#243 Movies That Motivate
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Jim Henson

Top 10 Inspirational Fitness Films

By Steve Edwards

Oh, magical cellulite cure of celluloid!

ClipboardOne of the reasons we go to the movies is their ability to transport us to another time or place. They're like an amusement park ride with costumes. Beyond pure escapism, they also have the power to motivate. Since films compress time, we get to see the effects of great acts without having to do them ourselves. But movies also have the power to transcend their medium and become part of our real world. For better or for worse, they've become the strongest educational and motivational tools we have.

Boxing GlovesEnter the sports film. Since the day we first saw Rocky Balboa running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Hollywood has been trying to upstage him. Prior to this time, a "sports" movie needed social relevance. After watching the Rock go 15 rounds with the champ, and then to the Oscars, they realized this was no longer the case. A sports film needn't be "serious." If it made you leave the theater wanting to cheer, it was a job well done and money in the bank.

This article, though, is about fitness and not sports. So let's focus on films that will make you want to be fit. The Natural is a great sports film but it's unlikely that the subsequent trips to the batting cages are going to change your waistline. These films should make you want to burn calories, sculpt your body, and chug raw eggs for breakfast. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

So without further ado—drumroll, please—here are the top fitness movies of all time.

  • 10.
    • RunnerWithout Limits (1998) The story of American running legend Steve Prefontaine is great on many levels, with plenty of social relevance, but it's also tough to watch without feeling like "going out for an easy 10." A biography and, hence, not a definitive sports film, you can't help but feel Pre's passion to run and, even more, push his body to the brink of its limits.

      Best training moment you might miss: The scene where he tries on some prototype shoes and doesn't come back for hours.

      Quote: "Is there anything worse than coming in second?"

      Other films in genre: There are many films about running or runners. Here are some you may have missed: The Jericho Mile (1979), On the Edge (1985), and Personal Best (1982).


  • 9.
    • basketballHoosiers (1986) This story of a small-town basketball team that overachieves (not wanting to give too much away) is often considered the best sports movie of all time. While it's not a definitive training film, it's hard to watch it and not feel like doing something. It does have the "anything is possible" message going for it. Plus, it's true.

      Best training moment you might miss: Jimmy Chitwood shooting around at sunset, even though he's vowed not to play.

      Quote: "I'll make it."

      Other films in genre: There are a ton of good hoop films. Don't miss Coach Carter (2005), One on One (1977), and Soul in the Hole (1998).


  • 8.
    • surfingBlue Crush (2002) Though marketed as "hot chicks in bikinis" fluff, this is a hardcore sports film. It's formulaic, in a Top Gun—sorta way, but the main character is driven, conflicted, and well played by Kate Bosworth. It also gives a decent account of what it's like trying to follow a dream of living as a surfer in Hawaii.

      Best training moment you might miss: Don't walk in late. The opening scene is worth the price of admission alone.

      Quote: "Train Hard. Go Big." Not actually said, but written on the protagonist's mirror in lipstick.

      Other films in genre: An embarrassing genre from the Hollywood perspective (Gidget, Ride the Wild Surf, Point Break). Big Wednesday (1978) is the lone gem, and it's not really about surfing. Instead, rent the documentaries Riding Giants (2004) and Endless Summer (1966).


  • 7.
    • soccerGoal! (2005) A young Mexican kid living illegally in L.A. is seen by a scout and gets a chance to try out with a Premier League soccer club. Simple plot, with obvious tension-building elements, moving towards huge obstacles to overcome while surmounting incalculable odds—now THIS is a sports movie! It also happens to be well acted, well shot, and the characters are not necessarily stereotypical. An easy film to watch that will assure you that your life could be harder and that you should make the most of it.

      Best training moment you might miss: Like I said, it's an obvious film, but there's a scene where he's practicing on the beach that evokes his passion for soccer, which makes a nice contrast to all the more overt face-down-in-the-muck sort of stuff.

      Quote: "I don't know where home is." "Yeah, ya do. It's green an' it's got a goalpost at each end."

      Other films in genre: Though soccer is the most popular sport in the world, we don't have much to choose from. Notables include Bend It Like Beckham (2002), A Shot at Glory (2000), and Victory (1981).


  • 6.
    • kungfuEnter the Dragon (1973) Before Hollywood figured out sports films, it figured out people would watch movies if the stars were fit. The guy they learned it from was Bruce Lee. This low-budget film out of Hong Kong pretty much changed American film and created a brand-new genre, the martial arts film. Actually, when you think about how commonplace martial arts are, it pretty much changed the world. Anyway, Bruce Lee only made a few films and this, by far, is the best. If it doesn't make you desire greater fitness, nothing will.

      Best training moment you might miss: It's impossible to miss any training moments in this film.

      Quote: "Don't think. Feel. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

      Other films in genre: Oh, about a million. Most unwatchable but virtually all feature a lot of training. Pick your favorite beefcake. Here are three you probably haven't seen: Drunken Master II (1994), Iron Monkey (1993), and Billy Jack (1971). Unfortunately, women don't really have their own role model in the U.S. but Cynthia Rothrock was a big star in Hong Kong for years. Check with Netflix and pick those with the best ratings.


  • 5.
    • Pumping IronPumping Iron (1977) This documentary did two things: it made bodybuilding a mainstream activity and made Arnold Schwarzenegger a star. It's both interesting and motivating to see these guys, who were basically fitness test pilots, devoting their lives to what, at the time, was an esoteric pursuit with little chance of fame or reward.

      Best training moment you might miss: When Arnold walks onto the stage, looking serious, and slowly breaks into a grin. This is a guy at the top of his game.

      Quote: "Remember, if you are training hard, he may be training twice as hard. You just gotta keep coming back stronger."

      Other films in genre: Pumping Iron II: The Women (1985). Not a real popular genre, though I guess you could add any sword-and-sorcerer movie to this list. At least these guys found a way to make money after all that time in the gym.


  • 4.
    • bikingBreaking Away (1979) A film about how a group of working-class kids' lives change when one of them wins a bike and starts to win races. A great film, that's not really about training, but has many outstanding training scenes. Paul Dooley, as Dave's father, nearly steals the show. Not to be missed, training or no training.

      Best training moment you might miss: Riding the rollers and eating an apple in the car wash. Don't try this at home!

      Quote: "I know I-tey food when I hear it! It's all them "eenie"
      foods . . . zucchini . . . and linguini . . . and fettuccine. I want some American food, dammit! I want French fries!"

      Other films in genre: American Flyers (1985). Other than that, we're still waiting for the movie about Major Taylor. Maybe rent some old Tour de France videos or, if completely jonesing for some velo action, try Quicksilver (1986) or Rad (1987).


  • 3.
    • Chariots of Fire (1981) Film about some British runners that won the Oscar for Best Picture. A great film in many ways, but it will inspire even the most sedentary of us to run, "like the wind"

      Best training moment you might miss: Not training, but motivation for training, is when Abrams is sitting in the stands after losing and visualizing the race he'd just lost.

      Quote: "When I run, I feel God's pleasure."

      Other films in genre: See Without Limits.


  • 2.
    • boxingRocky (1976) Yeah, sure, we all make fun of the Rock now. But remember that back before those Roman numerals, Mr. T, Ivan Drago, and when the culminating scene of the movie was a bar fight, Rocky was the quintessential American hero. Now we have The Contender, American Idol, and a bunch of other reality shows that try and create a real-life Rocky. Well, I knew Rocky Balboa. And those shows are no Rocky. Adriaaaaaan!

      Best training moment you might miss: Rocky running up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Just kidding.

      Quote: "He doesn't know it's a damn show! He thinks it's a damn fight!"

      Other films in genre: There are a lot of great boxing movies and all feature a lot of training. However, most of them aren't great endorsements of the sport. Three great boxing films that won't make you want to step into a ring with Apollo Creed anytime soon are Raging Bull (1980), The Harder They Fall (1956), and Fat City (1972).


