Herschel Walker’s Fitness & Workout Routine

Herschel Walker is a legend. Despite his age, he still has the speed and reflexes of an NFL player from decades ago with no signs of slowing down. Herschel’s fitness regimen may be used as a training model for upcoming generations athletes to emulate.

Herschel Walker’s Fitness & Workout Routine is a workout routine that was created by the former NFL player Herschel Walker. The training routine includes exercises for all body parts and workouts to help with weight loss.

We’ve chosen to reprint a vintage essay each Sunday to assist our younger readers discover some of the greatest, evergreen jewels from the past, with our archives currently totaling over 3,500 items. The original version of this story was published in July of 2016.

I used to watch the Dallas Cowboys as a kid, and Herschel Walker was one of my favorite players. He was a monster, yet he could move like no other.

I heard somewhere a few years ago that Walker’s famous, granite-like physique was achieved via bodyweight workouts – a lot of them. Every day, do about 2,000-3,000 push-ups and sit-ups.

What a fascinating regimen this is! I was interested in learning more about it. Walker created this software for himself, but how and why did he do so? What was the foundation of his fitness philosophy? Is it true that he just performed sit-ups and push-ups, and if not, what additional activities did he do?

While I couldn’t find any additional information online, I discovered that Walker was an even more impressive athlete and a true fitness renaissance man, having 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 still doing his incredible bodyweight routine and training for MMA in his 50s.

Now I was genuinely curious about the nature and rationale behind Walker’s unusual training regimen. I eventually discovered it after obtaining a copy of Basic Training, an out-of-print book he co-authored with Dr. Terry Todd, an Olympic weightlifter and conditioning specialist, in the 1980s. The book is still in such high demand thirty years after it was first published that secondhand copies fetch exorbitant prices.

The backstory on how Walker established the unconventional bodyweight training regimen he’s been performing for over forty years, as well as specifics on what it entails, may be found below. The Walker Workout isn’t for everyone, but the fitness aspects are, in many ways, the least intriguing aspect of it. Walker’s biography and broader fitness philosophy — one that values liberty, improvisation, experimentation, and consistency above excuses and tradition — are fascinating and inspiring to everyone.

Herschel Walker’s Bodyweight Workout Has a Long History

Walker and his six siblings grew raised on a farm in rural Johnson County, Georgia. While his family didn’t have much money, they managed to get by, and his home was full of love and support.

Herschel had a speech problem as a child, was small and overweight, and didn’t seem to be destined for physical glory. He was sluggish and clumsy in races with siblings and games with friends, struggled to keep up, and lacked the confidence and stamina to truly push himself. He was ridiculed and beaten up by his peers in elementary school, so he preferred to remain home at recess rather than go outside to play.

 

Walker determined after graduating sixth grade that he wanted to make a difference in his life. He went to a track coach who had previously coached his elder siblings and informed him he “wanted to grow larger, stronger, quicker, and better at sports.” “It was easy, but I had to work hard at it,” Walker recalls the instructor saying. Push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints, he advised. He didn’t say anything else. But that was sufficient.”

Herschel returned home and immediately began his new bodyweight regimen; his parents had always told him that “you can’t make excuses in life; you have to get it done,” so he made do with what he had:

Of course, there were no weights at school, and we certainly didn’t have any out in the country, so I made do with what I had, which was the living room floor and the dirt road that led from the highway in front of our house up the hill to our home. I completed most of my push-ups and sit-ups on the floor, and I ran all of my sprints up the slope in front of me.

Herschel was obsessive about his training, and he never skipped a day. He’d do push-ups and sit-ups during commercial breaks on TV at night, then sprints on the hills and fields around his house — even in the summer, when the Georgia heat was scorching. When his father had just plowed the area, the consistency of the earth became like thick sand, which presented an additional obstacle to running. In order to improve his agility and response time, he’d also pursue and gallop behind the family’s horse and bull, changing directions as the animals did. He added chin-ups and pull-ups to his regimen since there was a chin-up bar out back.

Walker’s regimen included flawless pushups, chin-ups, sit-ups, and sprints, but these were far from the only exercises he completed. Herschel did squats and dips with his bodyweight, lifted hay and did other agricultural tasks, battled with his siblings, learned taekwondo, played tennis with pals, and even rehearsed for and competed in dance contests with his sister. Later, he argued that his wide range of activities contributed significantly to his athletic achievement (a theory supported by subsequent research):

I believe I progressed as well as I did because I participated in so many various activities — so many different types of exercise. I can’t prove it, but I believe that when someone tells a young athlete to specialize and focus on just one sport, they are giving horrible advise. Contrary to popular belief, I think the contrary is true. Range is better, in my opinion…any kind of movement may teach you about a variety of other types of movement. That is why I participate in so many activities and feel that all young people should participate in as many sports and forms of exercise as possible.

 

Walker did not participate in his first structured sport, basketball, until he was in seventh school. In eighth school, he began participating in track and field, but it wasn’t until ninth grade that he began playing football. Throughout high school, he continued to participate in all three sports while also doing his own daily bodyweight routine.

(It’s worth noting that, while Walker was dedicated to athletics, he was also committed to academic success, setting aside at least two hours each night to complete his homework; as a result of his efforts, he graduated as valedictorian and president of his high school’s honor society, an achievement he says “I was as happy about as the good things that happened to me on the football field.”

Walker filled out, became quicker, and increased his athletic ability by putting in 110 percent effort every day; it wasn’t long until he was excelling in all three sports and defeating the youngsters who had previously overtaken him:

What a great feeling it was, too, to know that all of my hard work had paid off, and that, even if I wasn’t very excellent to begin with, I could improve. I recall a group of youngsters in my childhood who have much more skill than I did, but who never trained or tried very hard. I’m not saying they didn’t try in games, but in a real game, practically everyone would give it their all. It doesn’t matter how hard you try before the game, particularly if no one is watching. That is what matters. The game will take care of itself if you can stay focused and practice hard before the game.

Walker was a great athlete in high school, with a wide range of skills. In track and field, he earned state titles in the shot throw, 100- and 220-yard dashes, and led the winning 4X400 relay team. In football, his senior year, he carried for 3,167 yards and led the team to its first state title.

Herschel Walker georgia football track athlete.

He maintained his dual success at the University of Georgia, where he was an All-American in both track and football as a freshman, helped the Bulldogs win the Sugar Bowl as a sophomore, and won the Heisman Trophy as a junior.

Walker played professional football for sixteen years, the first three of which he spent with the now-defunct United States Football League. While playing seven different positions in the NFL, he built up huge running yards (18,168 all-purpose yards, eighth all-time). When those yards are added to the ones he gained while playing in the USFL, he’ll be #1 on the NFL’s lifetime running chart.

Walker participated in the 1992 Olympics despite still playing professional baseball, finishing seventh in the two-man bobsled competition.

In recent years, he’s dabbled in mixed martial arts (MMA), winning both of his contests by TKO. Walker believes that his MMA training has put him in better form at 50 than when he was in his early 20s playing football.

And he’s kept up with the bodyweight training he started in junior high and has continued to perform till now. He didn’t begin lifting weights until he was three years into his pro football career. He didn’t have anything against it, but he’d watched his strength and speed rise year after year since high school, and assumed he’d only quit lifting after those gains stopped. He returned to a bodyweight-only regimen when his football days were finished, believing that it preserves the joints and improves fitness longevity.

 

So, what was it about Walker’s regimen that enabled him to become a successful high school athlete, one of the greatest college football players of all time, and a leading rusher in the NFL, all while staying injury-free and maintaining his fitness well into his 50s?

Let’s have a look at what we’ve got.

The Walker Workout’s Philosophy and Elements

Walker didn’t do weights in college, but when the team completed a bench press test, he heaved an incredible 375 pounds (the highest anybody had lifted on the BP at Georgia up until that time, according to his coach) and did 222 pounds (his body weight) for 24 repetitions. Walker has long denied being born with great skill, claiming that all of his accomplishments were the result of hard effort and a one-of-a-kind routine, but he most certainly does have a superb set of genes. Nonetheless, he put forth a lot of effort to realize that promise, implementing a program that included the following features and philosophy:

Reps are massive. Walker did hundreds of push-ups and sit-ups practically every day from middle school through middle age. The use of such a large number of repetitions to increase strength isn’t usually encouraged since your body adapts to the activity, but Walker discovered a technique to maintain improving his fitness by injecting his exercises with a lot of:

Variety. Walker has participated in a variety of physical sports and workouts throughout his life, from martial arts to dancing, and he continues to do so. “I was doing CrossFit before they gave it a name,” he told nfl.com.

