Train Like The Toughest Military of All Time:
The Roman Legion
[Editor’s note: We teamed up with the guys at Huckberry to bring you a modern reboot of history’s most hardcore military training program. Hats off to you if you make it through this one.]
The people of ancient Rome have a lot to boast about (we have them to thank for the first roads, sewage removal systems, and surgical techniques, just to name a few) but it’s unquestionably their military prowess that we remember best. Their knack for technological innovation, renowned physical perseverance, and incomparable military strategy created an unstoppable empire and set them up to rule the entire Mediterranean region for thousands of years. No small feat.
So what made these guys so great? 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.)
Part of their 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 Yusuf Ahmed at 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
Turn your next hike into a great workout, inspired by the marching and exercise regimen of the Roman Legion. Load up a backpack with anything heavy you have handy (we like to fill up a few water bottles). The legionnaires marched with 45 pounds of on their backs, but you’ll probably 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 your hike in a brisk walk or light jog, and every two minutes stop and perform one of the exercises below. Continue the hike for 20 to 30 minutes while repeating this circuit. You’ll perform a set of each exercise three to five times.
• Complete 10 reps while wearing your backpack.
• To make it more challenging, elevate your feet on a bench or rock.
Squat and Press
• Hold your backpack at chest level and complete a squat. Make sure to keep your knees out and your chest up throughout the movement.
• As you return to a standing position, push the pack over your head.
• Complete 10 reps.
• Complete 10 reps alternating legs (5 reps per leg) while wearing your pack.
Made it though? Great job. Now check out this Art of Manliness podcast episode about how the Romans’ veneration of their mythic past played out on the battlefield. Hear about “the ways in which both the Greeks and Romans ritualized warfare, and [...] the competing virtues of courage and discipline within the Roman army. [It’s] a riveting conversation with fascinating insights into ancient notions of masculinity.”