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The Top 10 Inspirational Fitness Films

By Steve Edwards

Oh, the magical cellulite cure of celluloid!

Man and Woman in Swimwear, Man Lifting Weight, and Man Flexing

One 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 one of the strongest educational and motivational tools we have.

Enter 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 the release of Rocky in 1976, a sports-related movie was expected to be socially relevant. After the Rock went 15 rounds with the champ, then to the Oscars, it became apparent that this was no longer the case. A sports film no longer needed to 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, not sports. So let's focus on films that’ll make you want to be fit. The Natural is a great sports film, but it's unlikely that any trips you make to the batting cages after seeing it are going to change your waistline significantly. 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 our top fitness movies of all time.

  1. RunnersWithout 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, but you can't help feeling Pre's passion to run, and even more, to push his body to the brink of its limits.

    Best training moment you might miss: The scene where he tries on some prototype shoes, goes for a run, 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).

  2. Basketball PlayerHoosiers (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 Heart of the Game (2005), Coach Carter (2005), One on One (1977), and Soul in the Hole (1998).

  3. Female SurferBlue 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 the 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 a lone gem, and it's not really about surfing. Instead, rent the documentaries Riding Giants (2004) and Endless Summer (1966).

  4. Soccer PlayerGoal! (2005). A young Mexican kid living illegally in L.A. 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. (Two sequels were made—Goal! II and Goal! III—but unfortunately they get progressively less inspiring.)

    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).

  5. Man TrainingEnter the Dragon (1973). Before Hollywood figured out sports films, it figured out that 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 now, it pretty much changed the world. Anyway, Bruce Lee only made a few films, and this is by far 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 of them are 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, there's never been a female counterpart to Bruce Lee in the U.S., but Cynthia Rothrock was a big star in Hong Kong for years. Check with Netflix® and pick the films with the best ratings.

  6. Man Working OutPumping Iron (1977). This documentary did two things: It made bodybuilding a mainstream activity, and it 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-sorcery movie to this list. At least these guys found a way to make money after all that time in the gym.

  7. CyclistBreaking Away (1979). A film about 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, steals the show. Not to be missed, training or no training.

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

    Quote: "I know eye-tie 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 you're completely jonesing for some velo action, try Quicksilver (1986) or Rad (1987).

  8. Female RunnerChariots of Fire (1981). Film about some British runners; it 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's just lost.

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

    Other films in genre: See Without Limits (1998).

  9. Man Taking a PunchRocky (1976). Yeah, sure, we all make fun of the Rock now. But it's important to remember that back before those Roman numerals, Mr. T, and Ivan Drago came along (and before the climactic scene of one movie was a bar fight), Rocky was the quintessential American hero. A few years back, it spawned The Contender, an American Idol-like reality show that tried to create a real-life Rocky. Well, I knew Rocky Balboa. And that show was 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, all of which 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), Fat City (1972), and The Fighter (2010).

  10. Man SweatingVision Quest (1985). A 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 other movie conveys motivation like Vision Quest. If you think losing weight is hard, watching Louden Swain not eat and run around Spokane in a rubber suit in between 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 6 minutes. It's what happens in those 6 minutes."

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

Related Articles
"20 Secrets of Very Fit People"
"5 Ways to Break through Dreaded Weight Loss Plateaus"
"Fighting the Obesity Trend"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, November 14th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in The Beachbody Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive The Beachbody Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe.

And if you'd like to know more about Beachbody Director of Results Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

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7 Tips for Portion Control

By Joe Wilkes

Pizza and Salad, Weights, Apple, and Measuring Tape, and Cereal

An interesting 2009 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine took a look at cookbook recipes over the last several decades (with an emphasis on recipes in The Joy of Cooking). It found that calorie counts per serving have gone up dramatically as authors have increased portion sizes to conform to new cultural norms. Where the 1936 edition of the kitchen classic averaged 268 calories per serving, the most recent edition in 2006 averaged 384 calories. The study theorized that lower costs of food and larger plate sizes are part of the reason for the increase, but nutritionist Marion Nestle says that mainly it's just a reflection of people becoming accustomed to eating more and more per meal. What can we do to monitor and control portion sizes? Here are some ideas:

