It's one thing to instruct athletes how to train and fuel for an elite competition, it's another thing to take what you know and apply it to yourself—with millions watching.
Late in 2019, Dr. Kaleb Redden, a sports medicine doctor and Kaged Muscle Team Doctor and athlete from Boise, Idaho, found himself in the unique position to take the guidance he had shared with athletes and put it into personal action—or to put some mileage behind his knowledge, as Kaged Muscle founder Kris Gethin likes to say. It came in the form of a social media message from the producers of the hit NBC show "The Titan Games."
"They contacted me and said, 'We've heard some of the work you've done with Bodybuilding.com and Kaged Muscle and things like that,'" Redden told me on a recent episode of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast. "'You're a well-spoken guy, you've got a unique story. We think that's inspiring and motivating, and you're a pretty athletic guy. How do you feel about going on TV and doing this competition with Dwayne Johnson?' I thought that sounded like a pretty good deal."
Redden has previously given a window into his particular balance of muscle-building and medical expertise for overall health and fitness in the articles "Lessons from a Jacked Medical Doctor" and "4 Ways to be Healthy and Huge," but "The Titan Games" was a different challenge—and one that he knew he couldn't take lightly. But he thought he was up for the challenge, so he said yes and embarked upon a whirlwind prep.
Here's how "Doc Thor" prepared for his time in front of the cameras.
Trust Your Muscles
While Redden has a long and varied athletic history, encompassing boxing, football, and hard labor on oil drilling rigs, he has trained primarily in a bodybuilding style for years. He was confident this would help him look jacked on screen, but he wasn't interested in looking good but flaming out in the first round. The question was how his bodybuilding training would carry over—or not—to activities like climbing, hanging, and chaotic shuttle runs.
"I was really worried that I was going to be a fish out of water," he explains. But after a couple of weeks of gasping through his training, Redden found he acclimated quickly. In fact, he says. "I really slipped right into that [athletic] training modality pretty seamlessly."
How does he explain this? "If you train like a bodybuilder, your sets and reps and rest are such that you're incorporating cardiovascular activity," he explains. "You're still doing activity that involves the cardiac system, the heart and lungs, and you're increasing your metabolic function at the mitochondrial level. As long as you maintain that aerobic threshold in your training, it turns out that bodybuilding can parallel [with sports] really well."
As "The Titan Games" got closer, Redden resisted the urge to fully specialize his training. Instead, he embraced two-a-day training, balancing athletic and bodybuilding sessions.
"The bodybuilding stuff stayed the way it was. I just added to it and worked out twice a day," he explains.
But he didn't just follow this approach to look a certain way. Redden says he quickly discovered that the muscles he'd spent years building were a great ally rather than a burden.
"Muscles are a useful tool," he says. "There's that term, 'functional training,' and people don't consider bodybuilders functional trainers, right? But I think it behooves you to have muscle."
In his second episode of "The Titan Games," Redden put both his muscle and hustle on display when he handily defeated two smaller opponents on the explosive challenge Hammer Down.
Address the Weak Links—to the Degree That It's Possible
Along with that long athletic history, Doc Thor has an injury history that isn't easy listening for the faint of heart. His shoulders, hips, back, and knees in particular have known pain, and he's been under the knife in addition to wielding the scalpel himself. The idea of hanging by one arm or doing multi-directional sprinting was a little alarming, but he imagined both would be part of the game—and they were, right out of the gate, in an event called Chain Linked.
Fortunately, Redden was prepared. After accepting the invitation, he says, as his first course of action: "I went through and watched all of the last Titan game season, so I made sure I knew what they had gone through. And what did I see? A lot of grip strength and speed. I used to be pretty quick, so I thought, well, that's one thing I can work on."
He also did plenty of hanging and monkey bar work to build grip strength, but with a constant eye toward injury prevention and self-preservation.
"I found ways that I was able to kind of modify my body mechanics that allowed me to protect my left shoulder," he explains.
"The Titan Games" weren't without incident. Redden says he banged his knee and developed substantial swelling on Chain Linked, then tore a lat on his second event, a full-body collision course known as Kick Out.
These incidents aside, though, he says he was pleasantly surprised by how prepared he felt. "I felt equipped for all of it," he recalls. "There wasn't a single event where I was like, 'I can't do that.'"
Peak Your Nutrition, Not Just Your Training
A second part of Redden's plan to reduce the potential stress on his shoulder from hanging was to reduce the amount of weight that shoulder would have to support—in other words, to lean out.
"I started changing my diet right away to try to lose any belly fat that I had been planning to use to keep warm during winter," he explains. "I didn't need that anymore."
As his prep honed to a peak, he also began timing his carbohydrates around workouts to maximize performance and recovery when he needed it and prioritize fat loss the rest of the time.
"My carbs revolved around what day it was, and when I was going to be working out," he recalls. "So I'd have more carbs on a leg day and a high running day, and fewer carbs on a biceps and triceps and low jogging day."
He also began to dial in his competition-day eating and supplement plan, which ended up looking like this:
Kaleb Redden's "Titan Games" Gameday Nutrition
- 5 a.m.: Oatmeal, honey, egg whites
- Midmorning: Kaged Muscle Whey Protein Isolate, egg whites, cheese stick, honey
- Pre-competition: Kaged Muscle Pre-Kaged or Amino Synergy
- As needed during competition: Amino Synergy, Kaged Muscle Whey Protein Isolate, peanut butter and honey sandwiches
Embracing His Moment on the World Stage
After winning three events, Redden saw his dreams of becoming a "Titan Games" champion end on a quick and chaotic event named Resistance. He says his body ached for weeks after returning home from filming in Atlanta, both due to the intensity of the individual events, and how the bombardment of muscle damage from one gauntlet stacked on top of the next.
"It's a very multidisciplinary activity," he explains. "There's hanging, there's kicking, running and jumping, there's hand-eye coordination—and then there's strength and power, too. There's a lot that goes into it, but there's also things that are just unknown."
While "Doc Thor" says he still wakes up thinking about the event that got away, watching it all play out on TV has given him some peace.
"I was really pretty happy with the results. I felt like I looked the part when I walked in there, and I performed well," he says. "It was unbelievably challenging, but I was also really grateful for the opportunity to show what I was made of."
Videos and images courtesy of NBC's "The Titan Games."