The Amazing Spider-Man Workout Plan

spiderman work

This is a guest post from Khaled Allen.

Imagine that you are Spider-Man.  

You’re reading Nerd Fitness, so I’m guessing this isn’t too much of a challenge.  

What’s the first thing you would do with your new powers?  Probably something like webslinging around your city, scaling the side of a building, and hanging upside down just for the hell of it, right?

You’re not alone: after all, it’s these scenes in the Spider-Man movies that are always the most exhilarating.

We want to BE Spider-Man in those moments, playfully exploring new powers, free of danger and full of creativity.  Essentially, it’s like a kid on Christmas morning.

Wouldn’t it be great if workouts could feel like that (and not something that you have to suffer through)?

Spider-Man’s big appeal is that he’s playful. He seems to genuinely enjoy climbing walls, swinging from skyscrapers, and popping flips around the bad guys. He even cracks jokes in the middle of fights. Spider-Man is having fun, and this playfulness characterizes the way he moves, fights, and trains.

I’m here to tell you that you can use play to explore your abilities in ways more creative and empowering than the limited, controlled movements of a standard workout.  It’s okay to act like a kid, and it can be incredibly beneficial!

Let’s learn how.

Benefits of Play

kids play

Play workouts (or playouts) have a number of benefits over traditional workouts.

  • First and most importantly, a playout isn’t about building muscle, losing weight, or perfecting a routine – A playout is about figuring out the best way to interact with the environment in order to meet your goals. It shifts your focus from internal to external. It is about solving problems and having fun.  Watch any video of Ido Portal (a real life Spider-Man?) and you’ll want to go outside and roll around.
  • A playout integrates multiple movement patterns to overcome an obstacle – For example, Spider-Man’s web swing requires accurate aim, powerful jumping, swinging, and climbing. Excelling at these skills individually wouldn’t help, since Spider-Man needs to transition between them seamlessly to make the move work. In the gym you might train pullups and dips separately, but if you need to climb a tree, you’ll use both in sequence, as well as weird variations of each that blur the lines.  This is the basis of Parkour.
  • Playouts involve more exploration and improvisation than traditional workouts. There is no ‘right’ way to do anything when you’re playing. There are only more and less efficient ways. Which you choose will depend on your skill and level of fitness. If a regular workout is like building a model with instructions, playouts can be thought of as using a giant box of LEGOs: there will be many ways to build the same object, and your model’s complexity depends on how comfortable you are with the blocks.

Designing Your Perfect Playout

Playground

Having a good playout requires that we think differently about exercise. Remember, rule #9 of the Rebellion: We Question Everything.

Playout Ideas

1. Find a play area

In his latest cinematic adventure, Peter Parker goes to a shipyard to play with his skateboard, but he co-opts the ramp and chains in the dry dock to start practicing his spidey swings. Nothing he interacts with in that scene was meant to be used for spidey training, but he thinks outside the box and finds his own challenges, seeing how far he can push his abilities.

The first step to a successful playout is to identify a problem you’d like to solve. This requires that you learn how to see situations creatively. The more varied the environment, the better, but you can get pretty creative with just a park bench if you know how to view it. Good places to start include:

ForestRocks

2. Explore your options

Once Peter started playing with the shipyard chains, he spent some time figuring out different ways to interact with them. He climbed them but found that swinging worked better, and later discovered that he could swing from one to the other.

Once you have your problem, discover different with ways to interact with it. Start with the obvious, but don’t stop there. This is where you can get creative, be silly and try things that may not work.

Make an effort to try movements that are unusual or novel, or even unnecessarily elaborate

For example, dealing with a park bench, you could:

  • Crawl over or under it (break it down further: bear crawl, military crawl, shrimp, crab walk)
  • Jump over it
  • Jump on top and down
  • Dive and roll over
  • Vault it
  • Move it
  • Simply go around it
  • Climb the overhanging tree and swing over

You don’t have to be as acrobatic as these guys (must watch!), but every little bit counts!

3. Groove the individual movements

Spend 5-10 minutes with each element in your play area and work on your form.

Good form here means the move starts to feel more natural and less effortful.

Focus on efficiency and comfort, and figure out what feels best for you.

If you get bored, move on to another element. The goal is to maintain a high level of mental and emotional engagement, so you learn faster and stay alert, thus avoiding sloppiness and injury.

4. Start building movement combos

Once you have experimented with different ways to approach each segment of your play area, start putting them together and moving through the environment.

Start with two obstacles and one transition and go slowly, focusing on smoothness of execution. This can be as simple as crawling across a field to a bench, transitioning to your feet, and jumping onto the bench.

Once you have drilled that a few times, it will feel more natural and you’ll hesitate less. At this point, you can start adding additional pieces to the front or back of your combo.

  1. Try jumping off the bench
  2. Then add a roll to the landing
  3. Then try to smoothly transition to a sprint after the roll

If there are objects around, make them part of the game; do a relay with rocks or logs, carrying them through your course.

As you start to get a feel for the pattern, it will go faster naturally, so don’t rush. Conditioning will come after sufficient skill and strength for safety.

