The typical Imagine Dragons concert lasts two hours a night—right about the same amount of time an elite lifter may spend in the gym each day, or that an experienced runner may devote to a training session.
Coincidence? Not if you've ever seen this wildly successful rock band in person. The music performances might as well be sporting events, given how much energy lead vocalist Dan Reynolds expends flying around a large stage with runways jutting into a sea of fans.
"The whole time, I'm trying to sing songs that are pretty difficult, range-wise, to maintain breath control," says Reynolds. "It's incredibly taxing. Then, on top of it, I'm head-banging and throwing my arms around. We do strange things on stage."
The "we" refers to the Las Vegas friends with whom Reynolds formed Imagine Dragons in 2008. (Their name is a still-secret anagram, the meaning only known to the band's inner circle.) A wildly successful 2012 debut, "Night Visions," led to several years of relentless touring, with Reynolds patterning his animated, passionate performing style after Zack de la Rocha, lead vocalist of Rage Against the Machine. Of course, that sort of physicality has repercussions, both emotional and physical. On tour, they regularly play 2-3 nights in a row, often in different cities, before taking a night off.
To fuel his onstage effort with the band, Reynolds must consume more than 5,000 calories on show days. When those calories are used up, adrenaline takes over.
At a height of 6-foot-4, with a solid but lean build and visible abs, Dan doesn't look or sound like the stereotypical self-destructive rock star. And yet something pushed a self-destruct button within Reynold's own body; he has a rare autoimmune disorder that makes it tough to get out of bed some mornings, let alone perform in front of 30,000 people. If he were to let it grow unchecked, he could end up immobilized.
Fitness and healthy eating are the only weapons Reynolds has against this invisible, relentless foe, and he takes both deadly seriously. His life, not just his career, is at stake.
An Immune System in Revolt
Reynolds looks like a guy who played high school varsity if not collegiate sports, but he wasn't a jock growing up. On the contrary, he says he ate like a perpetual 12-year-old, scarfing down pizza, burgers, french fries, and a box of sugary cereal every night. Little did he know at the time, his lifestyle may have been kindling for a firestorm of inflammation brewing inside his young body.
Reynolds' immune system showed signs of being overly aggressive and aiming at the wrong targets during his teen years, when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that inflames the bowels. Unfortunately, his immune system was just getting warmed up. At age 21, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a form of arthritis that inflames the vertebrae of the spine and other parts of the body, leading to pain and mobility issues. Like most autoimmune disorders, it tends to get progressively worse, and in rare cases, can cause the sufferer's spinal bones to fuse together. AS has no known cure. According to the website of the Spondylitis Association of America, "effective treatments include medications, regular exercise, and various complementary therapies." (As an aside, the singer is very active in the association, even hosting a series of video interviews with other patients.)
Becoming a Believer
"Those two autoimmune diseases required me to not only change my diet, but also my way of life," Dan says.
It was important for him to get proper blood flow throughout his body, as well as to strengthen the tendons and muscles that protect his back. He began lifting weights despite, as he says, not knowing what to do, other than whatever moves he could recall from a mandatory high school lifting class.
Enter Brad Feinberg. Reynolds hired Feinberg as a trainer to help him shape up for the video for the 2017 single "Believer." The concept called for Reynolds to spar with Dolph Lundgren, still in amazing shape decades after playing Ivan Drago. To date, the resulting video has been viewed well over a billion times on YouTube alone.
So yeah, a lot was at stake. But Feinberg didn't subject Reynolds to a daily beat-down in the gym to build the physique he needed.
"Brad's major focus from the very beginning was all about recovery, which I had never really thought about," says Reynolds. When you're weight training as a novice, you think, 'Let me exhaust my muscles and build muscle.' You think about exertion, not recovery. Brad was really focusing on me maintaining a proper rest cycle, eating properly, and maximizing my recovery, because before I met him, I did not allocate much time for recovery."
They focused on recovery partly, of course, because it helps keep the damper on inflammation in Reynolds' body. Inflammation is a buzzword these days, but for someone with the singer's tortured medical history, taming it is a constant and necessary preoccupation.
As a side benefit, though, prioritizing recovery allowed Reynolds to work harder in the gym, while giving his body the space to grow bigger and stronger. And to a large extent, so far, they have succeeded; their plan, outlined below, has helped Reynolds build an admirable physique and a world-class energy level to match. But just as importantly, he feels better than ever.
Says Reynolds: "I've been able to live a healthy, strong life. I don't wake up in pain and go to bed in pain pretty much every day, like I had done for the previous eight years before meeting Brad."
Here's a brief rundown on their approach to training, diet, and supplementation, followed by a week's worth of workouts and a full day's meal plan.
Training: Reynolds trains every day while on tour. "Not all days are strength training and high intensity," says Feinberg. "Some days include active recovery such as yoga, deep breathing, and stretching."
When he's not on tour, Reynolds trains 5-6 times per week. According to Feinberg, the main goal of Reynolds' training is to make his body "move efficiently" by practicing the basic movement patterns regularly: pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and hip hinging. Some form of these movements is included in pretty much every workout—no bro split here. Supersets and trisets are the norm, giving Reynolds a conditioning boost while he builds strength. "Again, not all days are high intensity," says Feinberg. "Some days are active recovery."
Diet: The goal here is twofold: to fuel Reynolds for both his concert performances and workouts, and to do it in a way that doesn't promote inflammation, and in fact helps dampen it. His food selections are predominantly organic, and Reynolds tops them off with two gallons of water a day. The sample meal plan is for those days when the singer needs to consume 5,000-plus calories because he is on tour. "Those calories are necessary for how much activity he's doing each day and to maintain his muscle mass," says Feinberg.
Supplementation: When you subject your body to what Reynolds does, both inside the gym and outside it, sometimes diet isn't enough. Not surprisingly, he is a big proponent of the benefits of dietary supplements. When he began working with Feinberg, Reynolds found himself taking precise amounts of hard-training staples like creatine, glutamine, branched-chain amino acids, a pre-workout, and post-workout, along with nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, to name a few. Bewildering, right? They finally had a revelation similar to the one Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., had before launching JYM Supplement Science: If we're taking all this stuff, and none of it is exactly what's needed, why not just start our own line? So, Feinberg is launching a new supplement line, called AI, in several months, and Reynolds is slated to become a brand ambassador.
Dan Reynolds' Sample Week of Workouts
Active recovery such as yoga, stretching, low-intensity cardio
Active recovery such as yoga, stretching, low-intensity cardio
After each training session, Feinberg spends 10-15 minutes stretching Reynolds' entire body.