Though also known for his roles in Tristan & Isolde, Stardust, Blood Creek, Immortals, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Henry William Dalgliesh Cavill is most prominently known as the most super of all superheroes in Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and 2017’s Justice League.
Cavill’s natural good looks and voice make him a natural fit for playing Clark Kent, but getting into godlike shape to play the Last Son of Krypton is a superhuman feat in and of itself. So how exactly did Henry Cavill make himself faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive? Let’s find out.
He worked out at the exclusive Gym Jones
In order to turn himself into the Man of Steel, Henry Cavill turned to the exclusive Gym Jones—an invite-only gym known for training athletes, military personnel, the cast of 300, and Superman.
Gym Jones is not your warm and cozy neighborhood pilates studio. There are no televisions, no machines, no mirrors, and no comfortable places to sit. The gym’s official webpage greets browsers by telling you that in order to build a strong body, you must first begin by "unf***ing your head," and the building’s walls have seen their fair share of breakdowns, both physical and psychological.
Gym Jones may be intimidating, but Cavill claims working out there has its brief moments of fun. "Mark Twight, the chap from Gym Jones, has been putting me through the ringer big time," he explained. "We all have a bit of fun doing it as well. For example, if Mike Levins, who’s the assistant trainer, Mark Twight, and myself are training, we’ll just do 10 reps of a weight and then someone drops out, they do 10, someone drops out, they do 10. By the time the third person’s finished their set, you come in and do your 10, up to 100."
Of course, fun is a subjective concept.
He pushed his body past its limits
Though Cavill managed to have a bit of fun every now and again, his training regimen primarily consisted of pushing himself into the realm of the superhuman.
"I’m training two-and-a-half hours a day, pushing my body beyond its normal limits," Cavill explained. "Putting on a lot of muscle mass and just making myself look like Superman. I did two months training on my own and four months training in L.A. with Mark [Twight], and that was excruciating—breaking boundaries I didn’t know I could."
Cavill recalled to ShortList one particularly excruciating moment, during which he was "doing some horrible rowing sprint thing, and I said, ‘I can’t do this Mark, I can’t, I’m done,’ and he said, ‘No you’re not, don’t listen to the lies.’ I kept on pulling and pulling until suddenly I realized I had finished."
He minimized muscle loss by building a strong foundation
Getting big is one thing. Staying Superman-sized, however, is an entirely different story.
Henry Cavill’s twice-daily, boundary-breaking training sessions may have helped him get jacked, but once filming actually started, that regimen went out the window. Living out of hotels while working on set all day isn’t exactly the best way to stay in superhuman shape, but the Man of Steel was able to minimize the detrimental effects of a reduced workout regimen, thanks to the ultra-solid muscle base he’d built.
"Stable fitness requires a wide, solid foundation," trainer Mark Twight explained. "The deeper that foundation, the more stable that condition will be, and the easier it is to maintain."
He slept 9-10 hours every night
Before Cavill even started training in earnest with Gym Jones founder Mark Twight, the trainer laid down one very important stipulation—Cavill needed to get nine to ten hours of sleep every single night for five months.
"It’s like, ‘Hey, guy, you want to be f***ing Superman? Then do this one other thing, which might be the most important piece of it,’" Twight explained to Muscle & Fitness. "If you don’t get the sleep, if you can’t recover, then we can’t continue with this training and we won’t achieve the objective. The predatory effect that a lack of sleep has on the rest of the work you do is shockingly powerful. The HGH and testosterone secretion that happens during these deep-sleep cycles is super-important."
The next time your brain tries to convince you to stay up late for one more episode of Stranger Things or one more round of Star Wars Battlefront II, ask yourself: what would Superman do?
He focused on varied, high-intensity workouts and functional movement
The exact details of Cavill’s personalized workout program are unsurprisingly under lock and key, but that doesn’t mean we can’t approximate. In order to make the actor look like the Man of Steel, Cavill’s trainers took a Crossfit-like approach, utilizing varied, high-intensity workouts centered around functional movement and mass building. As such, HenryCavill.org recommends the following weeklong "Crossfit football program."
Monday’s goal is to lift 10,000 lbs as fast as possible using only squats, presses, and deadlifts. Tuesday tasks you with 50-yard sprints, broken up only by one-minute periods of rest. On Wednesday, you can take the day off before an intense Thursday, in which you’ll do as many rounds possible of seven dumbbell bent-over rows, seven dumbbell power cleans, and seven dumbbell push presses in ten minutes. Friday tasks you with completing 20 kettlebell swings and a 60-yard sprint in one minute, before taking a two-minute breather and repeating the process five times. On Saturday, you have nine minutes to do as many rounds possible of three back squats, six pull-ups, and nine push-ups, before taking Sunday off.
Utilizing Crossfit-esque workouts like the one outlined above will not only make you more powerful than a locomotive, but able to actually move like one, too.
He ended workouts with ‘the tailpipe’
Cavill’s trainer Mark Twight highly recommends ending any Superman workout with something he likes to call "the tailpipe." Aimed at teaching correct breathing while working your body to exhaustion, "the tailpipe" is a tag-team workout—though it can also be done solo—named as such because, as Twight says, "when you’re done, it feels like you’ve been sucking on the tailpipe of a car." (Gross.)
Interested in knowing what that feels like? Try this—the next time you’re finishing up a workout, grab a partner and row 250m, and hold two 24kg kettlebells in the rack position while paying close attention to your breathing. Grab 45 seconds of rest, swap places with your partner, and repeat until you’ve each successfully done three rows and three racks. After that, your lungs will certainly feel the burn—but you’ll be able to get more out of each subsequent workout, thanks to the increased lung capacity and stamina.
