Warrior Workout: The Roman Legion
We teamed up with the guys at Myles Apparel to bring you a modern re-boot of the training regimen of one of history’s most hardcore military: the Roman Legion. Hats off to you if you make it through this one.
2000 years ago you could travel from Morocco to Northern England using one currency and carrying one passport. The men routinely making that trek (protecting the land in grueling conditions while hauling weighted packs) were some of the fiercest warriors of all time: the Roman Legion.
The Romans’ knack for technological innovation, renowned physical perseverance, and incomparable military strategy set up the unstoppable empire to rule the entire Mediterranean region for thousands of years. No small feat.
So what made these guys so powerful? To start, the Roman Legion’s absolute baseline for entry was an incredibly strenuous, arduous routine. “The green recruits who were successfully enlisted as legionaries had to go through a training period of 4 months. During this training ambit, each soldier was given the unenviable task of marching [18 miles] in five hours with regular steps, and then [21.7 miles] in five hours with faster steps – all the while carrying a backpack that weighed 45 lbs.” (More facts like this at Realm of History.)
Photo: Beasts of War
Part of the Roman Legion’s military strategy was to normalize this type of grueling effort — covering long stretches of land with back-breakingly heavy loads — so that when, say, Julius Caesar planned to seize the final city standing between him and conquering France, his team of Romans were more than ready. And we all know how that battle ended (if you don’t, here’s a quick refresher of the Gallic Wars).
It’s not hard to connect the dots from the Roman Legion’s rigorous rounds to today’s military boot camps. From the Chronicles of Fitness: “If we look at combat athletes today we see a similar way of training. These folks do a lot of wide ranging foundation work and focus it toward their specific skills of combative arts. Regardless of being a specialist, these folks work on expanding their base, sealing cracks from the ground up.”
For the Roman Legion, it was all about creating a strong foundation — sealing up the cracks in order to create an impenetrable force. Read on for our modern take on the Roman Legion workout, designed to set you up with the moves you need to keep your personal foundation in check.
The Roman Legion Workout
Here’s how it works. You’ll go on a run or hike and level it up by stopping every two minutes to complete a series of exercises, all while wearing a weighted pack. There are three exercises total, and you’ll cycle through them one at a time (one every two minutes).
To get started, load up a backpack with anything heavy you have handy (we like to fill up a few water bottles). The legionaries marched with 45 pounds on their backs, but you may want to start with less than that. When in doubt, start with about 20 pounds and add more if that’s not challenging enough.
Begin with a brisk walk or light jog, and stop every two minutes to perform one of the exercises below, cycling through the circuit as you go.
Figure out a distance that works for you and feel free to mix it up — the workout can be done as part of a hike, run, or even a walk.
1. Weighted Push-Up
• Complete 10 reps while wearing your backpack
• To make it more challenging, elevate your feet on a bench or rock
• Continue on your run for two minutes before stopping for exercise 2
2. Squat & Press
• Hold your backpack at chest level and complete a squat
• As you return to a standing position, lift the pack over your head
• Complete 10 reps
• Continue on your run for two minutes before stopping for exercise 3
• Complete 10 reps alternating legs (5 reps per leg) while wearing your pack
• Continue on your run for two minutes before stopping for exercise 1
[Editor’s note: Looking for more military-inspired workouts? Check out The Challenge from our friends at GORUCK. Need a break from all the sweating? Listen to this Art of Manliness podcast episode about how the Romans’ veneration of their mythic past played out on the battlefield.]