Simu Liu is not the type of person that allows failure to hold him back from accomplishing his goals. From large scale matters, like dropping a stable accounting career for the unpredictable life of an actor, to smaller pursuits, like learning to nail a backflip when he was a teenager, the 32-year-old star of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is going to keep pushing forward until he succeeds—even if that means he’s going to crash land on his head a few times in the process.
“When I was 16 years old, I thought that backflips were like the coolest thing,” he says. “So I spent like months and months of my life like, literally flipping onto my head. My parents were like, what are you doing?”
The actor opened up to Men’s Health about his journey to playing Marvel’s first Asian lead superhero in a wide-ranging cover story, discussing matters of representation, generational conflict, and his place in a rapidly changing Hollywood scene that is still has a way to go for true parity for people of all backgrounds. He also invited the MH crew to his gym with his trainer, Bart Kwan, to walk through his the workout routine he used to prep for his breakout role. The first thing he showed us? A perfectly-executed backflip.
But the role of Shang-Chi required even more complicated training than just a flip.”Obviously, learning the martial arts is a big part of my training, but the other part of being a Marvel superhero is, well, looking like a superhero,” Liu told the MH crew. “So when we were building that superhero workout, that Marvel body, it was really important for us not to sacrifice range of motion and explosiveness, because I’ve still got to be able to throw a punch at the end of the day.”
This particular session focuses on building explosiveness and power, a valuable physical characteristic for a back-flipping action star. Liu uses sets of contrasting exercises to accomplish that goal. The protocol consists of supersets that use similar movements, one loaded, one with your bodyweight. First, the loaded exercise gets Liu’s body accustomed to working against resistance. Then, he immediately ditches the weight to perform a similar movement without resistance—which allows him to really bring the power now that his muscles are unencumbered.
Liu also needs to look the part, so the workout also includes a muscle-sculpting superset that targets his back and shoulders. Overall, Liu says that his most important secret is also the key to his career success: putting in the work. “The most important thing is to show up,” he says. “You’ve just got to get your butt out there.”
To play Shang-Chi, Simu Liu added five kilos of muscle to his 180cm frame while also working to maintain explosive athleticism. His secret: two kinds of supersets. The first, called a contrast superset, combines a total-body muscle move and an explosive bodyweight move to build athleticism. The second focuses on sculpting the superhero physique, adding shoulder and mid-back size.
Do 4 sets. Rest 2 minutes between each.
Stand inside a trap bar, feet shoulder-width apart. Push your butt back and lower your torso until you can grasp the bar’s handles. Squeeze your lats and tighten your core. This is the start. Stand explosively, lifting the bar and squeezing your glutes.
Stand. Bend your knees, push your butt back, and throw your arms back. Throw your arms forward and leap forward as far as you can. Land softly. That’s 1 rep; do 3-5.
Do 3 sets. Rest 60 seconds between each set.
Standing Lateral Raise
Stand holding dumbbells at your sides, core and glutes tight, shoulder blades squeezed. Without bending your elbows, raise the weights out to your sides, elbows slightly in front of your torso. Pause when your elbows are nearly at shoulder height, then lower. That’s 1 rep; do 12.
Seated Lat Pulldown
Sit in a pulldown station and grasp a bar above you. Tighten your abs and squeeze your shoulder blades. Pull the bar to your chest, bending at the elbows and shoulders. Pause, then slowly straighten your arms, letting the bar move toward the top of the machine. That’s 1 rep; do 12.