3 Brutal Challenges for Strength & Stamina

by Jim Wendler

Viking Day: Rope and Sled Training

Time to go outside and get ugly. Revive your inner warrior and do these three nasty strength and stamina drills once a week.

The Purpose of Viking Day

“Odin’s men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them.” — Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241)

I was first introduced to the Viking Berserkers in high school. I had a lot of rage and testosterone at that time so I believed it was “me against the world” and I identified with such warriors.

Fast forward a few decades and we all realize we don’t have to hunt our food, we have air conditioning, and we’re out of the food chain – far from being warriors. However, I still believe that physical challenges must be a regular part of every man/woman’s life and are a proper way to build a strong mind and body. Physical challenges help sharpen the person.

Even if you don’t buy this, Viking Day training is simply awesome, especially when done with a close group of friends. Following is how we organize the day, what the challenges are, and some goals to shoot for. Remember, though, it’s not a challenge if everyone can do it.

The Goal – Blind Strength and Stamina

The Viking Day consists of 3 things: rope pull, sled pull, and Prowler push. Each of these things is done as heavy as possible and as stupid as possible. While many can compare this to an events day for strongman competitors, these movements don’t really require any technique or thinking. Anyone with a brain can push or pull a sled without guidance. And that’s exactly what we’re after – blind strength and stamina.

Challenge One – Rope Pull

Attach a fat rope to a sled and pull it toward you.

This is the easiest portion of the Viking Day, but let’s be clear, it’s not really easy. The rope is a thick, 112-foot long rope that we attach to a dragging sled. We lay this creature out in the street and each person has to pull the sled with a hand over hand motion.

Each athlete has to do 2 warm-up sets and 2 work sets. Each set consists of pulling the sled the entire length of the 112-foot rope. It’s important that you have someone behind the rope puller that helps clear the rope out from underneath him as he’s pulling it. This makes a huge difference.

How much weight you use is going to be entirely dependent on what kind of surface you’re on. For example, the street outside my house is asphalt, but it hasn’t been repaved in 15 years so it’s rough and doesn’t make for a great dragging surface. However, a recently paved asphalt street will feel vastly different. Concrete is usually easier and grass just plain sucks. So understand the weights listed are merely guidelines.

Sample Workout:

  • Warm-Up Sets: 2 x 112’ @ 75 pounds
  • Work Sets: 2 x 112’ @ 190 pounds

Guidelines and Tips for Rope Pull

  • The hardest part is getting the sled moving. Once you’ve established a good pace, try not to stop. The first few pulls will be short and choppy. Get it moving.
  • Once the sled is moving, work your arms fast and pull in long strides. In other words, cover as much ground as you can when you’re fresh because the hardest part is always the beginning – you’re not just pulling the sled but all that rope, too.
  • Your arms will give out. If they don’t give out, you didn’t go heavy enough. We strive to challenge and burn out. Once your arms die, stand up, count to 10 or 20, and make a goal to do an additional 5 or 10 pulls per arm. Keep setting and achieving goals until you’re done.
  • If you’ve never used a thick rope before, be prepared for your biceps, forearms, hands, upper back and lats to get smoked. You’ll also be gasping for breath. After you’re done catching your breath and getting a drink, move on to the next challenge.

Challenge Two – Sled Drag

Harness up and pull a heavy sled – once facing forward, once facing backward – for 50 yards.

For you to use any appreciable weight that even approaches a challenge to the hips and the legs, you need a harness. The sled strap through a belt is a total waste of time. Sled dragging on Viking Day is done two ways: facing forward and back. We only do one of each for about 50 yards.

Pulling the sled, especially forwards with a harness, will probably have to be done with a Prowler or a modified sled because most sleds have a short weight post and don’t allow for enough weight to be piled on them.

Sample Workout:

  • 255 pounds x 50 yards, forward (warm-up)
  • 525 pounds x 50 yards, forward
  • 345 pounds x 50 yards, backward (backwards sucks!)

Guidelines and Tips for Sled Pull

  • To make pulling forward easier, get as low as possible. Anyone who’s ever played a contact sport knows the saying, “Low man wins.” It’s no different with the sled pulls. Grab the ground in front of you and make sure your hips are low.
  • If you use the Prowler for your sled work, it’ll probably sway from side to side. In order to avoid this being a pain in the ass, learn to pull the sled with consistent pressure and tension. You’ll never completely avoid the sway, but you can stop it from being a detriment.
  • Start with shorter steps with both forward and backward pulling and as soon as you build up some speed, strive for big, deep strides.
  • The hardest part is to get the sled moving from a dead stop, so avoid stopping as much as you can. It’ll probably be impossible but once you get moving, strive to keep it moving, even if it’s a few inches at a time.

Challenge Three – Prowler Push

Push a heavy prowler or similar sled for two sets of 50 yards.

The Prowler can truly bring people together – we can all agree it’s horrible. Despite what the lab coats say, the Prowler makes you strong, helps you breathe easier in just about any activity you do, and is simple to use.

The only people who finish the last trip without stopping are people new to Viking Day or are in horrible shape – they get to choose a light weight. We’ve had people take 15 minutes to push the sled across the finish line on their final trip.

We do no warm-ups for the Prowler on Viking Day, but we each have to push the Prowler 100 total yards with the heaviest weight we can move. Again, the weight you use is largely going to be dependent on the surface you push on.

Sample Workout:

  • 395 pounds x 50 yards x 2

Guidelines and Tips for Prowler Push

  • As with the sled, low man wins on the Prowler. Get your ass down and dig. One thing that’s important is to make sure you don’t push out of your shoes, which happens for most people at some point. Wear high-top Chuck Taylors if you can. Just make sure you lace them up and tie them.
  • If you’re having trouble getting the sled going, lower your arms on the horns of the Prowler.
  • Once you get the sled moving, push it as fast as you can. Walking with the Prowler sucks and the faster you move it, the less time you spend under the Prowler’s “Halo of Horror,” otherwise known to you virgins as “time under tension.”
  • Keep your eyes down or focused in front of you, looking at the goal. Find out what works best for you and go with it.

So set up some folding chairs, get some drinks, take off your shirt and dig in. Be as my Rollins Band shirt once said, “Part Animal, Part Machine.”