Novel Gains: How To Get Ripped For Romance

Jason Baca has bared his chest on more than 300 covers. Not fitness magazines—romance novels. Get his workout and diet plan here.

Romance floats into our lives every Valentine's Day like a beautiful vessel upon the high seas. But, lo! A galley full of marauding pirates advances. Fear not! A hero stands defiant against the horde. Adorned in a loose shirt, unbuttoned to reveal cut abs and a taught chest, a masked hero protects the city and defends a buxom maiden from a fate most horrific.

This sexual tension pulls longing readers through the romantic novel, their fingers flipping through page after page as if tugged by love itself. Enthralled readers devour these novels, quickly turning pages to uncover more tales in which the strapping hero save the dame, the day, and the whole damned world.

Most of the adventure rests in the imagination of the reader, but on romance-novel covers, you'll find an image of the hero and the beautiful heroine, portrayed by a pair of models.

How does it feel to personify the romance-novel version of heroism, lust, and romance? We asked veteran romance-model Jason Baca about the industry, and how his training prepares him for his quest to spark romantic fires across the globe.

How did you start working as a romance-novel cover model?

I've been working as a fitness model since 1997. I was on location in Northern California as a double for one of the actors from the movie "I Know What You Did Last Summer." One of the photographers pulled me aside to do a few snapshots. It ended up being my first shoot.

There came at a time in 2008, where I thought I was done with modeling. I couldn't do it anymore. I was walking through a Barnes & Noble bookstore when I noticed the romance books with guys on the cover. The man was ripped, in his mid-to-late 30s.

I thought it might be my thing, and from that moment, I knew I'd found my new goal. I made some contacts and I fell right into it. From then on, I put my heart and soul into the career.

Since you are an expert in the field of romance, do you have any Valentine's Day advice for the guys out there?

Remember that Valentine's Day is not about you. It's about making her feel good, doing the things she'd want to do. This is her day, not yours.

"50 Shades of Grey" launches this weekend. Have you noticed a change in romance novels since "Grey" came out?

Yes, it's actually helped the industry quite a bit. The themes might start changing as time goes on, because that book is in a leadership role among romance novels right now. The authors of upcoming novels stem subjects from the leaders.

I have read several of the novels I posed for, and I gotta tell you, these authors know their stuff. There are some amazing writers in this genre.

Do you sense competition between yourself and other prolific cover models?

They know me; I know them. It's a little game we all play. They pretend they don't see how good I'm doing. I pretend I don't know what they've done. This is good for the health. It keeps all of us pushing harder.

I always try to stay photo-shoot ready, or close to it.

When I get in the gym, I know that this one guy may be at his gym at this very moment working out three times as hard as me or doing 30 more crunches than I just did. It's such a mental game. When those thoughts get in my head, I find myself getting back on the ground and doing 100 more crunches.

Do you have to stay in shape all year? How do you maintain that?

I always try to stay photo-shoot ready, or close to it. If I get a job lined up two weeks ahead, I've got to be ready, tightened up around the waist. I always follow a low-fat diet. When I don't have a shoot booked, I tend to go a little easier in the gym because I don't have an objective. But I know something is always on the horizon, so I keep eating clean.

How do romance-novel models rank in the modeling world?

We are all in a world of our own. It's a very small arena of people. We all seem to know each other. I wouldn't know what the others in modeling feel about us. But I do know that in order to be on a book cover, you have to be in your best shape. Otherwise the next best man will take you over.

Does it take an intensified level of self-confidence to put yourself on a cover like this? Did you always have that confidence?

Oh, it definitely has helped my confidence. Before all this began, and before I was introduced to weightlifting even, I had a real issue with self-confidence. Since I've done these shoots, it's changed my whole perspective and outlook on how I envision myself. I've come a long way. The more I do, the more confident I become.

Do people ever give you shit for doing this job? What do you tell them?

The expressions I get from people when I tell them what I do are priceless. I don't know how many times I've talked to someone and they ask, "So what do you do?" and I tell them I'm a romance-novel cover model, and they look at me like, "What? You are kidding, right?"

We all laugh. They laugh because they think I'm joking. I laugh because I mean it.

These covers clearly have a lot of Photoshop done. How can we trust that you have a legit physique?

I give you my word. I put my heart and soul into my workouts. Throughout the shoot, we do a ton of flexing, tightening of the muscles, and push-ups in between shots—which is also great for workouts. By the end of a shoot, I'm so exhausted from flexing that I feel it was a better workout than actually going to the gym sometimes.

I give you my word. I put my heart and soul into my workouts.

Romance covers are an act, a pretend love. It's all very gaudy, over-the-top stuff, like you've gone up on a fluffy cloud and are romancing the one you desire.

Can you explain to us how the set looks?

It's a very basic background. We use a blue screen, green screen, and white-and-black backdrops. There are usually two or three different lights all around me with reflectors. The photographers like to throw in different colors and contrasts in their photos. They'll throw a gel in front of the lens to give it that crazy-looking hue. The editors will touch it up before it goes to print.

Is this lean look your personal preference, or just the style directors are looking for in a model?

Both, actually. I've always been the type that when I go to the gym, I'm not trying to impress all the other guys in there and show them how strong I am or try to do 3 reps of a heavy weight. Instead I do 12-13 reps of a lighter weight. I find it tougher to push yourself to do extra sets with lighter weights than it is to do a few reps of heavy weight.

I'm not into getting buffed out. I'm into getting lean and ripped, and not just for the work with novels. It's my mentality, the person I've always been.

How do you stay motivated to do this all year?

I try to follow the same guidelines as the late Greg Plitt, a good acquaintance of mine, and someone I always look to for motivation when it's hard to get to the gym. I watch his videos on YouTube, his workouts. I'll see what he does and try to replicate it in the gym. That's my inspiration.

Nutrition Plan

My nutrition plan is basic. I start the morning with five egg whites and a multivitamin. I eat about every two hours. I don't eat large meals, ever. If I do, I get a full feeling and tend to get exhausted from it. Therefore, I stick to light, clean eating. I pick one day per week to eat whatever I want.

Breakfast: 10 a.m.
Snack: before noon
Lunch: after noon
Snack: 2 p.m.
Snack: 4 p.m.
Dinner: 6 p.m.

Training Regimen

I change my rep scheme every month, but I usually keep them in that 8-14 range. I also flip-flop my exercise order in those workouts every month. It's the basic practice of muscle confusion. I typically work out at about 6 p.m.

Day 1: Back/Abs
Day 2: Legs/Abs
Day 3: Chest/Triceps/Abs
Day 4: Shoulders/Abs
Day 5: Biceps/Abs
Day 6: Rest Day
Day 7

Training cycle repeats, starting with back and abs.

Supplementation Plan

Since I'm not [trying to put on mass], I don't take a lot of supplements. When I do, I take Elite Mass by Dymatize Nutrition, which is gluten-free. I take a scoop every day around lunchtime. I also take a multivitamin pack every day with food.

One month every year, I go without any supplements or vitamins of any kind. I go completely natural.

Upon waking
With meals

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