Sparring with Joe Manganiello

Sparring with Joe Manganiello
When he’s not appearing on True Blood as the werewolf Alcide Herveaux, or on long-running network shows like ER, One Tree Hill, and Scrubs, classically trained actor Joe Manganiello is serious about personal fitness. Joe gives us a rundown on the method to his muscle.

Joe Manganiello posing for the camera

An avid boxer, Joe’s devotion to physical training is obvious to anyone he encounters. I interviewed him about his lifelong passions of fitness and acting, his journey from Pittsburgh to Hollywood, and whether or not he’d like another crack at Peter Parker.

PRIMER: Boxing is obviously a fantastic workout.  How is it included within your regimen?

JOE MANGANIELLO: Whenever I am in L.A. for an extended period of time, I train at a boxing gym that is, interestingly enough, owned by Bob Dylan. But being that I travel so much with work, I usually call to set up workouts and then get sent out of town…

P: At what age did you first become involved in fitness?  What road led you there?

JM: I was an athletic kid with an athletic mother and father. I think I started playing YMCA soccer at 4 or 5 years old, then basketball and baseball started at about 8, then football in 5th grade, and volleyball and weight training in 9th grade.

Also, as it turned out, I discovered that one of the history teachers at my high school, Dr. Jim “Moon Dog” Mooney, used to train bodybuilders in the 70s and I heard that every year he would take a few students and turn them into absolute machines. I tracked him down at a Memorial Day picnic and, after a psychological screening session where he sat me down for an hour to make sure that I was absolutely serious about training and would endure whatever torture he had planned, he – in Miyagi fashion – told me to come back the following Monday to begin.

He was really extraordinary in that he taught both the physical and the mental part of training. He taught discipline and the physiology of how the body worked. Moon Dog’s workouts were grueling; it was there that I learned that pain and fear would try to shut me down long before my body was ready to give out and that working out was just as much about mental strength as it was about the physical.

P: For someone wanting to really take their fitness to another level, what is the best way to jump in and what is the biggest fitness mistake you wish you could have avoided?

JM: Plan, plan, plan. Meet with an expert, know what your goals are, and discuss them with someone who can get you there. Diet is also a HUGE part of it – you can work out all you want but if your diet isn’t right, you might not get results. I’ve been lucky because, every step of the way, I’ve had great trainers. Working out is a huge commitment of time and energy and I do my research.

P: For the more experienced fitness readers, what is your favorite advanced technique?

JM: I’m a big fan of hanging elbow straps for ab workouts because there are so many variations you can do with them. And negative chin-ups with a ladder are brutal.

P: With a busy schedule, how do you manage to find time to stay fit?

JM: It’s just part of my routine… a 24-hour gym membership helps, too. It all starts with my shoes; if I get them on, I’ll go.

P: When did you decide to move out to Hollywood and pursue a career in acting?

JM: I went to college for acting at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama in Pittsburgh. I knew that I wanted to move to L.A. and pursue film acting the day I found out I was accepted.

P: What's the most physically demanding thing you've ever done on and off screen?

JM: On Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, I would wake up at 4:30 AM and shoot all day in full Navy SEAL gear in the sauna-like rainforest until sometimes 7 or 8 PM. Then, get back to the hotel at 9 PM and put an hour in at the gym before eating and studying before bed. I would do that five (and sometimes six) days a week – it was brutal. But it shows you how much I love what I do. I loved every grueling minute of it.

P: What personality traits do you attribute your success to?

JM: Willingness, planning, education, and discipline.

P: Working a 9-5 must be different than working as an actor, with the latter having a much higher threshold to be successful.  What advice can you offer a guy climbing the corporate ladder based on what you've learned climbing the Hollywood ladder?

JM: Love what you do and keep your eye on the prize. Have an ultimate goal but be willing to do whatever you have to do to get there. You never know what will move you closer to that goal, so show up.

P: How have you dealt with overcoming the social pressure that forces a lot of young men to sidestep their dreams and get a ‘real job.' Was pursuing a creative job an easy or hard decision for you?

JM: I realized I loved it and I knew deep down that I could do it but my father wanted me to continue down the sports path and play college football – we clashed over this in my teens – but I did it right. I sought out classical training and, therefore, respect.

No one can say that I was just some pretty face who moved to L.A. to “roll the dice.” I entered this business as a young, trained professional. In essence, I used everything I learned from competitive sports & training and applied it to the arts. The result was a strong foundation and a diversified body of work that will last as long as I want it to.

P: Given another crack at him, do you think you could take down Peter Parker?

JM: Take away his superpowers and he’d be no match for Flash!

Joe Manganiello can be found online at and on Myspace.

Joe's Favorite Workout: “Moon Dog's Negative Chins”

If you're interested in working your way up to a point where you could tangle with Spider-man, try one of Joe's favorite workouts, “Moon Dog's Negative Chins” — sure to blow up your arms in no time.

EQUIPMENT: You need a chin-up bar that goes all the way across and a ladder or chair. I would also recommend hook straps for your wrist because you don't want your hands to tire out before your arms do.

  1. Position the ladder or chair under the chin-up bar but far enough back so that you can hang freely.
  2. Do as many positive chin-ups as you can (to failure) with your hands positioned on the bar facing you and close enough together that they are touching.
  3. Upon reaching failure, step up onto the ladder or chair so that your chin is above the bar and then step back off of it and lower yourself down to the ground on an 8 count SLOWLY. Take no rest between reps and get your chin back above the bar and lower down again! Do 8 of these negatives after burning out on positives and you'll be screaming for mercy. If that doesn't blow up your arms, nothing will.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook