Fitness Lessons from The Notebook

The Notebook is one of my favorite movies.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I love The Notebook.  As I was working on one of two final projects/essays that I have due this week, I decided to turn on the TV for some background noise, and it turns out The Notebook was just about to start.  Why yes, I’ll watch it. I’ll admit, I think Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are one of the best looking screen couples in history.  Rachel McAdams is absolutely gorgeous, and Ryan Gosling is at the top of my mancrushometer.  When I changed my hairstyle at the beginning of the semester, someone even asked, “Harold, are you trying to look like Ryan Gosling?”

Gosling’s character definitely has game in The Notebook.  He fought in World War II, quoted Whitman, built a house by himself, and romanced Allie not once but twice.  Basically, he’s a stud.  While we’re used to thinking about the overdramatic adolescent romance of The Notebook, we’re tend to forget that it provides some great tips about strength training and exercise.

Really, it does.  In fact, I compiled a list of Fitness Lessons from The Notebook while watching it last night, and I’d like to share them with you:

Confidence is the first thing that Noah demonstrates.  At first it seems that he has no chance with Allie, and she shoots him down.  He’s confident though, and he goes after what he wants.  There’s a quote that says “If you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.”  We’ll get to exactly what Noah does in a second, but when it applies to the gym, you need to be confident.  My first thought is about going for personal records; visualize that you’re going to complete the rep, and believe that you’re going to complete the rep.  You’re not going to get stronger walking up to a bar and telling yourself, “Oh crap, that looks really heavy, I hope I can do this!”  Be confident , determined, and maybe just 5% I-can-do-anything-in-the-world.

The first demonstration of smart fitness from Noah comes from his Ferris Wheel stunt.  After Allie shoots him down for a date, he jumps into her ferris wheel cart and proceeds to climb onto the support structure.  He says that he’ll let go, and even hangs from one hand to taunt her.  Of course, she agrees, or we’d have a really short movie.

Grip strength is far more important than we normally think about; it affects practically every major exercise we use.  How often have you missed reps with deadlifts, rows, chin-ups, barbell and dumbbell presses?  Unless you’re only doing push-ups and Zercher squats, you’re going to run into grip issues.  We’re quick to use wrist straps, but these just cover up a weakness.  Instead, work to overcome your grip strength deficit.  Noah’s one-handed hangs might not be the best example, so instead focus on a strong grip during each of your exercises, and then add in some targeted grip work.  Any time you’re holding a bar, you should focus on crushing it.  This will not only increase your grip strength, but it’ll trigger stabilizer muscles in your shoulder to keep everything nice and tight, increasing stability and possibly reducing your risk of injury.  The crushing grip might need some work on it’s own, and I’m a huge fan of performing exercises with modifications that tax your grip.  Here are a few of the ones that I like:

  • Angled barbel rows (Meadows Row) and presses (Grappler Press) from outside the sleeve, or the ‘fat’ part of the barbell.
  • Towell Rows/Pull-Ups
  • Fat Gripz on barbells and dumbbells
  • 2″ Cable Handle for Rows and Palloff Presses
  • Double overhead deadlifts
  • False grip for pull-up and row variations

In that list above, you’ll see multiple references to rows, and there is plenty of rowing going on in The Notebook.  Later on in the movie, we’ll see Noah and Allie in the rowboat, gliding between the swans.  He’s using smooth bilateral rows, and working in a higher rep range that we could probably consider that he’s using it more for a cardiovascular benefit than an aerobic one.  If you have access to a row boat, or a rower like the Concept 2, I’m a little jealous.  Just like the Airdyne, they can make for great anaerobic/aerobic training.  They just don’t look this cool:

Don’t worry, Noah doesn’t just use rowing for cardio, he also demonstrates some impressive single arm unsupported bent over rows.  This is a great exercise that develops full body stability through the hips, trunk, and shoulder musculature, and can develop impressive strength through out the pulling musculature: lats, upper back, shoulder, biceps, and forearm/wrist.  If you don’t think the single-arm row can develop some insane strength, here are links to Matt Kroczaleski performing single arm “Kroc” dumbbell rows with 175lbs x 33 reps, 225lbs x 25 reps, and 300lbs for 13 reps.  Sure, Kroc’s got freaky levels of strength, but if you can develop levels of strength endurance like he has, you’ll find that exercises such as the single arm rotational row with hip flexion, aka dipping your dancing partner, are much easier.

Kroc’s heavy rows help hip with his deadlift lockout, and they’re definitely badass; I’m sure he never intended them to be used as functional training for dancing.  Just go with the theme of this post, come on guys!

When Noah and Allie aren’t developing strength through full body movements like the one above, they’re developing aerobic capacity and endurance through the shoulder musculature.  Can you think of any activites that require both shoulders to move through a full range of motion, can be used for anaerobic or aerobic conditioning, and is inherently fun to do?  I’m talking about swimming here!  I’ve been doing some swimming of my own recently, after years away from the pool, and I forgot how much fun it can be.  I don’t normally talk about selecting aerobic exercises, but when I think about them, I think options with lower impact forces can help those who don’t have the strength levels to deal with the constant impact from jogging. (That’s probably 90% of the people that casually run.)  Swimming can be a great option if you have the shoulder mobility for it, and you’ll likely leave the pool with a smile in your face.  In fact, I think I just talked myself into going for a swim later.

While swimming is great for low-impact anaerobic and aerobic conditioning, the transfer of power between the hips and shoulders during swimming strokes might not necessarily carry over to your bipedal activities.  Don’t worry though, Noah takes care of that as well.

When he’s building the house he promised Allie, he’s lugging around all sorts of heavy supplies; that’s physical activity through daily living that goes a lot further than most training you can do in the gym.  If you’re encountering heavy items in your daily living, why not train with heavier objects that make daily living even easier?!  Great, then we’ll agree that Noah was a big proponent of loaded carries!  Maybe the character didn’t get to read about training, but you do, so take advantage of it.  In a T-Nation article from January of this year, Dan John discussed The Secret of Loaded Carries.  Loaded carries are great to develop strength from head to toe, can be used for conditioning purposes, and can develop a strong set of abs.  Between those three, they take care of pretty much every training goal that people have, so you have very few reasons to not do them.  I myself am a fan of the farmers walk and waiters walk, and their by-product, the cross body carry.  Again, read about The Secret of Loaded Carries to learn about those exercises. In the picture below, you’ll see Noah demonstrating a Zercher Bear Hug carry:

Noah had a training intuition that was ahead of it’s time.  Grip work, rows galore, a balance of strength training and anaerobic/aerobic conditioning, loaded carries?  Sounds like my kind of training.  Clearly, none of those were intended points to be made during the movie, but I took some liberties with what I saw.  Each of the exercises detailed above are ones that would greatly enhance your own training, and you should consider different ways to incorporate them into your own training.

As for me, I’ll be running to the gym to train (me) before I train (them), and I’ll be using some heavy chin-ups, fat-grip inverted rows, push-presses, cross-body carries, and a few other exercises.  If someone confuses me with Ryan Gosling, I’ll be set.

5 Replies to “Fitness Lessons from The Notebook”

  1. Haha I loooove this! My husband and I actually watched the Notebook on DVD on Saturday night for the first time in a couple of years. It’s one of my favourites and I cried for the entire last hour of the film knowing what was going to happen. But I have to admit I did not think of Noah’s strength at all 😉

    1. Thank you, Tara! It’s a great movie, but I just had to use it as an exercise demonstration. I may have bastardized the Kroc row, but wouldn’t more women like if their man could dip them like a pro?!

      As for the crying…I think that effect wore off after the first few times!

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