The 12 Labours of Heracles Workout, the second in our series of Legendary Hero Workouts. Bodyweight Circuits inspired by ancient legends. Be brutal to yourself and get noticed by the Gods!
Welcome to our Heracles workout a workout that utilizes Strongman exercises. Strongman exercises are great for developing functional strength, speed, power, endurance, and building muscle mass. Many of these exercises also challenge balance, core stability, grip strength, and cardiovascular output. Even if you are not interested in putting on too much bulk or bodybuilding these can be great workouts to supplement your existing training. Traditional strongman workouts involve the use of equipment not usually found in gyms such as Atlas Balls, Weighted logs, etc. For the sake of simplicity, I have traded some of these exercises with traditional equipment found in gyms.
Click the link below to skip the introduction and go straight to the workout!
The Son of Zeus
Heracles is one of the most famous names in Greek mythology. Born a demigod, the son of the God Zeus and the mortal princess Alcmene. Heracles was a champion of the Olympian Gods against monsters from the underworld. He is considered the greatest of the Greek heroes.
As the son of Zeus, Heracles possessed superhuman strength. His stories are littered with the accounts of him undertaking incredible feats of strength and endurance. His great nemesis was the Goddess Hera since his existence was a symbol of her husband Zeus’s infidelity. Determined to destroy him, she sent many trials and tribulations to plague him. Including inducing madness on him that made him kill his own wife and son.
Hera manipulates events so that the traumatized and repentant Hercules has to undertake 12 impossible tasks or ‘labors’ by way of atonement. It was her hope that one of these tasks would be the end of Hercules. Alas, she did not know the man she was dealing with…
The labors of Heracles. (left) Heracles takes on the Cerberus (the hound of hell) and the Nemean Lion (right).
The Heracles workout mimics the 12 labors of Heracles by providing 12 feats of strength and endurance. Here you will face your own monsters.
About Strongman Workouts
Strongman training consists of lots of functional movements, heavy lifts, and explosive moves using (often irregular training equipment) that recruit multiple muscle groups. As the name suggests, Strongman workouts use much heavier weights than standard training aimed at endurance or hypertrophy gains. The benefits of this type of training have much carry-over to real-world situations. Some exercises, such as the tire flip, will tax your entire body, including your cardiovascular system.
Some of the benefits of Strongman workouts:
When you’re carrying much heavier weights than usual naturally you’ll see an increase in your strength levels. Strongman workouts are based on compound and functional movement patterns, which use several major muscle groups at the same time. Over time with this type of training, you’ll notice a huge improvement in strength.
This type of training focuses on developing strength in movements patterns used in everyday life. The goal of this type of training is to increase function to better prepare participants for everyday life. This functional aspect can translate to real-life tasks and even improve our normal resistance training.
Strongman workouts provide significant stress on muscle tissue. Breaking it down so that it can be rebuilt bigger and stronger than before. Heavy lifting has been shown to trigger a higher release of growth hormone, which can support muscle mass growth.
Strongman training will also improve your cardiovascular system. Many of the exercises involve ‘dashes’ whilst carrying loads (such as sleds and sandbags). This will send your heart rate through the roof and challenge your cardiovascular ability hard.
Strongman exercises promote fat burning by requiring maximum effort from many major muscle groups simultaneously. The more intense the exercise and the number of muscles used the more calories you’ll burn. Strongman workouts effectively allow you to build muscle mass while helping you drop your excess fat.
Many Strongman exercises involve carrying heavy loads over a distance. (For example, the Farmer’s Walk or Sandbag carry). Throughout the exercise, you are maintaining the proper posture and moving that weight. This type of training carries over well into real-world benefits such as when you’re carrying heavy loads. Improving functional movement capacity results in a higher quality of life and a lower risk of injury.
An improved grip is something of great value to our everyday lives. Indeed, most tasks we perform in a day require a firm grip from opening jars to lifting heavy objects. An improved grip can naturally benefit other training also. For example. improved grip strength can help with holding onto the bar longer whether you are doing cleans, kettlebell swings, or pull-ups.
