Super Human Effort
From being an overweight bullied schoolboy to creating one of Hollywood’s most sculpted and sought-after physiques, British movie star Henry Cavill knows what it takes to excel. Here, in an exclusive interview with TRAIN, he reveals for the first time how you too can build the body of a real action hero.
It’s hard to believe that an actor who has played Superman and the statuesque son of the Greek god Poseidon was once mercilessly teased for being overweight. But when British movie star Henry Cavill was a schoolboy on the tiny island of Jersey, just off the coast of northern France, he was referred to by his classmates as ‘Fatty Cavill.’
Almost 20 years have passed since the 30-year-old was the butt of those cruel jibes, and now the star of last year’s summer blockbuster Man of Steel has the kind of sculpted physique that’s admired by millions of women, and men, across the globe. But it’s taken years of hard work in the gym, strict dieting, and grit and determination by the bucketload, for Cavill to become the super man he is today.
And then there was the mental transformation he had to undergo.
Cavlll explains: “I was extremely self-conscious of my body when I was growing up, but that’s because I was fat as a child. In fact, I was so overweight my school pals used to call me Fatty Cavill.”
His long path to physical enlightenment began when he anded his first major role in the 2002 film The Count of Monte Cristo.
He recalls: ‘That really inspired me to get healthy and lose weight. In fact, I lost one and a half stone for that movie and I wasn’t Fatty Cavill anymore.’
Following the success of his big screen debut, the offers began to pour in for Cavill. As well as appearing in a number of big budget TV shows in The UK, like The Tudors, he went on to star in the Hollywood movies Tristan & Isolde (2006), Red Riding Hood (2006) and Stardust (2007).
And then in late 2009 he was offered the part of Theseus in Tarsem Singh’s hit movie The Immortals. For that role, Cavill had to become the 190lb lean, mean and shredded founder of the ancient Greek cily of Athens. But the movie was due to be released in 2011, which meant Cavill had just six months to transform his body before filming started.
Then straight on the back of The Immortals, Cavill won his most iconic role to date, in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. In an exclusive interview with TRAIN, Cavill reveals the six-month training schedule, and 5,000-calorie-a-day diet, he had to undergo to pack on 30lb of pure muscle to play the Last Son of Krypton — in the hope it will inspire others to seek out the Superman and Superwoman within us all.
If you had walked past Henry Cavill six months before filming for Man of Steel had begun, you probably wouldn’t have hesitated in saying he was already in good shape.
But would you have thought was some god-like character from another planet? Probably not. However, that’s what he needed to be if he was going to make fanboys across the world believe he was Superman.
To help get him into supreme physical condition for the role, Cavill embarked on a workout schedule that would make most gym rats wilt like flowers. “The training was truly a genuine discovery.” he explains, “I learned I could do all sorts of things that I never thought possible while training for Man of Steel. Mark Twight was my trainer and he and his team kept things constantly evolving and opened my eyes to seeing past what I thought were my limits.” Twight, owner of Gym Jones in Salt Lake City, is also the man who transformed the cast of 300 into an army of Spartan warriors with washboard abs.
“He had the ability to crush me, but just enough that I couldn’t walk properly. I felt horrible and a little sick, but I still wanted to come back,” laughs Cavill. “The intense training led to what I call a ‘recognition moment,’ during which you think, ‘OK, I can do this it’s not going to kill me, number one. And number two, I’m in safe hands. And finally number three, I’m actually enjoying it.’”
“Yes, it hurt — in fact it was excruciating. But I liked pushing past that point to where you realize your body is actually more than capable of doing it. The moment when that happens is wonderful.”
Now fully on the way to getting into peak physical condition for the role of Superman, Cavill was put on a training schedule which was way more intense than any he'd had to do for any previous role he’d undertaken. Through months and months of preparation and by using a variety of functional strength workouts and following the instructions from Twight, Cavill was able to increase his body mass significantly before the shoot even began.
“It was a lot of functional workouts. It was lots of kettlebells, different types of squats, sandbag stuff, goblet squats, man-makers, Olympic lifts, sled pulls,” he explains. “We would train the complete body, do dumbbell stuff, bodyweight stuff, power cleans, deadlifts and push presses. A lot of it was based around a two-part, 100-rep routine that lasted about two hours — lifting very, very heavy weights.”
It would have been understandable if Cavill had decided to quit at that point — many would have done given the sheer amount of work he had to go through to get into Superman-like shape.
