build this type of strength. Instead, you need to deal with an external load that is as heavy as you can manage — free weight training. 

Olympic lifts, heavy loaded carries, and barbell complexes will come in handy here. It doesn’t have to be only a barbell, though. You can also incorporate heavy external resistance like sandbags or kettlebells to build that raw strength.

More on Total Body Strength

You probably started lifting to get stronger than you were before you began. No matter where you are on that journey, it’s always good to keep abreast of how to get even stronger.

Mobility, Stability, and Durability

Superheroes get hurt sometimes. It’s not exactly the safest profession. Training, though, should never be the reason for an injury. It should about preventing it. You can’t afford to cramp up mide-battle.

You need to train for full structural stability, durability, and mobility to keep from creating disparities that could lead to injury in training — or worse, in battle. With great active mobility, you can pull your legs high to kick or get your feet up on the building — or really high plyo box in the gym — you’re jumping up to. 

Stability keeps you balanced and resistant to forces acting on you. Mobility keeps you limber enough to promote safer entry into deep, full ranges of motion. Combined, these will make you a much more durable athlete and superhero.

How to Improve Mobility, Stability, and Durability

Practicing even basic gymnastics skills like forward rolls and bridges builds body control like nothing else. Practicing the regressions of many more complicated acrobatic movements also builds a surplus of mobility and stability. For example, back bridges need to be practiced before you can attempt a back handspring. There’s not much you aren’t stretching and also stabilizing when you are holding a back bridge. 

Static holds like L-sits and handstands are going to also build durability in the connective tissue and isometric straight arm strength. 

More difficult hand balance holds as you’d see in yoga — such as tripods, headstands, or planche progressions — can also be extra helpful here. The more complex and demanding the skill, the more sensory input is involved and the better your brain coordinates with your body

More on Mobility, Stability, and Durability

It might seem counterintuitive, but certain physical practices (like yoga) allow you to become more mobile and more stable at the same time. Dive into the dual benefits of this type of training here.

Kinesthetic Awareness and Balance

You’re strong enough to pull yourself and your sidekick back up onto the roof after dangling for minutes on end. You’ve got enough endurance to run as hard and far as you need to get to where the next bank robbery is going down. And then… you trip and fall dodging the errant garbage can left out on the curb.

You need to train for enhanced coordination, balance, kinesthetic awareness, agility, and dexterity. This agility-style training is what enhances the connection between cognitive and physical function and improves the baseline of both independently. 

How to Improve Kinesthetic Awareness and Balance

Crawling movements like the bear crawl and learning gymnastic movements like the muscle-up and kipping pull-up can seriously boost your balance and kinesthetic awareness. Rotational, lateral, and explosive movements performed with objects like kettlebells also help build this up. The demand and angle from which your body needs to re-stabilize from every changing rep improves coordination and stability at every angle.

More on Kinesthetic Awareness and Balance

It can be hard to balance all that barbell work with kinesthetic awareness, especially if you’re focused on slow lifts instead of dynamic weightlifting moves. Check out these articles to help hone your body intelligence like a superhero.

How to Program Superhero Training 

Even with all the overlapping benefits of these methods, you may find it difficult to maintain focus and energy with so many different facets of training. You need to leverage your time and physical resources to keep from burnout. Here’s how to program the most effective superhero training.

Multiple Training Sessions

Instead of traditional hour or more long workouts where you train a host of attributes, you could try a two-a-day training schedule (or more). This means you’d have a couple of different types of training spaced out throughout the day. Each segment of training would be kept under 30 minutes and have its own acute focus. 

You could practice gymnastics skill training for 10 minutes in the morning, train strength in the afternoon for 15 to 20 minutes with heavy barbell squats, and work lactic conditioning with eight rounds of kettlebell swings in the evening. If you only give yourself one type of stress to deal with at a time, you have more resources available to build that skill and recover from it. 