The unusual equipment found in functional strongman training can make lifting traditional weights easier. With most lifts in barbell training, it is best to keep the bar close to your body. This is for stability and as a base for power and strength. Often with strongman lifts those options are limited owing to the odd structure of the equipment used (kegs/tires). The objects are forced away from the body when being lifted. Lifting in this way is challenging and requires an extremely strong core (see below). In time this will impact and improve every aspect of lifting.
As mentioned, Strongman workouts strengthen the core. The importance of core muscles in our everyday lives is something that is sadly overlooked. The core muscles are where all movement originates but coincidently where most injuries occur. Lower back pain (LBP) is a major cause of disability in everyday life. Although the cause might be from direct trauma, most LBP results from a weak core and overcompensating muscles. Strongman training will provide you with a core of iron.
Many of the exercises you undertake in Strongman circuits will apply to many other forms of sports or training. The power, strength, and endurance benefits can aid in everything from contact sports to athletics. Strongman training can also be used as a foundation to move to other forms of heavy training such as powerlifting or bodybuilding.
Everyone plateaus with their training at some point. Sometimes the best thing to do to shake the body out of its slumber is to come at training from a whole different angle. If you’ve been lifting for a while and you feel as if you aren’t progressing anymore, consider Strongman workouts.
Including Strongman training in your regular circuits can have numerous benefits.
You will need…
In traditional strongman exercises, very unique equipment, such as kegs, atlas balls, yokes, etc are used. Granted many people may not have access to this type of equipment at home or even at their local gyms. Don’t worry, there are always alternatives with a little imagination. So before starting this workout, ensure you have a collection of Strongman equipment (or alternatives) in your gym. (For example, substituting dumbbells for farmer’s walks, a barbell for the keg lifts. A standard prowler can be used for a sled pull, alternatively consider a weighted wheelbarrow.
Reps/Sets/Rest: For the majority of exercises in this workout, we will aim at keeping the reps and sets low. Aim for 6-8 reps (dependent on weight used). A great deal of strength is being used with each exercise, so the rest periods between each exercise will be greater also to allow for a fuller recovery of 3-5 minutes.
Weight used: For these exercises aim at 70-80% of your 1 rpm for each exercise.
The 12 Labors
- Barbell Clean and Press 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Weighted Dips 3 x 6-8 reps.
- One-Arm Cable Row 3 x 6-8 reps (each side).
- Lat Pulldown 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Deadlift 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Racked Bar Squat 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Barbell Rows 3 x 6-9 reps.
- Sled Push. 6 x 25 m.
- Tire Flips 3 x 10 reps.
- Heavy Sandbag shouldering 3×10 reps.
- Push Press 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Farmers Walks. 5 x 25 metres carry.
Just in case you want to better a Greek demi-god here is an alternative workout to use
- Resistance band pushups 3 x 10 reps.
- Sandbag thrusters 3 x 10 reps.
- Tire carries 6 x 25 m.
- Heavy battlerope slams 3 x 30 reps.
- Keg dashes 6 x 25 m.
- Keg over-shoulder throws 3 x 6-8 reps.
- Sledgehammer strikes 3 x 20 reps.
- Heavy Turkish get-ups. 3 x 3 reps (on each side).
- Keg sit-ups 3 x 10 reps.
- Zercher squats 3×10 reps.
- Lateral raises 3 x 6 raises each side (hold for 20 seconds).
- Sandbag lunge walks. 6 x 10 reps (each leg).
- Adequate rest between sets. The clue is in the name of this type of workout. It’s a strongman workout, your muscles are going to need adequate rest at the end of each set. So longer rest periods are what we will use to ensure you have time to fully recover before the next set.
- Complete the required reps in each set or go till failure.
- Train light or just undertake active rest the day before any Strongman training. Program a light workout the day before so you’re mentally prepared to move heavy weights using good technique.
- Additionally, the day after a strongman workout is another day to rest or do a low-intensity activity for active recovery.
