THE FEW, THE PROUD (A LOOK AT THE SPARTAN LIFTS)
Building a fit and strong body doesn’t require mastering an encyclopedia worth of exercises. The arsenal you’ll be using may seem small, but they are all that’s necessary.
Experience has shown moving too far away from the list you’re about to see is just a distraction. And the last thing you need when getting Spartan fit is too many distractions!
The first three exercises are the real meat of our program. These “big three” have been the basis of the training of practically every supremely fit person you can imagine.
Pull Ups / Pull Downs
There’s variations of all these exercises that can “spice” up your training occasionally. But move heavy weights in these lifts (aside for the abdominal work, pull ups and pushups which are more high rep orientated) and you will see an amazing transformation in your body. Fast.
A successful program is all about getting the most out of what you are doing. This is what these crucial exercises provide.
Each of these exercises has their own personalities and tips that we can use to master them more easily. I’ll be addressing the most important ones as we dig deeper into our program.
How About Using Machines?
The question about using machines is a natural one. If you believe the fitness industry hype, it’s easy to end up thinking that the latest, greatest (and most expensive) machine is the answer to all of your fitness concerns. Now that you’re getting caught up to speed on how to train like a Spartan, you’ve probably guessed this isn’t the case.
Using machines over free weights will end up slowing down your progress, limiting your strength and making you more prone to injury. With two exceptions:
1. To Rehab an Injury. If you have sore shoulders and there’s no way you can bench press, substituting machine presses on a quality machine is a good option until you are able to bench press again. Shoulder machine presses can also be popular for those with rotator cuff issues. Just use the machines as substitutes until you are able to hit the free weights again. Not a minute longer.
2. To Build up Strength for Full Pull Ups. You’ll see pull ups and chin ups are crucial parts of our program. They can be very difficult for those overweight or lacking in upper back and bicep strength. Pull downs on a machine are a way to build up the strength required to train for reps with pull ups and chin ups. The idea is to use heavy pull downs for low reps. Enough of these and you will be able to get the most out of the pull up bar in no time. I’ll get into this in more detail in our Spartan pull up chapter.
You should be using free weights and your body weight for resistance at least 90% of the time when you are training. After all, Spartans didn’t have Bowflex did they? They didn’t need expensive trinkets and you don’t either!
HOW THE TRAINING IS STRUCTURED
Here comes our program. Welcome to the ranks of Sparta!
The days we list are suggestions, but suggestions nearly everyone follows. If you work a strange schedule feel free to adjust as needed. Just be sure you are training five days and not doing much too alter the volume of the training. Save these types of alterations, if needed or desired, until you get some experience under your belt.
We’ll be training our larger body parts twice a week. One day is reserved for a little extra work for smaller body parts to polish them up a bit. Cardio is also done five days, on every training days.
Monday will be focused on chest and upper back. Five heavy sets of barbell or dumbbell flat bench presses for five reps each set. These should be done explosively, with a maximum of two minutes rest between each set. Follow these with three sets of push ups. Each set of pushups are done to failure.
After chest move on to either the pull up bar or the pull down machine (if you aren’t able to do pull ups). Five sets of pull ups or pull downs. If you are doing pull ups each set is done to failure. If you are working up to pull ups using a pull down machine five sets of five reps. Again rest two minutes between each set.
After strength training it’s on to cardio. No one said this would be easy.
Tuesday you’ll be focusing on your ability to pull heavy things off the floor and your legs. Start with five heavy sets of dead lifts for five reps each. Rather than two minutes rest between sets, take three or four minutes as needed.
After dead lifts move on to the squat rack. Barbell squats, five sets of five heavy reps. Two minutes rest between sets. After barbell squats, three sets of body weight squats to failure. Again with two minutes rest between sets.
Follow with cardio.
A rest day. You are going to need it. Especially, when you are getting used to the program. Be sure to get in some good recovery time and try to avoid over-physicality as much as possible. A secret to maximizing recovery is to make sure on rest days to get in a few extra hours of sleep, either at night or in a nap during the day. Added sleep on rest days equals added muscle and better conditioning. When it’s time to train, train. When it’s time to rest, rest.
On Thursday we come back to chest and upper back. Follow the same plan as Monday, but now substitute incline barbell or dumbbell bench presses for flat presses. When you come to pull ups or pull downs reverse your grip, which means you will be doing them chin up style. After back train abs.
Don’t forget your cardio.
Friday, repeat Tuesday’s routine. Feel free to substitute a different dead lift or squat version if this appeals to you.
Follow with cardio.
Shoulders, biceps and abs are on the menu. A shoulder press of your choice (barbell or dumbbell) of three sets of five reps. Two minutes rest between sets. For biceps do a curl variant of your choice for three sets of five reps. Again with two minutes rest. Finish up with abs and cardio.
Rest day. Be sure to write down your plan for the following week.
