Whatever your fitness activity, whether bodybuilding, boxing or running, there’s always the classic, hardcore training session that you dread beforehand and collapse from afterwards. HFM presents a top 10 of the world’s toughest workouts that will make you sweat, cry, and make awesome progress.
If you can actually do them…
1 Hungarian oak leg blast Devised by an Olympic wrestler from Hungary, the bare bones of this session suggest that it’s a cinch. One set of squats, two sets of leg extensions, three sets of leg curls. That’s the lot. Ah, but there’s a catch. A big catch, that resulted in the aforementioned wrestler gaining so much size in his legs that he had to move up two weight divisions. The catch is this: that single set of squats, to be done with about 30 per cent of your one rep max for barbell squats, lasts 8 minutes. 480 seconds. Non-stop. You then follow with two sets of 30 leg extensions, 10 of those reps with the legs turned inwards, 10 with legs straight, and 10 with the legs outward. That’s followed by three sets of 6-8 reps of hamstring curls, and then a final set to failure, ie whatever movement you can manage after this journey into the pit of hell. Very few mortals are going to be able to do that full eight minutes of squats without any build-up, so it’s advised that you start with, say, 2 minutes and progress by 20 seconds each time you do the session.
2 Crossfit – thrusters & one handed pull ups Several of the fabled Crossfit Workouts Of The Day (WODs for short) could have made the list. You can find them all at Cross Fit, home of functional fitness, beloved of athletes and military folk the world over. This particular WOD, though, is only for the strongest willed and bodied. It can be scaled down, with lighter weights, giving you a starting point and a target to aim for. We start with 15 Right Arm Dumbbell Thrusters with a 60lb weight. A thruster requires you to rest the dumbbell at shoulder height, squat down until the thighs are slightly lower than parallel to the floor, and then thrust upwards until the arm is fully extended. That’s one rep. Then it’s 15 right handed pull ups with the dumbbell between the feet. Easier than one armed pull ups, for these you hold the bar with one hand whilst grasping the wrist with the other hand. Follow that with 15 Left Arm Dumbbell Thrusters, and then 15 left handed pull ups. Then it’s 12 reps of the same four movements, and then 9 reps. For developing awesome grip strength, a better workout’s hard to find.
3 The indoor rower 30 r20 30 r20 means rowing on the Concept2 indoor rower for 30 minutes at a rate of 20 strokes per minute. And getting as far as you can in that time. The temptation is to do a faster stroke rate – a typical race pace is more like 32-34 strokes per minute – since the slow rate requires top notch core strength and sustained, controlled power on each and every journey up and down the slide. 9000 metres is the magical barrier for the international elite chaps, whilst 8000 metres is darn good for lightweights who don’t live to row or indeed row to live.
4 Long hang pull ups Muscles stretch and contract. When you do, say, a biceps curl, the biceps contract as the weight approaches shoulder level, and stretches as it’s lowered. Ah, but stretch a muscle for a long time and then suddenly demand that it contracts, and it won’t be too happy. In complying, though, the shock will cause it to improve dramatically. And so it is with Long Hang Pull Ups. Simply hang for as long as you can from a pull up bar, preferably with a wide, overhand grip, and then, when your grip is failing, pull yourself up. Rest for the same amount of time you hung for, and attempt to repeat. Over the weeks, increase the hang time. Alternatively, spend as long as you can on the lowering phase of the pull up. This is known as an eccentric contraction, or a slow negative, and again, your strength levels will rocket as you move slower than a rocket in very slow motion.
5 Gym jones 300 The people at Gym Jones trained the actors for the gladiators ’n’ swords movie 300, and this workout was done towards the end of the programme and is described as ‘A one time test undertaken by those deemed suitable for it’. It’s done against the clock, and is all about body control and awareness while doing hardcore strength work. It consists of: 25 Pull Ups 50 Reps of Deadlift with 135 lbs 50 Push Ups 50 Box Jumps 50 Floor Wipers (these involve lying on a bench with a barbell held above the chest, arms extended; raise the legs and bring them towards your right hand. Return them to the bench, and then bring them to the left hand. That’s one rep) 50 reps of Kettlebell Clean
6 Tabata intervals Devised by Dr Izumi Tabata, sessions don’t come much shorter, more effective and more gruelling. The protocol is simplicity squared. Do 20 seconds of full-pelt effort, be it sprinting, squatting, bag punching, cycling, rowing. Do 10 seconds ultra-easy recovery. Go back to the 20 seconds all-out work. Continue until you’ve done six or seven flat-out efforts. Those 10 seconds, as you’ll discover, simply don’t allow for enough lactate breakdown, so the result is a trip to Hades. You come out with a superior anaerobic capacity, though, meaning that you’re better at doing tough stuff when the going is tough.
7 Zatopeks Czech running legend Emil Zátopek won the 5000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon at the 1952 Olympic Games, all in new Olympic record times. He also pretty much invented the concept of interval training, doing hard sequences of work alternating with recovery. As he said: ‘When I was young I was too slow. I thought “I must learn to run fast by practising to run fast”. So I ran one hundred metres very fast. People said “Emil, you are crazy. You are practising to be a sprinter. You have no chance”. I said “Yes, but if I run 100 metres 20 times, that is 2 kilometres and that is no longer a sprint.’ He did rather more than 20 x 100 metres. His ultimate session, which you may like to try in a scaled down version, was: 5 x 200m intervals, 1 min jog between, 20 x 400, 5 x 200 with equal rests.
8 The Spartan 300 workout Not to be confused with the Gym Jones 300 workout, this one is the brainchild of the legendary Steve Maxwell, now 56 years old. One of Maxwell’s workout DVDs is entitled Cruel And Unusual, so you get a sense of where he’s coming from. There’s nothing gimmicky or daft about what he does, though, and the Spartan 300 Workout is highly effective in the quest for whole body functional strength and fitness, the kind of attributes required by those Spartan troops 2000 years ago. There are beginner, intermediate and advanced levels for this session, and a total of 300 reps are performed. The DVD is required for full explanation, but the basic moves are Pull Ups, Divebomber Push Ups, V Ups, Supine Pull Ups with cables, Jumping Split Squats and some other movements that defy description…
9 The Milos Sarcev multi exercise workout Devised by Mr Olympia finalist and bodybuilding coach extraordinaire Milos Sarcev, this causes clients at his Koloseum Gym in California to register highly on what they call the Vom-o-meter. Simply put, it’s four sets of 10-12 reps of a bunch of leg exercises, all done with minimal rest. Typically, those exercises might be Front Squats, Walking Lunges with dumbbells, Seated Leg Press, Back Squats, Smith Machine Squats, Leg Extensions, Incline Leg Press, Hack Squat Machine. As Sarcev says ‘It’s not about the weight, it’s about mental toughness and heart.’ It brings to mind the legendary session that Arnold Schwarzenegger did in order to build up his calves. He went into the woods and did calf exercises over and over, with zero rest, until he could do no more. And his calves grew. Simple.
10 Ross Enamait’s carry, run and press This session, devised by conditioning expert Ross Enamait (rossboxing) requires a running track and a sandbag. Complete it, and you will, according to Enamait, ‘develop work capacity, strength, and an indomitable mindset. This workout is not designed for the faint of heart. Expect to wake up the morning after with soreness from muscles that you did not know existed.’ Against the clock (and perhaps against that inner voice saying ‘Stop! Halt! Enough!’), you do three things: • 400 metres sandbag carry • 400 metres run without the sandbag • 10 Clean and Press with the sandbag Oh, and ideally the sandbag should weigh 100lbs. Scale it down if necessary!