How Henry Cavill Transformed Himself To Play Superman

What does it take to become the Man of Steel? There's one man who has the answer to that question: Henry Cavill. The British actor donned the iconic cape for his roles as Superman in the DC Entertainment films "Man of Steel", "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice", and "Justice League." But it wasn't just his outfit that changed. For the films, Cavill got into superhuman shape, completely transforming his body through a combination of diet and exercise that he described as "hell and wonderful at the same time" (via ShortList).

While combining a good fitness regimen and a healthy diet is a solid route to better health and fitness, Cavill had one extra weapon in his arsenal: access to world-class celebrity trainers, one of whom advised him, "Don't listen to the lies, your barriers are breakable." And it was the plans they put in place that helped Cavill get into superhero shape. At Health Digest, we were curious to learn just what he did to gain such superhuman results. You too? Grab your cape and let's take a look.

It all started with his diet

When it comes to fitness, we get out what we put in, and that's why any good fitness plan starts with the right diet for your goals. This was certainly true for Henry Cavill. To gain the muscle mass needed to play Superman, Cavill had to completely overhaul his diet and increase his calorie and protein intake massively. "I'm on 5,000 calories a day," the actor revealed to Total Film magazine in an interview before "Man of Steel" (via Hollywood Reporter). "You've got to eat protein first, then a little bit of carbs ... you've gotta keep your hunger levels going."

According to Men's Health, Cavill focuses on eating a ton of protein throughout the day — from morning til night. Even after supper, he would gulp down a green protein shake, which he said "tastes way better than it looks."

Henry Cavill's Superman diet had some pretty delicious options

Although common wisdom dictates that a bodybuilding diet is protein, protein, and more protein, that doesn't mean you can't make delicious culinary choices. This was the case for Henry Cavill, who kept his diet varied and interesting with an array of meals designed by his nutrition coach, Erin Blevins (who happens to be married to one of Cavill's trainers, Michael Blevins). And we have to say, some of what he was eating? It sounds great.

One of his lunches, for example, would be lemon chicken with a yogurt herb sauce (via Men's Journal). Made by combining cubed chicken breast, herbs and spices, the juice and zest of a lemon, a little honey, Greek yogurt, and a ton of garlic, the dish involves mixing the chicken with the ingredients, frying it all up in a pan, and serving topped with a yogurt sauce. A glance at its nutrition shows that it's high on protein per serving (35 grams), with just eight grams of carbs and 14 grams of fat. Other menu staples included fajita chicken for dinner and protein pancakes for breakfast. We've gotta say, Superman training sounds pretty tasty!

To get into legendary shape, Henry Cavill worked with superstar trainer Mark Twight

With the shape that Henry Cavill got into for his Superman role, it's little wonder that he had help from the very best. Enter Mark Twight, the mountain climber and celebrity trainer who's responsible not only for Henry Cavill's physique but the muscle-bound bodies of some of the most iconic Hollywood performances of all time.

Twight founded Gym Jones, the club with the motto "The Mind is Primary." As when you train, you put your mindset first. "Man of Steel" director Zack Snyder has a long history of working with Twight, having first engaged his services to morph Gerard Butler and the rest of the Spartans into mythical shape in the 2006 film "300", according to Muscle & Fitness.

According to Twight's website, he was also behind the training for "Wonder Woman" and "Aquaman", as well as Cavill's performances in "Justice League" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." His work also extends to training various U.S. military assets for the Department of Defense. This is the man you'd want to get you into the shape of your life.

Henry Cavill's workout presented him with unique challenges

One look at Henry Cavill's physicality as Superman, and you'll know that it wasn't an easy ride to get there. Nor was it an easy ride to maintain his physical condition once he had trained, according to Mark Twight, who recognized the difference between this job and his previous work.

"In a movie context, obviously the training and dietary program for the original '300' was completely different than it was for 'Man of Steel,'" Twight said in an interview with Bodybuilding. "Working with Henry [Cavill] was completely unique, because his condition had to be held for six months from the start of shooting. I think it was a 122-day shoot, and so he had to look the same on February 3, which is the last day of shooting, as he did on August 1."

According to Twight, maintaining this condition was so much harder than packing on the muscle in the first place. Getting someone to peak condition temporarily isn't too hard for him but, as he said, "Every person who does any type of physical training knows how hard it is to maintain their condition along a timeline."

