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Mark Twight got the cast of 300 into such impressive Spartan shape that Zak Snyder turned to him again when he needed Henry Cavill ready to play the man who's faster than a speeding bullet and lifts trains like they're feathers. Here, Twight explains exactly how he built Cavill a physique that got tabloid papers into a frenzy and shares the full workout plan.
The task for that project was simple: “make an average man look like a superhero and then keep him that way for six months”. Simple, not easy. Peaking for a few days is easy. Sustaining the same capability and appearance for half a year is an entirely different problem. If we know anything from our experience as professional athletes and from training others it is that fitness acquired quickly is unstable. Stability requires a broad, solid foundation and that takes many months to build.
There were several training objectives for this plan. Obviously, appearance is foremost. There has never been a superhero who didn’t have broad shoulders and a narrow waist. The second part has to do with confidence. Fitness is strength and conditioning but also strength of character. Self-discipline in training and diet and recovery, added to consistent confrontation with physical and psychological challenges, produces self-confidence and overall hardness that cannot be achieved any other way. The way you carry yourself changes as physical capability and mental resilience increase. When you can do 100 front squats at bodyweight and deadlift more than two times your bodyweight you will walk and talk differently – tall and proud.
One final beneficial effect of doing these compound, three-dimensional movements is injury-proofing: using the muscles together instead of isolating them in specific exercises improves core-to-limb integrity and overall joint and connective tissue health. Staying free of injury allows you to train more frequently and increases your athletic longevity. If you’re smart, training isn’t a short-term thing – you want to do it for the rest of your life. If you train intelligently you should be able to do just that.
Because one cannot simply jump into unfamiliar, high-intensity training and do it five days a week without adequate preparation, the first phase of the Superhero Training Plan focuses on general conditioning. You will spend the first two months getting in shape to train in a meaningful way and tweaking your diet to match.
Once you are fit enough to train – and recover properly – you can start the lifting. The three-month hypertrophy phase requires you to train five days a week. Achieving the objective isn’t possible on three days of training a week. These workouts feature a lot of volume with moderate loads, punctuated by one or two weekly sessions of higher intensity (heavier weight). During this period, if you want to recover quickly and add some muscle you will have to eat a lot – so much, in fact, that you have less-than-ideal body fat levels. This is because to do the work and recover from it, and to build on top of it, the body needs huge reserves of energy.
The final four-week leaning phase will strip away the fat to expose a lean, strong-looking body. This is a cardio-respiratory power-endurance programme using light weights and/or standard cardio machines that, when combined with calorie restriction, literally melts the fat away. But you can only hit the proper intensity if you are already fit.
If you follow the six-month programme, you will certainly see physical changes. But also, by doing physically difficult things, by changing your body through your own will, and by living a physical lifestyle 24/7 you will change your attitude and your bearing. Next time you take your shirt off there won't be any need to suck in your gut. Your muscles and posture will do it for you.
This six month-long training plan is just the beginning. Achieving these gains isn’t easy, and neither is maintaining them. But if you’re dedicated, the programme should help you develop the good habits and mindset you need to stay in shape long into the future.
Although we recorded every single workout Henry Cavill did, this plan is not exactly that. His individual programme was adapted to his starting condition and specific needs, and you should do the same.
|Overhead squat with 20kg barbell||3||10|
|Deadlift with 60kg||5||10||2 min|
|Front squat with 50-60kg||5||10||2 min|
|Pull-up ladder (do one, two, then three up to 6)||3||63|
Rest between each rung of the ladder for as long as it would take someone else to do the same number of reps
Static hold in forward leaning rest position (plank on hands): Time 5min - split the work as needed – 10x30sec, 5x60sec etc
Press-ups: Any rep structure you want as long as you do 100
|Run for 8min at 12km/h||0.0||2 min|
|Sprint for 45 sec at 10 km/h||15.0||30 sec (hop off treadmill using railing)|
Do 6x 45-second intervals.
Warm down by walking it off, rowing or spinning on the AirDyne.
|Ride AirDyne||10 mins||East
|Medicine ball clean to squat to throw with 10kg ball||2||30 m|
Clean ball into goblet position, squat with it, and throw. Continue moving forward until you have thrown the ball a total of 30m.
|Narrow-stance back squat, working up to heavy||10 with 60kg||60-90sec|
|15 with 75kg||60-90sec|
|15 with 80kg||60-90sec|
|Four sets of 15 reps with 85kg||10 minutes|
|Hack squat with 60kg+10 kg of chain||3||12 x 15|
|Seated calf raise with 100 kg||3 in 1 minute||4 minute|
|Backward step-up onto 25cm box with 2x20kg kettlebells or dumbbells||3||10|
|Step-up onto 25cm box with 2x20kg kettlebells or dumbbells (no assistance from trailing leg)||3||10|
|Standing calf raise with 60kg (in Back Squat position) with toes on a 5cm ledge||3||12|
|Sit up (do not use momentum)||80|
|Press up ladder||Do one, then two, then three, up to 10|
|Bent-over row||6||2-3 minutes|
|Upright row||6||2-3 minutes|
|Front squat||6||2-3 minutes|
|Push press||6||2-3 minutes|
Press-up with one-arm row: 6 reps
Move continuously through each complex without setting the dumbbells down
|Once with 2x5kg dumbbells||Rest 2-3 min|
|Once with 2x7kg dumbbells||Rest 2-3 min|
|Once with 2x10kg dumbbells||Rest 2-3 min|
|Once with 2x12kg dumbbells||Rest 2-3 min|
Man-maker with 2x12kg dumbbells.
|Sets 5||Reps 5||Rest 1-2 min between sets|
Go as fast as possible through the reps
Cardio pyramid: Set the treadmill at its steepest incline or the spin bike on high resistance
Go as fast as possible through the reps
|60 sec||Hard||Rest 1-2 min|
|30 sec||Easy||Rest 1-2 min|
|2 min||Hard||Rest 1-2 min|
|1 min||Easy||Rest 1-2 min|
|3 min||Hard||Rest 1-2 min|
|90 sec||Easy||Rest 1-2 min|
|4 min||Hard||Rest 1-2 min|
|2 min||Easy||Rest 1-2 min|
|5 min||Hard||Rest 1-2 min|
|5 min||Easy||Rest 1-2 min|