It should have been one of the happiest years of Dan Reynolds’s life. In 2012, his band Imagine Dragons inked a deal with KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records and his wife gave birth to their first child. Soon the band would release the single “Radioactive,” the moody rock anthem that would be downloaded more than six million times. Yet a painful reality almost paralyzed Reynolds.
For years, the lead singer had been living with a rare autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS), which causes inflammation in the spine and can lead to pain in different parts of the body. It had become so painful that he was having trouble lifting his newborn daughter and could barely perform live. “I’d hobble onstage and just stand perfectly still,” says Reynolds.
And AS wasn’t his only health issue—Reynolds had already been dealing with ulcerative colitis for several years and had faced periods of depression since his teens. But instead of derailing his dreams, the pain ignited a top-to-bottom transformation that has left him ache-free and happier than ever, and turned him into a rock star known for energetic—and shirtless—performances.
Indeed, when Reynolds, 31, walks into Gold’s Gym in Glendale, Caliornia, for his MH photo shoot, the first thing someone asks him is whether he wants his shirt on or off. “Off,” he fires back (with unusual vigour for a celebrity). “This has been my healthiest year yet,” he says. “It’s also been my hardest year.” But it’s been a long journey. His transformation began slowly, as he first sought to learn as much as he could about his diseases. He addressed his depression first. The Las Vegas native has been open about how growing up Mormon forced him to conceal his most basic impulses, everything from his sexuality to his creativity. Reynolds spent two years on a Mormon mission, was kicked out of Brigham Young University for having sex with his girlfriend, and had to write songs in metaphor to hide things from his parents. “The reason I started writing in the first place was for refuge,” he explains.
Reynolds found a therapist who, he says, helped him realize that the root of his depression was the fact that he’d spent much of his life living for others—for the Mormon church and anyone else who had an opinion. He had lost sight of his own needs. “That’s when everything changed for me,” he says. “I decided with every decision I made from that point on I would ask myself, Is this my truth? ” It had almost a domino effect. He started reexamining everything. Reynolds announced in April 2018 the end of his seven-year marriage to Aja Volkman, with whom he has three daughters, but he’s since decided to work on the relationship.
Another thing he learned along the way was that he wanted to beat back both his physical and mental ailments without the help of drugs. “Pain medication ruins your vocal cords, and immunosuppressants made me get sinus infections all the time,” he says. “I really had no other option than to completely clean up my diet and exercise every day.”
In early 2017, Reynolds met trainer Brad Feinberg, a guy who he said looked like a Viking and a badass. Using Feinberg’s program, Reynolds eventually reached an intense level, working out for one to three hours seven days a week.
Workouts during the tour usually included squats, deadlifts, and lunges, as well as Turkish getups and jump variations. But Feinberg says Reynolds also wanted to look like a superhero, which meant high-volume upper-body drills, kettlebell swings, pullups, and curls. Plus, every workout had 20 minutes of cardio—low intensity (same speed), medium (four minute-runs with one minute of recovery), and high (one-minute sprints, with one minute of rest).
Recovery was just as important, adds Feinberg. “Touring is extremely stressful—the performances, the emotional stress—so we also emphasized deep breathing and mobility.”
Touring plays a huge role, too, in dictating Reynolds’s diet, which basically requires constant eating. Couple the training with epic two-hour live shows and Reynolds sometimes needs to down 6,000 calories a day just to maintain his weight. His body fat hovers around 6 percent. His meal plan: oatmeal, berries, bananas, salads, sweet potatoes, brown rice, chicken, lamb, and lots of olive oil.
It took Reynolds more than a year to go from skinny-fat to shredded. When I point out that six-pack abs and Thor-like biceps seem like overkill for battling AS, he says, “It’s a statement. It embraces the spirit of rock ’n’ roll. I grew up loving Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, Freddie [Mercury]—showmen.” Somehow, he can embrace excess and clean living without either seeming inauthentic.
At one point, Reynolds mentions he’s “straight edge,” referring to the ’80s punk ethos that celebrated sobriety. And when I press him to clarify whether he is completely sober—whether paparazzi might ever catch him drinking a postshow beer—his answer is refreshing. “Oh, it could happen,” he says with a smirk. “They might even catch me doing worse than that—I believe in living in the moment.”
Reynolds says he owes his newfound calm to being more honest with himself, and that’s evident in the songs on the band’s new album, Origins. “I’ve finally resolved a lot of these issues in my life,” he says. “This has been the first time in ten years that I can say I have no depression. Sadness? Hell yeah—it’s included some of the saddest times in my life—but no depression. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.”
The Thunder-and-Lightning Finisher
Dan Reynolds’s trainer, Brad Feinberg, recommends this total-body burner as a finisher or as a short workout (as long as you do 3 to 5 rounds). Check out this expanded plan for a full week of Reynold’s program.
Choose weights that are heavy enough that fatigue sets in after around 1 minute but not so heavy that you compromise form. Do each move for 60 seconds. Rest 3 minutes and repeat up to 5 times.
Hike the kettlebell and swing to chest height. Do single-arm swings on rounds 2 and 3 if you get bored easily.
Dumbbell Overhead Press
Start with the dumbbells at shoulder height. Press straight up.
Dumbbell Goblet Squat
Aim to get your thighs just below parallel to the ground and push up rapidly.
Dumbbell Alternate Renegade Row
Do a pushup with your hands on dumbbells. Raise one dumbbell, then the other.
If it’s too difficult, switch to a standard plank. Doing multiple rounds, alternate star planks.