He was also always on the lookout for new versions of particular workouts to do in order to keep things interesting:

I was constantly trying to come up with new methods to run or perform push-ups or sit-ups to keep my curiosity piqued and to force my body to work in new ways so it could get stronger from all angles.

Walker, a fitness renaissance man, would often make up his own versions because he enjoyed to:

Experiment. Walker was never one to follow common wisdom; instead, he preferred to conduct his own trials to determine which workouts worked best for him:

I generally try something new and then give it a thorough examination to see how it feels. If it feels good to me — if I believe it’s truly challenging me — I’ll include it into all of my other workouts. But if it doesn’t seem to be working the way I want it to, I’ll just abandon it. I only perform workouts that feel good for me when I do things this way. Everyone should attempt a variety of workouts. Just keep trying new things.

As a consequence, Walker was free to devise his own routines and programs, just going at it until his muscles burned, and evaluating their usefulness based on how he felt and the results he achieved.

Walker doesn’t care if individuals who follow tight, regular routines believe his practice is insane and unproductive. He still follows unconventional habits, such as sleeping for only five hours a night, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to do hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups, eating only once a day (and sometimes fasting for several days), and consuming a diet consisting primarily of soup, bread, and salad without worrying about his macronutrients; he figures that if the “farm strong” men he grew up with didn’t think about how many grams of protein they were He merely goes out on his own, treating himself like a n=1 experiment, and letting the findings speak for themselves.

 

It’s no surprise that he’s stayed so driven throughout his life, given his amount of liberty. “I strive to make all of my exercises entertaining,” Walker said. I like experimenting with various activities, and I believe that doing so keeps you fresh and psychologically prepared.”

Consistency. Walker is a freethinker when it comes to fitness, but his dedication to it is almost fanatical. He believes in exercising every day and hasn’t missed a single session since he began his bodyweight program as a teenager. Consistency, according to Walker, is like putting money into your body and mind:

I did a lot of the things I did because I enjoyed them or because I felt they would help me improve in the areas where I thought I had potential. Basketball was fantastic since I enjoyed it and knew it would help me physically prepare for football. Everything else I did — my workouts and everything else — I did because I knew it was healthy for me. And I always felt good after a hard workout because I knew I’d accomplished what I needed to do to better my physique. I used to assume that training was similar to depositing money at a bank. I’m not saying this because I’m now paid to run with the football. I say that because I had — and still get — a good sensation from completing my workouts. It makes me feel good about myself, similar to how you feel when you save a little money each week and see it grow.

The Walker’s Workout Exercises

Here’s how Walker put these pieces together to create his own training program, as well as a deeper look at the workouts he’s been doing for four decades:

Herschel Walker push up variations working out.

Basic Training includes several of Walker’s push-up modifications. Check out our “Prisoner’s Workout” page for many more push-up variants (as well as variations for other bodyweight exercises).

Push-ups. Walker couldn’t perform any push-ups as an overweight teenager at first. He gradually increased his number of reps to 25 by performing as many as he could in a stretch, resting for 10-15 seconds, and then repeating until he reached that amount. Using the same method, he progressed to 50, then 100 push-ups every night. As a young guy, he gradually upped his repetitions until he was performing 2,000 each day. He used to do 300 reps in college, but that was on top of his track and football training. He now claims to perform 3,500 push-ups per day (albeit he limits himself to “only” 1,500 while preparing for MMA).

Walker began by performing regular push-ups with his hands shoulder-width apart, but as he progressed through high school, he began to include new variants, such as completing them with his feet raised on a chair, with hands clasped under the chest, one-handed push-ups, and handstand push-ups. He’d mix these tougher versions in with the usual ones, attempting to improve the ratio of harder to easy variations while also boosting his total rep count.

 

Walker’s push-up practice consisted of starting with a regular push-up and barely going halfway to the floor – he enjoyed how this worked his triceps, made him sweat, and enhanced his endurance. He’d do 150 of them, taking brief pauses when he became fatigued. Then he’d perform 10-20 repetitions of the tougher varieties, then switch to the halfway-down variety, then return to the hard ones, and conclude with conventional push-ups done slowly. Then he’d finish the push-up round of his exercise with handstand push-ups, which he’d complete in sets of ten with brief pauses in between, until he reached his total rep objective. Walker also threw in two sets of 25 normal push-ups after getting married, which he did with his wife on his back.

