Like they say in the classic Team America: World Police, sometimes, when the going gets tough, “we’re gonna need a montage.” So if you’re feeling down on your fitness and you need a jolt of inspiration, consider this: maybe all you need is a training scene to get you going. (Hey, grab a hoody, it’s okay to pretend to be Rocky once in a while.) These 10 killer snaps of slo-mo running, ridiculously ineffective lifts, and epic theme music are guaranteed to shock your own workouts back to life.
Pumping Iron (1977)
It all started with this 1977 documentary, which not only put Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map, but also foreshadowed the fitness craze of the ‘80s. In Pumping Iron, the Governator squares off with the other biggest bodybuilding icon of the era, Lou Ferrigno, as the two vie for the title of Mr. Olympia 1975. (Schwarzenegger won the competition for the sixth consecutive year.) In this cut-together clip, an incredibly jacked Ah-Nuld flexes his muscle in a series of intense weight lifting sets. Watch and behold.
Rocky III (1982)
Sure, we could make an entire list just of Rocky movies, but if forced to pick two, we’re sticking with the vintage training montage decade—the ‘80s. In Rocky III, the Italian Stallion is challenged for the first time in years by Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T), an up-and-comer who whoops Rocky and takes his title. After initial resistance, Rocky agrees to train with once rival Apollo Creed, and what ensues is… slow motion running on the beach in short shorts? Frolicking in the water? Synchronized shirtless dancing in front of a mirror? Judge all you want; Rocky beats the crap out of Clubber in the rematch and gets his belt back.
Rocky IV (1985)
In Rocky IV, on top of Cold War overtones, Rock squares off with the Soviet boxing machine Ivan Drago. A lot happens in Rocky IV: The traumatizing death of Apollo Creed. Rocky relinquishing his title. Paulie’s robot maid and the creepy implications. Nothing, however, tops the movie’s intense training montage, which cuts from Rocky in the Siberian wilderness to Drago in a sort of high-tech gym of the not-so-distant future. While Rocky chops wood, hoists his friends in a wooden carriage, and trudges through the snow, Ivan punches at machines that emit ambiguous power readings, while also getting shot up with roids. Best of all, the montage is scored with Hearts on Fire by John Cafferty.
Over the Top (1987)
Over the Top features Sylvester Stallone (the fitness star of this decade) and focuses on championship arm wrestling. You might wonder: how the hell could a movie about arm wrestling make for a decent training montage? And you’re absolutely right. In this brief clip, Sly’s character named Lincoln Hawk (what else?) shows his estranged son the ropes, grappling mano-a-mano and strengthening their rassling arms in what looks like a very ineffective curling exercise on a semi-truck—ridiculous, but great nonetheless. It also includes a makeshift tricep pull-down Lincoln constructed in the cab of his big rig.
Clocking in at almost six minutes, the training montage in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport may run long, but that’s because training for the Kumite (Koo-mah-tay) is no joke. In his first starring role, the man known as JCVD plays Frank Dux, an American (yes, American) Ninjutsu master that has gone AWOL from the Army. He does so to enter an underground, full-contact martial arts tournament in Hong Kong that is reminiscent to video games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter (the latter, not surprisingly, also starred Van Damme). In this classic montage, Van Damme spars blindfolded, busts a pretty gnarly split, and gets caned with a bamboo shoot.
You may be thinking your internet just died and you’re stuck on the same MF web page, but have no fear; you’ve made it to our next movie. It just so happens that the training montage in Kickboxer is strikingly similar to the one in Bloodspot—both involve JCVD training outdoors with an old Asian master. It’s true, Van Damme didn’t take a huge departure from one movie to the next, but by doing so he stamped his ballot for the movie montage hall-of-fame. Fast-forward to the 1:37 mark to see said master drop what look like coconuts, from a tree high in the air, directly onto Van Damme’s abdomen.
Best of the Best (1989)
One of the more depreciated martial-arts-tournament movies of the ‘80s (there were several), Best of the Best is the story of a rag-tag group of Americans who square off against the Koreans in a serious taekwondo throw-down. With stellar performances by Eric Roberts and the late great Chris Penn (siblings to Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, respectively), this movie should be a cult classic for genre aficionados, but for some reason got lost in the shuffle. Here’s hoping this clip, packed with all your favorite montage clichés—slow motion jogging on the beach, trudging in the snow, bamboo caning—gives this underappreciated gem the attention it deserves.
G.I. Jane (1997)
In G.I. Jane, Demi Moore stars as the first woman to join the elusive Navy SEAL team. While the story is fictional, Moore’s preparation and training for the movie was anything but, as the actress became incredibly ripped to take on the physically demanding role. Moore trained with a real-life Navy SEAL for the film, and the payoff was evident on the big screen. Moore was able to do one-arm pushups with ease. Watch and behold as a buzzed Moore throws in some three-chair push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups for good measure.
Batman Begins (2005)
While not as beloved as its successor The Dark Knight, the first Batman film in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, Batman Begins, does boast a sweet training montage. In an effort to find his inner bat, Wayne travels to Bhutan to train with the mysterious League of Shadows and is taken under the wing of Henri Ducard (played by Liam Neeson), who later reveals himself as the League’s ruthless leader, Ra’s al Ghul. In this clip, Wayne learns the stealth ways of the ninja while sword sparring with Ghul. The scene includes another montage staple—a mentor bestowing verbal wisdom on his apprentice while simultaneously trying to chop his head off.
Never Back Down (2007)
With the MMA craze of the 21st century came MMA movies, and of course, the MMA movie training montage. Never Back Down tells the classic story of the “new kid in town” (named Jake) getting bullied by the school’s quintessential alpha male dickhead (William Zabka would be proud). In an effort to combat his foe, Jake trains with his mentor Jean Roqua, and the following montage includes everything from good ole’ cinderblock chucking to some MMA takedowns and submission moves.
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