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!