  • 1.
    • wrestlerVision Quest (1985) Quirky film about a wrestler trying to cut weight so he can challenge a guy nobody else can beat. It had too many offbeat characters to become a mainstream hit, but no movie conveys motivation like Vision Quest. If you think dieting is hard, watching Louden Swain run around Spokane in a rubber suit and not eat while trying to fight off opponents, nosebleeds, and raging teenage hormones is just the "my life doesn't seem so bad" accountability you're looking for. You're on a Vision Quest, man!

      Best training moment you might miss: I doubt you'll miss it but when Louden warms up for his big match then busts through the doors to the cheering audience, it makes me want to train until I pass out. In fact, I think I'll go watch it right now.

      Quote: "It's not about the six minutes. It's what happens in those six minutes."

      Other films in genre: None; probably why it's not more popular.


Steve Edwards'If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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5 Things I've Learned About Food and Fitness at the Movies

By Joe Wilkes

For most of us, movies are a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours when we could be working out. While we're pretty sure doing squats and lunges at your local cineplex will have the ushers showing you to your car, your afternoon matinee isn't a total waste of time. In fact, the movies have taught us a lot of lessons, some good, some bad, and some just plain wrong, but all food for thought. Here are five things I've learned about food and fitness from films.

  1. shakeProtein, good. Raw eggs . . . ? In Rocky, everyone remembers the iconic scene when Rocky cracks a few eggs into a glass and sucks them down before running out of the apartment to get in a few rounds with some hanging sides of beef. Some people see an underdog fighting to the top; I see salmonella, E. coli, and an opportunity to whistle-blow to the USDA. Eggs are a great source of protein, this is true. One large egg only has 71 calories and is packed with 6 grams of protein and no carbs. However, it is also packed with 5 grams of fat, 2 of which are saturated (the bad kind) and 210 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 percent of the government's recommended daily allowance. If you take the yolks out, you lose all the cholesterol, all the fat, and still get 4 grams of protein per egg white. You can even buy them pre-separated, if like Rocky, you're not someone with a lot of time to hang out in the kitchen. But you should take the time to at least microwave your egg whites, as raw eggs are a pretty good delivery system for salmonella. Combine that with the excellent chance of getting E. coli from the raw meat workout, and Rocky's workout routine would have likely been followed by four miserable days on the toilet. Protein, good. Raw eggs, bad. And if you're looking to give your morning smoothie an extra boost, consider using a scoop or two of a quality protein powder instead.

  2. spinachCanned spinach may cause gigantism in your forearms. You're out for a walk with your gangly, toothpick-thin girlfriend, and the next thing you know some guy twice your size is trying to make time with her. What do you do, hot shot, what do you do? If you're Popeye the Sailor, the solution usually involves acts of horrific violence fueled by a megadose of canned spinach. Popeye's rage, by itself, gives him enough strength to open a couple of cans of spinach by merely squeezing them until the tops shoot off; and once he eats the spinach, it's nighty-night time for Bluto. But what if the store was out of canned spinach? Would frozen spinach fuel the fisticuffs as effectively? And what about fresh? There's rarely time during a wharf fight to throw a salad together, but would it even be worth the effort? The good news is all three forms of spinach are highly nutritious. You can get most of your vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as a lot of calcium, iron, and fiber. Canned or frozen spinach also has the benefit of being already cooked, so your chances of getting E. coli, as in recent scares, are remote. The only real downside to canned spinach is some brands add quite a bit of salt, but if you check the labels, there are plenty of low-sodium brands available. And there appears to be no evidence that too much spinach will cause your forearms to become grossly misshapen, so eat up!