Sit-ups. Walker struggled to accomplish 10 sit-ups at first, just as he struggled with push-ups. He’d perform sets of 10 repetitions with brief pauses between them until he hit 50 total reps once he could do that many consistently. Then he completed 10-20 rep sets to get to 100 repetitions. He then completed 50 repetitions at a time for 6 sets, for a total of 300 reps. He eventually got to 3,000, which is approximately the same as he does now.

In the same way that he performed push-ups, he did a variety of sit-ups: straight-legged, bent-legged, side crunches, leg lifts, legs on chair, twists, and so on.

Walker also strengthened his core by practicing basketball every day he wasn’t playing football, focusing on and performing many turnaround jumpers and layups, as well as adding additional twist to his shoots.

Herschel Walker doing pullups.

Pull-ups from behind the head.

Pull-ups/Chin-ups. Walker used to do 1,500 pull-ups a day as a kid, alternating between palms facing away and palms facing in, and pulling up until the bar touched behind his head. When those proved too easy, he’d wear a weighted belt around his waist and perform one-armed pull-ups, in which one hand holds the bar while the other grasps the wrist of the hand doing the holding.

Running. “The most crucial talent most athletes can have,” Walker argues, “is running or sprinting.” His own running consisted mostly of sprints – fast sprints. Walker’s powerful body is quite astounding; he claims to still be able to sprint a 4.35 40-yard dash despite being 6’1″ and 225 pounds.

Walker used to like running up and trotting down hills as a kid because of the resistance and challenge the slope provided. Wearing a weight vest, sprinting with tiny dumbbells in each hand, or dragging a tire packed with 25-50 pound weights (dumbbells or shoots) attached behind him with a 15-foot cable connected to a leather weightlifting belt were all ways he added resistance to his sprints.

Herschel walker age 50 mma wearing gloves.

Around the age of 50, Walker began participating in mixed martial arts.

Taekwondo/MMA. Walker began taekwondo as a young man, spending up to an hour a day in college on his katas (forms), and is now a 5th degree black belt in the martial art. He was first lured to taekwondo as a method to learn to defend himself after being bullied as a child, but he soon discovered that it was a wonderful complement to all of his other athletic activities. Walker learned discipline, balance, coordination, body control and awareness, timing, flexibility, agility, and how to smash through anything and “explode on someone” via taekwondo. He credits it with keeping him flexible throughout his football career, and he continues to practice in martial arts via MMA.

 

Herschel Walker in water pool doing exercises.

Walker’s “power clap” is seen above. Walker fired straight punches underwater, swapping sides, as rapidly as he could in this “alternate striking” practice.

Water work/swimming Walker grew up without a pool, but after college, he became a firm believer in the health advantages of swimming. He didn’t use standard strokes, instead inventing his own, like as underwater “power claps” and a modified breaststroke in which he drove his torso upwards and out of the water every time he moved his arms back. He also used water to practice his taekwondo kicks and punches.

The purpose of these pool workouts was never speed, but rather maximal resistance. “Just go in the water and play about with a stroke or an exercise until you figure out the best method to execute it and the best way to hold your hands in the water to get the greatest drag.”

Other Activities

  • Monkey bars – he’d go back and forth on a “exercise ladder,” experimenting with going fast and slow, swinging his body around a lot and attempting to keep it as still as possible (here are some more methods to be active using playground equipment).
  • Thrusts from a squat
  • Climbing a rope
  • Stretching
  • Leaping drills/plyometrics – side-to-side and back-and-forth jumping over a box to enhance agility (here’s how to make your own plyo box)
  • Rope jumping
  • Up to 1,000 dips every day
  • Up to 1,000 squats every day
  • Up to 1,000 lunges every day

While the Walker Workout isn’t for everyone, there’s a lot to learn from Herschel’s overall fitness approach. I hope it has inspired you to throw down your excuses, try new things, and become a fitness renaissance man by being more adaptable, independent, consistent, and inventive.

 

 

Herschel Walker is a former professional football player who retired in 1997. He has been working out and doing fitness since then, and has created a workout routine for people to follow. Reference: herschel walker sleep.

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