It has become tradition, here on the Bioneer, to post a new Batman workout at the start of each new year. The aim is to tie together many of the concepts I’ve discussed throughout the year with a program that will develop real, functional, cross-modal performance.
Batman is the ideal fictional inspiration for the kind of training I covet: he is the imaginary peak of human performance. He is at once strong, fast, agile, and extremely intelligent.
This year, I wanted to do things a little differently; to approach Batman as though he were a client looking for a functional training program. Rather than writing a general program to build a number of different traits, I’m going to imagine that Batman is a real person, with the specific set of skills he needs to develop and maintain. All with an extremely busy schedule.
This will draw on everything I have researched over the year and attempt to marry physical and cognitive training.
Note: Full program can be found below.
Batman: Action Hero
What’s really interesting to me about Batman, is that he shows how multiple skills and tools are better than just one.
It seems to me, that a lot of people are low-key training to be better fighters. These are not martial arts or competitive boxers, but regular folk who still feel an underlying pressure to be “tough.”
To many people, the reason to lift heavy weights is so that they could use that strength to win a fight. Of course, this is missing the point that technique is more important than raw strength when it comes to punching power.
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More to the point: fighting is not the only expression of strength and fitness. I much prefer Georges Herbert’s notion of being “strong to be useful.”
I get more confidence knowing that if I needed to run away from danger, I could do so quickly and without tiring out. That I could climb over obstacles. Or lift another person over one shoulder and help them get to safety. And then, only if it came to it, I could have a stab at fighting.
These same skills help you to get places quickly, help people move furniture, and focus on work; which is why “Batman training” is something that everyone should concern themselves with.
Batman, and in fact any action hero, really epitomizes this idea. When you see Batman take on a gang of thugs or chase Catwoman across rooftops, what are just as impressive as his fighting prowess, are his parkour, proprioception, stealth, strategy, reflexes, quick decision-making, and cardio.
The Real Challenges You Would Face Becoming Batman
The biggest challenge most people would face when trying to be Batman, would be getting tired out almost instantly. Or getting knocked out from a single punch. Or jumping from a height and twisting an ankle. Or being really cold on top of a building and getting a headache.
This is why lifting heavy weights won’t make you Batman. And focussing on being “tough” is often just an ego-trip.
Specificity in Batman Training
Functional coaches tend to choose exercises based on specificity. These are exercises that either resemble the movement the individual is training for, or that utilize and strengthen specific muscle groups and underlying traits used in those actions. This means the exercises should have “near transfer.”
If you want to get better at chopping wood, it’s no good to perform bench press and squats. Instead, you need something that is similarly ballistic, that is simultaneously a pull and a push, and that incorporates a twisting element (the serape effect). Such exercises will train the body in the transverse plane – meaning they incorporate twisting – and this will build stronger, more explosive serratus muscles.
So, what are the skills and traits that Batman training should address?
- Work capacity – Batman needs to maintain high power output for a long duration. Strength endurance is as important, if not more important than max strength.
- Cardio – Batman runs a lot. While wearing a lot of armour.
- Running, jumping, and climbing – Batman needs parkour skills. I’ll make a video on this very soon, but suffice to say he needs to run fast, jump high, and be able to easily pull his own bodyweight.
- Relative strength – Batman’s strength must be high relative to his weight.
- Throwing (and aim) – Batman needs to train his throwing arm for hurling Batarangs. He also needs precise aim and so likely should train his senses.
- Max strength – Whether lifting a heavy barrel, grappling an opponent, or lifting open a door, Batman definitely needs some max strength. What’s important is that this strength is developed on all planes – rotation is as important, if not more important than strength in the sagittal and frontal planes.
- Hardened bones – To reduce injury.
- Psychomotor vigilance – Batman needs to be sharp and focused even after a long night of chasing bad guys.
- Proprioception, equilibrioception (balance) – Batman needs body awareness when balancing along beams or fighting multiple combatants.
- Explosiveness – As it relates to jumping and throwing punches.
- Neck strength – This may seem oddly specific, but it’s important to reduce concussions and can even aid with visual tracking thanks to the link between the neck and the senses (and the highly dense number of muscle spindles)
- Grip strength – Whether climbing or holding no to an assailant, grip strength is crucial.
- Stability – Batman needs stability in the hips, knees, and core to prevent injury and enhance his grappling and running.
