How Henry Cavill Built Muscle and Burned Fat Simultaneously for 'The Witcher'

Jamie Millar
·4-min read

From Esquire

Lest you think that Henry Cavill talks constantly about how hard he works (“Actor Does Job Shock!”), know that he is far from solipsistic. “I’m so proud of my team, because I expect a high standard of myself and they matched that,” he says. In conversation, Cavill constantly gives props to his colleagues, from the “incredible stunt performers” to his hairdresser, Jackie (“We all worked long hours on that job, but she took the wig home with her”).

The scars on his ripped abs that he posted on Instagram (caption: “When you take work home with you”) were thankfully just make-up. But doing his own stunts did bring occupational hazards. “Because I was training hard in the gym throughout the whole process, it became difficult for any injuries to heal. You stress the muscles so much when you’re super-dehydrated and tired at the end of the day that little things can happen, like muscle pulls, which never quite go away.”

Indeed, his trainer’s job was made “quite a challenge” by Cavill’s filming schedule and persistent lack of sleep. “He had to find a way of leaning me up while putting on muscle mass without completely crushing me every day,” says Cavill. “But, of course, it does crush you. After eight months of shooting, I was in quite a dire state. But we did it. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy at all. But Dave Rienzi knows his stuff. He’s an excellent trainer.”

Rienzi, who also chisels the Rock, was introduced to Cavill by Hollywood mogul Dany Garcia, who manages both actors. (Garcia also happens to be Johnson’s ex-wife, his co-producer and a pro bodybuilder.) “Henry’s filming schedule on The Witcher was very demanding,” Rienzi says. “And because he did his own stunt work, his training had to be very focused and efficient while not overly taxing his CNS [central nervous system].”

Cavill had been accustomed to more “CrossFit-style training”, first with Mark Twight (who sculpted the 300 Spartans) for Man of Steel, then his associate Michael Blevins for Batman v Superman and Justice League. Cavill reiterates that he loved working with both trainers and the athleticism they fostered in him with their gruelling workouts. But training like an athlete necessitates recovering like one, so filming on top was, he admits, often too much to handle. Cavill found that he could better withstand Rienzi’s self-described “hybrid of bodybuilding and athletic or functional training, focusing on pre-hab movements, core training, muscle activation techniques and mobility”.

Instead of bruising Cavill with heavy lifting, Rienzi prescribed moderate weights and various techniques to increase time under tension and thus gains (to use the technical term). The precise programme varied throughout filming but typically Cavill was lifting five days a week, hitting each muscle group once. He performed fasted cardio six days a week to burn fat and boost his metabolism, allowing him to eat more and, Rienzi says, “create a nutrient-rich environment where his muscles could recover and grow”.

Maintaining a consistent protein intake was key to Cavill’s recovery, as was the timing of cheat meals “to replenish his body” – and, one suspects, his mind. If he finished at a decent hour, that meant Italian at a restaurant in Budapest called Trattoria Pomo D’Oro; if not, it was a burger in the car on the way home. “That always sounded amazing,” he says, laughing, “but because it was pitch black, you ended up with 60% over you and 40% inside you.” Meanwhile, his regular diet varied, much like his training, but it generally consisted of four solid meals and two shakes. In the run-up to the shirtless scenes, Rienzi dialled down carbs and fat in order to lean him out.

While Cavill had the advantage of the Rock’s trainer on speed dial, Rienzi is based in Sunrise, Florida – a long way from Budapest. So, aside from the days preceding the aforementioned shirtless scenes, for which Rienzi would travel over for a fortnight or so, Cavill trained by himself, sending weekly update pictures. In some locations, Cavill didn’t even have access to a decent gym, which forced Rienzi to get creative. “We would utilise dumbbells, resistance bands, stability balls and a TRX when those situations arose,” he says. But none of this was an obstacle to Cavill achieving, in his own words, “the best shape of my life”.

Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.

SIGN UP

You Might Also Like