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The 300 Workout: Can You Handle It?

The training regimen that whipped actors of the movie 300 into fighting shape may be too much for most of us.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

At the start of the movie 300, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) bids farewell to his beautiful wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) as he heads out to lead the Battle of Thermopylae. In it, 300 Spartans fought to their death against Xerxes and his massive Persian army in 480 B.C.

In the movie scene, Butler is dressed for war, shirtless with a crimson cape flowing behind his broad, chiseled shoulders. As he looks into Gorgo's eyes, much of his sentiment unspoken, moviegoers are drawn into the dramatic, macho moment.

muscular man flexing his muscles

But anyone who has struggled to get fit or stay fit can be forgiven if they get a little distracted here, wondering as they look at Butler in those skimpy Spartan battle duds: How did he get those six-pack abs, that whittled waist, and those rock-hard thighs? Could I ever look that buff and toned?

The Secret's Out

The now not-so-secret training regimen, discussed all over the Internet in messages complete with how-to videos, is called the 300 workout. It's the brainchild of Mark Twight, a self-taught exercise guru and former world-class mountain climber who apparently still clings to the "no pain, no gain" mantra.

At Gym Jones, his invitation-only, no-frills gym in downtown Salt Lake City, where he says there's no air conditioning, no mirrors, and no place comfortable to sit, his mission was to whip the 300 actors and stuntmen into warrior-fighting shape, most of them in eight to 10 weeks. Butler trained for 12 weeks. Twight warns that his Spartan workout is not for the faint-hearted, nor the out-of-shape.

Traditional exercise physiologists who took a look at the 300 workout for WebMD agree with him, and they caution that Twight is not certified as a trainer by conventional organizations.

The 300 Workout

The workout gets its name from the total number of repetitions. But those 300 reps weren't done daily, as some media accounts report, Twight says. Rather, the 300 workout was the finale of months of training, a kind of graduation test, after actors had weight lifted and trained with tools such as medicine balls and Kettlebells (cast iron weights with handles).

It's daunting, and includes these weight-training moves:

  • 25 pull-ups
  • 50 deadlifts at 135 pounds
  • 50 push-ups
  • 50 box jumps with a 24-inch box
  • 50 "floor wipers" (a core and shoulders exercise at 135 pounds)
  • 50 "clean and press" at 36 pounds (a weight-lifting exercise)
  • 25 more pull-ups -- for a total of 300 reps

There's no rest between movements and the score is based on total time, Twight says.

Behind-the-Scenes Work

But before that graduation test, Twight says, there were months of work, transforming the actors and stuntmen not just physically but mentally, he notes. "Zack [Snyder, the director,] wanted the Spartans to appear as though they had been fighting together since they were children," he says.

When they arrived, the men were at various starting points, says Twight, who trained Gerard, many co-stars, and stuntmen but not the women in the film. "Guys ranged from 40 pounds overweight to being in perfect, lean, hard-fighting shape," Twight tells WebMD.

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