Like the Rocky films themselves, the Rocky montages aren’t all equal. Some are more iconic than others and some are far too fucking long, but — because this is the kind of shit we think about here — I got to wondering which Rocky training montage is strictly the best workout. After all, if I’ve already got the Rocky theme (which will surely one day be proved by science as the single most motivating piece of music ever written) cued up on my workout playlist, it makes sense to try to emulate the workouts in the movie, too.
But before I hurt myself — and to give me yet another reason to procrastinate about going to the gym — I consulted a couple of fitness experts to evaluate how good of a workout each Rocky montage is. You’re welcome.
1) Rocky IV
Any Rocky fan could have probably guessed that Rocky IV’s training montage was going to top the list here. After all, Rocky IV is the one where Rocky fights Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, the Russian super boxer who killed Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed at the beginning of the movie. At over seven minutes long, this workout montage is the longest in the series and features some of Rocky’s most ridiculous exercises, including him climbing a mountain — sans any supplies — and pulling an ox cart like a Goddamn animal.
According to Sean Salazar, a personal trainer and the owner of Anywhere Gym, “Out of all the workouts, Rocky IV was definitely the toughest. For one, snow is going to increase resistance, and he also climbs a mountain, so there’s altitude training. He was also using the horse carriage as a shoulder press and pulling that ox cart, which is basically like sled training now and utilizes a lot of explosive power and is a good cardio workout. It’s not done in the snow with an actual sled, but it’s meant to mimic that kind of activity.”
Fitness expert and MEL contributor Oliver Lee Bateman also weighs in, saying that, “Rocky IV is famous for capturing the ‘contrast’ in East versus West training methods — the resourceful, ‘real man’ Westerner versus the Eastern ‘machine man’ or ‘servant of the state.’ Balboa is sawing logs and lifting wood, which is still a good workout if you can get it.” As for Drago, while Bateman says that it reflects Soviet training methods somewhat accurately, he has a hard time looking past the “clearly fake weights” Lundgren’s lifting.
As for whether or not you should attempt this workout, Salazar says that — for the most part — you can. The sled training is great exercise and you most likely won’t hurt yourself attempting it (though no workout is completely immune from danger). Worst-case scenario, you may just not be able to pull the sled very far. Jumping around in the snow carrying a giant log is going to require a good amount of upper body strength before you attempt it, so you’ll already want to be in very good shape for that. As for the mountain, Salazar says that you’d want to be more prepared for that than Rocky was, so make sure you can handle the loss of oxygen (and wear a warmer coat).
2) Rocky II
The second Rocky montage gets a high ranking in large part for its length and the wide variety of exercises Rocky puts himself through. At just under five minutes, the Rocky II montage is the third longest in the series, and while other sequences like this may waste time by putting too much story in — see the Creed montage below — Rocky II is all action, but for a tiny interlude in the middle where he puts his baby to bed. It’s also the last montage in the series where it’s just about Rocky, as Rocky III also shows off Apollo Creed’s workout with Rocky and after that, it’s almost always intercut with the villain’s workout as well.
As a side note, it also has easily the best kickoff of any of these sequences, with Burgess Meredith’s Mickey shouting, “What we waitin’ for!?” as the music cues up.
Anyway, as far as the workout goes, Salazar says that Rocky II, “By volume itself is a good workout. It had so many different things, like the sledgehammer, the one-handed pull-ups, the sit-ups, the bags, the mitts, the medicine balls, hurdling the benches, he was kind of doing everything, even chasing the chicken.” It’s also a pretty good workout for any level, as you can adjust the intensity of the activities as you get stronger. Once again, you’ll want to be careful with lifting the tree trunk, and Salazar says that you’ve really got to be in good shape before you’ll be able to pull off those one-handed push-ups.
However, one exercise isn’t quite as impressive as it looks, as Bateman explains, “In that sequence there’s a ‘cheating’ one-armed pull-up that I thought for years was the real deal. In fact, that’s easy mode, as the other hand is being used as resistance. Pure dead hang pull-ups are actually harder.”
