WWE superstars are a lot of things—world-class talkers, incredible showmen, and some of the biggest dudes on the planet. But above all, they’re top-level athletic beasts—and Roman Reigns trains like one.
“I train as if i’m in the NFL, the NHL, the MLB, the NBA. I train with that same intensity, that same focus and dedication and time management as any of the top sports stars in the world,” the 6-foot-3, 265-pound superstar says. “But at the same time, we have to do this with our shirts off.”
And at an age where stars in other sports are riding off into the sunset, the 35-year old Reigns remains in his prime—moving with the same agility and power that made him a superstar, and still looking great doing it. This is all while he’s on top of his profession as the WWE’s Universal Champion, a title he’s held for the second-longest streak ever. Oh, and one more thing: Roman is only two years removed from surviving a battle with leukemia.
If that doesn’t inspire you, read on to get pumped: Reigns spoke to us from his home about the high-rep, high-intensity training method he’s used to build and maintain his athleticism, how his training has evolved from his days as a college football standout, and the type of food he crushes for a cheat meal after a big pay-per-view.
Since your leukemia went into remission in 2019, you’ve made it a mission to raise awareness about cancer. What do you want people to know and think about to stay healthy?
Doctors usually focus on medicine and things like that, but over the history of man, one thing that’s been certain is that food and nutrition is just like medicine—not exactly that it is medicine, but I think fitness and nutrition is really important. It’s something especially important nowadays with the availability of so many different foods and delivery systems and restaurants, and not knowing what you’re eating. People, they’re not doing it themselves. They’re not using their own hands and and buying their own ingredients. So I think that’s the basics of it all.
I do think it’s very important to rely on our Western medicine, on science, and doing the little things such as physicals, blood work, things like that—especially when you’re getting towards the upper ages of the thirties, closer to 50. There’s things we need to do as far as maintenance. Because it’s not just all based off of how we look, or sometimes even how we feel. Sometimes there’s things going on within our bodies that are so micro-specific that we as humans can’t even feel it happening.
So I think it’s important that you keep your eyes on it, and keep that information coming in. But at the same time, try to start—at the most basic level—to get to know your body and what foods are good for you. Understanding nutrition, and then also being active, taking your fitness very seriously.
There’s no question you take your fitness seriously. In the past, you’ve posted videos of yourself doing Y3T training. Are you still doing that kind of training? And can you explain it for our readers?
So the the Y3T was created by Neil [“Yoda”] Hill. I think you know, some of his best work over the years has been shown through his top client, Flex Lewis—seven-time 212 Mr. Olympia. They had been together and from there with that success, he’s just grown as a trainer and a coach. Essentially, [Y3T] is a three-week phase of all different types of load—being the amount of weight you lift—and then the rep range. The sets and reps changes the volume of each training session.
Right now, I’m in week two, which is more of a like a 14- to 18-rep window. Most of the time, each each exercise will be about four working sets, which you’re going to want to push though. Those rep ranges are what should be very close to failure, if not failure. Once you’ve reached that point of no return and failure, you can even try to hit a rest-pause [a short, mid-set rest to keep going] a couple of times to just squeeze out a few more and take that muscle group to extreme exhaustion.
What we’re doing now is we’ll do week one, week two, week two again, and then week three. Because that week two is just such a perfect threshold. And then week three sucks so bad that you don’t want to do it too much. [In week 3 of Y3T, trainees do sets of 20 to 25 reps, beginning to rest-pause as soon as halfway through]. In week one, you’re gonna stay in that 8- to 12-rep range, really working on power, focusing on strength. I think that helps your body maintain the idea of I still want you to be strong, so don’t just start shedding all the weight, don’t shed muscle—only strictly fat. It just keeps your body primed to continue to stay strong.
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How do you feel after one of those big, long sets?
Each training session can be a bit different, and that’s depending on how I feel in that particular day—where my nutrition is, the calories I’m taking in, did I just travel? So, like Tuesday, it was a rough day because I had double duty on RAW. I caught my flight home that night, so I didn’t get home until about 3:30 or 4 a.m. I did a little napping through the day on Tuesday, and then got in the gym later that night. I was still sore from wrestling two matches and being thrown around by a couple of mammoths in Big E and Bobby Lashley. So it was one of those things where it’s almost a love-hate, where it’s like, “Man, I do not want to do this.” But once you start getting going, once that blood starts flowing and you feel a little bit of a pump coming, you’re like, “OK, I’m into this now.”
You hit that first failure set and again, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” But it’s just one of those things where you have to have that mental toughness. And even when you don’t have that mental toughness or that motivation, per se, you have to find that discipline of, “Why.” That’s the anchor. Why are you doing this?
Tap into those reasons—the purpose of you being in the gym, and what you’ve set out to do, so it’s a mixed bag of emotions for sure when you train into failure and you’re reaching that ultimate intensity. Some days are really really good, some days are terrible. But each day that you get in there, there’s some kind of progression that comes through—whether it’s the best workout of al- time or it’s like, ah, that wasn’t my greatest but I got it in. I broke a sweat. The blood’s flowing. I feel better. But maybe tomorrow will be an even better day.
