The sequel to 300, 300: Rise of an Empire, comes out Friday, and before men everywhere are bombarded with more distorted images of "masculine" bodies, it's important to understand the hidden reality behind the Spartan aesthetic.
There are stark differences between what the average man feels he should look like and what a reasonably fit body type actually looks like — not to mention the potential consequencesof being dissatisfies with one's body image.
I've talked about the unfortunate consequences of American masculine body image standards in this column before, but it's worth repeating anyway. The average man wants 15-27 more pounds of muscle and a 3-4% decrease in body fat. Failure to meet this unrealistic, hypermuscular standards can lead to depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem and other psychological and behavioral problems.
Much of this disconnect is driven by media and entertainment, an industry shaping subliminal standards by pushing hypermuscular underwear models and attractive actors. But the men of 300 have taken this ideal to a whole new level of hypermuscularity — and unhealthiness.
As a reminder (or for those who missed it), much of the viral popularity of the 300 fitness craze centers on what came to be known as the "300 workout." A grueling fitness program, the workout consists of 300 reps of various exercises, done in succession, without a break in between. Here is the full program:
Pullups - 25 reps
Barbell deadlift with 135 pounds - 50 reps
Pushups - 50 reps
24-inch box jumps - 50 reps
Floor wipers - 50 reps
Single-arm clean-and-press with 36-pound Kettlebell - 50 reps
Pullups - 25 reps
I exercise at least a few days a week, but I can only do about 10 pullups at a time, and I'm not even sure what a "floor wiper" is, so I guess I'm out. But then, apparently, so are most people.
Multiple professional fitness trainers have made it clear it would be nearly impossible for an average, or even a fit person, to do the famous 300 workout without prior training. According to Craig Ballantyne, a strength and conditioning coach and Men’s Health contributor, "It’s a brutal workout … I don't plan on doing that any time soon, or really, ever again."
Ballantyne is literally a professional muscle man, so if he thinks the workout is brutal, how were the 300 actors and stuntmen able to do it?
In preparation for the first movie, the actors and stuntmen trained under the direction and supervision of a team of personal trainers for up to six hours per day, five days per week, for about four months before any of them even attempted the 300 workout. Even then, only one actor, Andrew Pleavin, leader of the Arcadians, actually completed it.
Now, there are already plenty of difficult workouts, and you could even invent your own impossible movie workout right now if you wanted. For example: The 8 Mile workout would entail runing eight miles while holding eight 50-pound weights. But the rise in popularity of the 300 workout phenomenon is significant because so many men felt compelled to complete it as validation of their physical masculinity.
To be fair to both 300 movies, the emphasis is overwhelmingly on style, and the movies are exaggerations by every conceivable definition of the word.
Here's hoping men realize this. Even Gerard Butler, who tends to be pretty buff, admitted he had suffered what amounted to a yearlong workout hangover after his time spent training for and filming the first 300.
So watch the movie and enjoy it for what it is: an incredibly over-the-top, historically inaccurate, 3-D fight-a-thon. And remember, even if you have six free hours every day for the next four months and multiple personal trainers, it is unrealistic and unhealthy to hold yourself to the Spartan masculine body type. And that's really OK.