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Three times a week, actor Mike Vogel likes to march across the rolling hills of his 20-acre farm outside Nashville, TN, for a couple of hours. All the while, he carries a military ALICE (All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) pack loaded with 45lbs on his back, and clutches a rifle in both hands.
But it’s not because he’s some lunatic hunting for imaginary trespassers on his property (where he lives with his wife and three children). Rather, it’s his preferred form of cardio—and one of the ways he trains for his new show, The Brave.
“When you’re carrying something in front of you, even if it’s just 8lbs, it engages your whole core,” Vogel says. “Your traps are burning.”
Airing on NBC, The Brave follows a team of America’s elite undercover military soldiers from the Army, Navy, and CIA. (In the first episode, they’re tasked with rescuing an American doctor who has been kidnapped by terrorists in Syria.) Vogel—whom you may recognize from the TV show Under the Dome and the movies Cloverfield and Blue Valentine—plays Adam Dalton, the ground force commander who leads the squad and communicates with intelligence analysts in D.C. (headed by Anne Heche).
“It’s an intimate look into the lives and the inner workings of the most clandestine unit in the U.S. military,” Vogel says about the show. “Nothing has ever been done on these guys before. And this is not a ‘catch a terrorist of the week’ type of thing. Whether we’re doing cartel interdiction in Mexico, then going to Eastern Europe to catch an arms dealer, and then that arms dealer is leading us to someone in Iran—it’s a lot more Jason Bourne than it is G.I. Joe.”
In addition to his rifle marches on the farm, Vogel got his body into character with a lot of weightlifting in his basement (“I’ve got this whole setup—power rack, cables, benches, dumbbells, heavy bag”), as well as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Plus, before shooting the pilot in Morocco, he and his castmates went through a grueling boot camp led by Mikal Vega, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. military who ran SEAL Team Eight and earned a Purple Heart during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Mikal just beat us up with these circuit routines using TRX straps, bands, and bodyweight stuff,” Vogel says. “For years I was really big on Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 powerlifting workout, which is great for getting meaty. But Mikal’s workouts strengthened my core and also cleared up my back issues. So he changed my thinking on the whole thing.” And even though Vogel recently cut out all breads and pastas and most sugar from his diet (“The only sugar I allow myself anymore is in my morning coffee”), he insists he’s not trying to sculpt the physique of an Adonis—or even get down to the weight he used to wrestle at in high school—because that wouldn’t be right for the part.
Instead, he enjoys four or five eggs every morning from the chickens on his farm, as well as the fatty deliciousness of foods like rib-eye steaks, bacon, and butter.
“You look at the bodies of Special Forces soldiers,” Vogel says. “They don’t look like gym bunnies. And so that was always the balance—wanting to be muscular without looking like a fitness model or a bodybuilder. And I think that’s where the vanity can come from the actor. You want to look a certain way, but the truth is it’s not real for the role.”
Here are a few items actor Mike Vogel uses to stay fit and ready.
“I put 45lbs in the back and then hike. You can get it at any military surplus store. They’re like 40 bucks. It has a metal frame on it, which is essential for supporting the weight. If you try to use a normal backpack, you’ll end up hurting yourself.”
“I love dips and pullups, and I love hanging weight off me while I’m doing them. A lot of gyms that I go to don’t have one, so whenever I travel, I bring it with me.”
“You will see it make an appearance in the show. A lot of soldiers use it. I’m also a pilot, and I like it because it has an altimeter in it. I always like to build in fail-safes in case I’m up there and the altimeter goes out on my airplane.”