  1. Chicken and BroccoliDownsize your plate. One issue the study pointed out is that the average plate size has grown over the years, and the amount of food served on those plates has kept pace with that increase. Instead of breaking out the big dinner plate, try eating your dinner off a salad or dessert plate. The smaller plate will make the amount of food look larger by proportion, a visual cue that will trick your brain into thinking you're eating more. Plus you can trade in your big dinner fork for a more petite salad fork, which will also help to slow down any shoveling behavior you might be tempted to engage in at the dinner table.
  2. Divide and conquer. When you're cooking more than one serving of something, immediately store the prospective leftovers in single-serving containers. By putting out the entire dish, you run the risk of not having any leftovers at the end of the meal. Depending on what the meal is, I divide my food onto two plates—one for that meal and one for lunch the next day. And as a side benefit, this can help you tighten your wallet while you tighten your waistline.
  3. Count it down. If you eat your reasonably sized portion of food in the dining room/living room/den/bedroom/bathroom, etc., and leave the leftovers in the kitchen, it will make this next step a lot easier. Here's the scenario: You've finished your first portion, and yet you still want more. This is far from atypical, especially if the big plate of leftovers is sitting in front of you, tempting you, calling to you—maybe just a half a spoonful or maybe just a pick at the serving platter with your fork (just the good parts, of course). That couldn't possibly have more calories, right? Wrong. The calories from the food you sneak in after you finish eating are as potent as the calories from the food you're served. The good news is that if you can hold off, you won't be hungry for long.

    After you have a decent-sized portion of food, it takes your brain about 20 minutes to get the message from your stomach that you're full. So try this: Before you reach for seconds, glance at your wristwatch or the clock on the wall. Spend the next 20 minutes chatting with your dining companions, or if you're eating alone, check out the newspaper, read a magazine article, or play along with a round of Jeopardy!® on TV. Then, after 20 minutes, see if you're still starving for another bowl full of whatever. Chances are that your cravings will have disappeared. If they haven't, maybe you do still need a little more food to achieve satiety. Review what you ate before, and if the calorie count seems low, treat yourself to a little extra. Or, if the calorie count seems about right or high for a regular meal and you're still hungry, fill up on some low-cal veggies or have a big glass of water. Sometimes it's easy to confuse thirst with hunger.
  4. Embrace your inner child. We're not suggesting that you have candy for dinner. What we do mean is that when you're on the road or out at a restaurant, don't be ashamed to look at the kids' menu. As the adult menu has been supersized to gluttonous proportions, the children's menu often has the most sensibly sized and nutritious options. Check out Debbie Siebers' portion-control tips below, and you'll see that oftentimes the amount of food in a kids' meal is just the right amount for an adult watching his or her figure. Not to mention, if you play your cards right, there could be a free toy in it for you. Out of the mouths of babes . . .
  5. Fruits, Vegetables, Bread, and GrainsSharing is good. And while we're getting lessons from the small set, how about sharing? If you're a foodie like me, the hardest part about eating out is passing up all the goodies you want to try on the menu. Instead of ordering too much for yourself, strategize with your fellow diners about how you can maximize the variety of the food instead of the quantity. Most restaurants will be more than happy to provide you with extra small plates so you can split dishes. And make sure you actually split them! Don't dine out with your friend who survives on a nibble here or there and split two dishes; you'll end up eating 80 percent of the food on the table while he or she makes do with a couple of forkfuls. Ever wonder how Top Chef® host Padma Lakshmi keeps her model-like physique while judging up to 12 meals a week? Easy! She doesn't eat everything. Also, when you're figuring out how to eat family-style, make sure that at least one of the dishes is a healthy salad, a non-cream-based soup, or a vegetable dish. That way you and your family can get full without getting fat.
  6. Fruits, Vegetables, Bread, and GrainsLearn your weights and measurements. As anyone who's a regular reader of this newsletter knows, we're always going on and on about reading labels. And like the calorie, carb, protein, and fat numbers, the serving size is important. This is where the corporate food interests get you a lot of the time, by adjusting the serving size downward to make the nutritional numbers look a little better. As anyone who's recently spent a Saturday night alone with the TV can tell you, the estimate of four servings in a tiny little pint of Ben & Jerry's® or Häagen-Dazs® is wildly optimistic. So when the label indicates 300 calories per serving, that means the whole container has 1,200 calories. And since most of the containers are wider at the top than at the bottom, when you eat what seems to be half the container, it can actually be closer to two-thirds.

