His compelling performance as Superman in Man Of Steel established Henry Cavill as an A-lister, cementing his spot in this year’s upcoming blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, in which he squares off against Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight. But Cavill’s heroic physique, which he had to work phenomenally hard to attain, played just as big a role.

It’s no secret that the physical demands on modern leading men in Hollywood go far beyond the experiences of actors from generations ago, or even from ten years ago. In fact, today’s A-list nutrition and exercise regimens have more in common with endurance athletes and professional bodybuilders than with classical thespians.

In terms of fitness, the process is simple. There’s a period of gaining mass, when you eat vast amounts of fats, carbs and protein, combined with a heavy lifting regime. That’s followed by a cutting phase, when your calorie intake is drastically lowered and the fat melts away to reveal solid muscle. For 2013’s Man Of Steel, Cavill worked with elite trainer Mark Twight – founder of Gym Jones – to maintain his condition for a shoot of more than 120 days. (On the next page, Twight reveals exactly how he helped Cavill build his physique for the movie.)

“The mass build is the fun part,” says Cavill. “You get to eat a lot, and you’re lifting heavy weights. You feel really good because you’ve got big numbers going on the plates. But you’re always aware that you’ll have to eat less and start breathing more in order to show the muscles and the striations. It creeps up on you. That’s the less fun part.”

Cavill’s programme for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice comprised four phases: preparation, bulking, leaning out and maintenance. The bulking phase, demonstrated here, centres on Olympic weightlifting movements – complex but hugely effective lifts that build muscle, strength and power. When done in circuit fashion, they’re also very demanding on the heart, which in turn boosts endurance.

“There’s a misconception that cardio negatively impacts muscle,” says Cavill’s coach Michael Blevins (gritandteeth.com). “A larger work capacity can allow you to train harder and longer. 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.”

Superman Workout: Bulking Phase

Perform the workout once per week. Exercises 2A-2E are done as a complex, with a heavy barbell. Do one set of 2A, then without releasing the bar go on to do one set of 2B, and so on for all the moves in the group. Rest, then repeat the sequence for a total of four sets.

1 Hang clean and jerk

Henry Cavill’s Workout Plan for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Sets As many as needed Reps Work up to one heavy rep

Stand with feet hip-width apart holding the bar in front of your thighs with hands at shoulder-width. Bend your hips and knees so the bar lowers to just above your knees. Now explosively extend your hips as if jumping while at the same time shrugging your shoulders and pulling the bar straight up in front of you. As the bar reaches chest level, bend your elbows so your palms face the ceiling and catch the bar at shoulder level with your upper arms parallel to the floor. That’s the hang clean. From there, dip your knees and extend them again to power the bar overhead. As it rises, jump one foot in front of you and one foot behind, as in a lunge, to finish the lift in a staggered stance with the bar locked out overhead. Perform as many warm-up sets as you need, gradually building to the heaviest load you can handle for one rep with good form.

2A Clean pull

Henry Cavill’s Workout Plan for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Sets 4 Reps 1

Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend down to grasp the bar with hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your lower back flat, chest up and eyes looking forward. Pull the bar off the floor, keeping your weight on your heels and your shoulders directly over the bar as it rises. When the bar reaches the top of your thighs, explosively extend your hips, shrug the bar and come up onto your toes. Control the bar back to the floor.

2B Power clean

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Sets 4 Reps 1

Begin as you did with the clean pull, but when you come to the explosive shrug and hip extension, continue pulling the bar up to shoulder level as described in the hang clean and jerk. Catch the bar at your shoulders and immediately begin the front squat.

2C Front squat

Sets 4 Reps 1

From the top of the power clean, bend your hips back and lower your body into a squat, keeping your lower back in its natural arch and your elbows raised so your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Extend your hips to come out of the squat.

2D Push press

Henry Cavill’s Workout Plan for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Sets 4 Reps 1

Standing tall, dip your knees and quickly extend them, using the momentum to press the bar straight overhead. Then return the bar to your shoulders.

2E Split jerk

Henry Cavill’s Workout Plan for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Sets 4 Reps 1

Holding the bar at your shoulders, dip your knees and press the bar up again while splitting your stance, as in the hang clean and jerk. Lock the weight out as your feet land.

3 Front squat

Sets As many as needed Reps Work up to one heavy rep

Perform the front squat as described in 2C, taking as many warm-up sets as needed to reach a load that allows you only one rep with good form. Do no more than ten total reps to reach your max to conserve energy. For example, do two reps each at about 50% and 70% of your max, and then several single-rep sets as you close in on the right load.

4 Front/back squat combo

Henry Cavill’s Workout Plan for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Sets 3 Reps 7 front, 13 back

Now that you know your max front squat, use 70–75% of it and alternate sets of front and back squats. So if your max front squat was 100kg, use 75kg. Do seven reps of the front squat, then rack the bar. As soon as possible, do 13 reps of back squats. That’s one set.

To perform a back squat (pictured), squeeze your shoulder blades together and nudge the bar out of the rack. Step back and stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly. Take a deep breath, bend your hips back, then bend your knees to lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back.