October 09, 2021 10 min read
In the past we’ve looked at absolutely brutal workouts that push the boundaries of what the human body can do, and Herschel Walker’s is another one for the books.
Using nothing more than his own body weight, this routine has daily reps in the thousands, focusing on only a handful of movements and their variations. It’s incredibly challenging, and very few people will probably be able to come close to completing it fully.
Featuring 3,500 push-ups and several thousand sit-ups every day at one point in his life, the Walker workout is not for the faint of heart. However, the mindset behind the exercises is useful for everyone looking to ramp up their own training regimen.
Walker grew up in Georgia to a working-class family. One of seven children, he struggled through a speech impediment and being overweight. He didn’t join any formal sports until 7th grade, but when he did, he made a massive impact. In high school, he would distinguish himself as an amazing athlete in football, basketball, track and field, and weightlifting.
He’s considered to be one of the all-time greatest college football players, being elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. He won the Heisman Trophy, a Maxwell Award, and was a three-time All-American during his time as a running back at the University of Georgia.
In terms of professional football, he was drafted into the Dallas Cowboys in 1985. He would go on to play for Minnesota, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants, becoming the only player in NFL history who gained 4,000 yards in three ways: receiving, rushing, and returning kickoffs.
After 16 seasons with the USFL and NFL, he went on to join the US Olympic bobsled team in 1992. He’s also into taekwondo and MMA, holding a 5th-degree black belt in the taekwondo. In terms of MMA, he has 2 professional MMA wins with UFC. He’s currently the CEO of Renaissance Food Services, and sits as a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition.
Walker is, if anything, an absolute powerhouse. He obviously knows how to put his nose to the grindstone and give it his all, and which is obvious from his workout routine, and his achievements.
We’ll get into his bodyweight workouts more down below, but for now, it’s important to remember that Walker didn’t use any equipment in his regular routine.
This goes against a lot of conventional thinking when it comes to getting big and strong. The most dramatic aspect of Walker’s routine is the massive rep ranges. All from middle school to later in life, he’s been doing thousands of push-ups and sit-ups almost every single day.
This isn’t conventional thinking—especially when it comes to strength gains—because almost the exact opposite is usually done. For example, strength training is all about lifting seriously heavy weights for low reps. Compare the handful of bench presses an elite powerlifter might complete throughout a week, to the thousands upon thousands of push-ups that walker would do in the same time fram. Nevertheless, Walker found a way to make things work for him and his goals.
Even though he had a foundation of movements he relied upon, he also experimented with his workouts, collecting a wide variety of exercises and trying them out in his routine. If they felt good and they fit in well with the rest of his exercises, he would incorporate them into his routine. He would even go to create his own movements that felt good and engaged his muscles properly.
For those of us who are used to strict, regimented routines, this may seem counterintuitive. However, it’s difficult to deny the fact that it worked for Walker. The key, as always, is to stay in tune with one’s body and its needs. This was also seen in the variety of physical activities that he performed, allowing him to draw from a vast pool of inspiration to guide his own experimentation.
For example, along with the sports he’s known for, he also did a lot of martial arts and dance.
He even once told nfl.com that he was doing CrossFit before they gave it a name. A large piece of this mindset is keeping things fresh and fun, because it doesn’t matter how into working out you might be, at certain points, it’s not going to be fun.
These are the times it’s most important to power through and continue down the path you’ve set for yourself. Making it fun and new is a fantastic way to keep your mental game on point.
Although Walker may have taken the road less traveled in his training, he was consistent. For Walker, there’s no such thing as a three-day workout per week. There isn’t such a thing as rest days. He believes in some sort of physical exercise every single day, no matter what.
He’s compared training to putting money in the bank, in the sense that working out made him feel good, and he felt like he was working towards bigger goals and aspirations. To maintain this mindset every single day is a feat in itself, but having a solid “why” is a great place to start. Motivation might get the ball rolling, but it’s going to be your “why” that pushes you to the heights that Walker reached.
As we mentioned above, the Walker workout is an absolute bodyweight powerhouse. We’re talking about thousands of reps of the most fundamental movements that everyone is familiar with from gym class. This primarily came down to push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints when he was first starting out as a chubby kid in school. In the beginning, he couldn’t do a single push-up, which he slowly worked up to thousands per day.
These days, he allegedly does 3,500 push-ups every day. As we discussed, this is not the way most people train—at least when looking for strength gains. Bodybuilding makes more sense since lower weights with higher rep ranges are used. But this cut-and-dry workout has obviously worked for Walker, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for the rest of us.
Leg workouts are especially difficult when working with your body weight since the leg muscles are some of the largest in the body. This means that it takes a lot to gas them out and have them develop.
These are some of the exercises that were used in the Herschel Walker workout routine:
Running is a key part of Walker’s routine, and keeping his legs healthy and strong was at the forefront of his workouts.
Along with sprints and sit-ups, push-ups are the third exercise category that Walker included in his original workouts at the family home. Although he began with the regular push-up, over the years he would experiment with variations in order to make things more challenging.