Did you start this kind of training first, and then meet and train with Flex? Or vice versa?
It all actually happened at the same time. I did a photo shoot in Boca Raton at the original Dragon’s Lair, which is Flex Lewis’ gym. And that’s where I met him and Neil. From there, we hit it off—Neil is a no B.S., very personable strength coach. Sometimes, you know, within the gym and with bodybuilding, there’s a stigma of hoodies on, heads down, and there’s extreme focus. But these guys, man, they had such an awesome camaraderie within that gym.
The message that Neil brings to every single conversation is that he’s hyper-focused on the performance and the production of what we’re trying to do. But at the same time, there’s a weird friendship-slash-therapy mindset that he has. He’s not only trying to carve the body, but he’s tapping into your mind. All of these things are on a string—they all affect what you’re trying to get out of the gym and what are the goals at hand.
I was sold once I was around them. From there, me and Neil started talking and building a program. We’ve really just taken our time. You know, there’s no Olympia or Arnold [Classic]—there’s no one particular stage that we’re working towards all year. It’s a monthly, huge performance with a pay-per-view, and then sprinkle in a Smackdown here and there. So it’s one of those situations where we have to kind of stay ready and be in that zone of being able to capture a very high performance and then also a quality look that we’re looking for.
Survivor Series is coming up in November. Whether or not you’ll be in the big elimination event, you hold the record for most eliminations in the event’s signature event—and you’ve won the Royal Rumble.
When a marathon event like this comes up, do you tackle training differently? How do you train to have the stamina for something like that, and still have the kind of physique you need to be a WWE superstar?
I think you have to kind of find that middle ground between bodybuilding and being a pro athlete. I train as if I’m in the NFL, the NHL, the MLB, the NBA. I train with that same intensity, that same focus and dedication and time management as any of the top sports stars in the world. But at the same time, we have to do this with our shirts off, and there has to be that aesthetic appeal.
So there is a very focused breakdown of how you want to do that and how you want to train each body part—and even have those days where you mesh it all and create a more functional training system. So these are all things that you have to juggle.
Do you adjust your training for different opponents? If you’ve got a match with a high-flying performer coming up, do you mix up your training differently for that match style vs. the performance you’ll give against a slower, bigger opponent?
I’m on the other end. I don’t adjust. Everyone else adjusts for me—being the Universal Champion, being been on the very top, my system works. And what I do in the ring, and the athleticism that I display, and how that all translates to having a dominant performance, that’s something that I’ve really dialed in over the years. So that’s for everybody else to figure out, how to adjust themselves to stepping in the ring with Roman Reigns.
Right now, I’ve already knocked out my morning cardio [it’s noon Eastern]. I already got my first meal in. I’ll probably knock out another meal as soon as we’re done here. And then I’ll get in the gym and do my resistance training portion of it, and then get a couple more meals, do some family stuff with the kids, and then knock out some night cardio. So it’s a constant grind.
Keeping that mentality and that discipline to stick to the drill, and doing this stuff every single day—that keeps me in that position of not getting ready, but staying ready.
Speaking of those two cardio sessions, what’s conditioning like for you? You’re doing Y3T for strength and size, but are you doing HIIT cardio? More low-intensity steady state work?
Whenever I took my break at the beginning of the pandemic and I wasn’t active in the ring [between April and August 2020, due to being immunocompromised from leukemia], I had to switch it up and do more of a HIIT-style, circuit cardio. I think everything was like a minute to 90 seconds on. You want to sprint on the treadmill for a minute, jump off of that, run over to the battle ropes, do that for a minute. Maybe a ladder drill, a ball slam. You just switch up whatever the activities are, and you build up your rounds, the actual sets that you do. So maybe starting with five sets, and then work up to like eight once you’ve been doing it for a few weeks.
Right now, I feel so good and I’m so in tune with w ith what I do in the ring that there’s not really any concern with conditioning or cardio. I don’t ever get tired to where it’s like, “Man, I don’t know if I can go anymore,” or it’s really getting tough. I feel really good in the ring right now. So I just stick to my steady state cardio. Every once in a while I’ll add some HIIT in there; I’ll sprint a little bit and then walk, sprint, walk. Or turn it up on either the bike or an elliptical or arc trainer.
Because I do so much—well, I guess depending on who you’re asking and what they do, it’s not that much cardio—it’s 50 minutes a day, split up morning and night. Thirty in the morning, 20 at night. Because it’s a consistent amount, the smoother and low-impact, the better. If you’re running or doing anything on pavement or concrete, your ankles and your knees start to feel it. I try to help myself out with doing stuff that’s not going to add extra wear and tear that’s not needed.
After you finish a big event—like a pay-per-view, or a night on RAW where you have two matches—are you just ravenous? What do you eat after an event like that?
