Don’t get your workout tips from bodybuilding movies, because it will have little to do with reality, as the famous Pumping Iron so unfortunately shows.
“At My Command, Unleash Hell”
Have you watched that sword-and-sandal movie Gladiator starring Russel Crowe?
Right at its beginning, we are shown how Roman troops engage in battle with a Germanic tribe. Our hero, General Maximus, takes his cavalry at full gallop through a forest, falling into the enemy’s rear. Which makes for some dramatic images in a movie, but would be stupid, if not outright suicidal, when done in reality. Because, as any rider will tell you, contrary to neatly manicured parks, the ground in natural and “wild” forests is full of fallen trees, branches and what have you. If you went through there at high speeds your horse would likely stumble and turn you into a human rocket aimed for the next oak.
More importantly, especially for those of you planning to do cavalry charges, at full gallop you can’t hold a formation very well, which is rather essential in these affairs. If you did as Maximus did, your horses and riders would more or less make enemy contact one by one and get butchered. Heavy cavalry destined to thrash into the enemy used to get into position at a fast trod and then started the charge only on the last 1,000 or so feet. That way the enemy was practically ridden over by a wall of horses, which left a lasting impression.
At this point you know that watching sword-and-sandal movies with me probably isn’t a lot of fun, because, Roman history nut that I am, I always have something to moan about.
But this excursion into ancient military tactics had another reason: Hollywood movies almost always choose “it looks better on screen” over “that’s how it’s done” and you can only recognize this if you know a bit about the subject. No matter if it’s a battle in the year 180, or, now we are getting to the point, bodybuilding.
The most famous example is the movie Pumping Iron, which put Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film career into overdrive and lifted bodybuilding from the status of freak show to a widely accepted sport. Here is a collage of training scenes from it:
The guy with the black curly helmet is Lou Ferrigno, who later went to star in the TV show Hulk, and is in this movie Schwarzenegger’s great “adversary”.
In at least half of the exercises shown here both men go for fast, jerky movements, have a very limited range of motion, use momentum to get the weight up etc. Not only does this minimize training effect, it also makes injuries much more likely.
Don’t Get Your Workout Tips From Movies
Especially in the 1970s there were some weird training ideas making the rounds. But I very much believe that even then men as seasoned as Ferrigno and Schwarzenegger knew better than to always go for this style, not to mention those today.
It’s rather likely that what was (and is) chosen to be displayed on screen was what looked dramatic and was not representative of their entire training. Bigger plates are more impressive and you can move a lot of weight, and therefore bigger plates, when you use momentum or very little range of motion.
Yet to this day, almost forty years after it was released, you hear guys defending their bad training style with “but Arnold did it that way too!” and as evidence post clips from Pumping Iron. Those who are a bit past the Arnold era will go for Cena, Johnson et al. videos like those above.
But, trust me, it’s all show.
Picture courtesy of Jodie Wilson.