By Samantha Yardley
Top Gun: Maverick Superstar Personal Trainer Discusses the Methodology Behind Getting Glen ‘Hangman’ Powell Topless Scene Ready
He honed A-list physiques before making the move from PT to CEO. When the opportunity presented itself, a project of epic proportions lured him back into counting reps at the gym. We need say no more than: “I feel the need, the need for speed.”
You’re a busy CEO. What made you step out of the boardroom and back onto the gym floor to train Glen?
Very, simple. Someone else was going to train Glen but was away for a couple of weeks. So, I said I would do it. We only had about seven weeks to get ready for the shirtless scene.
“Was it a buzz to help prepare someone for such an iconic movie with an iconic cast? Yeah, of course it was.”
Have you seen the original film?
I’ve seen it. Look, I’m 49. So, the movie came out when I was 13 or 14 years of age. I must have watched Top Gun six or seven times probably as a teenage boy. Was it a buzz to help prepare someone for such an iconic movie with an iconic cast? Yeah, of course it was.
What brief did Glen give you?
Just look as good as possible; get lean, look dry, and just look impressive. Pow. Wow.
You’ve got to have the raw material to start with, and Glen already had a solid base. He’s naturally athletic, and consistently exercised already. Everyone always says this about the celebrity that they train: “Oh, he works so hard. He’s such a great guy, blah, blah, blah.” So, I feel a bit reluctant to just follow the usual party line, but genuinely, it was a pleasure to train him. It was a marriage made in heaven.
When Glen is in shape, and sweats a little bit, the top will come off in the gym when he’s feeling confident. And to get him going, I’ll give him a little slap, not necessarily a slap around the face! We got to a point where he would be like: “Slap me, slap me” and he’d get my big paw print marks on his back. He was consenting adult though!
” “What would Tom Cruise do?” Tom Cruise is all in.”
It’s not about punishing or hurting someone, it’s: “Wake up!” Life is not a rehearsal. Glen’s not the guy to cop out on an exercise, but if he was backing up on something or when the going got tough, we’d say “what would Tom Cruise do?” Tom Cruise is all in. For 40 years, Tom’s been at the top of his game. No one else has that level of longevity.
“It’s all-out war every single time.”
When you see the videos of Glen training, it might look like it’s hammed up for the cameras, but it’s not. It’s all-out war every single time. That’s what he enjoys, and that works for me, especially because that’s the kind of training that I enjoy doing myself. What I did with Glen is not necessarily what I would want to do with everyone. So, it was about picking what was appropriate for Glen and then just going for it, full bore.
How did you compile Glen’s program?
I always assess someone, look at their movement patterns, and learn their injury history. I need to understand how often they can get to the gym and what else is going on in their life, because, while he was training, Glen was also filming Top Gun. Meetings here, meetings there, learning to fly, going off and shooting scenes, re-shooting…
“What’s going to make him look good? What image do we want him to project?”
Certain scenes that you get ready for, like the topless scene, can get cancelled. They’re shot and then reshot, because an actor’s not necessarily in shape and it needs redoing. So, it’s fits and starts, but really what you’re looking for with someone like Glen, and a movie like that, is what is going to pop the most on screen.
I analysed: “What’s going to make him look good? What image do we want him to project?” So, the poses, stances, and positions he looks his best in. Then, practice those, because that’s what you see in the movie.
The shot of him you see on the billboards – we practiced that in the mirror. We practiced the angles, what needs tensing, analysed what muscles needed bringing up and what detail we needed to bring out.
What muscle groups did you focus on?
Oh, it’s the mirror muscles. It’s the front. You aren’t trying to create big, massive muscles, you can’t in that amount of time, but you can create detail by getting people leaner and sharper. Certain muscles can be fuller in a relatively short space of time. So, it’s about detail. The eye is drawn to the detail.
“If everything is clearly delineated, sharp, and crisp, the eye is drawn to the detail”
You can have a big man with big slabs of muscle, and then you can have a smaller man still with muscle, but smaller slabs of muscle. But, if everything is clearly delineated, sharp, and crisp, the eye is drawn to the detail. When you see the detail versus the big slab, the detail looks more impressive.
Chest, and rounded shoulders make a big impact. People forget to work their traps, which are very easy to develop, and give a look of strength and power.
You might not be able to get the arms bigger with limited time, but you can concentrate on vascularity, and add little bit more detail to the abs, serratus, intercostals, all that kind of stuff.
Glen’s got good, strong legs, so we didn’t do any kind of bodybuilding-style leg training. We would do some movement-focused and strongman exercises though, like work on the track, pushing a sled, pushing a prowler, and farmer’s walks to help ramp up his metabolism and burn calories.
