Movies are a cultural touchstone in today’s society – creating artistic avenues that entertain and educate. But sometimes we use those on-screen adventures to get pumped up and out of our seats, and nothing motivates like a music-fueled, sweat-drenched, cliché-packed training montage. In honor of the upcoming Academy Awards, I decided to find the best fitness montages (along with their workouts) in movie history. My Mount Rushmore picks are below.
Film: Rocky I (1976)
Why it’s Awesome: It was made on a shoestring budget, it’s arguably the first modern training montage, and Sylvester Stallone punched those beef slabs so hard he permanently flattened his knuckles. More than anything, though, it’s a classic because of the rising crescendo of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now,” the way Rocky’s big run is interspersed with beef-bruising pugilism, and the climactic, raise-the-roof fist pumps from the top of Philadelphia’s Museum of Modern Art. As for the workout itself – Rocky proves that even an underdog can win with an old-fashioned cardio, bodyweight and boxing regimen. Just keep your hands away from that raw meat. Training Shown: Rocky’s “OG” Workout – citywide half-marathon, beef slab bare-knuckle boxing, speed bag, one-arm push-ups, clap push-ups, abdominal hits, sit-ups.
Film: Rocky IV (1985)
Why it’s Awesome: Rocky IV is no Raging Bull, but that doesn’t mean the Siberian training montage isn’t the baddest depiction of two heavyweights crushing hard-core cardio and high-intensity strength training on the planet. And while antagonist Drago uses a variety of fantastically 80s machine technology to train, Rocky comes up with the best backyard HIIT workout in the business, all to the tune of John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire.” Check out the contrasting workouts below. Training Shown: Drago’s “It’s Science” Workout – selectorized abdominal crunch, selectorized abdominal twist, selectorized deltoid fly, vertical climb machine, machine speed bag, sparring match (partner is KO’d), sled machine, standing barbell military press, indoor track run, treadmill run, punch machine. Rocky’s “Siberian HIIT” Workout – jump rope, inverted sit ups, overhead wood chop (with axe), punch mitts, speed bag, dragon flag sit ups, tree trunk saw, rock throw, sled pull, pull-ups, horizontal log haul, tree chop, rope-and-pulley rock pull, yoke twists, rope uppercuts, horse cart military press, snow and mountain marathon.
Film: Kill Bill 2 (2004)
Why it’s Awesome: With Quentin Tarantino, nearly every cinematic frame is a reference to something else, and Beatrix Kiddo’s three-inch punch training with Pai Mei is of course a reference to the legendary Bruce Lee. This training montage is chock-full of backlit silhouettes, quick zooms-ins, close-ups, hand-to-hand kinetics, and disgruntled beard tosses. As for the workout depicted – shadow boxing and water bucket carrying will get you fit, but we enthusiastically suggest that you do not attempt to punch through a wooden block from three inches away. Training Shown: Pai Mei’s “Cruel Tutelage” Workout – horizontal pole/double water bucket staircase climb, Tiger-Crane Kung Fu shadow boxing, three-inch wooden block punch (all to exhaustion).
Film: Batman Begins (2005)
Why it’s Awesome: It’s Batman sword fighting on ice – do you need another reason? How about the fact that this montage helped turn Bruce Wayne into the Dark Knight? Or that at extremely high altitudes, these combat and agility-based workouts would put anyone to the test? Add in the League of Shadows, gorgeous Icelandic cinematography, and a perfect score by Hans Zimmer, and we’re well on our way. As for the workout below – the fencing will burn calories (230 per half hour), but don’t expect it to make you an urban vigilante. Training Shown: Bruce’s “Batman on Ice” Workout – high-altitude, winter jacket snow fencing on frozen lake; stick fighting defense and balance challenge on wooden columns; stealth training.