Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The 300 Workout (part 2)

Last time, I told you about the latest thing to come along in exercise and fitness: “The 300 Workout.” If you’ll recall, after four months of training and filming, the actors and stuntmen from the movie “300” participated in a fitness test made especially for them:

· 25 Pullups
· 50 Deadlifts (135 lbs)
· 50 Pushups
· 50 Box Jumps (24”)
· 50 Floor Wipers (while holding the 135 lb bar)
· 50 Dumbbell Cleans & Presses with a 35 lb DB (25 on each side)
· 25 Pullups

The idea was to do as many reps of each exercise as they could, in a row, without stopping. So, my son and I decided to try it too. Since we’d already been hitting it pretty hard, we figured we could handle it if we adjusted a couple of the weights down a little bit. Plus, we figured we’d try it a couple weeks in a more relaxed fashion before doing it against the clock.

First of all, 25 pullups is extremely difficult. We’d worked up to where we can do around 20 or so. Then a quick break to change grips, and we finally squeezed out the last few reps.

For the deadlift, we really cut the weight down, because this is 50 reps! We started with just 85 pounds, increasing it 5 pounds every week. On the dumbbell clean and presses, we started with a 20 pound dumbbell—15 pounds less than they did in the fitness test—also increasing it 5 pounds each week.

We did it first thing on Monday mornings, in place of our usual workout. The first three weeks were tough, but doable, especially since we weren’t really going against the clock yet.

We also ramped up our other workouts to include more exercises like 50 tractor tire flips, 50 jumping pull-ups (you’ve got to try these to believe it), 50 jumping squats (bar only), and so on. Basically, we’d set up 6 or 7 different stations in a circuit and rotate through them.

Last Monday, Chris and I, and another training partner decided to do the 300 workout for time. Since we were going against the clock, we did it one at a time so we could really push through it, and provide some motivation for each other (we were going to need it).

The 25 pullups went pretty well. Chris got 24 and then one more with a quick change in grip. By this week, we were deadlifting 95 pounds—not much if you’re doing sets of 10—but quite a lot when you’re trying to knock out 50 in a row without stopping. This was pretty tough, but he made it through with a couple short breaks to change his grips. As expected, he knocked out the 50 pushups and then started on the box jumps.

By this time, it had become a cardio workout too, and he was really breathing hard, and slowing down. We kept him motivated, though, and he got through all 50 and went on to the floor wipers. At this point, you’re really glad to be done with the jumping.

When he got done, he was really getting tired, but it was time to start the 50 dumbell clean and presses. This week, we were up to 30 pounds, only 5 pounds off from the weight they used in the actual test. It took a couple breaks throughout, but he made it.

Finally, he went on to finish with the pullups. Earlier in the workout, it only took him 2 quick sets to get his 25 reps, but here it took him quite a bit longer after all he’d been through. Still, he made it through, and we stopped the clock at 18:58.

This was really a great performance, and right around the times posted by the main actor in the movie “300” and the trainer who came up with the test! Then it was my turn. Wow. All I can say is that you’ve got to do it to see how intense this really is.

I got the 25 pullups in short order. The 50 deadlifts, and 50 pushups too. Then came the 50 box jumps. It was ridiculous! By the time I ground out 25 of them, I was puffing like Thomas the Train Engine, and needing motivation big-time. Still, I kept going (slowing down with each jump), and got through them. I remember wondering if it was possible for my heart to actually explode.

The 50 floor wipers weren’t too bad, since I got to do them lying down. I picked up quite a bit of time here, and on the 50 dumbbell clean and presses too, since I was able to do them straight through.

The last 25 pullups were insane. Where before I got 22, and 3, this time I got seven! I had to do the rest of them in quick sets of 2, and it was pretty extreme. By the time I inched out my last one, they stopped the clock at 16:59 and I just sat down for a few minutes.

Honestly, I’ve never felt anything like this, and I make it my business to try goofy things, all the time: 50 tire flips, 800 yard (half mile) repeats for speed, 2 marathons, and all the other crazy things we’ve done.

Like I said last time, this routine is only for people who are already quite physically fit. If you’re not quite ready for the full workout, you can modify it by lowering the amount of weight, or lowering the number of repetitions, or even changing some of the exercises.