- Rapid decision-making
- Mental toughness (in spades)
See also: Jaw training for an Even Tougher Neck
There are many more traits and skills Batman can benefit from, but which should be considered less-important. These are:
- Mobility – Batman doesn’t need to be able to get his leg behind his head, but a certain amount of mobility will aid in combat, climbing, and injury prevention.
- Ambidexterity – I strongly believe Batman could benefit from being ambidextrous. This introduces more strategic opportunities and is fantastic for proprioception and body awareness.
With all that in mind, let’s select some exercises for Batman:
- Sled push/pull
- Rope climbing
- Medicine ball rotational throw / Sledgehammer
- Medicine ball slam
- Kettlebell swings
- Muscle ups
- Gama cast
- Atlas swings
- Rock climbing
- Tire flipping
- Sandbag snatch
- Band pull/push
- Bodyweight rows
- Military press
- Lizard crawls
- Loaded carries
- Hill sprints
- Pistol squats
- Weighted squat jumps
- High rep:
- Push ups
- Pull ups – These should probably be tactical pull ups as outlined by Pavel Tsatsouline. That means thumb over the bar, which is more similar to how you might climb in through a window or onto a ledge.
- Squats/Hindu squats
- Bench press
- Renegade rows
- Long distance running
- Trail running
- Heavy bag training
- Battle ropes
- Bulgarian bag training
This is by no means comprehensive!
How do we possibly go about programming something like this?
This is a criticism that some people have made of my training style – that it’s impossible to train such a variety of different traits and skills if you have a busy schedule. People accuse me of having no life! Me! The guy talking about Batman on YouTube!
Firstly: no one has a life right now.
Secondly: I still have plenty of time for Doom Eternal. And my family come to think of it. Many weeks I only train three times and I deload around once every 5-6 weeks.
This list of exercises is not that much more than you would expect to train if you were using a bodybuilding bro-split or calisthenics regime.
As for sequencing, the key is to perform heavy and complex movements at the start with lower reps, then move to higher-rep/low-weight exercise, and then eventually finish with cardio and work capacity training. This is a similar structure to a powerbuilding routine.
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This way, you can train every type of twitch muscle fiber, train all energy systems, and avoid injury. We are not doing heavy compound lifts for high reps – ala CrossFit.
Staying away from heavy, dangerous movements – especially when fatigued – is good advice for active Batman Training. Not only do we want to avoid injury (obviously), but we also don’t want to completely fatigue our nervous system and therefore have no energy left for the actual job of fighting crime.
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This is something that a lot of people don’t recognize when writing training programs for specific skills, sports, or tasks. The aim isn’t always to lift as much as possible, or to completely tax the individual. Some people have commented about Bruce Lee’s gym cards that show that he squatted 95lbs for 3×10 reps. They take this as evidence that he was “weak.”
But Bruce Lee was a martial artist first and foremost. It wouldn’t make any sense for him to train to the point of complete failure, and to thus be unable to strike the bag the following day. Moreover, Bruce Lee would use “compensatory acceleration” to increase his rate of force development and neural drive, even with a lighter weight. It’s all about intent, rather than the weight on the bar. This is why bar speed is such a useful measure.
See also: How to Get Stronger – Hulk Training
If anything, this shows that Bruce Lee understood the principles of athletic training well before his time. The same should be true for Bruce Wayne.
Smart Functional Programming
In fact, if I were really writing a training program for Bruce Wayne, I would write it so that he never performed his 1 rep max while he was on active duty. If this were a periodized program, we might include that to get him to a certain level of strength, and then simply aim to keep him there. This is much easier to do and would allow him to continue delivering his best effort when punching Joker.
See also: Bruce Lee’s Functional Approach to Strength Training Was Truly Ahead of His Time
Nor do all these exercises need to be present in every workout; we can mix and match. We might replace pull ups with rope climbing one day for instance, or vice-versa.
Mental Toughness and Psychomotor Vigilance
Performing high rep finishers and resistance cardio work at the end of a workout also allows us to push ourselves and dig deep to find reserves of strength and determination. Batman’s willpower is his real superpower and you can train that just like a muscle. Don’t aim to make training comfortable: aim to make it cold, wet, and grueling.
Moreover, it puts us in a fatigued state and highly physiologically aroused state which is where we can train for more psychomotor vigilance.
Here’s the thing: Batman needs to be able to perform under extreme fatigue and pressure. He needs to stay calm when he’s just been in a 10 minute fight. This is what makes the difference between saving the day and being a useless wreck.
