Is the Famous "Rocky IV" Training Montage Really a Good Workout?
Last Updated: Nov 24, 2016
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Talk about workout motivation! Sylvester Stallone's ass-kicking training montage in “Rocky IV” is so action-packed it had to be broken up into TWO training montages. One training montage simply could not contain so much wordless training and physical improvement. (If you don't remember it, or if you've never seen it, do a search for it on YouTube. You're welcome!) The famous training montages show a series of Rocky’s workouts on a farm in the Russian countryside juxtaposed with Soviet boxer Drago’s steroid-fueled training at a high-tech, state-of-the-art Russian training facility. But let's figure out if all the wood sawing and sled pulling is really a good workout.
Olympics Day 9 - Swimming
DID YOU KNOW?
The "Rocky IV" training montage inspired swimmer Michael Phelps. In preparation for the 2012 Olympics, he built a rudimentary wooden training structure with a waterproof tarp for the walls in the corner of the Baltimore swimming club where he trained. He called it the dojo and 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: Michael Phelps Just Keeps Breaking Olympic Records
BUT IS IT ACTUALLY A GOOD WORKOUT?
Boxing trainer Rob Pilger, owner of Old Skool Fight Sports & Fitness Academy in Columbus, Ohio, watched the scene and helped break down and critique Rocky’s training regimen. So, is this a good boxing workout? Is this a good workout for regular folks? And more importantly, is this a workout that could single-handedly win the Cold War and bring peace on earth?
Related: Learn More About Boxing Coach Rob Pilger
Sawing is a total body endurance workout. Pilger says 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. And for your own solid core, try the cable machine at the gym.
Related: 12 Cable-Machine Moves That Build Muscle and Torch Calories
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 it deserves. No rocks to throw around? Try a medicine ball.
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PULLING A SLED
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. Most CrossFit boxes now come equipped with a sled, so you can push and pull just like Sly.
Related: Weight Sled Training
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. Haven't quite mastered the pull-up? Try one of the 10 exercises below to whip you into shape.
Related: 10 Exercises to Help You Conquer the Pull-Up
The log carry works the core and legs, and it’s a prime example of a total-body exercise like most of the others in the montage. The upper body is taxed isometrically from holding the log overhead, and the lower body is performing a dynamic lunge. Pilger calls this a great exercise that's very taxing on the body. And if you don't live out in the woods, you can sub in a barbell.
Related: How to Train Your Entire Body With Just a Barbell
CHOPPING A TREE WITH AN AX
This is a power/endurance exercise. Driving the ax into the tree requires power, and the reps require endurance. It's 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.
Related: Core Strengthening Exercises for Boxing
Jumping rope is a staple in fight training. It’s good for hand-eye coordination, foot coordination, timing, agility, rhythm, speed and cardio, Pilger says. Trainers favor jumping rope over running, since 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'll 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 super-computers.
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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, as this exercise exposes the spine to extension. Punching at the top of each sit-up is, of course, optional.
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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.
Related: 14 Muscle-Building Tire-Training Moves
Pilger says that punch mitts are the meat-and-potatoes of fight training workouts. Unlike, say, doing inverted crunches 10 feet off the ground, this is an exercise that boxers enjoy. Punch mitts improve technique, accuracy and timing. Knockouts tend to happen when the opponent doesn’t see the punch coming the exact moment he drops his hands.
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This exercise is a staple for improving a boxer's hand-eye coordination. 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.
Related: 5 Exercises to Increase Your Punching Speed
HOISTING UP A NET OF ROCKS
Pilger says there are benefits to doing untraditional workouts, such as using a pulley to lift a heavy net full 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 says, and it probably has a greater benefit than extreme sit-ups.
REVERSE SIT-UPS OR DRAGON FLAGS
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 says, 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.
Related: The 41 Hardest Ab Exercises
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.
Related: 12 of the Most Challenging Battle Ropes Exercises
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.
Related: The Cardio Abs Workout
HORSE CART MILITARY PRESS
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 (but also more functional), as it engages a greater number of muscles, like the obliques, rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), glutes and lats.
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RUNNING IN THE SNOW
How much running a boxer needs to do in training depends on the duration of the fight. Running on an uneven surface (like Rocky is doing in snow) in heavy footwear increases intensity, which is beneficial, since a boxer's legs can tire after a several rounds the ring. This training helps the fighter push through the pain in competition. Pilger points out that professional boxer Marvin Hagler used to run in combat boots on the beach.
Related: 10 Exercises to Increase Your Running Speed
This is like doing a dynamic lunge very fast, Pilger says. The resistance of the snow and the heavier boots puts an intense load on the legs. After running uphill in the snow in boots, it'll 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.
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THE FINAL WORD
The "Rocky IV" workout montage is heavy on core and power endurance. If you want tight abs and big muscles, "Go for it," as Rocky would say. 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 says. “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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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Had you seen the famous "Rocky IV" training montage before? Had you ever wondered if you could actually do it as a workout? Have you ever incorporated any of these untraditional training moves into a workout? Would you? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!
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