With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in July 2016.
As a boy I followed the Dallas Cowboys, and one of the players I really admired was Herschel Walker. He was a beast, but the guy could move like nothing else.
A few years ago I read somewhere that Walker’s legendary, granite-like physique was built not by lifting weights but through bodyweight exercises — lots of them. On the order of 2,000-3,000 push-ups and sit-ups every day.
Talk about an intriguing regimen! I wanted to learn more about it. How and why did Walker develop this program for himself? What underlay his fitness philosophy? Were sit-ups and push-ups all he did, and if not, what other kinds of exercises did he do?
I searched online, and while I couldn’t find more details, I discovered that Walker was an even more impressive athlete than I had imagined and a true fitness renaissance man: he had excelled in both track and football in college, earned a 5th degree black belt in taekwondo, competed as an Olympic bobsledder, and even danced with the Fort Worth Ballet. Oh, and he’s continued his insane bodyweight workout into his 50s, in addition to training for MMA.
Now I really wanted to know the full nature and motivation behind Walker’s unorthodox training program. I was able to finally discover it by getting my hands on a copy of Basic Training, an out-of-print book he wrote in the 80s along with Dr. Terry Todd, an Olympic weightlifter and conditioning expert. The book remains so sought-after that thirty years after its publication, used copies continue to command a crazy premium.
Below you’ll find the background on how Walker developed the unorthodox bodyweight training program he’s been doing for over forty years, as well as details as to what it consists of. The Walker Workout is definitely not for everyone, but its exercise components are in many ways the least interesting thing about it. Walker’s story and overall fitness philosophy — one that eschews excuses and convention, and prizes autonomy, improvisation, experimentation, and consistency — offer interest and inspiration for all.
The Origins of Herschel Walker’s Bodyweight Workout
Walker grew up on a farm in rural Johnson County, Georgia along with six siblings. While his family didn’t have a lot of money, they got by, and his household was filled with plenty of love and support.
As a boy, Herschel had a speech impediment, was short and chubby, and didn’t seem destined for athletic greatness. In running races with siblings and playing games with friends, he was slow and uncoordinated, struggled to keep up, and felt lacking in the confidence and endurance to really push himself. In elementary school, he was bullied and beat up by his classmates, and thus often chose to stay inside during recess rather than going out to play.
After finishing the sixth grade, Walker decided he wanted to turn things around for himself. He approached a track coach who had mentored his older brothers and told him he “wanted to get bigger and stronger and faster and be better at sports.” As Walker remembers, the coach responded that “it was simple but I had to work hard at it. He said to do push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints. That’s all he said. But it was enough.”
Herschel went home and got started on his new bodyweight program straightaway; his parents had always taught him that “you can’t make excuses in life, you’ve got to get it done,” and he thus made do with what was available:
There weren’t any weights then at school, of course, and we sure didn’t have any out in the country, but I used what I had, and that was the living room floor and the dirt road that ran from the highway out front up the hill to our house. I did my push-ups and my sit-ups on the floor most of the time, and I did all my sprints up that hill out front.
Herschel’s commitment to his workouts was religious — he never missed a day. He would crank out his push-ups and sit-ups during TV commercial breaks at night, and did his