5. Check for mistakes

The first time the (soon to be) Amazing Spider-Man used his webslinger to make an escape, he ended up swinging right into a bus. Ow. Clearly, he needed to spend some time refining that move.

Here are some things to look out for that can alert you to the need to go back and refine your form:

  • If you keep banging one spot of your body every time you do a move, make adjustments: check your posture, be sure you are staying tight, or slow it down or find a simpler variation.
  • If a movement is generally jarring or jerks you around, refine your movement pattern until it feels smoother. Again, change the speed of the movement or try a variation. Look out for this on landings especially. Jarring is also an indicator of fatigue and might be a sign that it is time to wrap up your play session.
  • If you find it difficult to maintain balance or stick your landings when you rush into an element of a playout, slow down on that segment and spend some more time drilling precision and balance. Fatigue also affects these abilities.

6. Make it social

No matter how much he practiced on his own, Spider-Man could never really develop the skill necessary to save New York until he went out and tested his powers with villains.

While I don’t suggest you go out and try to break up muggings, having a partner to challenge and encourage you can make a huge difference in your training, and play lends itself very well to social workouts.

There are some things you can do with a partner that you simply can’t do alone.

The options are endless, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Toss sticks back and forth while running or balancing
  • Have them throw (light) stuff at you while you go through your course
  • Carry each other through the course
  • Race each other
  • Create cooperative rules: try running through the course with the rule that a move cannot be used more than once by either person

Make a game out of it. This is play, after all.

Tips and Tricks

spiderman mosiac

The first time you to playout, it may be stilted and awkward.

It’s very hard to think outside the box we’ve become accustomed to. Most people stop playing long before they become adults; the wild, free creativity of youth gives way to organized sports as early as elementary school.  You’ll probably get funny looks. That’s great. Embrace the weird!

Luckily, we can take some pointers from Peter Parker and inject the same sense of joyful exuberance Spider-Man brings to everything he does:

  • Always warm up. Just because it’s play doesn’t mean it’s not intense, and varied movements can take you by surprise. You can warm up with low-intensity play, like crawling, low walking, and balancing.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. Play is creative and suffers under pressure, just like any other creative endeavor. If you feel even a little rushed, you will default to movements you are familiar with in an attempt to get through the challenge as quickly as possible.
  • Repetition will help you see more options. You will actually get more creative with successive iterations. Let a problem stew for a few days, and revisit the same play area more than once, so that you can elaborate upon your previous movements.
  • Don’t try to get a workout. If you approach play with the intention of conditioning, you may unconsciously restrict yourself to movements you associate with traditional workouts. Don’t worry so much about whether a movement is good exercise or if you know the ‘right’ way to deal with something.

Everyday spidey play

spidey play

When you’re training to be a superhero, there are no off days.

Spider-Man knew this, but he also genuinely had fun with his powers, like doing his homework hanging upside down in his room.

In the same way, you can use the mindset of playfulness to add some extra movement and practice into your everyday life, and more movement is always a good thing. With a bit of creativity, you don’t even have to go out of your way.

  • Walking down the street, try balancing on curbs or precision jumps between paving tiles.
  • While waiting for a bus, practice single-leg balancing.
  • Use squats to get stuff out of your refrigerator.
  • Jump and down stairs, challenging yourself to cover more steps.

The more options you can see, the more freedom you have. Fighting crime is serious business, but even superheroes should get to enjoy their powers every now and then…without worrying about the fate of the world.

So try adding a playout or two to your weekly routine in between strength training or running.

Where do you plan to try your first playout?

Khaled teaches MovNat in Boulder, CO, and writes about living with integrity, embodying excellence, and overcoming fear on his blog, Warrior Spirit.

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photo source: spider-man job, mosiac, kids, jungle gym

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78 thoughts on “The Amazing Spider-Man Workout Plan

  1. I think of them more as guidelines. A bit of structure allows for more creativity within a safe framework. It’s been a long time since most of us played freely as little kids after all.

  2. Still… we all learned to walk and run and talk as children, we don’t need a reminder on how to do those.

  3. Sweet, I always and still do some playful routing. I remember my days at High school and the art academy where I always tried to cover more stairs by jumping. I still have the habit of running up stairs.
    Perhaps I’ll make a little walk to the forest here. 😉

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed your article and you make many valid points. I’m just stating how sad it is that something as simple as “go have fun” needs to have a set of instructions.

  5. No I totally understand. I ran into that conflict writing this. Thanks for your input.

  6. I recognize that snowy forest picture. 😉 Great that you linked Laurent’s video, even if I really wanted to do that.

    @Al I think it’s more that we’ve become inhibited since we were kids. The pull to play and move is no longer super magnetic. It’s not about learning to play again necessarily, but more about relearning how to tap into and unleash that energy/desire to play. Willingness to embrace the weird (as mentioned) factors into it heavily.

  7. Great article! Some of these movements make me think of Star Trek TOS fighting techniques. Bring on the Gorn!! 😀

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  9. Merci. I’ll say it isn’t black and white though, as learning new movements (having a bigger movement vocabulary) opens up more opportunities for play and creativity.