Supersets

Timed movement pairings — where you perform certain movements back-to-back for a specific number of reps or time — is one form of supersetting. This is a great way to manage recovery from so many types of stress. It’s especially good for training strength in multiple compound movements without doing back-to-back heavy days. 

Choose one lower and one upper body main compound movement and continuously alternate between moves in a fixed number of reps for a planned amount of time. You might alternate between a back squat and a push press for eight minutes

You could decide to do between two and four reps for each lift at a weight that represented 80 to 90 percent of your one-rep max. You’d rest as needed between them and complete as many quality rounds as possible in that time. 

Plan Ahead

Yes, you’ll be training a lot — but that doesn’t mean you won’t train strategically. Plan your superhero workout program weeks and even months in advance, splitting it into different phases, or microcycles. In each phase, you’ll focus on a different element of training. For example:

  1. Phase one could be explosive power, general work capacity, and aerobic conditioning
  2. Phase two could focus on barbell training, isometric strength, and alactic conditioning. 
  3. Phase three could focus on muscular endurance, durability, and lactic conditioning. 

Depending on your current fitness level and goals, each phase can last between four and eight weeks. You can make these phases as specific as you want if there is a certain skill you’re really looking to acquire. Just make sure you’re progressing gradually, mastering each skill and strength level comfortably before moving on to the next challenge.

Sample Superhero Training Programs 

Let’s look at some examples of what a training program would look like for some non-powered superheroes. All of these focus on building all of the base attributes discussed above. But superheroes aren’t all the same. They’ve all got their specific strengths and skills. Here’s how to train just like them.

Note: The examples below are extreme, and not everyone will be able to — or should — complete them in their entirety. These programs are meant to A) be a fun exercise into programming for fictional heroes, and B) provide you a framework to work with. You’ll notice that while each day contains up to three training sessions, they are short and focused. 

As with any training program, you can customize these workouts to suit your experience level and needs. Pick one session per day to focus on, or modify any of the movements as needed.

Shuri (AKA Aja-Adanna) 

Shuri is an engineer extraordinaire, the leader of Wakanda’s scientific division, and the sister of T’Challa — the Black Panther. In her big brother’s absence, she’s also worn the mantle of the Black Panther. 

While she did receive superhuman levels of speed, strength, and agility from this, she earned that title after she had already trained to operate at the peak of human abilities and had fought as a non-powered superhero. 

How to Train like Shuri

Along with reaching the peak of human strength, agility, speed, and kinesthetic awareness, Shuri stands out for having incredible levels of stamina, lung capacity, and durability. So, her training will focus on honing these incredible abilities. 

Days One & Three: Morning

Five to 10 minutes of:

  • Lizard Crawl
  • Crab Reach
  • Underswitch

Five minutes of:

  • Breathing Capacity Practice

Five minutes of:

  • Pranayama Breathing

Days One & Three: Afternoon

8-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible):

6-minute AMRAP:

Three sets: 

  • Kettlebell, Dumbbell, OR Barbell Floor Press: @10-RM weight
    • Set One: 2-3 reps short of failure 
    • Set Two: 1-2 reps short of failure 
    • Set Three: to complete failure
  • Weighted Push-Up: 20-second AMRAP
  • Bodyweight Push-Up: 3 sets to failure

Days One & Three: Evening 

20 to 40 minutes:

  • Live Sparring: 60-seconds
  • Rest: 15 seconds
  • Alternating One-Arm Pull-Up: 45 seconds
  • L-Sit Hold: 45 seconds
  • One-Arm Push-Up: 45 seconds
  • Side Split Hold: 45 seconds
  • Repeat circuit as many times as possible during workout

Days Two & Four: Morning 

10-minute AMRAP

Two sets

  • Suitcase Deadlift: 8 (left hand)
  • Suitcase Carry: 30 yards (left hand)
  • Suitcase Deadlift: 8 (right hand)
  • Suitcase Carry: 30 yards (right hand)

Two sets:

Days Two & Four: Early Evening 

Two sets:

Four rounds: 

  • Yoke Walk OR Uphill Stone Carry: 50 seconds on, 20 seconds off

Conditioning:

  • Heavy Ruck at Steep Incline: 1 mile
  • Trail Run: 2 miles

Days Two & Four: Late Evening 

  • Sauna: 5 minutes
  • Cold Plunge: 3 minutes 
  • Sauna: 10-15 minutes 
  • Cold Plunge: 5-8 minutes 

Don’t forget to make modifications wherever you need to. If you can’t quite do the elusive one-arm push-up, substitute archer push-ups or just standard push-ups instead. Without a sauna in your grasp, you can mimic a sauna to give yourself similar results.

Cassandra Cain (AKA Black Bat, Orphan)

Cassandra Cain, the fourth person to ascend to the mantle of Batgirl, is also the daughter of two of the world’s most dangerous assassins. Trained from birth to be everything the League of Assassins could ever dream of, Cain chose a different path for herself instead.

She left to join Batman and all his proteges in Gotham City. Cain was trained from early childhood to read body language to the extreme, giving her exceptional ability to anticipate attacks from opponents. 

How to Train Like Cassandra Cain

Cain’s combat style is based on quick, repeated strikes and reading the potential attacks of opponents. Therefore, her workouts focus a lot on explosivity and agility, as well as improving her senses to support her physical intuition.

Days One & Three: Morning

  • Shadow Boxing: 5 rounds (3 minutes per round)
  • Handstand Hold: 30 seconds

Days One & Three: Afternoon

  • Single-Leg Bound Over Hurdle: 4 x 3 per side
  • Depth Drop Into Broad Jump: 4 x 3
  • Depth Plyometric Push-Up: 4 x 3
  • Inverted Row: 4 x 4

3 sets:

  • Heavy Rotational Kettlebell Swing: 4 per side

8-minutes AMRAP 

  • One-Arm Kettlebell Clean & Jerk: 5
  • Sandbag OR Medicine Ball Squat Clean: 5 

Days One & Three: Evening 

Two rounds:

40 seconds on, 20 seconds off: 

  • Kettlebell Squat Swing
  • Rotational Medicine Ball Slam
  • Sled Drag Sprint 
  • Alternating Kettlebell Swing

Conditioning:

  • Heavy Ruck: 1 to 2 miles
  • Weapons Sparring: 3 rounds (3 minutes per round)

Days Two & Four: Morning 

  • Meditation: 10 minutes
  • Breathing Capacity Practice: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Single-Leg Balance Drills on Balance Beam (Eyes Closed): 10 minutes 

Days Two & Four: Afternoon 

  • Gymnastics Practice: 10 to 15 minutes 

4 sets

  • Deadlift: 85-90% of 1-RM 
    • Perform 2 reps, rest 15 seconds
    • Perform 2 more reps, rest 15 seconds
    • Perform 2 more reps
  • Rest 60 seconds, then repeat 

4 sets

  • Push Press: 80-90% of 1-RM 
    • Perform 3 reps, rest 15 seconds
    • Perform 3 more reps, rest 15 seconds
    • Perform 3 more reps
  • Rest 60 seconds, then repeat 

AMRAP:

  • 50 Ring Dips 
  • 50 Kicks Against Heavy Bag 
  • 50 Bodyweight Curls 
  • 50 Hanging Leg Raises
  • 50 Push-Ups 
  • 50 Elbows Against Heavy Bag 
  • 50 Jumping Split Squats 
  • 50-yard Sled Pull 

Days Two & Four: Evening

  • Bouldering and Rope Climbing: 10-20 mins
  • Hitting Thai Pads: 3 rounds (3 minutes per round)
  • Live Sparring: 5 rounds (3 minutes per round)

Again, make sure you’re modifying the workouts and exercises when you need to. If ring dips are out of your depth right now, opt for regular bar dips or even bench dips. If 50 reps per move are too much during your afternoon sessions, shave your rep range way down.