Henry Cavill's training escalated gradually

Because the shooting schedule for "Man of Steel" lasted for about seven months, Cavill needed to ensure that he had the right level of base fitness to work from when it came to training. As trainer Mark Twight told Muscle & Fitness, "Stable fitness requires a wide, solid foundation. The deeper that foundation, the more stable that condition will be, and the easier it is to maintain." Cavill underwent five months of prep time before shooting even began, to make sure he was the readiest he'd ever been.

For the first two months, Cavill and Twight trained with a gentle escalation of intensity in mind, gradually adjusting his diet and fitness regime as they went. During this time, he also followed a regimen of supplements, including multivitamins, magnesium, probiotics, and fatty acids. Plus, his diet placed an increasing emphasis on how many calories he ate. Towards the end of the two months, Cavill had increased his weight by 20 pounds and was training twice a day.

To get into shape, Henry Cavill used a combination of functional exercises

You might think that with access to the best gym equipment money can buy that Henry Cavill achieved his Superman bod with state-of-the-art technology. As a matter of fact, though, the exercises that he used in his workout routine were as classic as you can get. Cavill and Twight worked with a series of functional exercises, focusing on squats, deadlifts, pullups, burpees, and kettlebell training (via Healthline). One of his go-to moves was the barbell Bulgarian split squat, an exercise that can seriously see your lower-body gains skyrocket.

The emphasis on functional exercises was as much to maintain mobility as it was to increase Cavill's muscle mass. As functional strength training works with the natural movements of the body, there are no awkward or unnatural movements that are sometimes found with machine training. Plus, functional exercises not only help with strength and agility, but they can also reduce the likelihood of injury, according to InBody USA. Given that Clark Kent's alter ego is focused on running around saving the world instead of posing in the gym, we'd say this was a wise choice.

The star's routine included cardio

In his training schedule, Henry Cavill put a significant emphasis on cardio (cardio-lovers rejoice!) both during the bulking phase and during a later leaning-out phase, as Michael Blevins, one of Cavill's trainers for "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," told Men's Fitness.

"There's a misconception that cardio will negatively impact muscle," says Blevins. "A larger work capacity can allow you to train harder and longer." Cavill and Blevins achieved a split of cardio and muscle-building work through focusing on Olympic weightlifting movements performed in a circuit, which not only tests your muscles but also raises the heart rate, building endurance.

Moves for a typical workout in this fashion would include a hang clean and jerk, front squats, and back squats, alternating between weights and minimizing rests between exercises. This combination of cardio and muscle work was highly important to Blevins, who said that "building muscle without conditioning is akin to having an impressive engine without a gas tank — it's worthless. This conditioning helped later when trimming fat."

His training sessions incorporated a unique twist

Ah, we knew there'd be a few secrets up Henry Cavill's sleeve to how he got so ripped. Turns out, his sessions incorporated a pretty intense element, often at the end of his workouts, known as the "tailpipe." This is a 100-rep exercise routine that pushes even the fittest of folks to their limit. According to Dan John, a trainer and colleague of Mark Twight, the tailpipe is composed of two aspects: exercise, and recovery, with "the exercise portion ... designed to get you gassed. But the recovery is just as important" (via Men's Health).

So how is the tailpipe performed? Well, take a 35-pound kettlebell or dumbbell (this can be less heavy if that's too much) and perform 25 reps each of goblet squats, kettlebell swings, squat thrusts, and jumping jacks, recovering in between each exercise with eight measured breaths through the nose. As John advised, "Fight the urge to gasp, throw yourself around, or change songs on your iPod" before immediately starting the next exercise. The workout is designed to help manage stress from extreme fatigue, improving sports performance, as John said, as well as giving your body a serious burn. Sounds easy, right? (No.)

Sleep was an essential part of Henry Cavill's fitness journey

Of all the people in the world, Superman's not likely to be caught sleeping on the job. For Henry Cavill, on the other hand, adequate sleep was a requirement. Trainer Mark Twight told the actor that nine to ten hours of sleep every night for the five-month prep period was non-negotiable, according 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," Twight said of this period. "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."

Twilight's not wrong. During your deepest stage of sleep, muscle growth hormone secretion occurs, as well as vital tissue growth and repair, and muscle relaxation (via No wonder Twight has some pretty strong opinions about snoozing — both for Cavill and for any wannabe superheroes: "'Hey, guy, you want to be f***ing Superman? Then do this one other thing, which might be the most important piece of it.'"

