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Is the Famous "Rocky IV" Training Montage Really a Good Workout?

author image Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles and the publisher of the Humor Columnist website. His work has appeared in Salon, Cracked.com, DAME and other publications. Donatelli is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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Is the Famous "Rocky IV" Training Montage Really a Good Workout?
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I like working out to Vince DiCola’s ass-kicking instrumental “Training Montage” from “Rocky IV.” (Don’t remember it OR never seen it? Do a search for it on YouTube.) DiCola’s “Training Montage” frames half of the greatest training montage in movie history. It’s so action-packed and so essential to the plot of "Rocky IV" that it had to be broken up into TWO training montages because one training montage could not contain so much wordless training and physical improvement. The famous training montages show a series of Rocky’s workouts on a farm in the Russian countryside juxtaposed in comparison to Soviet boxer Drago’s steroid-fueled training at a high-tech, state-of-the-art Russian training facility. All Photos Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios

'Rocky IV' Scene Inspired Michael Phelps
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Swimmer Michael Phelps was so inspired by the training scene from "Rocky IV" that in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, he built a rudimentary wooden training structure with waterproof tarp for the walls in the corner of the Baltimore swimming club where he trained. He called it the dojo, and he pretty much lived in there every day. “Where we lived every single day is kind of like what Rocky worked out in ‘Rocky IV,’” Phelps told The Telegraph in July 2012.

Related: "Telegraph Article on Phelps:"

But Is It Actually a Good Workout?
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


But — and this is the kind of question a freak like me asks after he’s seen the movie a dozen times and knows DiCola’s instrumental by heart — is the “Rocky IV” montage actually a good workout? I watched the scene with boxing trainer Rob Pilger, owner of Old Skool Fight Sports & Fitness Academy in Columbus, Ohio, and I asked him to critique Rocky’s training regimen. I wanted to know: Is this a good boxing workout? Is this a good workout for regular folks? And more importantly, is this a workout that could singlehandedly win the Cold War and bring peace on earth?

Related: Rob Pilger's website

Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Sawing is a total body endurance workout. Pilger told me that he likes this move for training because it challenges a boxer’s body in untraditional ways. When the saw goes in front of Rocky’s body, it causes some trunk flexion. Sawing gives Rocky a solid core workout.

Throwing Rocks
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Throwing rocks is a great power endurance workout. Rocky rotates to throw the rocks, and this builds core strength. The heave and release is similar to the action of competitors in shot put, which sadly, is a sport that has yet to receive the Hollywood treatment that it deserves.

Sled Pull
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Pulling a sled is an incredible total body endurance workout that gets the core firing hard, Pilger said. Some of these exercises are quite humbling.

Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


In addition to making Rocky look like a total beast, pull-ups are a basic upper-body strength exercise that are great for boxers. Pilger said the lats are needed to decelerate the punches, so it’s important to train them.

Carrying Logs
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


The log carry works out the core and legs, and it’s a prime example of a total body workout like most of the other exercises in the montage. The upper body is taxed isometrically from holding the log overhead, and the lower body is performing a dynamic lunge motion. Pilger calls this a great exercise that is very taxing on the body.

Chopping Tree
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


This is a power endurance workout. Driving the ax into the tree requires power, and the reps require endurance. This is yet another exercise that includes core rotation. It’s also a fitting way to end the first montage because if Rocky can knock down a tall Russian tree, maybe he can knock down a tall roid-fueled Russian boxer as well.

Jumping Rope
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Jumping rope is a staple in fight training. It’s good for hand-eye coordination, foot coordination, timing, agility, rhythm, speed and cardio, Pilger said. Trainers favor jumping rope over running because you can’t be uncoordinated and jump rope, but you can be a klutz and run. Feet set the punches, and fast feet carry the fighter in and out of range. Drago, you will note, doesn’t jump rope in his section of the montage. This is probably because Drago's fancy gym doesn’t have any jump ropes that are attached to blinking supercomputers.

Extreme Sit-Up
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Extreme sit-ups take tremendous core strength. Boxers who don’t have access to Russian barns often use the side of the ring to do these. Pilger says this is not a move for amateurs or anyone with back issues because this workout exposes the spine to extension. Punching at the apex of each sit-up is, of course, optional.

