Benedict Cumberbatch Used the 'Five-Two' Technique for His 'Doctor Strange' Workouts

Take even a glancing look at the Avengers line-up — including three out of the four Hollywood Chrises — and you'll notice one thing: they're all in other-worldly shape. So they should be, too. These are the gods (and demigods), super-soldiers, next-gen warfighters, skirmishers, philanthropic millionaires and intergalactic space pirates that make up one of the most profitable cast ensembles in cinema history. Simply put, it makes sense for these heroes to have heroic bodies. There is one member of the Avengers cohort, however, that isn't so obviously juiced-up: Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr Stephen Strange.

Strange, a medical genius-turned-Sorcerer Supreme, possesses a more subtle take on strength throughout the Marvel franchises and, in 2022's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, is staring down the barrel of one of his most formidable challenges yet. To prep Cumberbatch to take on his pursuites on-world and off-world, Marvel recruited pro trainer Simon Waterson — of James Bond and Captain America fitness fame — to build the actor's physicality ahead of and during production.

"Benedict's character has to look capable on set," Waterson explains. "He's not shirtless a lot, but he still has to be dynamic, functional, and needs to be able to completely consume the character." Waterson's right: Dr Strange is worlds apart (often literally) from the likes of Captain America and Thor in the way that he moves throughout a scene and how he navigates a battlefield. Like his cape, Dr Strange is fluid, agile and nimble. There's no time for brutish, smash-and-grab strength when Strange possesses the power to bend and warp time itself. "He has to be seamless, smooth [and make] everything effortless," Waterson continues. "That's the way that that character is. Nothing's clunky and [he's] very smooth, calm, and controlled. He has to almost make it look like it's a dance".

But, for Cumberbatch, how did this brief translate into the weights room? Like many of us during the pandemic, his fitness journey for Multiverse of Madness started remotely, as he was wrapping photography in New Zealand for 2021's Western psychological drama The Power of the Dog. "The process was slower as we went through lockdowns, and was a little challenging as we did a lot through Zoom," says Waterson. "You have to be careful not to alter him too much while he's filming one movie and transitioning into Strange. It's very delicate." This meant that stretching, core stability work, and towards the end of shooting, light strength training to start building lean muscle tissue for his Marvel outing.

Once he was able to hit the weights, Waterson prescribed a "split routine" which allowed him to "build intensity...and build good lean muscle tissue while maintaining a very high rate of cardiovascular capability, as well as giving a functional element." On paper, Waterson used a 'five-two' methodology with Cumberbatch, pairing five opposing exercises together with two minutes of redline cardio in between exercises. Cumberbatch's push-pull session, for example, would focus on compound exercises, going from a barbell or dumbbell bench press into pull-ups or deadlifts, straight into a "very dynamic movement, including plyometric movements, treadmill sprints or the Versaclimber." Waterson would use the same approach for Cumberbatch's lower-body day— "we would try to get in as many big compound exercises in there as possible," he says — and also for his core stability session, in which leg raises, V-sits, heel taps and knees-to-shoulders all featured.

Photo credit: Moviestills
Photo credit: Moviestills

Waterson's signature 'five-two' method is "five exercises done in an accumulator, with two minutes of cardio in between," he explains. "I find it works in whatever programme I'm doing. It creates intensity and it allows you to be time-efficient." As Waterson reveals, Cumberbatch blasted through the cardio phases of his training for Strange, dubbing him a "phenomenal sprinter," as well as excelling at bodyweight exercises most would struggle with under fatigue. "He excels in being able to do bodyweight dips, pull-ups and [focusing] on the areas that I need him to be able to feel his body and the way that it moves."

Alongside his strength training, Cumberbatch would work through yoga and pilates to make "a complete and rounded physique for his character," says Waterson. But, if you fancy giving your muscles a Multiverse twist, here's an example workout from Cumberbatch's training plan:

The Dr. Strange Multiverse Workout

In the workout below, you'll perform 15-25 reps of the first movement followed by a two-minute bout of cardio, using a rowing machine, Versa climber, skipping rope or plyometric equipment. Afterward, you'll perform another 15-25 reps of bench press, then 15-25 pull-ups, then the bout of cardio. Round three follows the same format, flowing from the bench press to pull-ups and dips, hitting 15-25 reps each exercise. Continue in this format and 'accumulate' an additional movement after each round of cardio, finishing with a final round of all five movements.

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