A PAIR OF Dumbbells sit in a corner of the cramped basement room Stephen Lang calls his gym, and 10-pound plates are strewn across the floor. Lang stands in the center of the room, smiling broadly. “It’s there, he said, that I do most of my training.”
It doesn’t matter that the space is so small that when Lang raises his arms to the side, he almost brushes the walls. The 70-year-old actor, best known for his breakout role as the sadistic Colonel Miles Quaritch in 2009 Avatar, grabs a homemade wrist roll on the floor. It’s a simple tool (he loves tinkering with his own fitness equipment), a foot-long stick with a weight attached by a piece of rope. He holds the stick with both hands, extends his arms, then flexes his wrists, one at a time, rolling the weight toward the stick. He does several repetitions like this, then puts the roller down. “At this point in my life,” he says, “what’s important to me is flexibility, endurance and strength. And I added another thing to that, which is alignment. .
He continues that alignment by coming into this room of his upstate New York home at least four days a week for a mix of workouts he’s honed over the past 12 years. His training includes yoga, weight training and karate. Some days he does all three, but he favors yoga. It’s a diet that kept him going, one of the main reasons he always looks menacing as the sinister Colonel Quaritch in Avatar: The Way of the Waterout this month.
He hints that he is in better shape today than he was when the original Avatar was created. He then committed to 190 pounds for the role, thanks to lots of old-school weight training. But all that muscle wasn’t making his body feel good. So a year later Avatar, he changed his training style. He’s down to 155 pounds now, but says his frame handles that lighter load “much more comfortably.” “I would date it to 2010, when I made a complete commitment for the rest of my life to staying as fit and as flexible as possible,” he says. “Because you become aware of your advanced age, you feel your age. And it’s not a matter of avoiding age. You can’t do that. But what you can do is make the most of it. from what you have.
This workout does that, especially today, as it mixes all three of its disciplines into one workout. Lang walks out of the room, then into a push-up position, ripping 11 reps (his superstition) so easily you hardly notice his hands. Rather than having his palms on the ground, he supports his upper body with just his fingertips, a grueling style of push-ups he learned in karate.
After several sets, he is back in his “gym”. Now he stands straight only on his left leg, right foot pinned to the left thigh, doing a yoga tree pose. He tweaked the move, though: instead of just clasping his hands above his head, he holds tiny grips in each hand, squeezing them tightly to challenge his forearms. “They’re kind of opposites in a way,” he says of his three favorite workout styles. “But there’s a sweet spot where they really come together.”
Indeed, the mixture of ideas helped him build muscle while warding off pain. He battles arthritis in his hands while continuing to do fingertip push-ups. In 2014, he underwent left hip replacement surgery, but he still adopts a fighter’s stance at the end of that session to work on kata, a classic karate flow.
All of this helps him move and feel better, while giving way to the fun of bicep curls. As the session draws to a close, he grabs a dumbbell, squats and presses his triceps against his thigh, then rips through repetitions of focus curls (sitting with his legs slightly apart and his elbow in the crook of his knee, providing stability for the loop). “I do it too, quite frankly, out of vanity,” he says of his training. “I’m quite vain.” Hey, whatever motivation works.
DIY Your Fitness
When Lang is weightless, he gets creative with bodyweight and whatever equipment he can find. Try his three favorite moves anytime and anywhere.
Bucket of Carry Bricks
Take a big bucket and fill it with bricks or whatever you want. Lift it to your waist, then walk or march in place.
Work for 30 seconds, then rest 30; do 3 sets.
Stand up straight, then lift your right leg, bend your right knee, and press your right foot into your left inner thigh. Raise your hands above your head, palms together. Hold for 30 seconds. Want more challenge? Squeeze towels or vises to test your forearms.
Old reliable. Do 10 reps. Too easy? Try to put only your fingertips on the ground; now do 10. Do 3 or 4 sets.
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Men’s Health, with the title “6 AM WITH… THE AVATAR HEAVY”.
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