Three Days In – Superhero Workout Review Part 1

I wasn’t planning to update this more than once a week, but I wanted to write a sort of first impressions review before settling down to weekly progress reports. After three days, I’ve pretty much experienced what Phase One of the training will be like, and I feel hopeful that I can complete it. I’ll talk more about that in a bit, but first, a little information about the workout plan for those thinking about buying it.

First off: it wasn’t easy to find. It is advertised on John Romaniello’s Shop page as being a current product, but the link is dead, which makes me suspect he’s stopped marketing the program actively to concentrate on Man 2.0: Engineering the Alpha or maybe he got some nastygrams from DC’s and Marvel’s legal departments concerning the artwork he uses to illustrate the program. But I did find a link to a page on another of his sites, and it took my money (quite a lot of it), so it seems he’s still selling it, or at least satisfied to leave the links up for whatever free money trickles his way. The site charged me $10 less than the price on the page, though–$87 instead of the listed $97–so I have no idea what you might pay if you were to decide to try buying the program. I also ponied up an additional $19.95 for the nutritional plan and some other supplementary materials.

So what do you get for the money?

The basic program consists of four e-books–Training Manual, Training Log Sheets, Quick Start Checklist and Supplement Guide–plus access to an online video database demonstrating different exercises listed in the plan. The supplemental material consists of the Nutrition Plan and a guide to adapting the plan to the TRX Suspension Training System. That’s right–the basic program talks about supplements while the supplement talks about basic nutrition.

The training program itself is a little complicated, consisting of four phases over twelve weeks. In Phase One, you build strength and power with heavy lifting days for low reps alternating with moderately heavy days performing “complexes” (a series of four or five exercises performed with the same weight without resting in between). In Phase Two, you build endurance with circuit training. In Phase Three, you use the strength and endurance you’ve built in the first two phases to lift for growth. You also adjust your diet to allow for growth. In Phase Four, you revisit parts of all three previous phases to hone your results.

Let me say right away that this program is not in any way designed for beginners. Although the marketing material downplays the difficulty of the program, you do need to be in reasonably good starting shape to jump into this workout. You also need a good grounding in proper form on several basic lifts.

Once again, the marketing copy on the sales page is a little slippery; it says you gets an online database demonstrating the form of the exercises, but it doesn’t actually cover all of them. In the intro to the video page, they mention that they’re not demonstrating the most basic ones, but their idea of “basic” may differ from yours. You can find numerous video demonstrations of the missing exercises on Youtube, but watching a video a few times won’t help you much when you’re on your ninth set and exhausted. You need to have a good feel for the basic form on things like deadlifts and squats from practice for the times you’re too tired to think.

Talking about the database leads to one of my major reservations about the program: the authors seem to be a little too infatuated with variety for its own sake. Each of the four phases of the program has at least four workouts that you cycle through, with a completely different set of exercises in each one. Having paged through all of the workouts, I can tell you that if even one movement is repeated exactly in two different workouts, I couldn’t find it.

In one sense, it’s a cool idea that for almost every workout you hit that muscle group in a slightly different way–e.g. doing split squats one workout, hack squats the next, front squats the next. But it means that if you’re not a lifelong gym rat who has had time to get good at all these movements, then you’re spending precious time struggling with a move you don’t know well, when you won’t use it enough to get good at it and really push yourself.

For instance, in today’s workout, I had to start my second group of complexes with the dumbbell overhead squat, which sounded easy enough, but I had never done it before. Turns out, it’s a bitch to squat with your hands over your head, and even harder with weight. I tried to get it several times, reducing the weight and trying again and failing until I just bailed on the exercise and moved on to the next part of the complex without achieving a single good rep. My next set, I squatted completely without additional weight, and my final set, I squatted with 5 lb weight plates in my hands.

I’m pretty certain that on my next iteration of the workout, I’ll do better on the overhead squat. However, I’m only going to do that exact movement one more time in the entire rest of the program. In the 12 weeks of the program, there are exactly 40 workout days, and there are 17 workouts included in the system, so you’re not going to any of them very many times–you’ll do the Phase Three workouts four times each, but most of the Phase Two workouts, you’ll only do once apiece. Looking ahead, I’m thinking this program could benefit from some serious simplification.

On a related note, the editing is horrendous. Not so much the prose in the training manual itself–other than some punctuation-type stuff, it seems pretty well written–but the details of the plan. For instance, Phase One Workout Two (the one I did today) has this note to start off the first complex: Perform A1, A2, A3 and A4 are sequentially, with NO rest between them; do not even set the barbell down between exercises.

It looks like the sentence was originally supposed to say something like “Exercises are to be performed sequentially,” then rewritten to be more active. But they forgot to cut out that rogue “are.” Also, it is not really possible to perform those exercises without setting down the barbell. Not counting the Power Cleans where many people are taught to drop the bar rather than lower it under control, you have to switch from an overhand grip to an underhand one for one exercise and back to overhand for the next one. If you’re using any kind of challenging weight at all, it’s not safe to change grips like that without setting the bar down. Not to mention that the accompanying Log Sheets (which it seems are intended to be printed out and used to log the workouts as is) list rest periods between the exercises that you are to perform with “NO rest.” Also, the Log Sheets provided do not have enough spaces to record all the sets you are told to perform. I printed the Log Sheets, but I’m actually logging the workouts on my own custom spreadsheets, with space for all the sets and no erroneous information.

There are lots of examples of these kinds of details that don’t mesh from one workout to the next, or from one document to the next (like the Supplement Guide recommending Blue Star Neutraceuticals’ Iso-Smooth Protein, while the Training Guide refers to Nature’s Best’s Isopure–actually, the Supplement Guide makes the same mistake as well). Some of it is careless proofreading, while in other places, it looks like a sloppy job of cut-and-paste. Most of the stuff you can figure out on your own, but for the money you’re spending, you shouldn’t have to.

And you will be spending some money, and not just for the program itself. The supplements Romaniello suggests don’t come cheap, and the structure of the workouts requires either a well-equipped home gym or membership to a well-equipped, but lightly attended health club. The wide variety of movements requiring different equipment and the short, strictly regulated rest periods mean that you want to have all your weights pre-set and ready at hand, and bummer for you if someone else refuses to let you work into their set.

So there’s lots of room for improvement, I think. But I still like the product and plan to follow it as closely as I can. The writing style in the training manual is zippy and fun and gets in lots of obligatory superhero references. The two workouts I have done have left me sore, but also exhilarated. That, plus the supplementation and diet have me thinking I can already feel some results. My chest, lats and triceps especially feel fuller already. It may just be water retention from the creatine, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes.

My main takeaway right now is that, as many reservations as I have about the program based on my initial reading and preparation for it, I’m having fun so far actually doing it. The final verdict will come 11.5 weeks from now, when I actually finish it and see what the results are.

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