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How Simu Liu Got Ripped To Play Shang-Chi

On September 3, 2021, actor Simu Liu will debut in theaters as Marvel superhero Shang-Chi in the film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." Shang-Chi is essentially a superheroic version of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. The creation of Shang-Chi by writers Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin was spurred by the popularity of kung fu in the 1970s thanks to the massive success of Bruce Lee movies at the time, as well as the David Carradine-starring TV series "Kung Fu." At one point in the '80s, Bruce Lee's son Brandon Lee was even slated to portray Shang-Chi in a film adaptation of the character's comic book adventures.

Simu Liu debuted in Hollywood not as a leading man or even as an actor but as a stunt double. Liu's career as a stunt performer extends to a Fall Out Boy music video, in which Liu stood in for bassist Pete Wentz. That the former Hollywood stunt performer would land a role inspired in part by Hollywood martial artist Bruce Lee seems only natural.

That said, there's a stark difference between the degree of physical fitness required for stunt work and what's required for a leading role in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Whereas the former requires strength and acrobatics, the latter requires aesthetic fitness, too. In August 2020, Liu shared to his Twitter a post suggesting that his training for "Shang-Chi" was extended indefinitely due to filming delays caused by the worldwide pandemic. As a result, however, Liu has had ample time to share his personal fitness journey to get in shape for his blockbuster movie role.

Becoming a superhero takes years

A May 2021 profile of Simu Liu by Men's Health detailed some of the ways he became fit enough for his big role in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings." As it turns out, Liu's superhero training dates all the way back to 2014. While at that point in time, Liu had no knowledge of his future movie role, he was nevertheless actively working as a superhero. Liu would occasionally appear at children's birthday parties in a full Spider-Man costume and, as the centerpiece of his performance, do a backflip that culminated in a classic Spider-Man pose.

Liu described himself to Men's Health as a "self-taught guy who likes to do flips in his backyard," indicating that his dedication to physical fitness dates back to well before he was cast by Marvel. That said, he nevertheless had to put in some extra work for his big-time debut. Liu, who stands 5'11", packed on ten pounds of muscle to get up to 185 lbs. This was possible in part due to a "three-a-day" workout routine during the time he was filming "Shang-Chi" in Australia. That involved daily weight lifting, fight choreography training, and periodic stretching routines. The latter included a workout in which Liu's trainer would stretch his legs closer and closer to a full split position.

Nevertheless, Liu emphasized that he landed the role of Shang-Chi not due to his physique but his skill as an actor. Liu described the fact that Marvel Studios' first Asian lead would be a kung fu master as "kind of reductive." Now that the part is his, however, he has stressed the importance not of martial arts but dramatic depth to the role.

High intensity, low reps

In 2018, in response to a now-deleted Tweet, Simu Liu recommended high-intensity exercises with a low number of repetitions in conjunction with a protein-heavy meal shortly after as a method to gain muscle mass. Presumably, this advice comes from personal experience and provides further insight into how Liu was able to hone his physique in advance of the filming of "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

Fitness blog Superhero Jacked, which catalogues how famously fit actors get in shape, was able to aggregate some of Liu's favorite strength exercises based on videos in which he appeared on YouTube channels Jason & Lucia and Barbell Brigade. Workouts featured in those videos include bench presses, bicep curls, upright dumbbell rows, clap push-ups, and sit-ups. The post also notes that Liu's physique is leaner than what might be expected from a routine purely focused on lifting, indicating that he likely incorporates a degree of cardio into his workout routine, too.

Yahoo News likewise shared some insight into Liu's workout routine in conjunction with his Men's Health cover story and even included an exercise routine purportedly among those he actively utilizes. It starts with a stationary bike warm-up before transitioning into sets of banded deadlifts, box jumps, sled pushes, medicine ball slams, lat pulldowns, and lateral dumbbell raises. Liu explained that this routine is focused on building his physique without impacting his range of motion.

Simu Liu on social media

Like many physically fit individuals before him, Simu Liu periodically shares photos of his fitness progress to social media. That said, Liu is oftentimes coy or outright joking about the content of his routines. In a post that went viral in April 2020, for example, Liu appears to be showcasing an at-home dumbbell workout before sitting down with an Xbox controller. Or, in an April 2021 fitness post to his Instagram account, Liu explained that his "secret workout tips include high intensity reps of table tennis with a superset of starcraft 2 and a super smash brothers cool down."

Nevertheless, Liu's Instagram occasionally contains genuine insight into his fitness activity. Relevant posts include glimpses of Liu rock climbing, preparing to use an ab wheel, and holding an L-sit. Of course, his Instagram account periodically showcases his signature backflip as well.

Based on social media evidence as well as stories from his Men's Health profile, Simu Liu has been interested in fitness for a long while. His journey to his present level of fitness, then, wasn't quite the result of a single, focused workout routine but a seemingly lifelong fitness journey that merely culminated in his recent, intensive training for "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."