Upon taking in a 15-hour Rocky movie marathon on TNT, it occurred to me that Sylvester Stallone gets older yet somehow buffer with each Roman numeral added to his sweaty saga. I wondered: Could Balboa's unorthodox training routines transform me from a keyboard-pecking pansy into a jaw-crushing monster? Full of enough moxie (and Mr. Pibb soda) to find out, I hired Dean Bellantoni, co-owner of LA Boxing in Secaucus, N.J., to cram as many Rocky techniques into a workout routine as possible, and then to set up a fight with some impossibly huge bad guy to gauge my ripped results. I also enlisted George Foreman, Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago himself!) and Bruce Silverglade, owner of legendary Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, to give expert input on the ridiculous exercises I'd perform. OK, enough talk—time to throw on a too-tight gray sweatsuit and find me some eye of the tiger!
1. The Rockout: Beat Your Meat
As seen in:Rocky
The scene: When Rocky entered Paulie's Shamrock Meats workstation, the slabs of beef never knew what hit 'em. So would I whack the meat, or would the meat whack me?
Gaining access to a meat locker took a lot of calling and begging until I finally got the OK from 81-year-old New York City steakhouse Gallagher's. (If it doesn't work for you, the beef aisle at your local grocery store will have to do.) After I did some jumping jacks to get my pulse and body temp up (who'd have thought that meat lockers are cold?), my trainer shouted commands like "Jab!" and "Upper cut!" and I let loose on some aged sirloin. Holy Lord, did it hurt. A few punches into this workout, I found that my hand swelled up quicker than Kirstie Alley attacking an Arby's spread.
I moved on from the aged stuff and found that the fresher flesh gave a bit more, but I couldn't help but yelp whenever I hit bone. After 30 minutes, I worked up a decent sweat bruising a bovine that would soon yield eight 20-ounce steaks for the day's lunch crowd, but my inability to maintain a rhythm with the constantly moving cadavers, coupled with my aforementioned agony, did not a good workout make. Stallone himself has said that he permanently flattened his knuckles when he got a little too method-acty while filming the famous scene.
The overall experience—apart from kind of learning how to play through pain—left my hands in tatters and seriously had me considering a vegetarian lifestyle change.
I didn't see the pros of Rocky's meat-pounding session, and George Foreman agrees with my grade-D assessment: "There's no upside to this—especially if it's aged, I would just eat it," he says. "A water bag is better on your hands than meat or a leather punching bag." Gee, George, glad you told me that after I turned my knuckles into bloody hamburger.
2. The Rockout: Be a Step Monster
As seen in:Rocky I, II, V, and Balboa
The scene: The 72-step sprint up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art—a staple in nearly every Rocky flick—that has been replicated by each fanny-packed tourist visiting the city of brotherly love since Rocky premiered in 1976.
My New York equivalent was the slightly less landmarky, and certainly less steppy, Bethesda Terrace stairs in Central Park. I expected to deal with burning quads, but a few ascents into my workout, I was dealing with an unexpected issue: My intimate areas were chafed raw by my cheap-ass Rocky sweat suit. But ailing areolae aside, the steps provided a healthy strain on not only my legs but the overall core of the body. This felt like a legitimate workout!
Still, I couldn't help feeling I could do the same thing in a gym while watching a very special episode of Two and a Half Men. And according to Foreman, I should trust my gut. "Stairs are murderous," he says. "My legs were so sore from stair-running that I almost messed up my fight with Joe Frazier in Jamaica. Stick to the StairMaster—much better on your knees."
3. The Rockout: Choke Your Chicken
As seen in:Rocky II
The scene: When a befuddled Rocky asks Mickey why he is being asked to chase a chicken, the lovable grump replies in part, "Because chicken chasing is how we always used to train in the old days. If you can catch this thing, you can catch greased lightning!"
The ability to catch greased lightning seemed important to me as far as ass-beating skills go, so I headed off to Brooklyn's La Gallina live poultry market to match my footwork against some fast and furious feathers. Stepping inside the building, I was immediately greeted by the sour smells of coagulated blood and the jarring sight—particularly at 10 in the morning—of two hens being mercilessly relieved of their heads by the market's proprietor. I immediately wanted to abandon this task but figured maybe the smell of blood was all part of the toughening process. I decided to trust in Mickey's wisdom.
The proprietor plucked me a caged feathery friend, and I headed to a nearby yard to begin the chase. One problem: Foghorn wouldn't flee. In fact, the seemingly high hen barely moved. I felt like a complete jackass trying to chase something that just stood there. The only sweating I did was inspired by viewing more butchering once I returned my doomed pal to his tiny little cage. Was it me, or is this chicken-chasing exercise totally clucked?
Silverglade from Gleason's Gym leans toward the latter. "Chasing chickens won't do you any good. Rocky won the Academy Award for scenes like this. Like when they cut his eyelid in the ring? That wouldn't be done anywhere in the world. It's against the law!" Foreman is not so fast to discount barnyard pals as workout partners but tweaked Balboa's choice in animal: "I wouldn't chase chickens—I would chase cattle. They're unpredictable and if you can get them to go where you want them to go? Then you know you've got yourself in good shape. It takes a lot to defeat wild animals." Except maybe if you're holding a hatchet.
