To investigate whether someone like Bruce Wayne could physically transform himself into a one-man wrecking crew, ScientificAmerican.com turned to E. Paul Zehr, associate professor of kinesiology and neuroscience at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and a 26-year practitioner of Chito-Ryu karate-do.
What have comic books and movies told us about Batman's physical abilities?
There's a quote from Neal Adams, the great Batman illustrator, who said Batman would win, place or show in every event in the Olympics. Probably if I were Batman's handler, I'd put him in the decathlon. Although Batman is shown in the comics as being the fastest and the strongest and all these other things, in reality you can't actually be all of that at once. To be Batman properly, what you really need to do is be exceptionally good at many different things. It's when you take all the pieces and put them together that you get the Batman.
How long would Bruce Wayne have to train to become Batman?
In some of the timelines you see in the comics, the backstory is he goes away for five years—some it's three to five years, or eight years, or 12 years. In terms of the physical changes (strength and conditioning), that's happening fairly quickly. We're talking three to five years. In terms of the physical skills to be able to defend himself against all these opponents all the time, I would benchmark that at 10 to 12 years. Probably the most reality-based representation of Batman and his training was in Batman Begins.
What's a realistic training regimen?
I didn't give a training manual in my book, but he'd want to do specialized weight training to build up an ability to work at a really high rate for maybe 30 seconds to a minute (the maximum time period associated with his fights). One of the early comics shows him holding an enormous weight over his head. That's not the right kind of adaptation toward punching and kicking. He's got to make sure he's doing all the skill training at the same time so that he's actually using the (physical) adaptations he's slowly gaining. In conventional martial arts, when people take weapons training, you're doing a kind of power-strength training.