“The reality is, legs aren’t going to count for the money shot.”
I didn’t want to use the limited amount of exercise time and, critically, the limited amount of recovery time to overtaxing his body and working legs. The reality is, legs aren’t going to count for the money shot, which isn’t his calves, right? The money shot is his face and torso. So, that is what we maximized.
Can you explain Glen’s “money shot” program?
It’s a bodybuilding program with a priority of the abs, and everything around the torso that you see from the front, basically. We followed hypertrophy principles of a few workouts that are heavy, low reps, cycling into higher reps, more volume.
We would pull back down to low volume to overreach. Some people call that overtraining, but that’s more of a long-term thing. Overreaching is short-term, doing a little bit too much volume and then really backing off. Training extraordinarily hard, to failure every time with very low volume, and then cycling through that. That’s what we did in a very short space of time. And it worked.
I’m certain Glen’s bodyweight stayed the same throughout the process, but he got leaner and leaner as it went on. You can do that for five or six weeks, but you can’t do it, week in, week out. If someone is committed, you can make an enormous difference in a very short space of time. Massive!
“Everyone can significantly change their physiques in a month.”
Everyone can significantly change their physiques in a month. You can’t create a world-class physique, but every single person can make massive inroads into how their bodies look in a short space of time, if you’re prepared to commit. How many boxes are you prepared to tick? It’s also about genetics. Are you a fast responder? Are you a slow responder? Glen’s got good genetics as well.
What was that first session like with Glen?
The first workout is the same as you do with any client. You’re testing the limits. I also explained that my time is short, so he’s got to be serious about this.
Each and every set was “okay, how far can we push this guy?” You have to consider, when you push someone very hard, how their form is affected, because a lot of people give up and their exercise form goes. Mentally, Glen didn’t give up at all, but physically I had to drill into him to maintain good form.
“Here is a young man on the cusp of the biggest movie break of his career, going into one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic, boy’s movie of all time.”
How motivated was Glen?
Unbelievably motivated. Here is a young man on the cusp of the biggest movie break of his career, going into one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic, boy’s movie of all time. Starring opposite the biggest male movie star ever. And he’s got a very specific role; to be the cocky, brash, good-looking guy, with an aspirational physique. The guy who takes his top off and… bam. His motivation was sky high.
“Everyone says this, and it’s almost always bullshit, but Glen was just a joy to train.”
The guy is the most upbeat, positive person you’d ever wish to meet. A very smart, switched-on guy, who knows what he wants. Very respectful, grateful, and genuine. Everyone says this, and it’s almost always bullshit, but Glen was just a joy to train. Anyone that saw me working with him in the gym would understand the truth of that statement. Training someone like him is where I come into my own as well.
So, it was genuinely great fun, and I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been. He’s uplifting to be on the gym floor with and uplifting for me to train.
“The magic is rarely in the program. The magic is keeping the program alive on the gym floor.”
What did you do to take Glen’s training to the next level?
The magic is rarely in the program. The magic is keeping the program alive on the gym floor. And that’s about biofeedback, looking at what the client does, how they move, how they lift that day, and the speed and quality of the movement.
The secret sauce is the approach, the culture, the attitude, and the trust. It’s a universal principle. You start with someone new, you don’t know each other, and you feel each other out. In this case, because we had such a very specific goal in a short timeframe, I did everything to fast-track results, but that too, is about trust
Trust to push the limits safely, trust to get everything out of him, trust that when I push the buttons, he’s going to take it the right way. That’s what you have to establish, and we got there very quickly. We were on the same level. We had a shared goal, and we knew what we were trying to achieve.
We’d also do poses while resting between sets. If you’ve got a money shot in a movie, you don’t practice at home by yourself once a week. It becomes like an isometric exercise, the more you practice flexing in a certain way, the more control you’re going to have over your muscles, and the more detail you can bring out. If you’re lean enough, more striations will show through.
A little experiment for anyone to try: if you flex your left quadricep, (and you’re lean enough to have some muscles show), don’t flex the right one, but flex the left one, every single day, spending five minutes flexing the left leg for a month. It’s not going to get bigger or stronger, but I absolutely guarantee you that left leg is going to show more muscular definition than the right leg after a month.
“I’m not lifting the weights for him. I’m not getting him up at 5 am to get to the gym early.”
What would you say to people that say: “Oh, it’s easy for these pampered celebrities to get in shape?”
It is easier for a pampered celebrity to get in shape, but they still have to do the work. I’m not lifting the weights for him. I’m not getting him up at 5 am to get to the gym early and then go off to do flying lessons and film until late in the night, and then do it all again the next day.