  3. Chalene KickingHousehold chores can be martial arts. Who wasn't inspired by Daniel-san in The Karate Kid? After a few weeks of painting Mr. Miyagi's fence, waxing his cars, and staining his decks, he was able to become the citywide karate champion beating much bigger competitors, with years' more experience. Of course, most of us don't have the luck of having the alcoholic janitor of our apartment complex being a secret karate master (although mine showed me how to make the clothes dryer work with half the quarters!), and even if we did, we'd eventually run out of stuff to paint, and that would be the end of our workouts. But the principles of Mr. Miyagi's training are sound, even if the results are far-fetched. By mastering certain moves, you can train and strengthen your muscles, burn fat, and enhance your cardiovascular system. Most of you probably already know how to paint and wax, but check out Chalene Johnson's kickboxing moves in Turbo Jam. You won't have a huge Japanese garden with freshly stained decks when you're done, but you'll be in killer shape! As a side note, is collecting classic cars really a feasible hobby on a janitor's salary? Like much great art, The Karate Kid leaves more questions than answers.

  4. Chin UpsThe secret to getting in shape—incarceration! In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the special effects were jaw-dropping—incredible car chases, a shape-shifting villain made of molten metal—but the awed question on most people's lips leaving the theater was "What the hell happened to Linda Hamilton?" Sarah Connor, the mulleted, hapless screaming meemie from the first Terminator was gone, and a new, ripped, kick-butt heroine had taken her place! And apparently, at least part of the secret to this transformation was being committed to a loony bin. This backs up what we always say at Beachbody—you don't need a gym to stay in shape. Just using a chin-up bar and her body for resistance, Sarah was able to get a pretty good workout in the booby hatch. And as long as we can behave well enough to stay out of restraints and off the thorazine, we can grab a good workout anywhere as well. Or check out the resourceful kidnap victim, played by Bette Midler, in Ruthless People. She was able to turn a hostage situation in a couple's basement into a weight loss opportunity. Both these characters show that there's no excuse for not getting your exercise. You don't need expensive equipment, gym memberships, or even a court-ordered stay in a mental institution to get in shape, although if you want arms like Linda Hamilton, you might check out investing in a good chin-up bar.

  5. chocolateChocolate will just about make you lose your mind. As you can read in last week's article on aphrodisiacs, chocolate does have some potent properties, but it's debatable whether it will make you rip off your clothes and jump on a horse in a fit of passion as in Like Water for Chocolate. And unlike in the movie Chocolat, it's doubtful chocolate can end domestic violence, reunite estranged relatives, and increase tolerance for gypsies in mid-twentieth-century France. Some studies have shown that chocolate can cause the brain to release low levels of dopamine, which can have a mild opiate effect. Other studies have shown that chocolate contains small levels of cannabinoids, chemicals also present in marijuana. But to get the kind of crazy mood swings you see chocolate produce in the movies, you'd have to eat hundreds of pounds a day, and I don't think you'd have Juliette Binoche's figure if you did that. And, for the record, Forrest Gump notwithstanding, I have found that life is rarely, if ever, like a box of chocolates.

Joe WilkesIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Movie Star Body-Transformation IQ!

By Joe Wilkes
  1. pastaWho gained 35 pounds for his Oscar-winning role in Syriana? George Clooney gained the weight to play CIA agent Robert Barnes with a diet rich in pasta. The weight gain ultimately resulted in a spinal injury which forced him to stay in bed for a month.

  2. Which of this year's Best Actor nominees previously packed on the pounds to portray a real-life sports figure? Will Smith gained 35 pounds of muscle to play the 220-pound heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in 2001's Ali, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

  3. appleWho lost 63 pounds, allegedly the most weight ever lost for a part? Christian Bale dropped over a third of his body weight for the The Machinist. He achieved the weight loss by eating only one apple and a can of tuna every day.

  4. Who holds the record for gaining the most weight for a film? For a while, Robert De Niro was the pig-out champ, gaining 60 pounds to portray Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Several years later though, Vincent D'Onofrio topped him, putting on 70 pounds for his role in Full Metal Jacket.

  5. armyhelmetWhich star of a 2006 Best Picture nominee required medical supervision after losing 40 pounds for a role? The Departed star Matt Damon lost 40 pounds for his portrayal of a heroin-addicted soldier in Courage Under Fire, seriously damaging his health and requiring months of medical attention to return to his normal weight.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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