This is something that Pat McNamara talks about a lot. Pat is an ex Spec Ops fitness guy who trains people by getting them to run long distances and then make precise shots with firearms. This kind of training is truly valuable if you want to be a “real” action hero. While Batman doesn’t use guns, the same thing applies to any other task that requires attention and a steady hand.
See also: Think Like Batman: A Training Program For Your Brain
This would be a perfect opportunity, then, to practice ambidexterity or target practice (or both simultaneously). And it’s at this point that our training goes beyond being a tough, cross-modal workout, and turns into something Batman might actually find useful.
And as JC explained to me, losing concentration for even a second during a fight is game-over. And without psychomotor vigilance, you will find that your movements start to become less fast and explosive. There’s a difference between grinding and staying sharp, and some of this comes down to self-management and tactics.
What’s important, is to train the way you need to perform. With the same attention, and the same vigilance. And we need to find ways to test this engagement and measure it as we are training. Training cannot become rote or absent minded if we want to workout like Batman.
Again, this has huge benefit outside of Batman training too. Psychomotor vigilance is a huge gamechanger when it comes to injury prevention and accident evasion. It could certainly prevent a lot of traffic accidents.
Robust Mental Models
Batman is required to operate in an extremely unpredictable and changing environments. He might be running while carrying a bomb one-minute, then dodging lasers while injured the next. Then, while fatigued, he needs a hand and mind steady enough to disarm a bomb.
To be effective, his training needs to reflect that unpredictability.
I’ve talked about this a fair bit this year. To develop skills that are truly transferrable, we can’t always train on flat surfaces with round bars. Better than a pull up, is a pull up on a tree branch. Better than yet another squat, is a squat on a sloped surface. Note that this only becomes true once you have mastered the fundamental movement through repetition. Again, a true Batman workout would need periodization to account for all this.
See also: Coordination for Strength and Power
Think about muscles not only in terms of force production but in terms of “input/output.” That is to say that your muscles provide feedback about the world around you, the forces acting against you, and your current position and must organize themselves around this movement to generate useful force in the moment. You can’t separate force production from the visuomotor landscape without falling on your butt. This is why we need to learn to produce power in unexpected ways if we want to be truly functional.
And this is why something like a sandbag snatch is so useful: because every single repetition is going to be different. Not only because of the unusual shape of the bag, but also because of the shifting center of gravity within the bag. It’s also why trail running is so valuable, and wrestling with a human opponent.
It’s why I always say that tree branch pull ups are so valuable too – because the branch changes in thickness, angle, etc.
What we’re doing is creating robust mental models so that the movement is already rehearsed in countless different variations.
Flows and Hybrid Exercises
I’d also like to take this further by increasing the amount of variation between and within sets. I talked about hybrid movements in the 2020 Batman Training program. A movement like a renegade row is extremely valuable because it involves not only push ups and rows, but also the transition between those two movements. The same goes for something like a push up into Hindu-push-up into burpee.
Training out-of-sequence also helps retention and learning of new skills. This has been shown to be the case for those practicing sports skills such as those necessary for basketball. Here, it is more useful to train a pass, a dribble, and a shot rather than simply practicing shots or passes for a defined chunk of time. This is called “contextual interference” and is in contrast with “chunking” which is how we typically train (by repeating a single movement over and over).
And it makes sense: in the real world, we don’t “chunk” our behaviors. We need to be able to move seamlessly from one to the other.
Training With Combos
Completing a sequence of movements this way also helps to keep us engaged as the mind can’t simply wander. Each movement must be crisp and sharp and there must be no hesitation flowing from one movement to the next.
In an ideal world, you would respond to call-outs and attempt to transition as quickly as possible from one position to the next – improving reaction times in a multisensory, three dimensional space. Remember how important it is to train cognitive faculties like working memory in 3D space. Again: this is multisensory integration. The body is not designed to use each element individually, but rather to navigate through space while processing huge amounts of data.
Think of this like throwing combos against a heavy bag, except that you’re using combos of movements. Again, this can come at the end of a workout, seeing as there won’t be the same focus and heavy repetition necessary to stimulate hypertrophy and strength gains.
The Full “I Am Vengeance Workout”
The result of all this is a training program designed to build real functional power, strength endurance, mental alertness, balance and proprioception, and more.
