June 03, 2020 10 min read
The imagery of the warrior brings up a lot of different ideas. Raw power, energy, intent, nobility, strength, and endurance come to mind. The warrior is a role and an idea that has stayed with us for millennia, both adapting to the times and molding our conceptions of what it means to be powerful.
When looking back into history, there’s a number of archetypes to draw from for inspiration. We previously looked at Vikings, and how their grizzled strength was molded by their environment of ice, rock, and cold seas. When it comes to trying anything and coming up with the wherewithal to carry it through, having a goal is important. Not only does it motivate you to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it also provides a blueprint for getting to where you want to go. Nevertheless, the Vikings aren’t the only ancient warriors we can draw from. Enter: the Spartans.
As depicted in the movie 300, not many things come close to the sheer level of style and testosterone. The image of King Leonidas decked out in a red cape and a snarl, is enough to get anyone’s adrenaline pumping and proclaiming loudly, “This is Sparta!”
And while there’s a lot to be said about the stylistic direction and the production of the movie itself, we can’t deny that the insanely shredded physiques of 300 guys played an important role in both the tone of the movie and its popularity. In fact, the training regime of the Spartan actors was released soon after the film. The grueling workouts that Gerard Butler and the rest of the actors went through allowed for the extremely chiseled aesthetics seen in the movie—and now you too can look, and feel, like a Spartan from old.
Mark Twight, former head of Gym Jones (one of the toughest training facilities in the country), was tasked with getting the actors in shape for their roles. Unlike some conceptions people may have, not everyone who started at the beginning of this intense 4-month training period was already physically fit. Some, as Twight would go on to say, came in 40 pounds overweight, while others already had a very good foundation for getting “Spartan” ripped.
If there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that with enough time and dedication, everyone really can chisel out an insanely aesthetic body out of whatever they have now. However, Twight’s role was to create more than just buff actors. Through his tough-as-nails approach, there was the intent of making these former strangers into a cohesive unit—an aspect which really shone through on the screen.
With a full-body workout twice a day for up to 2 hours apiece (with Gerard Butler sometimes working out up to 6 hours a day), over a four-month period, it’s no surprise that the actors gained the physiques they did.
But it’s important to keep in mind that the actors weren’t doing the 300 workout every day. It was done every now and then, and also at the end as a sort of Spartan “rite of passage”, according to Twight. Furthermore, the actors were trained for performance, rather than just purely aesthetics and to burn fat. The look came after—effectively creating the sort of strength and power that were necessary for a real Spartan warrior.
The 300 workout is done as a super-set. This means that you’re meant to go from one exercise to the next with no rest in between. The goal is to complete the 300 reps of the workout as fast as possible. It’s important to note that this workout isn’t for beginners, and not even the actors who achieved the Spartan look did this workout every day. The 300 sets are extremely grueling, and it’s important to work your way up, especially if you’re a beginner.
Nevertheless, as a goal, the 300 rep super-set is perfect. Not only does it give you something to work towards in the long term, but if you do get there, it’s easy to scale up. You can always try to go faster, beating your previous records. If you’re not at the fitness level of being able to do this workout, then it’s also possible to scale down and only do 50 or 100 set variations of it.
The beauty in this workout is that not only is it full-body, but it’s also functional. It can be done with minimal equipment (a pull-up bar and some weights), and it’ll hit all the major muscle groups. We’ll begin by going through the 300 workout and then touch on ways to scale this rite of passage into Spartan-hood.
All of the movements in the 300 workout are full-body compound movements. This lends itself to the intention of creating warriors with functional strength and performance—not just aesthetically pleasing bodies. Following the philosophy of Twight, the Spartans’ appearance was a function of their fitness—not the other way around. This built strong, lean, athletes, who happened to look good because they were strong and lean, and not necessarily because they trained for that.
Therefore, the 300 training plan consists of:
Again, this super-set wasn’t done daily. Rather, it was a way to gauge progress and set a goal for the actors towards the end of training. The alleged record for the 300 work out within the actors was Andrew Pleavin who played Daxos—finishing the set in an insane 18 minutes. After going through each movement, we’ll look more closely at scaling and getting up to the fitness level where you might be able to give Pleavin a run for his money.
25 x Pull-ups: The pull-up remains a daunting movement for many people. Having to lift up most of your body weight while dealing with the common problem-area of shoulder mobility, can be difficult at first. We’ve done a deep dive into pull-ups, but here’s some quick-and-dirty tips to get you started.
While your arms should straighten fully, don’t just let them hang. It’s important to maintain tension across your shoulders, otherwise, you’ll be placing unnecessary strain on your bicep tendons and rotator cuffs. Once halfway up, shift your focus away from just using your arms and activate your shoulders. By pulling the shoulder blades down and back, you’ll be able to use more power in a safer way. At the top of the movement, don’t stop pulling. Try to hold a double chin while activating your core and glutes in order to maintain stability.
50 x Deadlifts: Deadlifts are one of the best compound movements in order to cultivate explosive power—the power necessary to become a Spartan warrior. Although there are dozens of varieties of the deadlift, the fundamental version will have you placing your heels hip-width apart with your toes slightly pointed out. The bar should be at midfoot.
When pulling up, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re pushing down with your lower body, maintaining a straight back. Your hips should act as a hinge, with your hips and knees locking at the top of the movement. The deadlift is a bread-and-butter lift that’s essential in the sculpting of a Spartan physique and warrior fitness level.
50 x Push-ups: Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen some really bad push-up forms. While a common movement that’s terrific for strength training and the perfect exercise, the proper form is sometimes difficult to come by. Your hands should be at a distance slightly wider than your shoulder-width apart, with your feet set-up in a way that feels comfortable for you. Generally, the further apart they are, the more stability you’ll have.