Strongman-type training can have numerous benefits when added to your current training program. Thrown in among regular routines they can shake up tedious periods of training and challenge the body on a different level.
However, this training program is only suitable for an experienced person in good physical condition. The heavier weight used in the exercises can make the workout extremely challenging. This is especially the case when lifting awkward objects such as kegs and tires. If you are not familiar with compound lifts for some of the gym equipment, take time to learn them properly from a PT for other fitness professionals.
Learn the basics and get the fundamental movement patterns right. Learn with lighter objects than you think necessary then move up slowly.
With regards to recovery, your muscles are going to need a bit extra after a workout with these physical demands. Consume plenty of protein (shakes. nuts, lean meat) to help keep your muscles in good condition as you train.
Don’t fret if you don’t have access to kegs and tires. Most of the equipment used in these exercises can easily be substituted in any good gym.
A sled you might struggle to store in your garage, but a tire you might get away with :D. Also, the tire can double up as a sled for tire pushes/drags so there is that. So can you get a tire from? Tire repair shops, garages, local farms, and stores are worth a try. Many places have to pay to dispose of old tires so may be glad to have them taken away. Try internet searches in your local area.
With regards to kegs/drums – local breweries/pubs/bars may be willing to part with them for a price, so perhaps that is the first port of call. Again, they are not super-necessary and a barbell/heavy sandbag will substitute for kegs.
Whichever workout you undertake. Remember to cool down, stretch and drink water!
Appendicies: Beginners Guide to the Labours of Heracles
1. Slay the Nemean Lion.
2. Slay the Lernean Hydra.
3. Capture the Golden Hind.
4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
5. Clean the Stables of King Augeas.
6. Defeat the Stymphalian Birds.
7. Capture the Cretan Bull.
8. Bring Back the Mares of Diomedes.
9. Obtain the Belt of Hippolyta.
10. Obtain the Cattle of Geryon.
11. Bring the Golden Apples of Hesperides.
12. Capture Cerberus.
As mentioned above Heracles was the offspring of a mortal princess Alcmene and Zeus. Zeus (chief of the Greek Gods) was married to Hera (goddess of women, marriage, and family) when he fathered Heracles to Alcmene. Zeus’s infidelity would enrage Hera which would ultimately result in great misfortune for Heracles.
When Alcmene gave birth to Heracles she raised him with her husband, Amphitryon. As Heracles was a demi-god, he was born with superhuman strength, which was evident within the first months of his life. Hera was vengeful and hated Heracles because he reminded Hera of her unfaithful husband, Zeus. Hera tried to kill Heracles as an infant, sending snakes into his crib to poison him. Heracles strangled the snakes that Hera had sent into his crib, but Hera’s vengeance did not stop there. As Heracles grew into an adult, he married and had many sons. Knowing how much Hercules loved his wife and children, Hera sent madness upon Heracles that caused him to kill his wife and children, taking away everything that he loved.
Baby Heracles strangling snakes. What a lad.
Once Heracles recovered from his insanity, he realized what he has done to his family. Overcome with grief, Heracles turned to Apollo (the god of healing, knowledge, and prophecy). Apollo told Heracles that he must serve Eurystheus, king of Tiryns, to make up for his wrongdoings. Hera still determined to remove Heracles from the world for good, suggested to Eurystheus that he order Heracles to fulfill twelve impossible labors. Hera believed that Heracles would die attempting to complete these labors. This would finally remove him from existence and out of her sight for good. But alas she did not realize the will of who she was dealing with…
After completing the tasks, Heracles went onto many legendary adventures including joining the Argonauts in the quest for the Golden Fleece. His life ended when his wife Deianira, was tricked by an old enemy of Heracles, accidentally poisoned her husband via a shirt dipped in venom. Since Heracles was a demi-god, he suffered a painful and slow demise. He would go on to climb Mount Etna where he built his funeral pyre and lay down with his head resting on his club and Nemean lion’s skin covering him. Eventually, Zeus took him to dwell in the night sky amongst the Constellations.
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