After SummerSlam, I had three pizzas waiting. You know, depending on where we are and what kind of cheat meals you can get into and what’s available, you can go nuts.
But it depends on what the goal at hand is. [This week,] it being a RAW, knowing that I have Extreme Rules coming up on Sunday, I stuck to some of my cleaner meals: It was like a poke bowl without all the really really good stuff on it—essentially just rice, ahi tuna, some avocado and some cucumber, with a little bit of like soy sauce in there. So it wasn’t anything crazy, and it wasn’t anything off the beaten path of eating clean. But I did have a couple beers to relax.
Is that poke bowl more like your regular diet that you use to fuel gains and stay lean?
Yeah, that’s it—pretty basic stuff, and I try to keep it simple. And that way, there’s that process of elimination where you can start cutting things or minimizing things to see how it affects you, how you’re feeling or what you’re looking like from day to day.
In the morning, its either some oats or a cream of rice with some egg whites. We throw some beets in there to help blood flow, and to drive the workouts for each day. And then once we get into the standard meals, I mean, it’s chicken and rice, steak and rice—the stuff you’ve heard before on any vlog of any bodybuilder. Nothing sexy at all. Maybe some bison.
We’ve taken down the fats a little, so most of my fats come through the animal fat, through my protein. And then maybe a little almond butter at night with a protein shake before bed. I wish it was something different and more creative, but it’s best to keep it simple. That way, you can fully understand that nutrition—what’s going in and what’s coming out—and how you how it affects you.
How has your training changed as you’ve gotten into your thirties? When you were younger, you were training for football (playing defensive tackle at Georgia Tech). What’s the same—and what’s different—about training now?
It goes back to the training purpose, and what we’re trying to get out of it. So I’m still trying to maintain or enhance my athleticism and my athletic ability. So there’s still some good maintenance, and even trying to enhance my performance. I’m trying to push my limits as far as getting stronger, becoming more flexible, and everything that comes with that—speed, agility, all that. But at the same time, we have to look a certain way.
When you’re training for football or athletics, sometimes it’s about moving the bar from Point A to Point B with power, strength, and explosion. It’s not necessarily about feeling each muscle group work, feeling that contraction, that stretch, and having that mind-muscle connection and feeling every second under tension. So there’s that weird kind of region where I’m trying to kind of do all. I still want to be very strong. I still want to be explosive, and to be able to do everything that I need to do in the ring. But I want to be able to connect to each muscle group. That way, I can feel the muscle working, and I can take advantage where there’s no second in the gym wasted. Every minute that I put in into my training sessions, there’s going to be some kind of production that’s taken out of that session.
And what about training for on-camera work outside the ring? What’s the difference between training for something like Hobbs and Shaw versus being on live TV or pay-per-view in the ring?
So I did Hobbs and Shaw right before I met Neil, so there’s a lot of things I’d change, hindsight being 20/20. But I think in the future if that opportunity presents itself again, the main difference between what we do in the ring and what you do on set for the big screen is that I don’t have a stunt double in WWE. I am the stunt double. So there has to be that threshold of being ready to perform and able to pull out an A-plus performance from my body, physically, but also look pretty good doing it.
If you’re going too lean, you’re under on your nutrition, and your performance and your energy levels and what you’re asking your body to do in the ring may not be at the standard you need. If you’re working towards a certain date on set where “this is the shirtless day, this is where the character pops the top,” you can really work towards that, knowing that you’re not going to be demanded physically to perform in front of thousands of people in a live audience. So you can manipulate your calories and things like that and possibly come in even more shredded than I would naturally for a WWE performance.
We’ve talked a lot about your training. But you’re also in the ring with a ton of other top-notch athletes in WWE—who’s another superstar that you admire for their training, whether it’s the intensity, the amount they train, or something else?
It’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one because just about everybody has that discipline and has that self-motivation. Everybody’s built a really solid package. Just the two guys I was in there with on Monday, Bobby Lashley and Big E—very different physiques, but both top-tier, world-class athletes. Not only with the way they look, but the numbers they can put up in the gym. I’m sure if you put a stopwatch on them, too, it’d be pretty impressive the way they can move.
John Cena’s another guy who for 20 years was able to keep a top-notch, stage-ready physique and do it on a very full schedule—four to five days a week, every single week, years at a time. There’s a lot of guys, and even guys who may not get the TV time that they deserve or or may not be that household name—guys like Chad Gable, Bobby Rude—people who may not be the top guy of WWE, but man, do they have an incredible package that they present when the time’s right.
Success leaves clues. It’s not like it just came out of nowhere. But if you pay attention, you can see that progression and how they’ve gotten better over time. You can see all the meticulous details, how they stay consistent, and how tough it really is to do that year after year. I have a lot of respect for all these guys. I know I’ve missed some; I could just start listing the whole roster, but that’s the territory. If you want to be a WWE superstar, we’re all different shapes and sizes, but the majority of us are top-level athletes.
Greg PrestoGreg Presto is a fitness and sports reporter and videographer in Washington, DC.
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