Cliff Smith grunts as he wraps his hands around the barbell, bends his knees, and lowers his six-foot-three frame toward the floor. He tenses his entire body, exhales twice, and starts pulling 455 pounds upward. His legs shake as he stands fully upright, and then he lowers the weight, breathes deeply, and does it all over again. He does five total reps, then drops the bar and smiles. “Ain’t even winded,” he says. “Holla at me.”
The five reps are a personal best for Smith (better known as Method Man), who loves starting his day by chasing PRs.
On this morning, he’s in a Staten Island gym pondering his next milestone birthday (he turns 50 in March) and crushing sets of deadlifts, pullups, and barbell rows. “I gotta get my roses now,” he says,”because I’m almost 50 fucking years old. Damn near 50 years old, bruh.”
The Grammy Award-winning rap veteran has focused creativity into a host of projects lately. He appears in Starz’s drama Power Book II: Ghost (returning for the second half of its first season in December); he voiced the character Ben Urich in Marvels, a narrative-fiction podcast; and he’s working on new music.
His morning workout has readied him for all that–and it’s kept him from predawn video-game marathons. In 2018, Smith says, he was battling insomnia, frequently waking at 2:00 A.M. and playing NBA2K. Realizing he was “just wasting time,” Smith searched for a more productive use of his early-morning hours. “So at 4:00 A.M., I find myself in the gym working out,” he says.”Two days turned into three days. Three days turned into five days, and I’ve been consistent ever since.” Bonus: His insomnia is gone.
Smith now weighs 219, 12 pounds less than he weighed when he first started training. He hits legs Mondays, shoulders Tuesdays, back Wednesdays, chest Thursdays, and arms Fridays. “He’s a beast,” says his workout partner, Joey Crespo. “Our routine has only been heavy, heavy, all year round.”
At the moment, that means gritting out three sets of seated lat pulldowns, followed by a core exercise that has him on his knees, rolling a wheel forward, challenging his abs. He finishes the session by sitting on a bench with a harness connected to his forehead, a weight hanging in front of his chest. He lowers his head to look at the ground, then flexes his neck muscles to raise his head and look straight ahead, an old-school neck exercise that few gym-goers will do. Smith does it regularly.
“Regardless of how tired I get, no matter what the workout is, I at least will try it,” he says between deep breaths. “I’m not going to say no to anything.”
You may not have Method Man’s fancy neck-training gear or his deadlift weight. But if you have a resistance band, you can try his favorite at-home regimen.
Do 25 to 30 reps. Aim for 5 sets.
Stand on a resistance band, its ends held at your sides, your core tight. Curl up, squeezing your biceps; then lower. That’s 1 rep; do 15 to 20. Do 5 sets.
Banded Shoulder Press
Stand on a resistance band, its ends held at your shoulders, your core tight. Tighten your shoulder blades and press the band overhead. Pause, then return to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 15 to 20. Do 5 sets.
A version of this story originally appears in the November 2020 issue of Men’s Health, with the title “The 6 a.m. Workout w/ Method Man”.