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How Henry Cavill transformed his body for The Witcher

Henry Cavill wasn't exactly in poor shape when he was offered the role of Geralt of Rivia in The Witcher. The Brit made his debut as Superman in 2013's Man of Steel, and went on to play the chiseled Kryptonian in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the highly divisive team-up movie, Justice League. He looked god-like in all of his DC appearances, and Cavill was still in superhero shape when he starred opposite Tom Cruise as CIA assassin August Walker in 2018's Mission: Impossible – Fallout (the moment he appears to reload his biceps during his bathroom brawl with Cruise became one of the year's best memes). The actor has been in peak physical condition for years now, but he had to find a whole new level to play the lead in The Witcher.

Cavill's character is a monster hunter enhanced by magic, and in case you haven't seen the show yet (don't worry, we're staying spoiler free), he's absolutely ripped. Here's how he got into the best shape of his life to play Geralt of Rivia.

Henry Cavill drastically cut his water intake before shirtless scenes

To make sure that he was looking as shredded as humanly possible for his many shirtless scenes in The Witcher, Cavill allowed himself to systematically dehydrate. Over the course of four days, he would gradually reduce his fluid intake so that when the time came to shoot he had zero water weight. "It makes your skin really thin, so it sits on the muscles," he explained during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show. "On the first day you'll have a liter and a half, and the second day half a liter, and then the third day no water, and then you'll shoot the fourth."

Cavill has plenty of experience when it comes to pushing his body to its limits for a role, but this was a tough ask, even for him. The actor admitted that he was the "most miserable person on the planet" when he was going without water ("You get to the point on the last day where you can smell water nearby," he claimed), but the results speak for themselves. The internet went wild when shots of Geralt in the bathtub were included in the trailer for The Witcher, which has already been renewed for a second season.

Cavill was inspired by the "big players" in bodybuilding

Believe it or not, Henry Cavill was once told that he was too fat to play James Bond. The actor went up for the role of 007 in the period between Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, and he got some harsh feedback. "I remember the director [of Casino Royale], Martin Campbell, saying, 'Looking a little chubby there, Henry,'" the actor told Men's Health UK. "I didn't know how to train or diet. And I'm glad Martin said something, because I respond well to truth. It helps me get better."

Cavill learned all about the importance of training and dieting in the years that followed, but it wasn't until he started preparing for The Witcher that he began to truly appreciate what goes into being a bodybuilder. In an Instagram post, Cavill revealed that he'd been reading into the big players of the bodybuilding game, and he found himself in awe of them. "It's absolutely fascinating to see what they put themselves through, the drive and mental strength required to get to such a place physically," he said. "Phil Heath in particular has caught my eye, not only for his achievements but also for his genuinely humble and informative approach to his messaging."

Fasted cardio helped Henry Cavill get into the best shape of his life

To get more ripped than ever for The Witcher, Cavill joined forces with Dave Rienzi, the strength and conditioning coach that helped sculpt one of the biggest bodies in Hollywood — Dwayne Johnson called him the "mastermind" behind his fitness regimen. Rienzi suggested that Cavill try something called fasted cardio if he wanted to get into next-level shape for his big Netflix series. This essentially means working out when your body isn't processing or digesting food, which is thought to help burn fat at a faster rate. Did this turn Henry Cavill into Hangry Cavill? Not according to the actor.

"It's some of the best, or most enjoyable cardio I've done," he told Men's Health UK, revealing that he starts his day with an empty-stomach workout. "It's only 20 minutes, so it's not massively exhausting. It's not like doing HIIT [high intensity interval training] which, psychologically, can be quite grueling. My heart rate's at 125-135bpm, so it has a really good effect on fat-loss." Cavill went on to tell the men's mag that Rienzi's suggestion helped him reach peak fitness for his debut as Geralt. "Out of all the things I've done in the past, I think the fasted cardio stuff is actually working best for me," the buff Brit said. "I'm in the best shape of my life."