As for the chicken chasing, Salazar says that, as silly as it is, it would present a good exercise for increasing your agility. Hammering shit is also a good workout, as long as the vibration doesn’t mess you up, which is why you’ll see that become a Rocky staple over time. Salazar was also impressed by Stallone’s sprinting in the movie, though he admits it was undermined by the fact that he’s running with a crowd full of kids. “It suddenly made me think, ‘If all these kids are following him, how fast is he really going?’” Salazar points out.
Still, this montage probably represents the best overall workout you might want to attempt, as Rocky IV leaves reality and no workout after this has quite the level of variety.
As Salazar and I ranked these together, we were both conscious not to rank the first Rocky training montage too high simply for the sake of nostalgia. Of course it’s the most iconic one, and it’s in the best film in the series, but by simply analyzing the workout itself it seems right to put it at number three, as the ones to follow are a bit less impressive for a variety of reasons.
Bateman explains, “There’s pretty standard stuff here, but iconic. Most folks could handle the jogging, and running the steps is good exercise. Punching meat is probably pretty good for the hands and wrists, as is working the speed bag.” If you decide to start punching meat, though, Salazar warns that you should be sure the meat is refrigerated, not frozen, as punching frozen meat would be like punching a wall.
4) Rocky Balboa
As the lead-up in this one lays out, this montage is all about strength training. Rocky’s old in this movie, so he’s going to be relying almost exclusively on that old man strength of his. Although Bateman points out, “Stallone got busted for HGH [steroids] possession around this time,” which explains some of his physique, we’re not talking about Sylvester Stallone here, we’re talking about Rocky Balboa, and Rocky don’t juice.
When it comes to the effectiveness of the workout, Salazar says that this one is pretty successful. “Balboa was actually a real workout — the stuff he was doing, people could actually do. There’s pull-ups, the chest press, the kettlebells, the shoulder press, he also pulled the meat back out and punched that again. The only thing that really showed how weak he was in that movie was that every time he ran it was with that old-ass dog.”
Since the story is about an older Rocky, it makes sense that the workout is a little less intense. This one is also the shortest sequence in the series, at two minutes and 42 seconds — three seconds shorter than the original montage. The only thing you’d want to be careful of is lifting the empty keg. While Salazar says that it’s easier than you might think, it’s still heavy, so you’d want to know what you’re doing there. Also, Salazar says that the weight Stallone is lifting has got to be fake, so you probably wouldn’t want to lift quite as much as you see on screen.
5) Creed II
So I’ve got to admit, this one threw me for a loop. As Creed II directly links to the events of Rocky IV, the sequences are similar, but Adonis Creed isn’t going for quite the same insane exercises that Rocky did to single-handedly take on the Soviet Union. Still, I figured this ranked pretty damn high on the intensity meter, but both Salazar and Batmen told me that there’s not a lot here that’s insanely difficult, at least not when compared to the other Rocky montages. Bateman explains, “Michael B. Jordan gets hit in the stomach with a medicine ball, runs fast, swings a sledge, all in the hot desert. Most people could handle this, minus the outdoor setting. It’s all stuff some CrossFit-inspired trainer might have you doing during your first week or two of training.”
I guess the thing that looked so impressive to me was the lifting of the weight with your head/neck. That looks downright dangerous, and Salazar agrees that of everything in the Creed II montage, that’s the thing that might get you the most hurt, as you can easily pull something if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you put on too much weight. Salazar adds that doing it is pretty pointless unless you’re a wrestler, boxer or something like that where you’re going to need to strengthen your neck to take a hit. Honestly, you’re probably better off avoiding that one entirely.
