Sylvester Stallone: Fitness's Renaissance Man

Sylvester Stallone: Fitness's Renaissance Man

In the peculiar world of Hollywood, typecast represents the ultimate irony. Actors and actresses long for a role that will be embraced, a character that resonates with the public and transcends the realm of fiction and becomes a living, breathing part of the culture. Then, when such an epiphany is achieved, that same performer shuns the attention, longing to be seen outside that light. Yet for the man who created one of the most revered movie personas in history--a celluloid hero who arguably spearheaded the massive fitness revolution of the '80s--such is not the case.


In fact, Sylvester Stallone has unabashedly returned to the mantle of his greatest cinematic creation five times, and now, on the precipice of a sixth Rocky film, he's revisiting the spheres where his star shines brightest: boxing and fitness.


With The Contender, a reality TV series that chronicles aspiring pugilists as they vie for a $1 million payday, and InStone Nutrition, a line of supplements bearing his name and likeness, Stallone, now 58, returns to his roots, ready to once again inspire millions to follow in his muscular footsteps. To him, Rocky is not an albatross but a remarkable icon that even he can appreciate. The Rocky Factor


For the past 20-plus years, Stallone has continued to make films in the action genre, with hits such as First Blood, Demolition Man, Cliffhanger, Tango & Cash and his most recent box-office success, 2001's Driven.


While he also made some unfortunate forays into comedy--let's not forget Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot--Stallone never turned his back on the hard-nosed, softhearted brawler from Philly. After 1976's Rocky earned a Best Picture Oscar, a one-in-a-million-shot if there ever was one, he returned to the franchise in 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1990.


Speaking from his Los Angeles home, Stallone is quick to acknowledge the reach of Balboa. Fans worship at the altar of Rocky as an entity that pushed them into the gym and changed their lives, and that suits the man who brought him into existence just fine.


"It's not me, it's more of a...Rocky philosophy that some of them have been affected by," he says, trying to put words to the phenomenon. "For instance, I went to the opening game of the Philadelphia Eagles' new stadium this past year. I came out for a moment just to wave to the crowd. When the entire stadium erupted, I realized they weren't erupting for Sylvester Stallone. Perish that thought. It's Rocky. [They see Rocky] as representative of their city. 'We don't give up. We put our head down and keep punching.' That's what I think I symbolize to people."


Coproducer of The Contender, Survivor's Mark Burnett certainly hopes to capture that Rocky mojo. He called Sly to bring him onboard for the show, which will make its debut on NBC in January. "I asked Burnett, 'Are you sure you don't want someone who's more of a boxing celebrity?'" Stallone recalls. "And he said, 'No, what we're trying to do is bring entertainment value, yes, but also tap into something that you'll be identified with for all your days.'"


Sly was intrigued by the prospect of creating a real-life Rocky scenario for one lucky fighter. He'll serve as a mentor who circulates among the athletes, while experts such as Sugar Ray Leonard work with the 16 contestants on the physical aspects of the sport. "This provides an interesting venue to take fiction and employ it in the world of reality," he says. "In other words, it gives a chance to people who have perhaps never had a break or have let opportunity slip through their fingers. This is about more than boxing; it's a kind of fantasy come true."


Walking The Walk


Concurrently, Stallone has immersed himself in a decidedly different project--launching a supplement company, InStone Nutrition. "InStone has been something I've thought about for 7-8 years," he says. "I've experimented so much with my body, training and diet-wise, coming up with different looks for movies. For instance, in Cliffhanger I had to develop more leg and shoulder power; in Rocky 3 I got down to 2.8 percent bodyfat; and of course Cop Land, where I lost all that definition and gained 40 pounds."


One key in turning his vision into reality was a hands-on approach. "I wanted to stand behind the product by saying, 'I am the guinea pig,'" he explains. "This isn't something that I'm just putting my name on. I think that would be quite a disappointment to people. I use the products, and I can safely say, everything is extraordinary. Each of these products is the best in the market in its particular niche."


