The Rock Endured Most ‘Arduous’ Workouts of His Career for ‘Black Adam’
Dwayne Johnson is preparing to enter, or rather stampede, the DC Universe this summer in his role as Black Adam. Given his massive presence both onscreen and in the world in general, it seems bizarre that it’l be his first proper turn in a comic book movie. According to the actor, he’s been patiently waiting in the wings for this role. Now he’s ready to turn the genre inside out.
“The training we did for this movie was the most arduous I’ve ever done in my life,” says Johnson, whose goal was to surpass the physiques drawn by illustrators and do right by fans of the lesser-known character. “I promise you this: The hierarchy of power in the DC universe is about to change.”
In order to get the most out of his training sessions amidst an insane schedule, Johnson teamed up with trainer Dave Rienzi to expand their already comprehensive program. Fueled by his personal energy drink ZOA, the workouts were the most punishing of his career. Men’s Journal spoke with the larger-than-life personality about his morning routine, lessons learned in the gym, and why audiences should prepare to be shocked by Black Adam.
Men’s Journal: When did the physical preparation for Black Adam begin and what goals did you set?
Dwayne Johnson: I started training for Black Adam when I came out of the womb. I believe I was born to play this character. But in all honesty, this project has been with me for 10 ten years now. The process began when we started to stand the material up and really developed it into what it is present day. Once the start date was agreed on by our Seven Bucks production company, the rest of my team, Warner Bros. Studio, and DC Comics, I started to build an exhaustive training program with my trainer Dave Rienzi. I wanted to come into this in the best shape of my career.
How was this training experience unique from what you’ve done in the past?
I’ve been one lucky son of a bitch over the years to prepare for some really big competitions and games. That really started with my college football career at the University of Miami. We were national champions and had the pleasure of competing for the national title on two other occasions. From there it only got more intense, especially when I began my professional wrestling career. Getting the greenlight for Black Adam was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to raise the bar yet again.
Doing that work with Dave, we wanted to bring a whole new philosophy and methodology to the way I push myself in the gym. There’s a lot of fine tuning that goes on in our training together. Even if we’re not together, I’m constantly sending him photos so he knows exactly where we are when it comes to results. If needed, we’ll make adjustments in the moment. He doesn’t only care about the aesthetic, but also about my energy levels and how I’m feeling.
How will Black Adam differ from what we’ve seen before with comic book projects?
Superheroes live by a code of ethics and a line of integrity. But with Black Adam, depending on how you look at him, he has the ability to be a hero, an antihero, and a villain. One of the things that drew me to Black Adam is his origin. He started out enslaved. Any time you have a character, or any human being, who has wrongfully been held down by others, it means so much more when they begin to rise up. Black Adam rises with a big fucking chip on his shoulder—and an edge. In the traditional DC Universe, as we all know, if you do something wrong Superman and Batman are gonna try and bring you to justice. If you do something wrong to Black Adam, you’re going to die. It’s that simple. I believe this character is going to bring a unique edge to the superhero genre. We’re gonna be turning preconceived notions on their ear.
Lots of people look up to these superheroes. Who was someone who you’ve found motivation and inspiration from?
I grew up going to the gym with my dad. When I was five years old, he’d let me watch him work out. When I was 12, I picked up my first weight. After that he’d take me on the wrestling mats and just beat the shit out of me. Back then, when I was going to the gym with my old man, I was around some of the biggest and baddest guys in the world. That includes my dad, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Tony Atlas, The Road Warriors. These dudes would come into the gym and turn that motherfucker out. They didn’t care who was around, or what was going on around them. Their focus was so intense. So training and training hard is in my blood. It’s in my DNA.
From the outside looking in, it seems like you have limitless energy.
I appreciate that, but I can assure you I definitely don’t. I do have a lot of energy, and I do my best to allocate it as best I can. I believe that time is our greatest asset and resource—and I’ve learned over the years to use my time as wisely as I can, as well as my output of energy. I have to make sure that what I’m doing is going to be worth it in the end and will help maintain my focus. It’s all about balance. I know people hear that word all the time, but it’s really true. You need to find the balance in your life. Everything requires energy. Our work, personal life, personal growth, relationships, education, mindfulness, mental wellness, mental health, physical fitness, and everything else. It can be draining, but I’m also trying to save a little bit for another gear that other people don’t have. That sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth gear. I always have that next gear waiting when it’s needed.
Putting out that much energy requires the right fuel. How often are you eating and what’s your dietary strategy?
I eat somewhere between six and seven meals a day, and I try my best to make them as balanced as possible with proteins, carbohydrates, good fats—and the occasional sugar at the right times of the day. Dependent on my schedule—and my short- and long-term goals for the week, month, and year—it can be challenging. If I’m shooting a big film, on top of commitments to my family, there’s a lot of dietary monitoring happening. We work very closely with the chefs in our ecosystem, as well as our holistic practitioners who work with us on supplementation and vitamins. Over the years, we’ve fine-tuned our processes and our team. Everything is very clean throughout the week. And when I say we, I mean myself and my strength and conditioning coach Dave Rienzi.
How do “cheat meals” play into your plan?
I understand my cheat days have become quite legendary. Those meals are reserved only for Sunday. I very much enjoy them—and enjoy getting to have that kind of fun with my food.
Can you give us a little insight into your morning routine?
I try to get up before the sun rises. I get fully dressed right off the bat, and that means shoes too. I go downstairs. I’ll open whatever flavor of ZOA I feel like having that morning and pour it over ice. I’ll open the computer and do a little bit of work that requires my immediate attention, then I hit my cardio on an empty stomach—which has been keeping my metabolism nice and tight. That’s how it all starts. If I told you everything I do before noon on any given day, I’d take up the whole magazine.
Any personal training advice for the rest of us?
When you go into the gym to train, you need to train for yourself only. Don’t train for anyone else. Don’t train to impress anyone. Don’t throw a lot of weight on the bar. Don’t let ego come into the equation. Train for yourself. It’s you versus you in there. I’ve never given a fuck about who’s around me in the gym. That’s always served me well. Be focused and get after it.
Do you have any favorite modes of recovery after a tough workout?
I can tell you that my favorite recovery tools are good lovin’ and tequila—preferably my own Teremana.
What are the biggest adversities you’ve had to overcome with training and mental wellness?
I’m still overcoming mental adversity to be honest. That never ends. I’ve sustained a number of injuries over the years that have been difficult to overcome, but I’m lucky that I’ve never been injured in the gym. I was brought up to train hard and train smart. But that didn’t protect me when I was out on the field competing or in the wrestling ring. I’ve had five knee surgeries, a torn Achilles. I had to be sewn back together. The top of my quad was torn from my pelvis. I had a whole bunch of shit happen. The other major adversity has just been fatigue, which can get us all. I know it gets me, and sometimes the last thing you want to do is go to the gym. But when you’re able to push yourself and you fight past that fatigue—that’s when you can find greatness.
You’ve had a long history with Microsoft and the Xbox. Do you have any plans to bring video game characters to the big screen?
I’ve always been a big Madden fan. I can’t tell you which game in particular we’re doing, but there will be an announcement this year. We’re going to bring one of the biggest, most badass games to the screen—one that I’ve played for years. I’m really excited to bring it to fans around the world. Of course we’re going to do right by our gamer friends—but really we’re just going to make a great movie.