Note that I am using the “Push, Pull, Legs, Full Body” split that I usually employ to allow us to really tax the target muscles AND still hit every body part twice a week for maximum benefit. We’re going to add one day of steady state cardio on top of this. While we may wish it weren’t true, there are some benefits of LISS we just can’t get any other way.
The full Batman workout for 2021 can be found below. Note that you should also perform a warm up and cool down (not included). This warm up could include a 1 minute “bodyscan meditation” that would be used as a diagnostic check and to improve mind-body awareness. This is not a set-in-stone plan but rather something you should adapt for your own purposes.
A Few More Pointers…
Use maximum effort, speed, and focus on all movements. Movements should be sharp and strong. “RPE” stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion” where 10 is the maximum you are capable of doing and 1 is something you could do all day long. Choose the weight/speed/reps to achieve the desired level of challenge as indicated.
Final note: this is NOT a beginner workout! Check my “Easy Functional Training Workout for Beginners” or “Batman Begins Program” if you are new to training. Ease into this. Listen to your body. Build up to it.
One minute rest times. Except before hand-eye coordination drills. I’m going to be researching these more over the next few months, so I may update these with something more detailed. Check back!
- Military Press 2 x 10 (RPE: 9 – Stop just before technical failure)
- Dumbbell Press 2 x 10 (REP: 9 – Switch immediately to push ups and perform to failure (mechanical dropset))
- Ring dips 2 x Technical Failure (Optionally add weight but remove weight and continue once you reach TF. Technical failure is the point at which your form is compromised.)
- Push Up Sequence: 5 x Push Ups > 2 x Clapping Push Up > 2 x One Hand > 2 x Other Hand > Kick Through > Other Side > Repeat Until Failure – Whole Sequence x 2 – switch these up over time!
- Offset Med Ball Push Ups to Burpee to Slam (Alternating sides) – 2 x 1 Minute
- Push Ups (Complete 200 keeping rest time to an absolute minimum)
- Heavy bag HIIT (Tabata – 20 seconds on, 10 seconds rest, 8 rounds)
- Juggling or ball handling 2 minutes (hand-eye coordination drill)
- Battle ropes (3 x 1 Minute with 30 second rest)
- Band / Cable Press / Punch Out 2 x 10
- Muscle Ups 2 x Technical failure (follow immediately with chin ups to failure)
- Bent rows 2 x 10 (RPE: 8 )
- Dumbbell rows 2 x 10 (RPE: 8)
- Rope climbs 2 x Technical Failure
- Gamma cast / Kettlebell halos x 50 (RPE: 9)
- Atlas swings x 50 (RPE: 9)
- Tactical pull ups (Complete 50 keeping rest time to an absolute minimum. Hand-eye drills during rest time. Optionally add weight.)
- Bodyweight row 2 x Failure (This should be a high number of reps – 20-50)
- Band/Cable Row 2 x 20
- Bulgarian Bag Freestyle 2 x 1 minute (Should include swing, halos, snatch RPE: 8)
- Juggling or ball handling 2 minutes (hand-eye coordination drills)
- If possible: 10 minutes free-stye building / 10 minutes swimming
- Pistol Squats 2 x Technical Failure on each side
- 2 x Weighted squat jumps (RPE: 8 – make sure you are absorbing impact, no valgus knees, add weight slowly)
- Rucking / Loaded Carry (1 mile, choose a weight for RPE: 9 – almost the most you can do)
- Hill Sprints / High Knees (Tabata)
- Agility ladder (no rest before this one)
- Kettlebell side squat
- 100 Squats (Minimum time, minimum rest)
- 100 Hindu Squats (Minimum time, minimum rest – we’re aiming for one set on these guys!)
- Overhead Weighted Lunge Walks 2 x 1 Minute (RPE: 8 Do not continue if you lose form, switch to no weight to maintain safety)
- Sequence: Sandbag Clean > Squat > Overhead Press > Lunge Either Side – Repeat sequence to technical failure
- Keepy ups 1 Minute
- Ab roll outs 3 x Technical Failure
- Med Ball Leg Raises 3 x Ab Roll Outs (Followed immediately by leg raises without med balls)
- 3 x V-Ups
LISS Day (Optional but recommended)
- 5-10KM run (listen to your body – steady pace for recovery and resting heart ratae)
Full Body Power Day
(Use no weight on bar for warm up sets before working sets.)
- Deadlift 3 x 4 80%1RM (80% of one rep maximum performed explosively)
- Bench Press 3 x 4 80%1RM
- Squat 3 x 4 80%1RM