How ‘AP Bio’ Star Glenn Howerton Trained Away His Bad Back

Glenn Howerton
 Maarten de Boer/NBC/Contributor/Getty Images

How Glenn Howerton, star of the new NBC comedy A.P. Bio and a creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, realized his health was no joke.

I NEVER THOUGHT OF myself as a leading man. But when I moved to Los Angeles, in the early 2000s, I kept getting pushed into those kind of roles. Not only hat, male actors all seemed to think that they needed to be as cut as Brad Pitt in Fight Club. I have nothing against being ripped, but it was a ridiculous standard. In helping to create It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I had the chance to lampoon some of the stereotypes I’d encountered.

My character, Dennis Reynolds, is obsessed with his appearance, and some of the douchey things he says—like “working out the glam- our muscles” and “popping the shirt off ”—are cribbed straight from guys I used to know. That said, I do want to look good on camera. For Season 7 of It’s Always Sunny, Rob McElhenney, who plays Mac, put on 50 pounds of fat as a gag and tried to get me to do the same. But that wasn’t exactly the direction I wanted to go. I want to lead a healthy life; I just don’t want to be obnoxious about it.

Back Track
A turning point in my health came in 2013, when my lower back started to seize up really badly. I was in my mid-30s and producing It’s Always Sunny with a skeleton crew. I’d had back problems since my 20s, but they started to get worse. There was a lot of pressure on me, so I’d pop a few Advils and try to grit through it. I could get through a day as long as I wasn’t filming a scene that involved jumping on a trampoline or diving into a pool. But it got to the point where my back was locking up every four to six weeks. I’d be putting on a sock, then it would be game over, and I’d be in bed for an entire day.

I ended up seeing a neuromuscular expert named Sam Visnic, who helped me relax overworked muscles and activate others instead. It’s hard to describe the movements we do: He lies me down, puts my legs at a 90-degree angle, thrusts my pelvis, then cocks my right foot forward as I squeeze a ball between my knees. But it works. Since I started seeing him three years ago, my back hasn’t seized up once.

The Write Stuff
Nowadays, I spend a lot of my time sitting at a desk working, whether for It’s Always Sunny or A.P. Bio. Given my history of back pain, I have to counteract sitting all day with regular training, which I’ve made a firm part of my schedule. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I train in my home gym, usually in the late afternoon. I recently switched from lifting to doing more body-weight exercises. For my glutes, I’ll do pistol squats while holding a medicine ball. For my arms, I’ll do pullup variations—overhand to underhand, wide grip to narrow grip. I have a ball grip add-on that I put on the bar, which makes pullups brutal. On Tuesday and Thursday, I do yoga, which has improved my flexibility, and I enjoy the peace of mind that comes with it. I’ve also learned that I look and feel my best when I eat a high-protein, high-fat diet—a lot of meat and avocado, basically—with lots of vegetables. I’m not afraid to make a good bone broth or add bacon fat to a meal, either.

Big Ambitions
The main reason I train is so I can pick up my two sons, ages 3 and 6, without having to think twice about it. But I do just enjoy challenging my body. It wouldn’t be realistic for the professor I play in A.P. Bio to be shredded within an inch of his life—but, as much as I spoofed hard-body types in It’s Always Sunny, I look forward to landing a superhero role one day that gives me the excuse to. After all, who wouldn’t want to get paid to put on 50 pounds of muscle?