However, he is adamant he actually enjoyed the experience, and feels that all the training helped him break new ground when it comes to exercise.
“What I liked about training with Mark was that he would keep it constantly evolving, and it’s not just a physical thing, it’s a psychological thing as well. He really understands what you’re going through physically, which is I think, what makes him such a good trainer. He sees your breaking point about to happen, and then he’ll either push you past that breaking point or he’ll push you right up to the edge of that precipice, and then hold you back.”
He adds: “I have so much respect for him and I had a blast working with him. It was not lust the training that makes you look pretty: it was the type of training that, first and foremost, is useful. The functional training really helped with the wire work, fight scenes and stunts as well.”
While the main purpose of the workouts was to get him physically prepared to play the role, Cavill also felt that the strenuous exercise helped prepare him mentally for the monumental role by helping him destroy any anxiety he felt about putting on the iconic Superman costume. “I really think the Superman story is a tale of self-discovery, especially in Man of Steel,” he explains.
“So in some way that journey was quite similar, in discovering my capacity and the confidence that comes with being physically capable and stronger than I’ve ever been before.”
He adds: “Mark’s whole ethos is that fitness is not just physical strength and conditioning, it’s also strength of character, and that is so in tune with the character of Superman.”
Eat Like a Superhero
Lifting “very heavy weights”, as Cavill referred to it as, was only half the battle when it came to bulking up for the role of Superman. He also needed to live on a very specific and strict diet to help pile on the muscle. And for Cavill The food he put into his body was one of the most significant aspects of his transformation.
“The Training process was about 11 months and then we were shooting for roughly six months,” he explains. “We started off with me packing on 30lb. I stuck to a strict 5,000-calorie-a-day diet. It was an intense two-hour workout, five or six days a week.
“I think the hard thing was keeping my condition for the six months shooting the movie took I had to look the same from August to February. So that was difficult, maintaining that conditioning — but I enjoyed it.”
Although he spent a large proportion of those 11 months training filling his body with calories so he could pack on the brawn, eventually Cavill had to cut down to the bare minimum so he could start looking ripped.
He explains: “There was one particular shirtless scene, before my Clark Kent character became Superman, where I had to drop my body fat down to just 3%. It was the scene where I rescue a group of workers at sea from a raging fire. Prior to filming that scene, which took a week, I had to go on a calorie-restricted diet.
“That was in the middle of the shoot. During that period I dropped down to about 2,500 calories a day — which was a big drop off. But the diet varied a lot. During the building stage it was about getting the 5,000 calories, but then there was leaning down just before shooting so we cut down the calories tor that as well, but not as much as for that shirtless scene.”
And Cavill’s fluctuating diet requirements, needed to keep his body looking in the same shape during the six months of shooting, also proved problematic, according to the Brit.
“During the shoot I wasn’t eating as much as 5,000 calories either; I was at about 3,500 calories. The training schedule prior to shooting the film was impossible to maintain once filming began. Some day we were filming for 14 hours, so we would train on set or in the mornings.
“I would train for about an hour every day in the morning. So it was really about building a solid physical foundation during the pre-training so my physique could be maintained during the filming schedule tor continuity reasons.”
To help him maintain his physique, Cavill consumed a number of organic foods and multivitamins, and got a lot of rest to make sure he was able to make it through the tough filming schedule.
He explains: “Honestly, it was really about diet, working out and rest. Supplementation wise there wasn’t much. It was basically just a multivitamin, essential fatty acids through Udo’s Oil and magnesium through something called Calm. But that was about it.
“When I was packing on the weight at the start I used protein powder in a shake. But it was mostly food from organic sources to hit my calorie mark. My diet was high in lean protein. Also, I’d have mahi-mahi [fish] with spinach and broccoli. But the diet varied a lot.
“There was the building stage, the mass-building stage, the leaning down bit before shooting and the leaning down for the shirtless stuff. Rest was so important, too. Before shooting I would sleep perhaps 10 hours a day.”
With filming for Cavill’s next appearance as the Man of Steel in Batman vs Superman having been delayed until May 2016, the Brit has plenty of downtime before he has to go through the strenuous training program again. However while some actors would dread having to pack on the pounds, before going on a crash diet, Cavill is really looking forward to it.
“All in all it’s tough, really tough,” he says. “The workout is hell and wonderful at the same time — really wonderful. And now I’m going to have to do it all again for the next one [laughs]. But I love it. I want to get it right, and the physicality and the look is a big part of it.”
Great thaks to Kartin for the scans!