Kumail Nanjiani’s workout helped him pull off one of the greatest Marvel transformations of all time for Eternals. Try the muscle-building routine for yourself.
Mid-2019, Kumail Nanjiani was filming the last episode of his hit HBO comedy, Silicon Valley. The show followed a group of nerdy app creators navigating the cutthroat world of big tech. Not much changed over the course of six seasons except, by the finale, Nanjiani’s character, the insecure coder Dinesh, had become an absolute unit—his biceps suddenly bulging out of polos.
The bulk-up wasn’t the producer’s idea, nor a studio directive for Eternals (in theaters Nov. 5), in which Nanjiani plays Kingo, a cocky, cosmic-powered warrior living undercover as a Bollywood star. The only green light Nanjiani needed to get in shape was from himself.
The transformation took place at Granite Gym in Beverly Hills, a dimly lit basement that Grant Roberts, the trainer behind Nanjiani’s incredible transformation, had quietly built into one of Hollywood’s most exclusive training facilities.
Even though Eternals is about a group of immortal beings with superhuman powers, Marvel was perfectly happy with Kingo being the more “normal looking” one, says Roberts. But for Nanjiani, who grew up obsessed with comic books, the gig was a massive opportunity to portray a South Asian superhero in a Marvel franchise. He wanted a physicality that could stack up to Superman or Thor.
Breaking the Mold—and Internet
Nanjiani endured punishing sessions five days a week in the year leading up to Eternals. “Instead of worrying about how to keep him lean throughout, we concentrated on adding mass before doing a proper cut.” On first analysis, Roberts says Nanjiani had solid biceps and a strong back, but, uh, some major room for improvement. “I don’t want to be insulting, but he probably had the softest core I had ever seen,” Roberts says, laughing. “I have no idea how he was even able to stand up straight!”
Roberts combined new- and old-school techniques to bulk up Nanjiani, incorporating electronic muscle stim into his free weights work and heavy foundational lifts. The warmup always started with the Power Plate, a vibrating platform that stimulates natural reflexes and jolts dormant muscle fibers to attention. The workouts targeted no more than three body parts, so each area was attacked dynamically.
After six months, Nanjiani transitioned into a sculpting phase. Michelangelo used a chisel to carve rippling six-packs, but Roberts prefers the cable machine.
To ensure symmetry, Roberts had Nanjiani snap shirtless selfies every few weeks to assess progress. Once on set, Marvel had a chef prep Nanjiani’s meals and Roberts trained him virtually to preserve his hard-earned gains.
“People have this mistaken idea that once you get to a certain place physically, you can just coast,” says Roberts. “But it’s a lot of effort and sacrifice to maintain a physique like that.” As far as sacrifice goes, the biggest one for Nanjiani was cutting down on his favorite bakery items.
With Eternals in the can, he can get back to having a treat or two, but don’t expect him to slip back into his old ways. “I’ve seen a lot of actors go on this journey and lose their drive, but it’s different with him. We still train every week. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished, and I think this is just the start.”
Kumail Nanjiani’s ‘Eternals’ Workout
This is Kumail Nanjiani’s sculpting workout. In some cases drop sets are utilized, where the rep count decreases and weight increases to promote hypertrophy. Complete prescribed sets for each move, taking 45 seconds rest between.
1. Decline Cable Chest Press
Sets 1-2 (light weight): 20 reps
Set 3 (medium weight): 15 reps
Sets 4-5 (max weight): 10 reps
Adjust a bench 15 degrees to the decline position in the middle of a cable machine with handle attachments to the lowest setting on either side. Grasp handles, then lie back and bend arms wide with palms facing out. Press arms up, squeezing pecs at top, then lower (you’ll feel a stretch).
2. Incline Cable Flye to Chest Press
Sets 1-2: 12 flyes/8 presses
Sets 3-4: 10 flyes/6 presses
Sets 5-6: 8 flyes/4 presses
Adjust a bench 45 degrees to the incline position in the middle of a cable machine with handle attachments to the lowest set- ting on either side. Grasp handles, then sit with arms extended, slight bend in elbows, palms facing each other. Contract pecs to bring hands together. Squeeze at the top, then slowly lower. Perform prescribed reps then change hand position to a wide incline cable chest press.
3. Single-arm Crossbody Cable Flye 4 x 15 reps
Set a handle attachment just below chest level on a cable machine. Stand away in a staggered stance. If right foot is forward, grasp the handle with your left hand using a neutral grip. Place right hand on pec to feel the activation. Brace core and keep shoulders square. Begin the move from a pec stretch position. Perform a wide, sweeping cross-body flye—extending beyond your midline. Move slowly with a concentric hold on each rep.
4. Dumbbell Pullover 3 x 12 reps
Lie faceup on a bench, feet flat on the floor, holding a heavy dumbbell, arms straight overhead. Bend elbows and engage triceps to bring dumbbell just behind head. Up the intensity by extending elbows to perform a triceps extension, then reverse.
5. Triceps Giant Triset x 3 sets
Attach a straight bar to one side of a cable crossover machine and two handles on one clip on the other, both at the top setting. Start with the straight bar, using heavy weight. Hold the bar at forehead height with an overhand grip, elbows bent. “Throw” the weight down using momentum to complete triceps extension x 12 reps. Move to the other side, grasp the handles with an underhand grip, hinge at hips, then extend through triceps to do reverse drag triceps kickbacks x 12 reps. Turn hands over into an overhand grip to perform triceps pushdowns x 8 reps.
6. Biceps Giant Triset x 3 sets
Attach a straight bar low on cable machine and grasp with an underhand grip. Begin in the midway point of a biceps curl, arms bent at 90 degrees, and do partial-rep biceps curl x 7 reps, from bottom to halfway, then immediately transition to drag curl x 7 reps by stepping toward the machine, extending arms, and dragging the bar up your torso by pulling your elbows back (don’t shrug). Stop at chest height once elbows are fully bent. Immediately transition to full biceps curl x 7 reps, taking a step back to resume initial start position.
7. Rope Cable Preacher Curl 4 x 15 reps
Attach a triceps rope low on a cable machine. Grasp the ends in either hand and sit at preacher bench with elbows and upper arms firmly planted on the pad. Begin with arms fully extended, then curl the triceps rope toward your face until fully flexed with hands at each temple. Hold contraction for a full second.
8. Lying Cable Peak Curl 2 x 25 reps
Attach an EZ bar to shoulder height on a cable machine and place a flat bench under the bar. Using a narrow grip, perform a slow curl to forehead, holding each rep fully flexed for 3 seconds.