He didn’t skip the cardio
Everyone knows Superman’s powers aren’t limited to simply being more powerful than a locomotive. He’s also quite the speedster, with a 100m-dash time rivaled only by the Flash. Since Cavill obviously doesn’t have wheels like Usain Bolt, strength coach Michael Blevins made sure to incorporate plenty of cardio into the actor’s fitness regimen.
Many people looking to bulk up don’t get in enough cardio, which serves to do a lot more than simply helping make you faster than a speeding bullet. Stamina exercises also help you bulk up and get those gains. "There’s a misconception that cardio will negatively impact muscle," Blevins explained to Men’s Fitness. "A larger work capacity can allow you to train harder and longer. Building muscle without conditioning is akin to having an impressive engine without a gas tank—it’s worthless."
Sure—having super-strength is great, but if you can’t catch the bad guys, it’ll be pretty difficult to kick their butts.
He trained with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Roger Gracie
Speaking of kicking butts—one of Cavill’s favorite ways to stay in shape is by practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. However, the actor behind Superman doesn’t just dabble in the martial art. He trains with the best.
Cavill frequently takes lessons from 10-time Jiu-Jitsu world champion Roger Gracie, grandson of the art’s founder Carlos Gracie. Gracie’s academy is one of the most well-respected BJJ institutions in the world and prides itself in treating all of its members as part of one big family while providing a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere in which to train—one Cavill certainly enjoys. "Had the pleasure of being taught by Roger Gracie again this morning under the watchful gaze of Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu Grand Masters and Masters," the actor wrote in an Instagram post. "My BJJ has slipped by the wayside a bit with my focus being on work but it’s now time to get back into it! Such an enjoyable way to train."
Now, to just get Cavill into the octagon…
He ate between 3,500 and 5,000 calories per day
While training to become Superman, Cavill would generally eat between 3,500 and 5,000 calories per day, including regular post-workout shakes. "You’ve got to eat protein first, then a little bit of carbs," he explained. "You’ve gotta keep your hunger levels going."
Getting 5,000 calories meant roughly six meals per day. For example, Cavill would drink three cups of low-fat milk for breakfast, with two cups of cold cereal, two cups of blueberries, and six tbsp of slivered almonds. He’d follow that up with 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese, 56 grams of protein powder, two cups of grapes, three tbsp of barley, and over an ounce of sunflower seeds. For lunch, he’d typically eat 4.5 ounces of chicken breast, four ounces of low or nonfat cheese, four cups of vegetable soup, four crackers, three whole pitas, and 12 peanuts, followed later by 49 grams of protein powder, 1.5 cups of low-fat yogurt, 1.5 tbsp of barley, three tbsp of slivered almonds, one tsp of olive, flax, hemp or salmon oil, and two tangerines.
Cavill would eat a dinner consisting of 11 ounces of lean beef, four cups of cauliflower, two cups of rice, six tbsp of almonds, and 1.3 cups of fruit juice before finishing it all off with a sixth meal, comprised of 11 ounces of skinless turkey breast, two cups of chickpeas, a cup of mushrooms, a fourth of a cup of onions, a head of lettuce, three cups of cherry tomatoes, and six tbsp of almonds.
He was under enormous pressure
Playing arguably the most famous superhero of all time is no easy task, and Cavill found himself under enormous pressure to live up to the iconic role. Rather than buckle under the enormity of the responsibility, however, he used this as motivation to push himself to the limit.
"I felt enormous pressure," Cavill admitted to Muscle & Fitness. "Mostly from myself to get it right. This isn’t something that you get wrong. The pressure mostly manifested when I started negotiating with myself during a workout. My head would be telling me to quit or to not push so hard and save energy for later sets by doing fewer reps, but then I’d remind myself that I had to get this right and I’d start blasting."
He also built strength of character
Anyone can hire some skilled personal trainers and put down a bunch of calories to get ripped, but playing Superman requires more than simply lifting heavy objects and exhibiting lightning-like quickness. Being Superman requires inner strength.
"Fitness is strength and conditioning, but also strength of character," Twight told Muscle & Fitness. "Cheating and shortcuts produce visible insecurity. Genuine accomplishment looks and feels different. It cannot be faked. By doing physically difficult things, by changing his body of his own will, Henry changed his attitude and his bearing. He looked huge. He walked huge. His attitude broadcast his physical capability."
Just like Clark Kent, Cavill learned what it means to be Superman through discovering his own power. "I learned my limits go far beyond what my head thinks they are," Cavill said. "Superman isn’t just about his strength or his abilities. It’s more about determination in the face of a seemingly insurmountable problem."
You define your own reality
No matter what, Cavill wants everyone to remember that nobody’s perfect—not even Superman.
"We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all got it wrong, trusted the wrong person, made the wrong bet, turned the wrong way, made THAT mistake," the actor wrote in an Instagram post. "What we’ve experienced is important, it defines us. But what is more important, and often forgotten, is that we decide how it defines us…I’ve made mistakes, I’ve been someone I’m not proud of plenty of times. I’ve fallen down. I’ve loved the wrong person. I’ve failed. I’ve been hurt. I’ve hurt. That’s life! In life we are going to get it wrong…a lot."
Cavill reminds us that we are who we choose to be, and making mistakes is part of growing as a person. "What I’ve tried to do and still try to do each time…is recognize those mistakes and mold them to my advantage. Make them a way to better myself. Use that experience," he said. "Run with it. Take the sum of your past and make it your tool to approach the future with. Move forward and love the experiences you have, use them to define you and make you the best version of yourself that is humanly possible. Your life is yours and will be whatever you want it to be. Love, grow, pursue, strive, challenge yourself…Be afraid so that you can be brave."