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Prepare for glory
300 workouts whip masochists into Spartan shape
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff

Ron Caras, 46, of Northbrook throws some punches during his 300 workout at Fitness Performance Center in Deerfield.

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Push ups

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Modified pull-up

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Dumbbell incline chest press

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Lunge walk

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Bag push

 

Gilber R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/28/2007 3:40 PM

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Nothing says you're in shape like fighting off an army while wearing a loin cloth and cape.

The movie "300," which depicts Spartans slaughtering Persians in the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, features buff guys spilling blood in spectacular ways.

The film, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, grossed more than $450 million worldwide.

It also inspired a workout the actors supposedly used to get in shape for their roles, as hyped on various Web sites and by Men's Health magazine.

As originally composed, the 300 workout consists of 300 grueling repetitions of tried-and-true exercises, with no rest in between:

• 25 pull-ups

• 50 dead-lifts with 135 pounds of weights

• 50 push-ups

• 50 jumps on and off a 24-inch-tall box

• 50 floor wipers (lying on your back gripping a stationary bar and lifting your feet over each hand alternately)

• 50 single-arm "clean and press" lifts with a 36-pound kettlebell, which looks like a cannonball with a handle

• 25 pull-ups

The only catch: the actors didn't actually use this workout to train for the movie.

Actually, they used a variety of all-body conditioning for up to a couple of hours a day five days a week for two months. Then they used the 300 as a final, one-time graduation test to see what shape they were in.

The fastest time reported among the actors completing the workout was 18 minutes, 11 seconds.

Still, the movie caught the imagination of weekend warriors who want to look like real warriors, so the legend of the 300 workout lives on. The basic principles remain the same; it's just that the 300 workout is so extreme that most people need to adapt it to their own health and fitness goals.

The exercises are designed to work the body from one end to the other. They use primitive tools like medicine balls and body weight, and compound movements to involve more than one set of muscles, rather than using a machine to isolate one muscle at a time.

This type of training is a variation of what exercise geeks call peripheral heart action, a high-intensity form of circuit training. Instead of doing three sets at a time on each body part, participants go from one exercise to the next, promoting overall circulation.

The beauty of such a workout, personal trainer Robert Garza said, is that it combines cardiovascular exercise with resistance training, so you're gaining muscle at the same time you're burning calories and improving endurance.

Instead of just looking muscular, you should end up with "usable" strength and fitness that also looks ripped.

Best of all, you can get a more intense workout in a shorter amount of time.

You can ask a trainer or health club to create a 300-style workout for you. Choose one who is familiar with the concept (several we called were not) and has the equipment and space it requires. Garza offers 300 workouts at Fitness Performance Center in Deerfield, which he co-owns with his wife, Terrie Garza.

Rather than replicating the movie's fictitious routine, Garza creates challenging, high-repetition sets that work the entire body.

In fact, two of his clients not only do a 300 workout, they double the number of reps to make it a 600 workout.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange traders and brothers Bob and Ron Caras were doing this type of workout for several years before the movie came out, but take inspiration from the Hollywood version.

Ron Caras, 46, of Northbrook, started doing the workout as a cure for his bad back from golfing.

He used to lift weights, but had gotten out of shape, and after winning a charity raffle for a session with a personal trainer, he got hooked on the 300-style workout.

"I see a lot of guys after age 45 that really start to fall apart," he said. "This has really helped me stay in shape, and it's a great stress reliever."

Forty-nine-year-old Bob Caras of Arlington Heights likes the all-around feel of the workout.

"I just like the fast pace of it," he says.

To challenge the brothers, Garza comes up with some off-the-wall exercises -- literally.

He has his clients come out of a squat to throw 12-pound medicine balls against the wall, developing thighs and arms simultaneously.

Other exercises could actually be useful on a Spartan battlefield. One move calls for turning and pulling a weight across your chest and up, similar to a spear-throwing motion.

Another involves curling to lift one weight while using your triceps to pull down another weight, handy for smashing opponents' heads together.

"The advantage is it helps prepare your body for any type of activity," Garza said, "whether it's a sport, weekend warrior or daily life activities."

"There's really no downside -- except it's a little more strenuous when you start."