You should be holding a plank throughout the entire movement—this means that your butt shouldn’t be sticking out, nor sagging. It helps to activate your glutes and your core if you’re having trouble with this. At the top of the movement, your arms should be straight. At the bottom of the movement, your arms should not be flared out. Your elbows need to be pointing towards the back—you’ll achieve this if your hands aren’t too far apart.
50 x Box jumps, with a 24” box: An essential skill for any warrior is the ability to jump, and jump well. Box jumps help build speed and strength, being especially beneficial for those training for performance sports—or for the Battle of Thermopylae. This movement strengthens your lower-body muscles, making you faster, more powerful, and springier.
To start, you’ll want to stand in front of a 24” box with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bending into a quarter squat, swing your arms back and then forward, jumping off the ground at the top of the swing. When you’re jumping on and off, you want to land as softly as possible. Your position after each jump on and off should also be the exact same—a quarter-squat, with your arms preparing for the next jump.
50 x Floor wipers, holding 135 pounds: This movement targets a number of muscle groups all at once, including the core, hip flexors, arms, and the obliques. It’s important to keep this movement steady and controlled—when your form starts to give out, it’s time to pause. Your core plays an essential role in keeping you stable throughout this movement, so it’s easy to see why floor wipers were used to get the chiseled abs sported by the Spartans.
The movement starts by lying on the floor with a barbell in your fully extended hands, that are shoulder-width above your chest. Raising your legs straight up in line with your waist, lower them to the left, then back up, and then to the right. Do 50 reps of this movement and you’ll have Leonidas’ abs in no time at all.
50 x Kettlebell Clean and Press at 36lbs: Much like the deadlift, this is one of the hardcore movements in this routine. It combines upper and lower body strength into a compound movement that definitely gets you in the mindset of one of the 300. With 25 sets per arm, this is another exercise which will have impeccable results for your abdominals, and the rest of your body. Feel free to substitute with a dumbbell if you don’t have access to a kettlebell.
Picking up the kettlebell, let it swing in between your legs. You’ll want to keep your arm to your side as you pull your arm up, similar to starting a lawnmower. As the kettlebell becomes momentarily weightless due to the pull, you want to complete the clean by activating your arms and racking the weight in between your forearm and your bicep. From the rack position, complete the press by pressing the weight straight up and locking out. Pause, and then lower the kettlebell back into the racking position. From there, drop the weight down smoothly between your legs without jerking your arm.
Keep in mind that when you’re going up to rack the kettlebell, the kettlebell shouldn’t be going upside down. Rather, the weight is positioned around your hand as you make an “uppercut” motion, finishing the clean in the rack position. 50 reps of these will be brutal—but no one said becoming a Spartan was easy.
25 x Pull-ups: Thought we were finished with the pull-ups? Finishing off as we started, the last movement in this super-set is the second half of the 50 pull-ups. Once again, keep in mind that your form is kept up to par. By this point in the 300 workout you’ll be begging for it to end—but stopping isn’t an option if you’re trying to prove your mettle on the battleground.
While you may decide to use the 300 workout as your base from which your exercise from, it’s just as easily utilized as a way to set benchmarks like it was originally intended. If you’re feeling confident, try it out next time you have access to all the equipment. Time yourself and see how well you do. Then in a month, try it again and measure any improvements or areas that need to be worked on. Also, be sure to load up on carbs, like. Whey protein before this workout since it requires a ton of energy.
Once again, Butler and the rest of the Spartans didn’t use this workout as their daily regime. Many of them had to work up to it, and some surpassed the expectation it set. What’s essential is keeping that warrior mindset and going into this workout with the intention of coming out the other end stronger, leaner, and with higher endurance.
While the 300 regime is extremely scalable, it’s important to keep in mind the spirit of the workout. Originally created for performance and full-body, multi-joint, and muscle movements, it’s advisable to avoid including isolation exercises (such as bicep curls, for example). This takes away from the original intent and design, straying further from the 300-warrior path.
A better way to scale would be to start with either 50 or 100 reps and move up to 300. This will lessen the intensity, making it easier and safer for beginners, while also remaining true to the original spirit.
If you’re someone who’s already been going to the gym for a while but is trying the Spartan 300 workout for the first time, a good idea would be to make the weights lighter. So instead of a 135lb deadlift, substitute in a 100lb deadlift. You can even remove the weight entirely with the floor wipers and use a shorter box for the box jumps.
For beginners, the 300 workouts could be scaled down to:
For a total of 154 repetitions.
Of course, a workout regime centered around the 300 workout doesn’t just have to include the above movements. Be sure to include mostly compound movements, training for performance, explosive strength, power, and endurance—just like a real warrior. The physique will be a product of your newfound strength, rather than the goal. Nevertheless, the chiseled bodies found in the movie came after a significant focus on cardio as well. In order to give Leonidas an enhanced definition and improve on some final touches, Butler stuck to the rowing machine for weeks.
However, as grueling as the 300 workout is, you can’t out-train a bad diet when it comes to fat loss. All 300 Spartans, and especially Butler, had to stick to an extremely strict eating plan—eating just enough to recover from their brutal workouts. Staying true to the source material, the actors lived off a Mediterranean diet in order to control their body fat. This meant a lot of figs, grapes, goat cheese, among other vegetables, fruits, and nuts. This brings new meaning to the phrase, “Tonight, we dine in hell.”
Paired with the brutal workout, this diet will get you amazing results—especially if you pair it with other fat-burning supplements. But as always, and what’s especially true for a regime as merciless as this, rest is crucially important. Without enough rest to order to balance out training, then burnout and plateauing will be imminent. However, if you do succeed, remember the day, for it will be yours for all time.