Train Hard

Which Rocky character should you be training like?

Written by joelsnape

Quick, tell me a film you’d rather watch right now than Rocky III. Actually, don’t, it’s a trick question: because that film does not exist. Leaving aside the fact that Mr T. should have won the Oscar for his layered portrayal of Clubber Lang – sorry, actual winner John Gielgud – Rocky III is the pinnacle of a series of films that have almost certainly sparked more impromptu workouts and ill-fated training binges than any other in existence. It’s scientific fact: if you can watch Rocky doing situps in a barn while Ivan Drago punches his high-tech Sonic Blast Man machine without immediately wanting to work out, you are suffering from low testosterone and should see a doctor. You too, ladies.


But anyway. Beyond being a powerful motivational tool in themselves, the Rocky films make another important point about training: there are lots of ways to do it. So which one should you train like? Easy: the one you aren’t training like already. Each man has certain characteristics that should be part of any training plan, but each also has their flaws.


Here’s how it breaks down.



Ah, Rocky. Hard worker, giver of amazing off-the-cuff speeches, lover of robot toys. The message of the Rocky films is a fine one – hard work beats talent – even if, strictly speaking, just getting really jacked is no substitute for actually learning to box. But anyway: Rocky is the epitome of the high-intensity grinder. He doesn’t periodise, he probably doesn’t work off percentages of his training max, he doesn’t think reps are a guarantee of a good workout, he doesn’t factor in rest days – he just goes out and trains his all-American balls off.

Try training like him if…You always go by what’s written in your workout plan, or you only train with intensity that’s ‘measurable.’ You might be overthinking your capacity for overtraining – maybe piling more good, honest, hard work in is actually what you need to bust through a plateau, whether that plateau is mental or physical. And some things are simply not measurable – like smashing a tyre with a sledgehammer or going all-out on the battling ropes or throwing a medicine ball as hard as you fucking can. These are still worthwhile training tools, though, and well worth trying your best on. Train yourself to put forth your maximum effort when there’s nobody around to count reps, and you’ll do better at anything.


Apollo Creed

Poor old Apollo: gets a kicking in every single appearance, and his finest moment is running along the beach in a vest. Still, there’s an important lesson for everyone in Rocky III: sometimes, you need to enlist other people. Specifically, you should occasionally train with other people for two key reasons: they’ll make you do the stuff you hate doing, and they’ll make you do it harder, faster, and for longer, than you’d ever do it alone. Deep in your heart, you *know* there’s stuff you should be doing – sprints, perhaps, or skipping, or learning to throw a jab, or doing proper warmups or more mobility work or long cardio recovery efforts or eating better – but, for whatever reason, you won’t do it. Or maybe you should just work harder than you can manage on your own.

Train like him if…You always train alone. Sometimes you should find someone who’ll do your programming for you, because they will make you do the stuff you hate but need. Personally, my wife keeps me honest about including single-leg work and hamstring assistance exercise in my programme – if she didn’t, I’d never do them. Similarly, I’ll occasionally go to the gym with work colleagues so that I *have* to do whatever workout I’ve planned. You can’t give up 12 minutes into a 5k row race when there’s another guy going just as fast as you. And you damn sure can’t let them win.


Clubber Lang

The polar opposite of the Creed approach, and an appropriate role model for anyone who needs a roomful of high-fives and 15 Facebook Likes before they think they’ve had a decent workout. In the words of the man himself: ‘I live alone. I train alone. I’ll win the title alone.’ That’s some serious self-belief from a man whose idea of training for a world title fight is doing wide-grip pullups in his cellar.

Train like him if… You normally have to train with other people – a PT, a class, or friends. This is obvious, but you should also train like Clubber if your pre-workout ritual is too elaborate: this describes you if you’ve ever said you can’t lift without your favourite music or your favourite bar/shoes/skipping rope. If you ever have to fight or run for your life, it probably won’t happen with your carefully-selected Metallica playlist running, so maybe occasionally you should train with whatever shitty Euro-trance your gym plays as a distraction. You know what Clubber Lang would do if his pullup bar didn’t have the right knurling? He would do pullups until it broke, snarling expletives at it all the time.


Ivan Drago

Ah, the Russian. Drago is the perfect example of Eastern-bloc efficiency, not just because he has a special running track with speedbags mounted on it, but because everything he does is pre-planned by Bridgitte Nielson and her team of sinister scientists. Measurable, well-planned training programmes work, and will occasionally allow you to punch another man’s head almost clean off.

Train like him if….You eschew any kind of planned training in favour of winging it and attacking every workout like a madman. Intensity works, but it doesn’t work as well as planned progression, with planned recovery workouts and phases of overreaching. If you’ve never followed a proper training plan, this is you: get on Starting Strength, or 531 or Greyskull, or something similarly sensible – but stop just throwing shit at a wall. Maybe get someone else to write you a programme. Maybe write your own. But if you don’t know how you’re going to train for the next month, you should work it out. And then attack those workouts like the entire politburo is watching them.


Adonis Johnson

Your last resort. At the start of Creed (minor spoilers incoming), Adonis Johnson is taking things a little bit too easily, effortless smashing up lesser fighters before he gets a fist-shaped lesson from the gloves of real-life world champ Andre Ward. Predictably, this lights a fire under his well-tailored fight-shorts, and six months later he’s training with Rocky Balboa to take on the light heavyweight champ of the world. The timespan’s truncated, sure, but the theory is sound.

Train like him if…Your training plan needs a kick in the ass. If you’ve been winging it recently,  or just coasting through workouts, then sign up for a fight, marathon, obstacle race, strongman competition, or whatever else you need to guarantee yourself public humiliation and pain if you don’t suck it up and start taking things seriously.


HOMEWORK: Work out which one of these fits you and get it in place. To recap: Balboa if you haven’t gone balls-to-the-wall in a while, Creed if you always train alone, Lang if you never train alone, and Drago if you need some programming. Get it done.

*In case you’re wondering, the Rocky films, ordered best to worst, go 3,4, Creed, Balboa,1,2,5. Don’t bother arguing: this isn’t a democracy, and you’re wrong anyway.

About the author


Editor and creator of Live Hard. Fighting enthusiast, steak lover and aficionado of all things self-improvement related.

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