While our own Tim Grierson regarded Creed as little more than a Rocky movie starring a different fighter, I felt that it made some effort to separate itself from the familiar Rocky tropes. One place this is evident is in the training montage: Instead of going for a straight-up workout sequence like most of the other films, Adonis Creed trains in the same sequence where he’s shown caring for a cancer-sickened Rocky. As a result, the workout portion of the training montage is undermined a bit.
Of this one, Bateman says, “The montage in Creed is a well-filmed clip of a buffed-up Michael B. Jordan, probably the best actor to appear in the series, but the close-ups are so tight that this is really just a video of Jordan doing a pull-up (or part of one) and throwing some slow punches before running. Most folks could handle this, and if director Ryan Coogler filmed it, they’d look good while doing so.”
Salazar agrees, saying that it had pretty basic boxing stuff and that it’s much more about him caring for Rocky than anything else. If you’re curious what that mask thing is, though, Salazar explains that sometimes people use those to decrease oxygen flow, which can up the intensity of a workout, and offers a slight callback to Rocky’s mountain climbing, even if it’s unintentional.
7) Rocky III
This one’s tough. In my mind, Rocky III is one of the better installments of the franchise, and it only became more sentimental to me after I got to interview Mr. T a few years ago, who played Clubber Lang in the movie. (By the way, I asked him a bunch of Rocky questions, and he told me, “Brian! Let me tell you! I threw the fight! No way Clubber Lang couldn’t beat Rocky in real life!”)
Anyway, my fanboy gushing aside, this montage ranks super low because it’s all cardio, and it’s fairly routine cardio at that. “In Rocky III, Rocky was just dancing around with Apollo. They were just looking cute together,” Salazar says.
To be fair, the point of this montage was for Rocky to become a different kind of fighter. It’s outrageously dated now, with Rocky’s buddy, Paulie, laying it out at the beginning of the sequence by saying, “You can’t train him like a colored fighter. He ain’t got no rhythm.” But the whole point of the montage, then, is to give Rocky some rhythm, and because of that, this sequence seems to have a bit more in common with the montage from Dirty Dancing, when Patrick Swayze teaches Jennifer Grey how to dance, more than it does with any other Rocky montage.
Because Rocky III is in large part a buddy movie about Rocky and Apollo, the training montage reflects that, and as a result, it’s not the best of workouts as far as variety goes. Honestly, for a beginner, it may represent a good way to get yourself started, as there’s not really much danger here, but they aren’t terribly impressive, either.
Even the sprinting — which Salazar says is the most impressive thing in there — is a bit undermined simply by comparing Stallone to Carl Weathers. As Bateman says, “This isn’t Stallone’s finest hour because he’s training with Carl Weathers, a former pro football player who not only dwarfs him but has a much better physique. Also, on the beach, it’s painfully obvious that Weathers is much faster than Stallone.”
Okay, that’s it! I can stomach no more ill-talk about Rocky III! Eye of the tiger, baby! Let’s move on.
8) Rocky V
Okay, I swear this one isn’t put last just because everyone thinks Rocky V is a heaping pile of dogshit (although it totally is). It simply ranks last because of what the music sequence is covering. While Creed intercut its workout with Adonis caring for Rocky, Rocky V intercuts its training montage with Tommy Gunn’s rise to the top. If you’re fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with Rocky V, Tommy Gunn is Rocky’s insufferable protege in this movie, who Rocky trains at the expense of his own son, turning the generally lovable Rocky into a horribly shitty dad that makes him nearly unwatchable.
Tommy Morrison — the actor who plays Gunn — was actually a real boxer, so he was probably the best prepared for a boxing workout of anyone else in these films. Alas, the sequence shows little more than Tommy with the speed bag and some running and sparring. It’s fairly short, too, tying the first montage at two minutes and 45 seconds. This one also rushes through so much plot in the sequence, it’s almost like the montage is aware of how shitty the movie is and is just hurrying its way to the end so it can finally end this blight on an otherwise fantastic franchise.
A franchise which — for the most part — offers up some pretty damn good workouts, too.