NOTE: The following is a review of a dangerous book. If you’re happy with your life in every way, I advise you to avoid this post. And if you think you’re some kind of stud/ripping bitch athlete, the Surgeon General has determined that reading this book will be hazardous to your ego.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
When I got an invitation to review a new fitness book, I didn’t jump on it at first.
After all, the world is full of such books, and the basic advice is universal: Exercise toward your goal. Eat better. Sleep more. Drink lots of water. And so forth. Good advice to be sure, but nothing new under the sun. And the book was about obstacle races, which don’t appeal to me. But the person issuing the invitation was persistent, so I agreed and downloaded the preview copy.
I’m glad I did.
Spartan Fit! by Joe DeSena is a book aimed at making you exactly that. It contains a 30-day program to prepare you for competing in a Spartan obstacle race. But its true purpose is to challenge you to overcome your biggest obstacle, which is, of course, yourself. And you don’t need to run a Spartan Race to do that.
So what does it take to get “Spartan Fit”? Here’s DeSena’s simplest “training program” in Chapter 1:
Go outside right now and run as far as you can. Then do as many burpees as you can. Then run, walk, or crawl home. Eat whole foods, skip dessert, don’t get drunk, get some sunshine, take cold showers, lift something heavy, use the stairs, meditate or pray, find someone to love. Lights out at 8 p.m. There’s your program— go do it.
To me, that’s a Texas penitentiary, not a desirable way to live. So you might think I wouldn’t encourage anyone to read this book. But you should read it, even if you have no interest in Spartan Races, or running a marathon someday, or in pursuing any Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
It’s worth reading just for its stories. Like Jay Jackson’s fight for his life with a home intruder, or “The Barn Beast” attempting a 100-mile snowshoe race, or Steven Pressfield’s descriptions of life in ancient Sparta and how and why Spartan warriors became legendary for their ability and fearlessness in battle.
And for current and aspiring athletes, there’s lots more in here for you. Descriptions of typical Spartan Race obstacles. The “seven pillars” of the program (endurance, strength, athleticism, recovery, nutrition, mind, and code). Nutrition guidance and recipes. And throughout the book you can feel the intense sincerity of the author in trying to get you outside and do some living, dammit.
Rather than describe more of the book’s content, I’ll share how reading the book affected me and why I consider it to be distinctly different from other fitness books I’ve read.
In sum, I was awestruck, inspired, humbled, and terrified. All at once, more or less.
Awestruck by the incredible things the human body and mind are capable of, as evidenced by the stories in the book. Inspired, because I thought to myself, I could do some of this.
Humbled when I read through the 30-day program and realized that as fit as I am currently, I’d be absolutely obliterated by it. Pick up and carry a 115-pound stone? Not yet, thank you. And terrified, because I began to get the nagging idea that I just might want to try a Spartan Race someday.
But what got me so into this book? Here are three things I believe make Spartan Fit! different from the rest.
Training for adaptability. Spartan Race training is designed for competing in Spartan Races, obviously, but each race is different in the obstacles that the athletes will face. So basic techniques such as running, crawling, and lifting are stressed over specific challenges (such as climbing over a slippery wall).
Adaptability allows you to face any unexpected obstacle – physical, mental, whatever – that you may face in the course of your day. It’s like the jazz musician who doesn’t practice improvisations directly, but all the skills needed to successfully improvise. If I get nothing else out of this book, improving here would make it worth it to me.
Focus on simplicity. This training is meant to be done with things found all around us, or are readily available. VersaClimber in the gym? Run up that hill a few times instead. Kettlebells? Who needs them? Find a rock. Carry logs, drag tires, climb ropes, run and crawl through muck. That’s the essence of Spartan training.
Emphasis on training outside. DeSena points out that the original “gymnasiums” were outdoor athletic areas where the athletes trained together. He contrasts that with the “depressing dungeons,” air-conditioned, carpeted indoor gyms full of fancy equipment, and believes that the surfers on the beach would crush the bodybuilders in an obstacle race. So his workouts are outside, in any weather. And as a year-round, all-weather runner, I understand the benefits, and I agree with him.
And the book has already affected my life. This year I participated in the 22 Pushup Challenge – 22 pushups a day for 22 days (read about the purpose here). One day I forgot to do them. When I realized this the next day, I assigned myself the standard Spartan Race “failure penalty” of 30 burpees. Let’s just say I didn’t forget again. As much as I disliked doing them, I could tell how lots of them could make one that much stronger.
One more demonstration of how much I recommend this book; when the preview edition expired, I bought a copy. I suppose that’s really all I needed to say. But since I wrote the rest of this post anyway, guess I’ll use it.
P.S. I was also provided with a discount code for a future Spartan race. If I ever use it, I’ll be sure to write about the experience here!