Daredevil

Lots of superheroes encounter something radioactive that sets off their journey with powers. For Daredevil, it was a radioactive material splashed into his eyes by a truck when he was a child. In addition to blinding him, this incident gave him superhuman senses in terms of touch, hearing, and smell. 

But not all of his powers came from radioactivity. In most of the comic representations of Daredevil, his physical traits like speed, strength, and agility were something he himself trained to the limits of non-powered human capabilities.

How to Train Like Daredevil

Daredevil’s program would feature power, speed, strength, and agility. But he would also work to maximize his already incredible proprioceptive abilities, along with specific training for autonomic function. He’s said to be able to control blood flow and temperature and to function without breathing. 

With his day job as a lawyer, he’d also need to consolidate his training — which is great, because it means you can, too.

Days One & Three: Morning 

Five to 10 minutes of:

  • Lizard Crawl
  • Crab Reach
  • Underswitch

Five minutes of:

  • Breathing Capacity Practice

AMRAP:

  • Max Push-Up reps in one breath

2-minute rounds of:

  • Heavy Bag Strikes: 3-5 rounds

Days One & Three: Evening

8-minute AMRAP

  • Jefferson Deadlift: 1-3 reps @ 80-85% of 1-RM
  • Barbell Bench Press OR Floor Press: 6 reps @70-80% of 1-RM 

Three sets:

  • Heavy Rotational Sandbag Swing: 6 per side
  • Rest: 15 seconds
  • Lateral Rebound Box Jump: 3 per side

Three Sets:

  • Sled Pull OR Push: 10 seconds
  • Run: 45 seconds
  • Grappling Drill: 5 minutes 

Days Two & Four: Morning

Listen:

  • Quickly memorize a randomized list of 10 to 20 commands, including specific striking combinations, bodyweight exercises, and weapons strike techniques.

Four rounds:

  • Max Height Box Jump: 3
  • Yoga Flow: 1-2 minutes 
  • Max Depth Jump: 3 
  • Yoga Flow: 1- 2 minutes 
  • Free Running Vault Over Box: 6

Recall:

  • Recall the list of commands from Listen and perform them all in the correct order.

Days Two & Four: Evening 

10-minute AMRAP

  • Barbell Squat: 3 reps @ 80-90% of 1-RM
  • Push-Press: 5 reps @75-85% of 1-RM

Three sets:

  • Renegade Row: AMRAP in 20 seconds
  • Inverted Bodyweight Row: AMRAP in 20 seconds

Alternate Option One and Two every other week:

Option 1:

  • Full Sparring OR Heavy Bag OR Dummy Work: 10 rounds 
  • Sauna: 10-20 minutes

Option 2:

  • Run: 3-5 miles @ changing elevations
  • Flipping Practice: 5 minutes
  • Tennis Ball Reaction Drills: 2 minutes 
  • Live Sparring: 3 rounds (3 minutes per round)

Even if you’re accustomed to the strength aspects of this program, running three to five miles or sustaining long sparring sessions might not be in your wheelhouse. Scale each workout as needed to make it accessible for you.

Train Like a Legend

Training to be a superhero may seem as impossible as surviving a massive exposure to gamma radiation. But really, it can be whittled down to simple principles to follow. Build a base of general physical preparedness and build everything on top of that. Train like legends to help you feel like a legend — because being a superhero is really all about becoming your best self.

References

  1. Morton RH. Contrast water immersion hastens plasma lactate decrease after intense anaerobic exercise. J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Dec;10(6):467-70.
  2. Bassi D, Mendes RG, Arakelian VM, Caruso FC, Cabiddu R, Júnior JC, Arena R, Borghi-Silva A. Potential Effects on Cardiorespiratory and Metabolic Status After a Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training Program in Diabetes Patients – a Randomized Controlled Trial. Sports Med Open. 2016 Aug 11;2:31.

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