Chopping Wood
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Splitting wood. Really, Rocky? Now you're just showing off for those KGB minders who are following you everywhere. But, seriously chopping wood is a legit fight training workout. Some boxers in training hit a giant tire with a sledgehammer. According to Pilger, this builds explosive, high-powered endurance and provides good core rotation. In the gym, fighters jump into the swing to build power for dynamic moves — the type necessary to land knockout punches against dudes whose hearts have been frozen solid by the icy glare of Brigitte Nielsen.

Punch Mitts
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Pilger told me that Punch mitts are the meat-and-potatoes of fight training workouts. Unlike, say, doing inverted crunches ten feet off the ground, this is an exercise that boxers enjoy. Punch mitts improve technique, accuracy and timing. Knockouts tend to happen because the opponent doesn’t see the punch coming the exact moment he drops his hands.

Speed Bag
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


This is a hand-eye coordination exercise, and some gyms actually use a much smaller bag called a peanut bag to increase the challenge for the boxer. Pilger says it’s a precision training tool that helps bring “juice to the movement, so when you see the opening, it’s there.” This is much harder to do than the run-around-the-track-and-hit-the-speed-bag-once-thing that Drago does in his portion of the montage.

Lifting Rocks
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Pilger says there are benefits to doing untraditional workouts, such as hoisting a large net of rocks, because this type of exercise conditions the body in a new way, and new conditioning has carry-over into the ring. The twist pattern core rotation in this move benefits the abdominals. The mechanics behind any punch incorporate a lunge movement and a twist pattern. Lifting rocks is a unique exercise, Pilger said, and it probably has a greater benefit than extreme sit-ups.

Reverse Sit-Ups
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


According to Pilger, reverse sit-ups provide an exceptional core workout. With the legs extended straight out, the body creates a long lever arm. The “Rocky IV” workout, as you may have noticed, is heavy on core exercises. In reality, Pilger said, core conditioning is accumulated throughout the training week. Boxers don’t spend a lot of time on their cores specifically, unless it’s a personal area of weakness. Then again, most boxers aren’t training to enter the ring with a Soviet killing machine who feels indifferent about death.

Rope Uppercuts
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Bobbing and weaving improves defense and timing. Pilger says this move replicates the strategy Joe Frazier used to beat Muhammad Ali — getting under Ali’s punches and coming up and throwing a punch. The offense flows off the defense. Or in Rocky’s case, it prevents him from becoming the victim of public murder.

Yoke Twists
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


Yep, that’s a yoke, which is a wooden bar usually affixed to the necks of draft animals such as oxen. But your typical ox doesn’t get the core rotation benefit Rocky is getting here, which is probably why no ox has ever held the world heavyweight title. The gym parallel to this exercise is to use a barbell. Pilger says an exercise like this is an example of “cardio strength,” which is a power workout that benefits cardio because it’s so intense it raises heart rate while improving core strength.

Horse Cart Military Press
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


This is just your general run-of-the-mill military press with your friends and loved ones sitting inside a horse cart. Pilger says it’s a good total body exercise. When resistance occurs overhead the core is greatly contracted. Rocky’s split stance makes the lift more difficult and functional because it engages a greater number of muscles, such as the interior slings of the obliques, the abdominals, the posterior, the glutes, lats, and other muscle groups.

Running in the Snow
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


How much running a boxer needs to do in training depends on the duration of the fight. Running on an uneven surface such as Rocky is doing in snow, in heavy footwear, increases intensity, which is beneficial because a boxer's legs tire in the ring. This training will help the fighter push through the pain in competition. Pilger points out that Marvin Hagler used to run in combat boots on the beach.

Running Uphill
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


This is like doing a dynamic lunge very fast, Pilger said. The resistance of the snow and the heavier boots puts a load on the legs. After running uphill in the snow in boots, it will take a lot to fatigue Rocky during a fight. He can match any pace. Plus, it's pretty badass to stand on top of a mountain and scream your opponent's name. Pilger says workouts like this one would give Rocky the stamina to go the distance in an actual fight.

Final Conclusion
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios


The “Rocky IV” workout montage is heavy on core and power endurance. If you want tight abs and big muscles — as Rocky would say — “Go for it.” If your goal is to simply keep the flab off, this workout is overkill. “Out of all the ['Rocky'] movies, I think they got it right with this style of old-school, farm boy, strong man training,” Pilger said. “Using the yoke for core rotation and doing the military presses with people in the wagon — it actually juices you up and gets you more excited, because it’s a different type of training.” Then he throws a punch of his own. “It’s a good movie, but ‘Rocky V’ is better.”

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