Stephen Lang Is Back and Badder (and Stronger) Than Ever in Avatar: The Way of Water
A PAIR OF dumbbells sit in one corner of the cramped basement room that Stephen Lang calls his gym, and 10-pound plates are strewn across the floor. Lang stands in the center of the room, grinning broadly. “This,” he says, “is where I do the bulk of my workouts.”
Never mind that the space is so tiny that when Lang raises his arms to the side, he nearly grazes the walls. The 70 year-old actor, best known for his breakout role as the sadistic Colonel Miles Quaritch in 2009’s Avatar, grabs a homemade wrist roller from the floor. It’s a simple tool (he loves DIY-ing his own fitness gear), a foot-long stick with a weight attached to it by a piece of rope. He holds the stick and both hands, extends his arms, then flexes his wrists, one after the other, rolling the weight toward the stick. He does several reps just like this, then puts the roller down. “At this point in my life,” he says, “what’s important to me is flexibility, stamina, and strength. And I’ve added one other thing to that, which is alignment.
He chases that alignment by entering this room in his Upstate New York home at least four days a week for a mix of workouts he’s perfected over the past 12 years. His training consists of yoga, weight-training sessions, and karate. Some days he’ll do all three, but he gives precedence to yoga. It’s a regimen that’s kept him fighting trim, a key reason that he still looks menacing as the sinister Colonel Quaritch in Avatar: The Way of Water, out this month.
He hints that he’s in better shape today then he was while making the original Avatar. He signed in at a pumped 190 pounds for the role then, thanks to plenty of old-school weight-training sessions. But all that muscle didn’t make his body feel good. So one year after Avatar, he changed his training style. He’s down to 155 pounds now but says his frame carries this lighter load “much more comfortably.” “I would date it at 2010 when I became completely committed for the rest of my life to remain as fit and as flexible as I can,” he says. “Because you become aware of your advancing age; you feel your age. And it’s not a question of staving off age. You can’t do that. But what you can do is make the most out of what you got.”
This workout does that—especially today, since he’s mixing all three of his disciplines into one session. Lang exits the room, then drops into pushup position, ripping through 11 reps (his superstition) so easily that you almost don’t notice his hands. Rather than having his palms on the floor, he’s supporting his upper body with only his fingertips, a grueling pushup style he learned in karate.
After several sets, he’s back in his “gym.” Now he’s standing tall only on his left leg, right foot pinned to left thigh, doing a yoga tree pose. He’s tweaked the move, though: Instead of simply clasping his hands together overhead, he holds tiny vice grips in each hand, squeezing each tightly to challenge his forearms. “They’re somewhat oppositional in a sense,” he says of his three favorite training styles. “But there’s a sweet spot where they really come together.”
Indeed, the blend of ideas has helped him build muscle while warding off pain. He battles arthritis in his hands yet still busts out those fingertip pushups. In 2014, he had a left hip replacement, but he still shifts into a fighter’s stance late in this session to work through the kata, a classic karate flow.
It all helps him move and feel better—while leaving room for the fun of biceps curls. As the session nears its end, he grabs a dumbbell, crouches, and presses his triceps into his thigh, then rips through reps of concentration curls (seated with his legs spread slightly and his elbow in the crook of his knee, providing stability for the curl). “I also do it, quite frankly, out of vanity,” he says of his training. “I’m fairly vain.” Hey, whatever motivation works.
DIY Your Fitness
When Lang doesn’t have weights, he gets creative with bodyweight—and any gear he can find. Try his three favorite anytime-anywhere moves.
Bucket of Bricks Carry
Grab a large bucket and fill it with bricks—or anything of your choosing. Lift it to your waist, then walk around or march in place.
Work for 30 seconds, then rest 30; do 3 sets.
Stand tall, then lift your right leg, bend your right knee, and dig your right foot into your left inner thigh. Raise your hands overhead, palms together. Hold for 30 seconds. Want more challenge? Squeeze towels or vice grips to test your forearms.
Old reliable. Do 10 reps. Too easy? Try placing only your fingertips on the floor; now do 10. Do 3 or 4 sets.
A version of this story originally appears in the December 2022 issue of Men’s Health, with the title “6 A.M. WITH… THE AVATAR HEAVY”.