Cavill made sure he had a perfect posterior

When Cavill convinced Netflix to let him be Geralt in The Witcher (he's a fan of the source material and he pursued the role relentlessly when he heard the show was being made), he knew exactly what he was signing up for. The actor was well aware of what the character could do, and the fact that he was going to be doing his own action sequences meant that his body had to be able to take the strain. To get Cavill to where he needed to be, coach Dave Rienzi introduced some grueling new exercises to his workouts.

"For The Witcher in particular we had to focus on things that would support the level of stunt work that I was doing," Cavill revealed in a Men's Health tutorial video, in which he and Rienzi explain and demonstrate the killer moves they employed. According to Rienzi, the "key foundation movement" of their sessions was the Romanian deadlift, which strengthens the glutes, the hamstrings, and the whole posterior chain. "The whole key here is just maximizing time under tension so he's able to fatigue the muscles more but not over-stress his nervous system and his adrenals," the trainer said.

He wasn't shy about using smaller weights

In June 2017, Cavill shared a throwback photo with his Instagram followers, giving them a look inside his training for The Witcher. The actor became a regular at Budapest's Flex Gym while he was on location in Hungary, and the staff looked after him for the duration. The gym had everything that Cavill needed to stay Geralt-ready, but he didn't always opt for the fanciest machine or the heaviest weights. When he came across an old snap of himself lifting some pretty small dumbbells at Flex, Cavill decided to share a little pearl of workout wisdom with the world. 

"It doesn't take huge weights everyday to achieve results," the actor captioned the photo. "I was doing everything I could in a busy busy schedule to try and get something in, whenever I could. During this period I learned that it's not the weight that matters, it's the workout." Cavill went on to encourage those who aren't blessed with a frame like his to not worry about what the person next to them is lifting. "You do your weights, just make every workout count," he said. "You might end up looking better than the fella or lady next to you that's using those heavy weights."

He made his hyperextensions even more challenging

Cavill did regular hyperextensions to reinforce his posterior chain and strengthen his lower back while training for The Witcher, using a glute ham machine to make the exercise extra challenging for him. The actor did three sets of ten reps and would hold each repetition for two seconds, all while keeping his hands behind his head, his coach revealed. "What we're focusing on here is isolation," Dave Rienzi said in the tutorial video they filmed for Men's Health. "Really contracting the glutes at the top [and] making sure the posterior chain is as strong as possible."

It might seem odd that Cavill spent so much time working on muscles that remain covered for the most part, but getting in shape for The Witcher wasn't just about looking good with his clothes off — it was about making sure he was up for a physical challenge on a daily basis. "When it comes to the posterior chain and the kind of stunts I have to do, especially when it's pirouettes with swords, anything which is based upon one-leg movement where a knee can have a bad injury... this stuff is what saves me," the Brit said of his hyperextensions.

Cavill mastered time management

Finding the time to workout when a project is still in pre-production is usually pretty straightforward for actors, but maintaining an impressive physique throughout a shoot is way more challenging, especially on a project the size of The Witcher. Speaking to Men's Health UK, Cavill said that he was doing "16 and 15-hour shoot days" at one stage, meaning he had to become a master of time management to stay in top shape. The actor revealed that he was getting up at 3 a.m. every morning so he had enough time to shower and get his extensive hair and makeup applied before the cameras started rolling.

"The most taxing thing is always going to be time," he told Entertainment Tonight. "It's just about getting that training in each day and forcing yourself to do it. You've finished a very long shift and you were there two-and-a-half hours early for your hair and your makeup, and then you have to go to the gym." Cavill's workout coach Dave Rienzi (who flew out to Budapest to train with the Brit for some "key scenes" in The Witcher) praised his dedication to the role in an Instagram post. "His choice to take things to the next level is no small task as he's currently working a grueling shoot schedule," the strength and conditioning expert said. "His 110 percent commitment is no joke."

Henry Cavill super-sized his shoulders

Henry Cavill's shoulders have always been pretty heroic, but the stacked actor knew that he'd need them to be stronger than ever for The Witcher. Dave Rienzi advised the A-lister to use a combination of side laterals and front raises to make sure he was hitting all the right spots in one exercise. "Each repetition is actually three repetitions," Rienzi explained during their Train Like a Celebrity tutorial. "He's starting out in a traditional side lateral for the first rep, then he's coming a little further forward for the next one, and then doing a traditional front raise."