Making appearances for The Contender and promoting InStone, Sly is holding steady at a chiseled 196 pounds, 4 to 7 percent bodyfat. Through the years, he's learned an important lesson about diet and training: Keep it simple. "I follow a high-protein diet: Anything with a face, that's what I eat, with something green next to it," he says. "Over the years, my biggest flaw was overtraining. In the gym six days a week, doing more sit-ups at body was in a constant state of breakdown. Now I focus on a variety of exercises, working out three times a week for 90 minutes per session. I really feel good--much stronger than I've ever felt, actually. Something's working."


That something will be revealed in depth in the coming months, as he takes the lessons he's learned over the years and puts them to paper. "It'll be a retrospective of how I've trained," he says of a book he has in the works. "From the first time I changed my body for a role, going from 162 to around 200 to play the gang bully in [1974's] Lords of Flatbush, to Rocky, how all that was done--what worked, what didn't, the trials and tribulations. Hopefully the end result of my experimentation is that I make it easier for other people to transform themselves."


One More Round


While Stallone pursues his offscreen projects, looming on the horizon may be one final step into the ring for Rocky Balboa. The script has been written, but after some wrangling with MGM Studios, the project has yet to receive a green light. "It's being postponed for all the wrong reasons," Sly says. "Hopefully it will prevail."


Stallone sees elements of Rocky 6 playing out in the real-life fight to bring it to the big screen. "Rocky 6 is a story that deals with skepticism," he explains. "When we reach a certain age, society says, 'You've had your moment.' But a lot of people aren't ready to move on. They want to try something they've never done before or go back to something they haven't finished."


Sly pauses, perhaps reflecting on how the evolution of Rocky, in many ways mirrors his own growth as an actor and individual. "You may not have the speed, but you still want to run the race. Think of George Foreman winning the heavyweight title [at 45], or John Glenn going into space [at 77]...your pursuits are what keep you vital. Society may say step aside and let youth be served. I say they've got to move you out of the way first."




A sample "pull" day from Stallone's program, provided by his personal trainer, Gunnar Peterson, CSCS:


Angled Weighted Pull-Up
(3-4 sets, 6-12 reps) After a warm-up set with bodyweight, Sly dons a weighted vest; he alternates pulling his chin first toward his right hand, then his left.


Unilateral Low-Cable Row
(3-4 sets, 14-16 reps) Sly uses a special machine with two weight stacks side-by-side and holds a D-handle in each hand. He does 10 reps together, then alternates for 4-6 more reps.


Plate-Loaded Machine Shrug
(3 sets, 6-12 reps) Sly works up to 400-plus pounds.


T-Bar Row
(3 sets, 10-12 reps) Done with one end of a barbell placed in a corner, Sly reps one arm at a time.


Squat-Jump Pull-Up
(3 sets, 8 reps) Using a pull-up bar that's at least 8 feet high, Sly does bodyweight squats, jumping from the floor on the upward push and grasping the bar. He does a pull-up, drops back to the floor into another squat and continues for reps.


Uneven Standing Barbell Curl
(3 sets, 8-12 reps) Sly holds the barbell with one hand in the center, one nearer one side, so one arm is taking on more of the load. To work each side evenly, he switches grip position mid-set.


Strive Curl Machine
(3 sets, 12-18 reps per set) Sly adjusts the "Strive" cam three times per set for different stimuli on his bi's, completing 4-6 reps per setting.


Dumbbell Hammer Curl
(3 sets, 18-30 reps) Sly starts by lifting both dumbbells for 8-10 reps, then finishes with rapid, alternating reps for 10-20 more.


Standing Calf-Machine Shrug
(3 sets, 6-12 reps) With feet planted and body rigid, Sly shrugs to raise the shoulder pads. Sly does weighted ab training between exercises and finishes with forearm moves.