4. The Rockout: The Man-a-Thon
As seen in:Rocky III
The scene: While considering which soundtrack single I should download onto my iPod while undertaking this workout, I decided Rocky V's "Measure of a Man," by Elton John, might be the most appropriate. The reason? Forget, well, every scene in Top Gun, because Rocky III boasts the most unintentionally homoerotic vignette in movie history.
After Balboa finally defeats his buff nemesis turned trainer Apollo Creed in wind sprints along the shores of the Pacific, the glistening, short shorts-sporting duo celebrate by jumping up and down while lovingly embracing in the water…all shot in sexy slo-mo. Uncomfortable bonus: Apollo wears a half-tee during their inaugural sprint.
In trying to replicate this scene, my jogging outfit couldn't have been more accurately ball-baring… Unfortunately, the beach wasn't anything like Rocky's choice of track. Dressed in little more than a napkin, I raced with my Apollo stand-in (hunky personal trainer Tracy Mazyck) on the needle-laden sands of Coney Island with bitter February winds in our faces.
Frostbite notwithstanding, the repetitive bursts of energy worked my heart like a long jog never could. All the muscles in your body—from feet to quads to torso—are forced to work overtime to keep you stabilized when running on sand. My lungs ached for air by the third 100-yard dash, but it was a good "getting strong now" kind of ache. My calf muscle burned so badly I wondered if they had somehow contracted gonorrhea (which wouldn't surprise me considering where we were running). Is beach running with a man-friend the workout of champions?
"I'm afraid to say I've run on the beach with a male partner while wearing short shorts," says Lundgren. "It's good to run on sand, because you're working your calves more." Foreman agrees: "Running on the beach is the best exercise for your legs. Spend eight days running on the sand—no more than that—and you will have some muscles that'll be good for a boxing match. After a few toe-to-toe rounds, level street running will do you no good at all." Silverglade's down with the sand program, as well. When asked whether he tells any of his boxers to lovingly embrace after races, he replies: "Every single one of them. It brings mutual respect." I think he was kidding.
5. The Rockout: Tour de Mick
As seen in:Rocky III
The scene: Take 10 feet of rope, wrap it around one monosyllabic Italian, tie the other end to an old guy on a bike, and go.
This calf-buster was surprisingly easy, till my Mickey stand-in, Jack Cahill, started messing with the brakes. After just six minutes, my legs were Jell-O, and the rope burns made my skin as raw as Burgess Meredith's and twice as dead. "Pulling anything is great," says Foreman, "because when the bigger guys try to lay on you, pushing 'em off you wears you out." Silverglade totally disagrees: "Pulling weight builds big, heavy muscles in your legs, and that'll slow you down." I'm with him: Any excuse not to tow this ball-busting senior is OK with me.
6. The Rockout: Jay-Rocking
As seen in:Rocky IV
The scene: Balboa ditches a car full of KGB agents by zigzagging on a jog, sending the car crashing into a snow drift. Maxim thought it'd be neat if I transposed this move into something known as "dodging traffic." I dutifully ran onto Central Park West at rush hour with varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees I mean I was neither wounded nor all that winded—but, man, was my pulse off the charts! "They're a lot of cons to dodging traffic," says Lundgren. "But pros? You're looking death in the eye. When you walk into the ring, you have to be ready to die. [Speaking as Ivan Drago] In order to kill me, he's going to have to stand in front of me, and in order to stand in front of me, he's got to be willing to die himself."
The Main Event
Training was over. It was go time. Upon arriving at LA Boxing's gym in Secaucus, I couldn't have been more horrified by my opponent: Glyn Jenkins, a hulking, 230-pound mass of Brit wh'’s a former amateur national champion in the U.K. The bell rang, and I stepped into the ring ready to deploy every weapon in my ass-kicking arsenal…And it quickly went downhill from there.
The fight lasted all of three rounds due to the fact that Jenkins mercifully toyed with me like a housecat tormenting a rat, while I gave him everything I had.
If any of the Rocky routines did me any service at all, it was probably the stair climb and beach run (with the bike pull and car dodge tying at a distant second). The heavy cardio training added some extra muscle to my legs, allowing me to stay standing for longer than I should have. My jabs, on the other hand, couldn't have been weaker. Thanks for nothing, Gallagher's.
Here's the blow-by-blow: Halfway into the first round, Jenkins grazed my head and my brain rattled to the point of nauseating dizziness. I went down twice in the second, and by the third, my trainer Dean threw in the towel. I sat down, bleeding, and reflected. LA Boxing taught me that pugilism is the best cardio and upper-body workout one can do—while Stallone taught me that, without his recently admitted love for human growth hormone, there's no way Rocky would've beaten Apollo— much less me—with his dumb-ass routines.
So, Maxim, now that it's over, any interest in a movie montage training regimen I'm calling "The 9 1/2 Weeks Workout"?