Combing these exercises into one meant that Cavill could work the medial deltoid and the anterior deltoid at the same time, giving him the size and strength he needed to stay safe during The Witcher's intense action sequences. "This really helps with the sword fighting aspect," he said of his tailored shoulder workout. "When you're film fighting, you're not going through for kill strikes, you're pulling the blow at the last second — but you have to keep that speed up between the striking moment and the stopping moment to make it look realistic."

It doesn't always work out like that, however. Speaking on The Rich Eisen Show, Cavill revealed that he and stunt performer Lucy Cork "took chunks out of each other's hands" during the filming of one particularly technical sword fight. "You end up hitting each other quite a bit, it's about not complaining about it."

Cavill had to eat an insane amount of food

Cavill was consuming up to 5,000 calories every single day during his Superman training, so it's no surprise to learn that he ate an insane amount of food while getting in shape for The Witcher. The actor revealed his daily diet on his Instagram stories, and it went a long way toward explaining just how he got so big. Eggs are a good source of protein and have become a staple of the bodybuilder's breakfast, but they're just not enough for Cavill — he has his with steak and an oatmeal shake, right after his fasted morning workout.

On one particular day he had chicken curry with jasmine rice for his first lunch (yes, first lunch), and for his second lunch he ate roast chicken breast and roast potatoes with a generous side helping of curry sauce. "You may, by now, be realizing that I like curry," Cavill joked (via Men's Health UK). He went for bison steak and brown rice pasta for his dinner, choosing bison because it contains more protein than other options and is a natural source of creatine. He has a protein shake for supper, and more or less repeats this — until cheat day. The actor has admitted that he often turns to pizza and burgers when he's allowing himself the day off. "Sushi is a good one too, because you can eat vast amounts of it," he told Entertainment Tonight.

He focused on his core strength

The Witcher has more than its fair share of fight scenes, and many of them had to be filmed several times over. When you're working on a set piece for a show as large as this one, there are so many variables involved. Choreography has to be nailed, the pulled-blows have to look convincing, and there's often a load of extras to organize. This means a fight sequence will rarely be pulled off in one take — something Cavill was aware of going into The Witcher. To make sure he was ready to go at it all day long, Cavill and Dave Rienzi dedicated lots of time to his core strength.

Cavill's coach had him doing a tweaked version of the oblique static hold, extending his arms outwards and holding for 30 seconds before going into extensions. According to Rienzi, this will "activate the transverse abdominals and the obliques at the same time." What that translates to is endurance, something Cavill needs to have when he's swinging a sword around for hours on end. "If I'm using a real weighted sword it's very heavy and requires lots of endurance to do the moves safely and perfectly each time," Cavill said in his Men's Health workout guide, "and it also allows for nice explosive movement, which is very typical for The Witcher."

He built horse-taming forearms

Just like the rest of his workout, Henry Cavill's dumbbell curls were tailored to him and his specific needs. The actor had to have forearms that were capable of taming big, strong horses for extended periods of time (Geralt is an experienced rider and goes through many horses, all of whom he names Roach, in the source material). Dave Rienzi had his client doing dumbbell curls alternating from a static hold, which helped sculpt those huge forearms you see in the show. "With horse riding this can make a difference," Cavill said during his Train Like a Celebrity video. "If you have a particularly powerful horse — whether it be a stallion or anything else — which is really, really going for it, to have that necessary heave back on the bit, it does help."

Having muscular endurance in the forearms was also essential for the show's complicated swordplay. According to Cavill, just hanging onto his sword is enough of a challenge come the end of a long day of shooting. "When you're holding a sword, the first few takes are fine," the Brit explained. "When you're into take 16 of the day and you're doing very complex movements with your wrist, your forearm does start to die, and you end up throwing swords across the room rather than making a swing." Luckily, Cavill put the work in, and (as far as we know) nobody was impaled by a flying sword.