A busy schedule, but a schedule that produces results without fail. I know you are up for the challenge!
THE SPARTAN DEADLIFT
The dead lift is an exercise that’s too often neglected. Which is a huge shame. Not in our Spartan training, where it is one of the three lifts that support our whole program.
To execute a dead lift is simple. But this doesn’t mean good form isn’t important. Ignore good form on a heavy dead lift and you are asking for injury.
How to Deadlift – Spartan Style
Take a barbell and load it with weights. Have it on the floor a few inches from your feet. Your feet should be slightly more than shoulder width apart. Keep your chest up and your hips down. Squat down to the floor and grab the bar with your hands facing you or, if you prefer, one palm facing you and one palm facing away holding the bar. Be sure to have your head in a neutral position. Pull as you straighten your legs. The bar will stop at mid quad. That’s one rep. Lower and repeat.
The dead lift is a brilliant exercise that will pack hard muscle on your entire body as long as you lift HEAVY. We’re talking muscle everywhere from your quads to your arms and shoulders. Literally, your entire body. Not many other exercises can make that claim, maybe none other aside from the squat.
These following tips will improve your success with this important lift:
Explode Up. If you pull “slow” you will never develop real power in the dead lift. EXPLODE up. As you become more effective with this lift, you’ll find your ability to generate force also expands quickly in your everyday life. This is REAL functional fitness. As an added bonus muscle capable of explosive power looks great too. Many people who were never quite able to get six pack abs start doing heavy dead lifts and end up unveiling them in less than a month.
Keep Your Core Tight. Your abs, lower back and buttocks should all stay tight while you dead lift. This is an important way to protect yourself from injury.
NEVER Wear a Weight Lifting Belt. Not only do weight lifting belts look ridiculous, but they also do more to cause injury than to protect it. They keep your abs and lower back weak. This sustained weakness, while the rest of your torso gets stronger has ended many a weight lifting enthusiast’s injury free streak. Never buy a weight lifting belt. If someone gives you one, return it and buy protein powder instead!
Deadlift Variations Worth Trying
There’s two dead lift variations that are a good fit for our program.
Feel free to use either on your second dead lift day of the week if you choose.
The Rack Deadlift.
This is done inside a squat rack with the safety bars set at a height equal to your knees, more or less. Place the barbell on the safety bars. This will allow you to lift MUCH heavier since the range of motion is reduced. Otherwise follow the same form as a normal dead lift. Rack dead lifts are excellent for breaking through plateaus in training and building more power.
One Armed Deadlift.
You can perform this with either a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell. Focus on speed when you explode up. Be sure to do an equal number of sets with each arm.
If you are ever in a situation where you can only do one exercise, make it the dead lift. It’s a Spartan’s best friend.
THE SPARTAN SQUAT
Guys with a huge upper body and legs the size of twigs. Go to any mainstream gym and you’ll be forced to see this ridiculous sight again and again. Clearly these people aren’t training Spartan style. For us, the legs are every bit as important to develop. And they should be for you too.
Powerfully built legs in men and women alike send the not so-subtle message of extreme athleticism. They set you apart from the pack, give you (again) functional strength and are also considered by most to be very attractive.
Are you convinced yet of the need to train legs beyond an occasional set of leg extensions or machine leg presses?
Great. Now let’s look at the Spartan Squat.
On the Squat
The squat is an exercise that should never be skipped.
Many people have the temptation to skip it and as a direct result their leg conditioning suffers. Not just leg conditioning, their ENTIRE body conditioning suffers! Heavy squats will pack on muscle in the whole torso. Many old-school bodybuilders and power lifters even preached that the squat was a quick way for men to naturally boost their testosterone levels. Real world results seem to back these ideas up.
Load a heavy barbell either in the squat rack or on squat stands. This is “heavy” for you, but eventually we are aiming for you to build up real power – one and a half times to twice your body weight is a good goal. For now use what you can move for five good reps.
Duck under the bar and rest it on your trapezius. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Grasp the bar palms facing away from you wherever you find it most comfortable. Most people choose a few inches beyond their shoulders.
Slowly lower yourself to just below parallel. Explode up. This is one rep. Be sure to keep your abs, lower back and glutes tight the entire time you are squatting.
Again, no exercise belts!
Always squat inside a power cage with safety pins or bars set in case a rep is too heavy for you to finish. Or have a partner “spotting” you. Just make sure they are paying close attention! It’s no time to be checking email on an iPhone or flirting, that’s for sure.
There’s something really special, also, about high rep bodyweight only squats. The warrior cultures of Greece and India swore by them. By using them as a back up to your barbell squats you will be, literally, getting the best leg training method of two worlds (one ancient and one modern) working for you.
Lock your fingers behind your head, elbows pointing to your sides. Position your feet at wider than shoulder width apart. Toes pointing forward. Drop as low as possible. Explode up and repeat for very high reps.