This is how he sculpted his powerful upper body:
Sit-ups were the third mainstay of Walker’s earlier exercise routines. They helped build chiseled abs that were able to transfer power and give balance in the variety of athletic activities he did.
Here are some of the variations he used:
Pull-ups and chin-ups have been another mainstay in Walker’s exercise plan. They’re almost unrivaled in building a powerful back, while also developing the arm muscles and chest muscles. Investing in a pull-up bar is a great idea, especially if you don’t have easy access to a gym.
Although they are difficult, there are plenty of ways to slowly work your way up to more advanced variations.
These are some of them:
Thousands of reps per day is probably going to be out of the question for most of people, but there are good starting places that utilize the same methods and thinking that Walker used to create his main workouts.
For example, this is a simple, full-body workout that gives us a good place to start:
Try to finish all of these exercises in as few sets as possible. You can either push yourself as hard as you can during the first set before slowly dwindling the reps, or you can split up the reps into more easily achievable pieces. The main part is that you’re pushing yourself enough to engage the necessary muscles.
The best part about this workout can be done pretty much anywhere—all you need is your body weight and some space to run. A pull-up bar is also a terrific investment that will give you an entire range of workouts to try.
While these are just the basic versions of these exercises, it’d do you well to mix things up with some of the variations that we looked at above. This will work your muscles harder, and in newer and more interesting ways.
Running is especially important for Walker. In fact, he’s said that running and sprinting are the most important skills that an athlete can work on. When he was growing up on the farm, sprints made up the backbone of his workouts along with push-ups and sit-ups. He would run through soft soil to add a level of difficulty to his sprints, or would run either holding weights or wearing a weight vest.
Sometimes he would even attach a tire to himself filled with weights and then run with it. He says that he’s still able to run a 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds—an impressive feat, especially at his age.
Swimming and waterwork also made up a large part of his training, at least later on in college.
But rather than going for conventional swimming where speed was important, he would make up his own exercises to do in the water. One of these was “power clapping” or doing his taekwondo movements while underwater. Another exercise he did was a modified breaststroke, where he would aim to have his body leave the water as much as possible after every stroke.
These movements were done underwater to introduce some added resistance to them, and he would even modify the movements to add as much drag as possible.
Walker also has a long history of doing martial arts, particularly taekwondo. He took it up as a teenager, primarily because he was bullied and it would allow him to protect himself. This was particularly useful in enhancing a lot of skills he used for other sports, skills such as flexibility, explosive power, coordination, body control, and balance.
He himself credits taekwondo as keeping him loose enough during his football career. These days, he’s a 5th-degree black belt in taekwondo, and he regularly keeps up the practice along with MMA training.
While the above made up the most of his training, he was also known to perform several other exercises in his normal training routine.
He would also implement a lot of stretching to keep himself nimble and flexible. All of these primarily use body weight to challenge yourself, and all of the few pieces of equipment can be easily found (or just hit up your local playground).
Just as Walker’s training routine was unique, so is his diet.
He claims to eat one meal per day, later in the evening around 8 or 9 pm. And to take things even further, he’s also apparently a vegetarian (with conflicting reports saying he eats chicken). He’s said that most of his calories come from soup, bread, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
Walker claims that this is the food he and his family grew up with on the farm, and it’s the way to build a hulking figure and strong muscles.
Throughout the day, Walker subsists on water and juice—but that’s it. He’s also talked about how he uses a crockpot to make soup so it’s ready for him when he’s ready to eat.
This probably goes without saying when looking at such a salt-of-the-earth lifestyle, but Walker does not use any supplements and his diet is relatively low on proteins.
That being said, if you’re looking for the Walker physique rather than just the brutal routine, you’re probably going to want to invest in a high-quality whey protein powder, at the very least.
Unless you want to go the experimental route—which isn’t a bad idea in itself—you’re going to want to ensure that you’re getting enough protein. Trying to experiment with different diets is always a good idea, but the key is to listen to your body to see what works and what doesn’t. This kind of tuning into one’s body is only going to come with experience: both mistakes and successes.
When it comes to intense workout routines, there are few that can hold a candle to Herschel Walker’s. With thousands of reps per day of bodyweight exercises, this plan is all about hammering your muscles consistently over long periods of time.
However, even if you’re not inclined to follow this all the way through, there are still some important takeaways that everyone can take into their own fitness journey.
While bodyweight exercises showcase fundamental movements, there’s a lot of ingenuity that can also be seen.
Switching things up to make them more difficult, or to work slightly different muscles at slightly different angles, is a great way to keep things fresh and ensure a well-rounded development. Keeping things fresh also ensures that working out stays fun, and you’re always trying out new things and seeing if they work for you. All together, this helps the mental game more than anything.
The consistency of Walker’s workouts
Maybe more than any other man, he understands that fitness is a long-term goal to strive for rather than a short-term sprint. With this routine, he’s literally looking years if not decades into the future—a perspective very far removed from those simply trying to cut down on body fat for the summer beach months.
These takeaways are important and they can work with all fitness plans, whether or not you’re keen on doing thousands of push-ups per day.