As a former WWE superstar, bodybuilder, and mixed martial arts fighter, actor Dave Bautista always takes his training seriously. But in his preparation to play Drax the Destroyer in Avengers: Infinity War, the culmination of 10 years of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bautista didn’t leave anything to chance.
With Bautista starring alongside super-ripped stars like Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier), as well as a shredded Josh Brolin as the main villain, Thanos, the actor wanted to make sure he got the “superhero” look just right.
“Being in the Avengers got me to hire a personal trainer,” Bautista tells Men’s Journal. “Because literally for the first time in my film career, I was really concerned about looking better. I wanted to not only look big, but I wanted to look toned—I wanted to look like a superhero, that big figure, small waist look. We focused on making my muscles look more rounded, my waist more tapered, my back wider, and my thighs more developed. We went back towards a real bodybuilding style, but not with heavy weights—we focused more on power training.”
Bautista brought in trainer Jon Bennett, who helped the actor develop a program that would allow him to shape his muscles, but without sacrificing the functionality, movement, and athleticism that Bautista would need to play a superhero. Bautista used a three-day split program that comprised of a Push Day, Legs Day, and Pull Day, which Bennett described as being “in between” the typical bodybuilder split and athlete split.
“That was a great balance for what Dave wanted to do,” Bennett says. “Dave needs a little more stress from his training than the average athlete to maintain his desired level of muscularity, but he also wants a higher level of function than the average bodybuilder so he can move in his scenes well. So his exercise selection revolves around very big, efficient movements, with a smaller percentage of purely aesthetic movements kept in as well. We put a lot of thought into making sure every exercise fits Dave’s unique structure, because injury prevention is paramount.”
Bennett didn’t just help shape Bautista’s muscles—he also helped show him how to train to stay healthy.
“I actually found out that everything I’d been doing all these years was wrong,” Bautista says with a laugh. “I was squatting wrong. I was bench pressing wrong—my shoulders were in the wrong place—so we worked a lot on that. We focused a lot on very controlled movements and keeping my body locked in certain positions while I’m performing the movements. It really was complete muscle isolation.”
Bennett felt the workouts would be more challenging and effective by using “slower, controlled tempos” in Bautista’s movements, and also with directional changes to amp up the difficulty. While Bennett said that the workouts were “grueling and painful” at times, the duo always kept in mind how to mitigate the risk for injury, all while boosting Bautista’s “aesthetic balance, muscularity, and conditioning.”
Here’s how Dave Bautista got Drax-level strong for Avengers: Infinity War.
“Every workout is preceded by a 5-8 minute warm-up/activation,” Bennett says. “Every exercise Dave would take as many warmup sets as needed. Typically between 2-5 sets. The volume (number of working sets), varies greatly, depending on Dave’s recovery. When his recovery is low (low sleep/food, or just getting back into consistent training), we will often have as few as one working set per exercise. When his recovery is great, we can have anywhere between 2-4 working sets. Rest between sets is typically between 30-120 seconds, depending on the exercise. While these are typical workouts, the split and exercises are periodized and changed as needed.”
A typical body part split for the program:
Push: Chest, side/front delts, triceps, calves
Legs: quads, hamstrings, hips, abs
Pull: lats, upper back, side/rear delts, biceps, calves
DAVE BAUTISTA’S SUPERHERO WORKOUT PLAN
Sets: 2-4, depending on how you feel
Rest: 30-120 seconds
DAY ONE: Push
Incline DB chest press: 6-8 reps
Machine chest press: 8-10 reps
Lying cable cuff delt laterals: 8-10 reps
Shoulder press: 10-12 reps
Cable cross triceps extensions: 10-12 reps
Machine calf raises: 10-12 reps
DAY TWO: Legs
Crunch variations: 6-8 reps
Seated leg curls: 5-6 reps
Heel elevated Safety squats: 6-8 reps
Leg extensions: 10-12 reps
Squat press: 12-15 reps
Walking lunges: 25-30 steps
DAY THREE: Pull
Single arm machine rows: 6-8 reps
Machine pull downs: 6-8 reps
DB rows: 10-12 reps
Single arm DB preacher curls: 6-8 reps
Incline curls: 10-12 reps
Machine lateral raises: 10-12 reps
Machine rear delts: 10-15 reps
Calf raises: 10-20 reps