Lou Ferrigno and Lou Ferrigno Jr. on Bodybuilding, Acting and Parenting

Lou Ferrigno, 69, is a two-time Mr. Universe champion, trainer and actor (he’s the OG Hulk). His son, Lou Ferrigno Jr., 36, is also a bodybuilder, a trainer and an actor. (You can see Junior in four films this year: Dreamcatcher, final frequency, black nightshadeand Blackout.) Here’s how each helped the other grow.

Men’s Health: How did each of you begin your training?

Lou Ferrigno: When I was young, I had hearing problems and speech impediments. My dad was abusive, so I was obsessed with power. I was reading Hulk comics, Superman comics. I fantasized about being stronger than anyone else. I just liked the strength.

Lou Ferrigno Jr.: I saw a guy in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon that had those big pecs. Girls on the beach loved pecs. So when I was 11 or 12, I said, “Dad, I want to train. I want pecs. And where should I turn? Lou Ferrigno was my first sparring partner. Which is really cool.

LF: When you were young, you were a bit overweight. But I never pushed you to train.

LFJ: I wanted to make a change in my life. I didn’t want to be laughed at anymore.

Lou Ferrigno and Lou Ferrigno Jr. train in Los Angeles in May 2021.

RYAN YOUNG

MH: Were you made fun of?

LFJ: Once, when I was about 11, our family was at the Fashion Café in New York. My foot was in a cast [from a PE accident at school], and I was limping. This table full of teenagers started laughing. One of them got up and limped laughing at me. So we come to our table and my sister says, “Dad, those boys were making fun of Louie!” And he goes [switching to his father’s voice], “Where are they?” Dad gets up and walks over to this table of, like, seven or eight kids and a dad. And he said, “Which one of you made fun of my son?” They all freeze. And he said, “Never make fun of my son again!”

LF: I wasn’t really angry. I just knew I had to say something. Some of them, I’m sure, peed their pants. I would forget my size. I remember walking down the street, I had to wear a 4XL t-shirt. People would move away. It was as if Moses was coming. When I got mad, people thought I was becoming the Hulk. But I don’t see myself like that. When you’re so big, you don’t see yourself so big. I see myself as an ordinary guy.

lou ferrigno jr ​​and lou ferrigno
Ferrigno helps his son get back into shape during a 2o21 practice.

RYAN YOUNG

MH: Has your relationship to fitness and parenthood evolved?

LF: I wanted to give him my name because I felt he was destined for great things. I didn’t want him to go into bodybuilding, because bodybuilding is a very difficult sport. I wanted him to have a university education, because he was very intelligent.

LFJ: There was definitely a moment where I was like, “How am I going to live up to this?” He put that pressure on me, unfairly, because I didn’t choose any of that. His relationship with me was not good. It took time and a lot of soul-searching, but I came to see him as a teammate and a coach, rather than an opponent. LF: My wife is a former psychotherapist. I decided to go to therapy because I didn’t want to be like my father. My dad never had the ability to say he was wrong, he was sorry. . . . I didn’t want to be like him with my children. That’s why I let my kids talk when they’re angry. Sometimes I heard things I didn’t want to hear. But I prefer to express them.

MH: How did Lou Jr. become an actor?

LF: Louie can do things I can’t. He had another look. It all started when he saw me as the Hulk. [Lou Jr. was three when his father filmed The Incredible Hulk Returns.]

LFJ: It was one of my earliest memories. I thought I was just going to see my dad. I knock on the RV and it’s completely made up. He looks at me, a giant green monster of a guy, and I start running down the beach in panic. What I remember next is holding her hand and going to bed. He said, “Stay here” and left. I looked down and had green paint on my hand. That’s when it all started to come together.

LF: Then I made a movie called Cage II [in 1994], and I gave Louie a little scene. He was very excited about it.

LFJ: That’s when I knew I was going to be an actor for the rest of my life. It happened in a literal instant.

MH: Did you compete with each other?

LFJ: My dad is just a big guy. Big heart, big man, big hands, big altogether. I just didn’t fit that. I just didn’t fit that size in terms of bone structure, in terms of strength, in terms of physique. And he would remind me. He was the Incredible Hulk, the essence of composite masculinity until 11. There were a few instances where I thought if I couldn’t have that, I wouldn’t have anything. But then there was a moment [after college at USC] when I was studying acting, going deeper into what building a character is, I realized that I could do a lot of different things. So why compare when all I have to do is chart my own course?

LF: I remember when you were on a really, really hard diet.

LFJ: This was when I was about 19 and did an eight week shredding. The routine was grueling, and I was thinking about cheating, and my dad said, “Hey, you can do it. You can make it happen. I remember I was doing the dishes, just before the end, and my father started to prick me. I’m like, “What?” And he’s like, “Isn’t it amazing how the body changes?” He had never been too excited about what I was doing. But I was peeled; 4% body fat. He knocks on my door – and he never really comes to my door – and he has a Polaroid camera, and he says, “Can I take pictures of you?” So I flexed. I still have those photos.

two men training
Ferrigno helps his son get back into shape during a workout in 2003.

Stewart Cook/Shutterstock

MH: Lou Jr., have you ever felt the urge to pursue pure strength?

LFJ: I did. But when I started to plateau, I was training with guys my size who were 100, 200 pounds heavier than me on the bench. I wasn’t going to lift that kind of weight. So I realized that I was not as strong as my father Incredible Hulk. Honestly, I can’t remember a single time he didn’t outplay me. Arm, it quadrupled my weight. Physically, in my life, there has always been a higher power. I had to be humble because my father was bigger, stronger than anyone else. No one understands the magnitude of his presence.

LF: Louie was never into how much he could bench. I used to bench 560. He was always more interested in [being] athletic. You were faster than me.

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MH: You were both physical trainers?

LFJ: Coming out of college around 2007, I had to support myself while I worked on my acting. I had some very, very wealthy, well-known people. But that’s not all it’s supposed to be. Work ethic is built by doing things. Often a client knows they need to practice, but they keep
a bad attitude all the time. I say to myself: “I am here to help you. Fitness is for your health.

LF: Most of my clients listened to me because I said, “I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t want to waste my time. They were afraid of me. I once had a guy from the Marine Corps say to me, “No matter how hard I train, I never get tired.” I said, “Really?” I made him do the leg press until he failed. I made him do the leg extension until he failed. And then squat to failure. After two sets, he went to the garden and threw up. He came back and said, “Sorry I made that comment.”

MH: But Lou, when you coached Lou Jr., you never pushed him hard, did you?

LF: No, because I know it must be him. I never wanted to force training.

LFJ: I’m forever grateful to you because if you push your kids too hard, they’ll want to go the other way. He always let me find him on my own, find the questions and ask them. He was always a sounding board and source of great knowledge for any questions I had.

A version of this story appeared in the June 2021 issue of men’s health with the title Hulk breaks the rules of parenthood.

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Teresa E. Burton