Trainer Mark Twight made sure that Henry Cavill's journey to peak fitness was free from steroids

Anabolic steroids are a contentious topic in the fitness industry. Although they aid muscle growth coming, they come with harmful physical side effects (via Mayo Clinic). In Cavill's case, however, there were no steroids involved, at the behest of the studio behind the film, Warner Bros. Twilight was on board, telling The Hollywood Reporter, "With Superman, well, that guy better be clean. Because other­wise, it's the kind of thing that turns around and bites your whole marketing campaign in the backside."

Twight worked with his guiding principle that body recomposition can be achieved through natural means alone — and it worked. Aside from a change in diet, Cavill's journey to superhuman fitness was aided by a supplemental routine, which included Udo's Oil, a blend of fatty acids. In addition to their positive effects on brain function, fatty acid intake is associated with increased skeletal muscle anabolism, according to a scientific review published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Cavill also took a magnesium supplement to aid with sleep and therefore muscle growth.

Henry Cavill brought his body fat way down to star in certain scenes

Henry Cavill is well-known for how ripped he was in "Man of Steel" — and there were some key moments when it was clear just how much work he had put into his training. His shirtless scenes showed viewers that his transformation was, in fact, not just the work of clever padding under the costume. 

For the majority of the shooting schedule, Cavill's body fat was around 5 to 7%, and his body weight was about 186 to 190 pounds, according to Muscle & Fitness. For some of those key shirtless scenes, however, he reduced his body fat even further, to 3 4%. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that this level of body fat is pretty unsustainable for most folks, experts say.

According to Christopher Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and pioneer of the 7-Minute Workout, "The minimum healthy percent body fat a man can achieve is around 3%, typically seen in endurance athletes, but also bodybuilders on competition day" (per Men's Journal).

While training, Henry Cavill found an inner drive he didn't know he had

There's no getting around it: Getting Superman-fit was hard work. Henry Cavill is not shy about just how difficult the experience was. "I did two months training on my own and four months training in LA with Mark [Twight], and that was excruciating — breaking boundaries I didn't know I could," he said in an interview to ShortList.

Given Twight's reputation for completely transforming his clients' bodies, it's no surprise that the work was intense. On occasion, Cavill had to dig deep to find an inner strength that surprised even him. "I remember one moment, doing some horrible rowing sprint thing," he explained, "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." It's that kind of commitment to the cause that makes him a natural superhero.

He didn't stop working out after filming wrapped

Once Henry Cavill achieved a superhero physique there was no looking back. This drive was fed even more by the fact that after "Man of Steel," he had even more work as Superman coming up. And this meant he had to maintain his physique while tackling other roles, like playing Solo in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Cavill kept fit during the film with a "easy" maintenance routine similar in style to his "Man of Steel" training, with functional exercises like pullups, bodyweight squats, and barbell Bulgarian split squats, according to one of his trainers, Michael Blevins, who spoke to Men's Health.

But don't be fooled: Blevins said it was no walk in the park for the actor. "It took a few years of training for this to be an 'easy' day. It's remarkable because this session wouldn't cause any real stress or require any added nutrition to recover from," he said. According to Blevins, Cavill had clear goals to maintain his weight, develop a tolerance for higher loads, and fix mobility concerns. By the looks of him in "Batman v Superman," mission accomplished.

Could you follow Henry Cavill's workout plan?

If you're thinking of trying Henry Cavill's exercise and diet plan on for size, you might want to first check out YouTuber Will Tennyson's video first. Tennyson vlogged his experience emulating Cavill's diet and fitness routine for a full day, starting with an intense fasted circuit workout of pullups, pushups, and back squats. He admitted it "was way harder than I thought. I didn't think the pullups were going to be as hard as they were. Pushups and squats were easy, but my arms feel like they're going to fall off. ... [The workout] wrecked me by the end."

Throughout the day, Tennyson also consumed huge amounts of foods, including an almost-1,000 calorie snack of protein, cottage cheese, grains, grapes, and sunflower seeds. By the end of the day, he'd consumed over 5,000 calories, including almost 500 grams of protein. Tennyson ends his video by dishing about his fitness journey: "If you guys are in this position, just know: You can become Superman. You never know."