Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Hellas. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Hellenic civilization. The appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The ancient Hellenes believed development of the body was equally as important as development of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Hellas, including the likes of Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen.

Gymnastics, along with music, was considered to be the most important classroom topic. Gymnastics took place in palaestras, which were sites of physical education for young boys. The palaestra consisted of an indoor facility for gymnastics, in addition to an outdoor area for running, jumping, and wrestling. When adulthood was reached, typically between the ages of fouteen and sixteen, the site for fitness training switched from palaestras to gymnasiums. Exercise in the palaestra and gymnasium was supervised by the paidotribe, who is similar to the modern fitness trainer. This idealistic fitness situation existed most strongly within Athens and in Sparta, but was widespread throughout.

Training in ancient Hellas, particularly for the Spartans, was structured and extremely intense. Spartan training began for men at a very young age. At seven years old, Spartan males were sent to military and athletic training school where they were taught toughness, discipline, pain endurance and survival skills. The Spartan life centered around military training and toughness. Spartan males were soldiers from the age of 13 to 60, and even the women were taught physical and gymnastics training.

The ancient Hellenes relied mostly on body weight exercises--work-outs without instruments. Push-ups, pull-ups, and box jumpes were favourites. They excelled in cardio practices like mentioned above, but the ancient Hellenes weight trained as well--with activities such as stone lifting, stone throwing, wrestling and rope climbing. They also lifted each other, animals, and whatever else was heavy and handleable.
In order to get the actors in shape for the movie '300', a grueling exercise routine was created, based on the ancient Spartan training regime. It included plyometrics, sprinting and intense weight training. They used such equipment as barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls instead of stones and animals, though. At the end of the four months of training, the actors where invited to complete the '300' graduation workout which involved performing the following exercises in sequential order. The combination of all repetitions for all of the exercises totals 300 repetitions. Note, every featured Spartan warrior in that movie was required to complete this test.
  • 25 pullups
  • 50 deadlifts at 135 lbs
  • 50 pushups
  • 50 box jumps onto a 24 inch box
  • 50 floor wipers at 135 lbs
  • 50 kettlebell clean and presses at 36 lbs
  • 25 pullups
Gerard Butler--who plays King Leonidas in 300--told Men’s Health:

“You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.”

I work out. Mostly cardio, but I do some bodyweight strength training as well, kettlebell workouts, and some light lifting. I can tell you right now that I would not be able to complete that routine even if I had a year to train. I am awed by these men, and I am awed by the physical prowess of the ancient Hellenic soldiers--especially the Spartans. But having said that, every time I get on my mountain bike for a grueling trail ride, or push up the kettlebell until my arms shake, I think of them and I feel just a little closer to the Gods. A little closer to the ideal They have for humanity.

I believe physical exercise, eating healthy, and being in shape to the best of your ability is part of Hellenismos. I believe it's one of many ways in which we honour the Gods. Now, I know not everyone is physically ready to be a Spartan warrior. If, for you, lifting one kilo weights is the max of your ability, then do that. Go on a walk. Do a situp. Dance during your cleaning. Think of your body as your altar and take just as good care of that as you do the other tools with which you honour the Gods. Bring out your inner Spartan!