William Zabka’s Trainer Discusses Turning ‘Cobra Kai’ Star Into Fighting Machine

Every man older than the age of 50 wants to be as tough as Johnny Lawrence. Actually, a lot of people younger than 50 would like to be as tough as Lawrence, the often-hard-on-his-luck character portrayed by William Zabka in the NetFlix smash hit, “Cobra Kai.”

In the event you’re not familiar with the show, just know it’s a follow-up to the “Karate Kid” franchise, starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso. In the first move, Zabka served as Macchio’s nemesis. “Cobrai Kai” is the story of the lives of the characters in the “Karate Kid,” and their kids, 30-plus years later.

Zabka’s Lawrence is a lovable loser, a guy who never really got his act together after falling to defeat in “Karate Kid.” But man, he’s trying.

Anyway, with the popularity of the show on the rise, guys seem to be noticing that, hey, Zabka, 55, is looking pretty fit and athletic (same goes for Macchio, actually). How did Zabka do it?

The man who trained Zabka, Chad Landers, gave some answers in a recent interview with Onnit.com. Landers said Zabka conquered the first step by being a willing student, and an older man with some youthful drive.

“He was in good shape. A lot of people don’t realize that Billy wrestled in high school and had trained karate for real for years after ‘Karate Kid,’ so it’s not like he had let himself go for the last 30 years,” Landers said. “It’s just that when you’re going to be on camera, the requirements are a little different. The camera lies to a degree. So you’re always better off being a little bit leaner than not when you’re shooting a movie or TV show. Billy just wanted to make sure he was putting his best foot forward.”

Landers added that he only had a few weeks to train Zabka before shooting began, so they had to get the “Cobra Kai” star on a program quickly. And while Zabka has steadily trained in martial arts since shooting “Karate Kid,” this was more about giving Zabka the look of a lean and mean fighting machine.

“We trained three to four days a week, which is about as much time as I get with any actor,” Landers said. “Most of them pay for training themselves, and they don’t have a lot of time to spare. In that case, I usually do full-body workouts that cover a push exercise, a pull, and some leg exercise.

“I’ll intersperse the strength training with interval cardio, and then do some assistance exercises at the end—like curls, lateral raises, and other isolation lifts. For instance, I’ll have them do bench presses for maybe 5 sets of 5, resting two to three minutes between sets, and then do a 400-meter run on the treadmill. Then go on to hex-bar deadlifts followed by sprints on the Airdyne bike.

“I don’t like to do strength and cardio exercises as a circuit. I like the strength training to be done as heavy as possible, so I let them recover between sets, and then do the cardio afterward. That really works well for getting people cut up.”

As for diet, Landers said he didn’t get too specific with Zabka, merely telling him to stick primarily to lean proteins and vegetables. Avoiding added sugars and high-fat foods went without saying.

“By the end of the first season, I was as low as 176 pounds, eating around 1,700 calories each day,” Zabka told Men’s Health. “But that was a little too light for me, so I balanced it back out at my current weight at 185, which is around where I belong. My calories are a lot higher now, and I do strength and conditioning three times a week. Clearly, being healthy and at the right weight makes you feel good with lots of energy.”

Along with all of the above, Landers made sure Zabka worked in plenty of core exercises.

“Strength is the great equalizer. You have to have that foundation of being strong to build any other qualities. And you have to be strong in all three planes [moving forward and backward, side to side, and in rotation] and unilaterally,” Landers said. “But, that being said, guys who are around 50 tend to be carrying around extra body weight too. You’ll greatly reduce your chances of injury if you can lose five or 10 pounds. The less weight you have pounding on your joints he better.”

Written by Sam Amico

Sam Amico spent 15 years covering the NBA for Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and NBA.com, along with a few other spots, and currently runs his own basketball website on the side, FortyEightMinutes.com.

5 Comments

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    • He truly is, as one person said a while back America needs him more than ever before! With all the bullshit on Television about participation trophies and embracing ever form of degeneracy possible, here comes Johnny Lawrence to tell teenagers to shut their mouth and get to work if they want to succeed at anything in life. And Macchio is no slouch either.

        • I will 100% take your word for it, outside of watching the show I have no idea what they do in real life. I’m not on any social media sites so I don’t know which way they lean politically or what their favorite sushi place is.

          But on the show I think both characters are very easy to stomach, Lawrence is great.

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