For now, we’re going to keep doing the routine on Mondays for another two months. I wonder if it’s possible to break 15 minutes? You never know!

Friday, August 03, 2007

The 300 Workout

I had another interesting experience this week. My son and I have been working out together for a year and a half, and we’re always looking for the latest ideas. If there’s a way to challenge ourselves in the weight room, on the mat, or out on the road, we’ve probably tried it.

He’d recently seen the movie “300” with his wife and was telling me about the workout routine the actors used to prepare for the film. Since they were portraying Spartan warriors defending Greece against an overwhelming Persian force, they had to look and act the part.

Featured in a recent issue of Men’s Health Magazine, the “300 Workout” was a specialized fitness test created by the actor’s fitness trainer. A difficult routine by any standards, it assesses overall muscular endurance and conditioning—critical things needed in any good Spartan warrior!

When I train clients, I take them through 4 levels of workouts. Level I is pretty basic, with low intensity cardio, and circuit training on a series of weight machines. It’s a good way to get someone started, and build up some basic muscle tone and endurance.

Within 3 or 4 weeks, I like to move them into the Level II workout with free weights replacing the machines. The body uses more stabilizer muscles to control the weights, and it also provides a great workout for what we call your core—your abdominals, obliques (sides), and the muscles that make up your lower back. We also pick up the pace of the cardio.

By the end of week eight, it’s time for Level III. It’s important to always keep switching things up so the body never really gets used to the workout stimulus. This is what keeps you improving. If you can already do it, your body has no reason to change. That’s why you always want to mix it up, and challenge yourself.

On Level III, we’re doing even more core exercises, and starting to add exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time, like doing a barbell clean, jerk and press motion. Or squats with shoulder press. Or deadlifts or walking lunges with a curl and press. These compound movements are more difficult, and require more muscles to fire to help keep you balanced.

Another principle is to put as many movements on an exercise ball as possible to make them even more unstable. This causes you to have to use even more core muscles to keep things stable while you’re doing the exercise. This burns more calories, and whips you into shape in a hurry.

On the cardio side of things, Level III also means high intensity interval training, where after a good warmup, you alternate rest breaks with intervals where you push yourself really hard.

By the end of 12 weeks, people are usually ready for Level IV workouts. The bulk of these exercises come from the Level III routines, but there’s no break, and in between sets, you’re doing a bunch of other different core exercises like planks, side planks, ball crunches, ball knee-ins, ball pikes, and woodchoppers! The workouts are pretty tough, because you never stop moving, and you’re burning a ton of calories.

At this point, the cardio is more intense, too. By now, many people are jogging, even if they’ve never ran before. They’ve often lost 20-30 pounds, and are feeling great. It’s amazing how good you can feel when you don’t have to move as much weight around.

By now, to provide new challenges, we’re doing a lot of different body weight exercises. I’m also doing goofy things like rope pulls, tire flips, and encouraging them to run a 5 K race, or do a bike rally. If they’re in Taekwondo, or Jui Jitsu, I’m encouraging them to try a competition, or work toward a next higher rank.

Here’s where the 300 rep Spartan workout from the movie comes in. After four months of training and the actual filming, their coach came up with a new fitness test for them. So, we decided to give it a try, too. To go along with the movies theme, it’s 7 exercises in a row, without stopping, if you can, for a total of 300 reps.

· 25 Pullups
· 50 Deadlifts (135 pounds)
· 50 Pushups
· 50 Box Jumps (24”)
· 50 Floor Wipers (while holding the 135 pound bar)
· 50 Dumbbell Cleans & Presses with a 35” DB (25 on each side)
· 25 Pullups

The idea is to do as many reps of each exercise as you can, in a row, without stopping. If you have to take a break, try to hit it again as soon as possible, because you’re also working against the clock.

BE CAREFUL, this routine is really only for people who are already quite physically fit. If you’re not quite ready for the full workout, you should modify it in several ways: by lowering the amount of weight, or lowering the number of repetitions. You can also use other similar body weight exercises instead.

For more information, and even videos on how to perform the exercises, go to www.menshealth.com. Then, search for the “300 Workout.” Next time, I’ll tell you how we did!