Inhale on the way down and exhale as powerfully as possible on the way up. You’ll find body weight squats also build your lung capacity, endurance and fighting spirit in addition to strengthening your legs.
The 300 has legs of steel. Soon you will too!
THE SPARTAN CHEST PRESS
There’s little doubt that if most young men were asked what part of their body they’d like to develop powerfully first, the chest would only come in behind the biceps. A large and well defined chest screams strength and fitness.
The Spartan take on the two most common chest presses
– the bench press and the pushup gives a quick (but not easy) route to a chest that looks like it’s carved from marble. The exercises we focus on may be common, but our approach to them is anything but that.
Follow these instructions and your pectorals will look great and rarely fail you when it comes to function. And nearly anything even remotely athletic depends on a powerful chest. I can’t think of one sport that doesn’t!
Bench Pressing the Right Way
Now for each of our training sessions where we work the chest press we have a few different options. An honest look in the mirror or once over of your conditioning will determine which choice is best for you. As a default, if you’re not sure, turn to the barbell flat bench press.
Barbell Bench Press. This is the bench press almost everyone in the world has tried at least once. You lie flat on a bench, lift a heavy barbell off the bench rack, lower it to the top of your chest and repeat for all of your reps.
Take as wide a grip as comfortable. Touch the chest, but don’t slam the bar into it for obvious safety reasons. Always have safety bars / pins set or use a spotter in case you are unable to make a rep. Explode upwards!
An added old-school safety trick: never use collars to hold the weight plates on the side of the bar. In an extreme emergency you want to be able to slide the weight plates off of the side of the bar. I’ve been in this situation and, trust me, you’ll be glad this is an option with a heavy bar loaded bar across your chest that just won’t budge.
Incline Bench Press. The same instructions as the bench press, but with the bench set at an incline. This helps build the upper chest, an area where many people are lacking. I was one of them. After a year of almost exclusive incline bench presses my chest looked it’s absolute best.
Dumbbell Press. These can be done in place of either flat or incline bench presses. Less weight is used, but the dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion and are also less harsh on the shoulders. They make for a nice change occasionally.
The pushup is something that is inseparable from the warrior experience. Spartans did them by the hundreds.
So do our modern military units and amateur and professional combat athletes. You will too.
Place your hands slightly more than shoulder width apart. Feet close together. Body in a straight line. Keep your core tight as you explode up. Pushups are done for reps.
Of course there are dozens of pushup variations. As you increase your strength and conditioning feel free to explore them.
Chest training is much more about working hard and smart than it is about following complicated programs. A Spartan chest is within your reach, as long as you take action and grab it!
WARRIOR PULL UPS
The pull up is an exercise that strikes many fitness beginners with complete fear. There’s something intimidating, especially if you’re on the heavier size, about approaching a pull up bar and finding out you can only do a few reps. Or less.
This shouldn’t be intimidating. We all need to start somewhere and we shouldn’t be afraid of the truth.
I started off not being able to do more than two or three pull ups. The day I did 25 reps in one set, I felt like superman. Much better than I did the first time I benched my body weight. You will too.
So please be patient when you start doing pull ups if you’re not as strong as you’d like to be. Your hard work will be well worth it. And when you grab a pull up bar in a few short months and bang out a set like you were weightless, the reaction of the guys and girls who see you in action will be absolutely priceless.
Getting Started With Pull Ups
When you get started with pull ups low reps (which means however many you can do for each set) are what the game is all about. Even five sets of one or two reps will quickly build your power. If you are unable to do one rep, fall back on low rep sets on a pull down machine until you become strong enough for pull ups. As soon as you can the pull down machine should be abandoned.
How to Perform a Pull Up.
Get under a pull up bar. Grab bar with palms facing away from you wider than shoulder width apart. Pull yourself up to the bar as far as possible. Lower yourself and repeat. Through the entire exercise keep your abs and lower body tense. This will help you strengthen your core, while the pull up builds power and size in your entire upper body, especially your back and biceps.
The Difference Between a Pull Up and Chin Up.
Chin ups are performed in exactly the same way as pull ups. The only change is that your palms will be facing you rather than away. You’ll find the chin adds some nice variety to your workouts. Both are equally effective.
The Power of Negatives.
A secret to building pull up and chin up strength and endurance quicker is to work on negatives. After not being able to complete any more reps of either exercise hop up or step up to the “top” position of the exercise and then lower yourself slowly. Repeat for reps. As you build your power in negatives this new strength will carry over into your normal pull ups. Using negatives I’ve seen women not able to perform two full pull ups build up enough power to do eight within four weeks.
How’s that for progress? And don’t forget this is quick advances seen from women. Men who have a more favorable bone structure and natural strength can improve even quicker. Give your all to your negative reps!
I hope this has inspired you to put a pull up bar in your house. This is the perfect back up plan for days when it’s difficult to make it to the gym.