After the movie 300 came out, every red-blooded male wanted the “warrior physique.” They wanted to look like the guys in the movie, so they started looking up on YouTube what their training involved. Trainers started creating their own warrior workouts, Spartan workouts, gladiator workouts, superhero workouts, etc. to cash in on the 300 hype.
When an actor gets ready for a role where he plays an action hero, superhero or a warrior, the studio hires a trainer to assess his physique. Regardless of the starting physique, it is the end result, the physique demanded by the role that counts. For such roles, the actor must have a tall muscular look with wide shoulders, ripped abs. The actor must not only act like a warrior, the actor’s body must also emulate the warrior physique.
Bodybuilding is essentially cosmetic training, meant to mimic the warrior physique. This is analogous to a non-poisonous species of snake having evolved to bear the same color pattern as a poisonous species of snake.
Prior to industrialization, the idea of exercise was not something practiced by mainstream society. In a sense, farmers, laborers and the majority of society were already exercising, because they were doing manual labor or high volumes of tedious work. But soldiers and combat athletes supplemented their combat training with physical training. They understood that they needed strength, speed, power, mobility and endurance to augment martial skill.
Movements normally performed in ancient warfare were broken down into more discrete movements: the javelin throw, discus, shot put, the 40 yard dash, the marathon, the high jump, etc. Notice that most of the moves, with the exception of the marathon, are explosive moves. Explosiveness with a handheld weapon, whether it be spear, axe, sword or rock was useful in ancient warfare.
The original purpose of exercise was martial. Exercise originated from the martial arts and from warrior cultures. Martial artists practice a wide variety of bodyweight exercises and partner-assisted exercises meant to build strength, mobility and flexibility. Different disciplines, for example, have their own pushup variations (i.e. judo pushups, Muay Thai pushups).
Side Note: I was once performing one-legged squats at Lake Merced in San Francisco, and an elderly man came up to me and said, “You’re doing the chicken.”
He explained to me that his sifu made him perform one-legged squats, and they referred to the exercise as “The Chicken.” The origin of the one-legged squat could very well have come from kung fu.
If you want a warrior physique, then you should do whole body exercises where you move through 3 dimensional space. This means exercises where your entire body moves, not just the weight. A warrior must be not only strong but mobile. So pull-ups are better than pulldowns, because your body is moving through 3 dimensional space. Squats are better than leg presses, because you are moving through 3 dimensional space and are not locked in a fixed position.
The following exercises are my favorite exercises that will build the warrior physique, one that can actually function and operate in real life. Together they cover all directions in a 3 dimensional plane.
The Handstand Pushup
Many of the great overhead pressers like John Grimek and Paul Anderson were able to do handstand pushups. If you want to improve your overhead press, then the handstand pushup will build strength in your vertical pressing movements.
The great thing about the handstand pushup is that it teaches you balance. You have to maintain your body’s center of gravity over your base of support (the hands). With a barbell or dumbbell military press, you can push the weight with sloppy form or in an uneven manner, and you can still get the weight up.
With the handstand pushup, however, if your body is not properly aligned over your hands, then you can fall over. Balancing on your hands works your rotator cuff and strengthens your shoulders.
If you haven’t done a handstand pushup, then start off slowly by doing it facing the wall. Facing the wall is easier than facing away from the wall.
Once you’re able to do several reps, you can do it facing away from the wall.
Once you’re able to do several reps of these, you can do deficit handstand pushups, increasing the range of motion the stronger you get.
A warrior must pull his own weight, figuratively and literally. However, I’ve noticed that most people cannot do pull-ups, and if they do, then they can only eke out an average of 5 reps. In Strength and Physique: High Tension Exercises for Muscular Growth, I go over a high frequency training method that will build your pull-up strength.
If you can only do a low number of reps, then I suggest you perform pull-ups only for your heavy workouts. So if you have a microcycle of heavy and light workouts, then do pull-ups for your heavy back workout and do pulldowns or seated rows for your light back workouts.
Most people perform partial dips, meaning they cannot dip all the down. It’s quite easy to dip halfway down, because your skeletal structure (the locking out of your arms) is bearing the weight of your body. But your chest and triceps don’t get worked until you dip all the way down. This sweet spot, the bottom range of the dip, is where your triceps and chest feel the most tension. Tension is what builds muscle.
Front Lever/Back Lever
If you want an armored midsection, then the front lever is a brutally effective exercise at tightening up the abs. It’s an extremely difficult exercise to perform, so you may want practice the intermediate exercises leading up to the front lever.
The back lever is when you hold your body in a horizontal position facing the ground. Like the front lever, the back lever demands quite a bit of core strength and total body tension. I’m fond of this exercise, because it gives my biceps a good stretch and helps with shoulder flexibility.
Although the back lever is considered easier than the front lever, it does take some practice. Like the front lever, you can practice the progressions leading up to the back lever:
The Kettlebell Snatch
Physical explosiveness was a requirement in the ancient battlefield. Although the Olympic barbell lifts develop explosiveness, they require a lot of technique and don’t lend themselves to high repetitions, despite what Crossfitters will tell you.
Kettlebells, however, allow you to work on strength endurance and explosiveness. The lifts are still very technical, however. Most people who encounter kettlebells at the gym just use them for shrugs or side bends or upright rows. If they do perform a true kettlebell exercise, then they almost always perform the two handed swing.
Although the swing is a great exercise and is user friendly, the kettlebell snatch is much better at developing explosiveness as well as building up muscle mass in the back, traps, biceps and forearms. Kettlebells work great as a conditioning tool, since it can be used in circuit or interval training. It’s far better for fat loss than a Stairmaster or elliptical.
Hill Sprints/Car Push
A warrior must be mobile and fast. Although squats and deadlifts are the best exercises for leg strength, most people cannot do them properly. They can’t squat all the way down. Plus it’s best to do squats and deadlifts just once a week, since they are very taxing on the nervous system.
Hill sprints and car pushes are functional applications of leg strength, since a warrior must run and he must also push enemies back.
The Car Push
The Hill Sprint (Walter PPK optional)