I’m not the one preparing his food and feeding him. People always say: “Oh, well, they’ve got the chefs. They’ve got this. They’ve got that.” Tom Cruise has. The Rock has. The rest of them don’t. They are relatively successful people, just like majority of U.P. clients, but they don’t have professional chefs preparing all their food.
“You find that some celebrities don’t put the work in, and that others do.”
They’ve got to sort their food out themselves. They’ve got to get themselves to the gym. They’ve got to do the work themselves. Is it a little bit easier with me in your corner? I would like to think it is. I’d like to think I add some value, but they’ve got to do the work. You find that some celebrities don’t put the work in, and that others do.
There will be a commonality between the people who are really going places in their careers. Those actors and actresses will put more work in with their trainers because it’s part of their job.
“Glen was too busy to micromanage his diet.”
What about Glen’s diet?
There’s nothing special about it. Glen was too busy to micromanage his diet. With some people, I would’ve gone: “Put your diet in the U.P. app. I’m going to track your food and play around with the calories.” With Glen, that wasn’t going to happen. So, it was more: “Let’s talk about the food that you’ve been eating for the last day or two”, while we were warming up for the workout. I’d give guides and pointers and look at his physique four times a week, to check he was on track.
It’s easier to manage the diet of someone when you see absolutely everything that they do because you can tweak the variables more easily. You’ve got more transparency and more control. But, at the end of the day, it’s horses for courses.
If you’re dealing with anyone who’s extremely busy, running around here, there, and everywhere, stressed out of their mind, and chasing their tails, you’re always rushed. Glen was at the mercy of what the director, Tom Cruise, and his agent wanted, so you cut your cloth according to means, with what you do with diet.
Glen was probably eating three or four times a day, with an emphasis on protein. We would control calories more by manipulating carbohydrates over fats. Depending on his opportunity to eat, he might have to eat buffet food onset.
We might decrease the calories with a blanket prescription. An easy way to do that is omit carbs for a day. Glen and I had the right relationship, level of communication, and honesty to mitigate problems and get where he wanted to go, fast.
“Glen and I didn’t care about what his body fat percentage was. It’s a vanity metric”
Did you routinely record his metrics?
We occasionally did, but Glen and I didn’t care about what his body fat percentage was. It’s a vanity metric. All that we cared about was how he looked. Can I grab his love handles or not? And I’m going to be brutal!
We focused on how he was going to look in specific postures, positions that we wanted to maximize on film. What was unique, was that Glen was going to be in Top Gun 2 with his top off doing certain poses like catching an American football, throwing it, and celebrating the touchdown while being a bit over the top. Obviously, it worked because his shots are on billboards all over the world. It’s a great buzz to see your work expressed in such a way. It’s very gratifying.
“Can I grab his love handles or not? And I’m going to be brutal!”
This sounds so cliche, but I’m very proud of Glen for what he’s achieved so far. You won’t find a more deserving or grateful guy. It’s great when you see one of the good guys win.
Did you use any supplements during the program?
We did use a small handful of supplements. Not a lot. I didn’t want to complicate everything. We used U.P.’s Estro Support as an anti-inflammatory to help keep his physique looking as sharp and crisp as possible at the end. We always used Amplify, which is primarily leucine, as an intra-workout drink, and then just a post-workout shake, and glutamine and creatine. He can’t have whey protein, so I gave him vegan protein. Keep it simple.
You do everything you can to get an edge and it’s an opportunity to really control what your client is eating. So, if you are only with them for an hour, three or four times a week, I’m going to give them 50 or 60 grams of high-quality protein, plus a few other things because it gives me a certain amount of control.
“You get out what you put in. The law of specificity always applies.”
What is the take-home from Glen’s plan for anyone trying to get in shape?
You get out what you put in. The law of specificity always applies. What do you want to achieve? What look do you want? What do you want to get out of your training? When you’ve decided that, have a plan and work that plan as hard and as committed as you possibly can.
“It’s a beautiful thing. You get out what you put in. You can never ask for more than that.”
Everyone can make dramatic and significant body composition, aesthetic health changes in very short spaces of time. It’s all down to how hard you work, and how committed you are. The more you can do and the more committed you are, the better.
It’s very easy to create a plan that works around you, your lifestyle, stresses, and strains. Once you have that plan – go all-in. Glen went all-in and had tremendous results. He’s gone all-in in his life and career and has had tremendous results there too. So, it’s really that simple. It’s a beautiful thing. You get out what you put in. You can never ask for more than that.
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