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WOW: The Phalanx
Posted By Mark Sisson On January 24, 2011 @ 8:32 am In Workout of the Week (WOW) | 13 Comments
Complete 10 cycles of:
50 Meter Walking Lunge with Spear Thrust
25 Meter Sprint
Warmup: Walk to the battlefield. Carry your equipment if you’re using any.
We can probably thank the ancient Hellenistic hoplite  armies for coming up with the phalanx (although there’s evidence similar formations were used in Egypt and Sumeria), and Alexander the Great for perfecting its usage on the battlefield, but I think reader Jenn deserves credit for making it relevant again. She recently wrote in with a conceptual WOW drawing on the movement and function of the phalanx – so, thanks Jenn!
The phalanx presented a single, unified front to its opponents, a rectangle of interlocking (almost seamless) shields studded with spears. It moved deliberately and, until the last few paces, slowly in order to maintain the formation’s integrity and cohesion. The phalanx would speed things up at the end to hit the enemy with immense force, hopefully to throw the opposing phalanx (it was usually phalanx versus phalanx) into disarray. Today’s WOW isn’t an exact mirror of the classic phalanx, and we aren’t trying to take down a rival city-state here, but it uses deliberate, labored movement followed by explosiveness  to great effect.
You know how to do regular walking lunges, right? Leading leg hits at least a 90 degree angle so the thigh is parallel with the floor, weight is on heel, torso is upright, back knee barely grazing floor, push through the heel to bring yourself up and over to the other leg. Easy enough to grasp. Today, we’re throwing in a little wrinkle: the spear thrust. You can do these two-handed Macedonian style (Alexander’s phalanx utilized heavy spears that required two hands) or single arm, but either way you’re thrusting from the same side as the back leg. So if your left leg leads, you thrust from the right side. Squeeze your glutes, push from the heel, and use your entire body to generate the thrust. Make sure to keep your torso tight and engaged; it will get quite a workout.
Once you’ve completed your last walking lunge, sprint  with your equipment in hand and on your body! There’s no rest allowed (until after the sprint). This is war, and you’ve got to hit them on their heels. Take a good minute or two in between cycles, though, or even a bit longer if you need it. The focus should be on completing each cycle at full intensity, which necessitates enough rest in between each one.
Cool down: Victory dance (you did win, right?), walk home with your gear to a spit-roasted lamb celebration feast.
Real phalanxes used heavy spears and armor and big shields, which remain effective if not particularly realistic options for today’s workout. Even if you’re a LARPer  or Ren Faire enthusiast and have plate mail and halberds  at your disposal, I’d stick with something safer to replicate the spear and armor: broomsticks and light backpacks for beginners, weighted sticks and backpacks filled with water bottles for intermediates, sledgehammers and weighted vests or backpacks filled with rocks for the advanced. Even if you use just a two-pound stick that offers little to no resistance, the dynamic twisting and balance required for thrusting will make it worthwhile.
You can structure the workout in a slightly different manner. Instead of taking adequate rest in between cycles to allow maximum intensity/speed, you can minimize rest to focus on metabolic conditioning. It will make for a more unpleasant experience and I only recommend this to people with a decent baseline of fitness.
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