I tried Henry Cavill’s Witcher workouts, and here are five things I learned

The Witcher season 2
(Image credit: Netflix)

There aren’t many things Henry Cavill and I have in common. We both like the best running watches and play Warhammer 40,000, and that’s pretty much it. The internet’s favorite genre-fiction megastar is well-known for his impressive physique in roles such as Superman in the DC movies (not familiar? Here’s how to watch all the DC moves in order), Geralt of Rivia in Netflix’s Witcher adaptation, and his turn as Walker in Mission Impossible: Fallout. Naturally, every fitness publication online has attempted to piece together the exercises that built his superhero physique. 

In a Men’s Health video shared by Cavill and his trainer, Dave Rienzi, he talks about some of the principles behind his training, demonstrating several key moves, including fasted cardio, the Romanian deadlift, back hyperextension, static oblique holds, lateral raises and alternating dumbbell curls. This isn’t a structured workout per se, but a selection of moves used to highlight Cavill and Rienzi’s training philosophy. 

All these moves are performed with good form, manageable weights and time under tension - raising and lowering the weight slowly - to stimulate growth. There’s good science to support this: research from McMaster University in Canada found that slow lifting movement, when performed to fatigue, produces greater increases in rates of muscle protein synthesis than the same movement performed rapidly. 

It’s worth noting that the video doesn’t go into any diet or additional supplements Cavill may use to achieve a physique worthy of the Man of Tomorrow, so we may be looking at an incomplete picture here. However, I knew I couldn’t recommend Cavill’s training principles without first trying them myself in the gym. So, I worked my way through some of the exercises in this video, exactly as Henry Cavill does them. Well, maybe with a bit less weight. 

 1. Fasted cardio 

I had a preconception that I hated fasted cardio with a passion. My idea of a good time running is an hour or more at a steady pace, when I’m all fueled up after a big breakfast of overnight oats, with a podcast in my best running headphones. Running fast on an empty tank, sapping my already-depleted energy levels, sounded like my idea of hell. 

Still, I get it. Cambridge university found that aerobic exercise performed in the fasted state induces higher fat oxidation than exercise performed on a full stomach. It’s also easier to just get up and run, starting your day with movement and sunlight, rather than eating and waiting for digestion to kick in. I definitely felt more productive that morning as a result, and possibly enjoyed my oats even more once I set upon them after my morning jog. Will do again.

 2. Romanian deadlifts (4/2/2 tempo) 

Romanian deadlifts are a little different than the standard deadlift I’m used to. It involves keeping your legs stiff, rather than bending your legs to grip the bar and straightening up. 

“We had to focus on things to support the amount of stuntwork I was doing,” Cavill says in the video above. Rienzi instructed Cavill to do the Romanian deadlift slowly, lowering the weight over four seconds and holding it at the bottom of the lift for two seconds, before raising it back up again. 

After a day of work, I headed to the gym to try four of Cavill’s bodybuilding moves. The Romanian deads were hard, much more challenging than the conventional deadlift I usually do in the gym. I started at around 175lbs (80kg), and lowered the weight after my first set. I was used to ripping the weight off the ground and firing my legs, back and butt upwards, not slowly lowering it under control. This became a common theme for this workout: use less weight, but better. At around 130lbs (60kg), I could better control my movements and complete the sets properly. 

Woman doing romanian deadlift in gym with dumbbells

(Image credit: BearFotos/Shutterstock)

3. Static oblique holds 

"Another key to Henry’s training is really focusing on core strength, so what we’re doing here is a static oblique hold," says Rienzi. "What he’s doing here is extending his arms, holding his core tight and activating the transverse abdominis and obliques at the same time.”
“This helps with endurance, if I have to do a fight scene over and over again,” adds Cavill. “It also allows for nice explosive movements, which is very typical for the Witcher.”

I had never tried this before watching Cavill and Rienzi do it. It was surprisingly challenging, even though I was just standing still, pushing my arms in and out: because the weight was pulling me in one direction, and I was pushing outwards at a right angle to that direction, the cable was constantly keeping me off-balance. 

Because I’d never done it before, I had to tinker to find just the right amount of weight, which I could resist with my core and not just my arms. I didn’t think much of the exercise at the time, believing it to be a bit of a “fad” move, but I certainly felt the soreness in my abs the next day. 

4. Front, 45-degree, side lateral raises 

Aaaargh. Lateral raises are difficult at the best of times, but supersetting three different angles so you hit all the different deltoid muscles around your shoulder? Extremely challenging, even if it’s great for muscle development. 

“This allows us to target the medial deltoid and the anterior deltoid in one movement,” said Rienzi. Everyone loves a time-saver, except me: this was absolutely the exercise I enjoyed the least, and found the most difficult to get through. Three different lifts in one rep, for eight reps, for four sets. The horror.

5. Alternating dumbbell curl and static hold 

The final exercise we’re looking at is a dumbbell curl with a static hold. Rather than curl a bar, Rienzi has Cavill curl a set of dumbbells, one at a time, squeezing the bicep and holding the contraction at the top of the rep. 

“What this really helps with is my forearms,” says Cavill. “That constant time under pressure… when you’re holding a sword, the first few takes are fine, but when you’re into Take 16 of the day, and you’re doing complex movements with your wrists, your forearm does start to die.”

I really liked the way these curls are performed. Bicep curls are usually performed at the end of the workout, after you’re done with all the compound movements like deadlifts, as an accessory exercise. The forearm benefits aren’t just about swinging swords around: it’ll also boost your grip strength next time you come to do deads. Out of Cavill’s entire routine, this and the fasted cardio are probably the only exercises I’ll really incorporate into my regular gym life.

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.