    It's definitely a big hassle to weigh and measure everything you put in your body every day. Even the most anal-retentive people among us don't have the time and energy to be hauling out the scale and measuring cups for every meal. But it's worth it to at least familiarize yourself with a few standard weights and measures. Try learning what an ounce, a gram, a tablespoon, etc., look like. That way you can at least eyeball how much you're eating. I've yet to meet the person who can make a typical bag of potato chips last for 12 servings.
  7. Give yourself a hand. For an easy guide to portion sizes, use the following guide from Slim in 6® creator Debbie Siebers.

    Handy Portion-Control Guide
    By Debbie Siebers, creator of Slim in 6

    To achieve weight loss—and maintain that healthy weight once you've achieved it—it's crucial to really understand what a portion is. Here's what may prove to be an indispensible tip: Use your hand as a guideline for portion sizes. (If your hands happen to be extra-large or extra-small for your size, adjust accordingly.)

    Palm = Proteins: Make protein portions the size of your palm. Protein is found in animal products, like fish, poultry, meats, and cottage cheese. Some veggie protein sources include legumes (beans, etc.), tofu, tempeh, and wheat glutens.

    Thumb = Fats: Fats are important, but they're also very dense, so match fat portions to the size of your thumb. Good fat sources are avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

    Fist = Fruits, Grains, etc.: Your bread, fruit, cereal, rice, and grain portions should be about equal to the size of your closed fist. Remember that it's always preferable to consume whole grains.

    Hand = Veggies: Open your hand and spread your fingers as wide as you can. That's a good vegetable portion. Raw vegetables are loaded with fiber and nutrients and they contain very few calories.

Related Articles
"8 Insider Tips That Can Help You Burn Fat Faster"
"6 Healthy Foods That Are Easy on Your Wallet"
"9 Foods That Can Fool You"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, November 14th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in The Beachbody Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive The Beachbody Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe.

And if you'd like to know more about Beachbody Director of Results Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope, named one of the Top 50 blogs covering the sports industry by the Masters in Sports Administration.

Submit A CommentTell A Friend Bookmark and Share

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Work Out in the SuperGym® on 11/11/11 for a Chance to Win $1,111

On November 11th (11/11/11), Beachbody® CEO Carl Daikeler is challenging the Team Beachbody® community to put together the largest-ever group of people working out at one time in the Beachbody SuperGym.

Carl Daikeler

That day, Carl will be selecting one person who logs his or her workout in the SuperGym to receive a prize of $1,111.

All YOU Need to Do for Your Chance to Win:
On Friday, November 11th (11/11/11), be working out inside the online SuperGym in an active workout session at 11:11 AM in your local time zone (i.e., where you live)! So just make sure that you're actively working out in the SuperGym when 11:11 AM rolls around in Eastern (if you live somewhere in the East—Shout outs to Boston!), Central (if you live in the Central time zone—Shout outs to Chicago!), Mountain (if that's where you live), or Pacific (Shout outs to the West Coast!). Or if you live anywhere west of the Pacific time zone, you roll into 11:11 AM Hawaii Time (that's got to be the coolest time ever . . . "I'm on Hawaii Time.")

Click here for complete official sweepstakes rules.

Hope to see you starting your workout in the SuperGym on Friday, November 11th, at 11:11 AM!

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Healthy Eating Tip: Mini-Meals and Snacks

Debbie Siebers serves up a fresh healthy eating tip to keep you on track for your fitness goals. This tip focuses on preparing mini-meals and snacks at night so you're ready to go the next day. Click below to see the video.

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Recipe: Chicken and Rice Wraps

Chicken and Rice WrapsHere's a healthy wrap recipe that's simple to make and tastes great served either hot or cold. Makes one dinner for two . . . or two lunches for one!

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup romaine lettuce (torn into bite-size pieces)
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
  • 2 low-fat whole wheat flour tortillas (6 to 8 inches in diameter)
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. fat-free salad dressing
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Spray a medium-sized pan with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. When it's hot but not smoking, add onions and garlic and sauté until slightly browned. Add raw chicken and sauté until browned and cooked through, about 5 to 7 minutes, or until no pink remains in center of each piece. Remove pan from heat. Place tortillas on plates. Put half the lettuce on each tortilla, followed by half the chicken, half the dressing, and half the rice. To assemble wraps, roll tortilla around contents, securing each with a toothpick if necessary. Makes 2 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
345 32 g 4 g 36 g 4.5 g <0.5 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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