  10. There’s a Sailor Moon workout on Youtube that’s fun to do as well. XD
    The days are getting nice now, perhaps on our next lunch time walk I can convience my coworkers to play at the same time! 😀

  11. Wow! That was indeed awesome. I need to watch TOS. It was before my time sadly.

  12. I got into the best shape in my life when I started doing free running and parkour in college. Every day wasn’t a “workout” or “training” for us, but just a fun way to push each other physically, and you couldn’t be good at it *and* out of shape. This article took me right back there, thanks.

  13. If you’re having trouble “embracing the weird” with this one, trying bringing some kids with you! (Preferably ones you know.) Not only will they show you how it’s done, but they take some of the edge off of that “strange adult playing in the park by themselves” self-consciousness.

  14. I think there’s a lot of merit to this, but I’d also say that speaking as a father, please do this with some respect for the young kids who are using the equipment. I’ve seen someone doing this before and he was basically scaring off the kids from using the equipment because he was climbing all over structures that had kids inside them and doing flips. Not saying to avoid this at all costs because I think having fun while exercising is key, but showing respect for the kids and families there is also worth considering.

  15. I like to go into the woods and climb trees. Never ever feels like a workout.

  16. I unintentionally got a decent leg work out a few days ago while playing tug of war with my dog. He’s on the short side (shiba inu) so I was moving around while maintaining a squat stance. It was fun and both of us got a work out!

  17. I like this advice. I usually try to have fun too! I prefer to run in the woods and like to jump over or off rocks and dart under trees… Much more fun than most folks who trudge along the sidewalk!
    – I also find ways to turn ‘work’ into a workout! In the fall I had 3 cords of firewood delivered, they just dump it in a huge pile in the driveway. Instead of just luging it the 30 feet to stack it at the wood pile, I made a game/workout. I put on my headphones and sprinted back and forth as quick as I could, instead of an armload I would just grab two sticks and sprint to the pile. It made it way more fun and I got a good workout. A couple of neighbors questioned my sanity. But that wasn’t the first time!

  18. i climbed three trees yesterday. it was the most fun and exhilaration i had in a couple of years. i simply felt alive. and you really spoke to me with”A playout is about figuring out the best way to interact with the environment in order to meet your goals. It shifts your focus from internal to external. It is about solving problems and having fun.” thanks.

  19. That’s because we are always walking, but most of us aren’t always playing :

  20. Awesome! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I love this approach to ‘exercise’, as it keeps me engaged. You’re not just repeatedly moving for the sake of working up a sweat.

  21. So true! Kids love to challenge adults in play. They are great partners.

  22. Definitely respect kids. I usually get the chance to playout during school hours, so there aren’t kids around. Otherwise, wait your turn, just like you were taught in kindergarten.

  23. Haha! That’s awesome! I love taking inspiration from dogs. Try playing fetch, where you’re the dog. Get someone to throw a ball (preferably one with erratic bouncing) and sprint after it.

  24. You sound like the kind of person I would enjoy hanging out with. 🙂

  25. There are few things requiring as much mindfulness as climbing trees. I’m glad my words spoke to you. Thank you for writing in.

  26. I have a free gym membership through my medical aid. So I was wondering if my approach to the gym should be more playhouse or should a program still be followed

  27. So, I did one of these this morning at a local playground with a friend. Total blast, and I’m sore in all new ways. Thanks for the suggestions!

  28. I think it depends on the attitude at your gym. You can get creative with open space, free weights, and various kinds of furniture, but some gyms are really uptight about how you use the equipment. Also, you can combine the play approach with a programmed one: program your strength training, maybe spend time focusing on a few new skills, and then apply them in a play session.

  29. At least within the wider Parkour community there is a rule that everyone else has the right of way (or play, in this case) over us when training. Respect for everyone is key, especially kids.

  30. Many actors & dancers study Alexander heavily during their training. When I discovered MovNat I noticed many common elements.

  31. This! I go to the playground with my 4 year old and always find stuff to exercise/play with.

  32. My kittens always chase each other around the apartment. They vault onto the couch and back down, run across the living room and into the bedroom and jump onto the bed…..

    So I join them! I chase them, I entice them to chase me 🙂 It’s a great way to play with your pets other than just sitting on your couch with a laser pointer 🙂

    One tip for doing this: remove cushions and blankets from the couch first. They’re slippery!

  33. Your blog certainly is timely. I had decided a couple of days ago that I wanted to start going to the parks here in town to “play” on Fridays. Now, I know what I’m going to be doing there – earlier, I didn’t have a clue. lol Thanks for the suggestions.

  34. I love all this playground stuff, however i would not be keen on crawling under park benches in my town as most of them are frequented by youths spitting and dropping litter all around, not to mention dog pee/poo!

  35. Loved the video. Very interesting……. Still skipping when on a walk. Play on the swings too. Kitty

  36. Nice! I wish my cat would let me. He is way to agile and fast to keep up with. Love to watch him though!

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