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Blood Shred: Joe Manganiello’s Werewolf Workout

'True Blood’s' Joe Manganiello puts all his mental and physical energy into maintaining one of the best bodies in Hollywood.

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Joe ManganielloIf a werewolf were suddenly to appear in some small American town, it would be a place like New Haven, CT. Home to Yale University, with its sprawling campus filled with gothic architecture, the quaint, historic locale would provide the perfect theatrical backdrop for the story of a tall, bearded, sinewy werewolf imposing his will on an unsuspecting group of mere mortals.

Leading the Way

And so it was that Joe Manganiello, who plays the werewolf Alcide Herveaux on the HBO series True Blood, visited New Haven for a couple of months this past fall for his role in the Yale-sponsored reprise of A Streetcar Named Desire. The unsuspecting group of humans on which he imposed his will? His castmates in the play: a group of theater actors who couldn’t help but notice Manganiello in the Yale weight room every morning. Clearly, he knew his way around the gym. It wasn’t long before one of the young actors approached the chiseled, 6'5" guy from the TV show.

“Listen, man, can you help me?” the young actor asked him. “I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Yeah, man, just show up tomorrow morning and you can work out with me,” responded Manganiello.

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Practically every morning thereafter, the two trained together, going through the intense, fast-paced weight workouts that have helped Manganiello carve up one of the best bodies in Hollywood. Within a few weeks, other cast members joined in.

“By the end of the two months, there were four of us all lined up doing the same workout,” says Manganiello. “It was awesome. They’re theater actors. They keep themselves in semi-decent shape, but they’d never had any sort of formal workout training. And that happens a lot. There’s the triangle—the mind, body, and spirit. And all too often I see actors really work the mental and spiritual side but not put anything into the physical side; they just kind of ignore it. I don’t come from that school. I come at it in the ancient Greek sense, in that their culture was built on athletics and on philosophers.”

Joe Manganiello Pushup

Evolution

The Yale gym was just the beginning. Manganiello plans to keep paving the way to better fitness—this time for the masses—with the release of his book, Evolution: The Cutting-Edge Guide to Breaking Down Mental Walls and Building the Body You’ve Always Wanted. As the subtitle implies, Manganiello’s message addresses the mind as well as the muscle to help readers develop a winning attitude for long-term success.

“In the book, I talk a lot about the mental aspect of training,” he says. “A lot of people don’t understand how mental it is. Anybody can pick up a weight and do a weightlifting movement. It’s easy. The physical isn’t really what it’s about—it’s the mental side that holds people back from achieving their goals. As a discipline, I relate weight training to a samurai who studies calligraphy—the calligraphy becomes a hobby that unlocks the technique of sword fighting. There are so many similarities between the two. For me, training [impacts] my acting, but it also trains me for life. It’s training me to be present in each moment, to be present in each rep and stay in the workout. It’s about making each rep better than the last all the way through the workout. And once you get to the end, those are the reps that really count. Those are the money reps.”

Manganiello’s mentality in the gym is always evolving, depending on what movie or TV role he’s preparing for. In True Blood, he favors being as lean as possible—partly because of the shirtless scenes involved—while also being athletic, for the action sequences. When he played a male stripper alongside Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in 2012’s Magic Mike, physique was priority No. 1, as that role was more than just shirtless. For the 2014 action film Sabotage, which also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Manganiello packed on 20 pounds through diet and heavy weight training to play an intimidating DEA agent.

“When preparing for a role, it’s not that I have to gain weight or lose weight or be more shredded,” he says. “It’s basically, ‘What can I do physically to help tell this story?’ And that’s the way I approach different roles. If I need to play a DEA agent who’s an undercover biker, how do I turn a corner with this big rifle in my hand and strike fear into the unsuspecting drug dealer hiding behind that door?”

Mixing It Up

The workouts in Evolution are inspired by a broad cross section of training protocols. There are bodybuilding and CrossFit and powerlifting. There are free weight exercises mixed with machine work and body-weight moves. Isolation movements show up, but so do plyometrics, burpees, and mountain climbers. Schwarzenegger wrote the book’s foreword (Manganiello formed a friendship with him while shooting Sabotage). The world’s first four-minute miler, Roger Bannister, inspires Chapter 2. Putting a finger on Manganiello’s exact training style is tough. Eclectic yet effective would be a good place to start.

“My training is obviously about weightlifting and building muscle, but it’s also about remaining athletic,” says Manganiello, who credits much of his physical success to his “genius” trainer Ron Mathews. “It’s about building the body, but it’s also about teaching your body to adjust to its own weight, especially as you get bigger. And it’s practical. I come from Pittsburgh, and the people in the gyms in Pittsburgh aren’t working out to look good because they’ve got a shoot coming up. They’re working out because they want to be stronger, because it helps them in life.

“I obviously have to worry about aesthetics because that’s part of my job,” he says. “But the primary focus is on being a great athlete, and that’s the way I work out.”

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