by Martin Rooney T-Nation
I'm always on the hunt for ways to take the body and mind to a higher level. While researching the London Olympics, I discovered the ancient Pentathlon and couldn't figure out why it was no longer contested.
In this ultimate test of physical power and mental fortitude, athletes competed in five different events.
First, they'd sprint down a runway and leap into the sky to see who had the best long jump. Then in a footrace, they'd sprint across a stadium amid the roar of the power-appreciative crowd. Next up were tests of full body explosiveness with the javelin and discus throw.
If these four events weren't enough to drive the collective Testosterone level of the crowd into orbit, the competitors finished with wrestling to demonstrate dominance and supremacy.
Sprinting, throwing, jumping, and competing mano a mano with muscle and bone. A high measure of explosiveness, strength, technique, and guts.
So last summer, as I sat watching synchronized swimming, the badminton scandal, and a 70 year-old man competing in Olympic Horse Dressage, I wondered why the original Pentathlon was no longer on the docket.
The individual events were all popular in the current Olympic games and surely spectator-friendly. Hell, the only way it could get closer to Gladiators in the arena would be having the wrestling end with a fight to the death.
As I looked deeper into the history of the Pentathlon, I discovered that the original version was replaced with a more "modern" one, without the power events.
Modern Pentathlon? Can you even name the events? How about naming a famous competitor in the event since its inception in 1912?
Don't feel bad, I couldn't either.
Perhaps that should be the first lesson. Just to let you know, the current events are swimming, air pistol shooting, horse jumping, epee fencing, and a 3-kilometer run.
Modern? With fencing, pellet guns, and horse jumping? Not exactly. Looks like the Greek Warrior standing among his adoring fans on top of his battered foes has been replaced with a decidedly more foppish competitor.
But who would do such a thing? What kind of man would replace the aggressive white fibers of the sprinter with the calculating red fibers of a swimmer and distance runner?
If you've read Train Like a Man: Part 4, then you won't be surprised to find that once again the libido of the sprint has been castrated by Baron de Coubertin – yes, the same man that arbitrarily read a poem and brought the world the marathon (and chapped nipples and shin splints) also sacked the ancient pentathlon, replacing it with its more mild and "modern" cousin.
Notice how these two events seem designed to drive Testosterone into the toilet? (Hugh Hefner has made a career trying to offset the repercussions of these events. )
I know the Baron brought us back the Games and I thank him for that, but we must also question some events. If we research deep enough, we may also find he had the first prototype for Uggs boots for men, along with skinny jeans for men.
Pistols and horses, hrummphh! Sounds like there needs to be an update! How often does "modern man" spend Monday evening at the horse stables sharpening his epee while worrying about his 3K time? Forget that! He's benching and doing dips.
On Tuesdays, he isn't making sure his pistol and swim stroke are clean – he's hitting back and biceps. Horse jumping and fencing? What percentage of the world participates in that? It sounds so elitist.
Instead of running cross country, most men would love to see beasts bench head to head and then settle it all with who has the best biceps.
Let me offer something even more modern. Let me remove the steel epee and add some iron.
So here's my solution: at the next IOC meeting, before they add mixed synchronized swimming and new rules concerning cheating in ping pong, let's look at this event to fire up the world – the Mantathlon.
Rules of the Mantathlon
There are five events performed:
Bodyweight Bench Press for Reps
Bodyweight Chin-ups for Reps
Half-Bodyweight Overhead Press for Reps
1.25 Bodyweight Dips for Reps
Half-Bodyweight Barbell Curl for Reps
You get one attempt for maximal reps during the competition.
Once you start your bench press test the clock begins. You have 20 minutes to complete all the tests. Any repetitions completed after 20 minutes have elapsed won't count toward your point total.
You must perform the tests in order, but the rest you take between tests is up to you. I suggest 3-4 minutes between each test, but keep an eye on the clock so you don't run out of time for curls.
Start by weighing yourself on a scale. Guessing won't cut it, as most people seem to magically lose 10 pounds before the Mantathlon begins. Since the entire event is based on bodyweight, you'll be reminded that the spare tire you promised to lose on January 1 still needs a change.
Get a good warm-up before testing the bench press. Since each event is different, I'd also suggest doing a few light reps of each exercise during your rest period to alert your body to the next movement. For instance, do 2 single chin-ups and a 4-rep set of overhead presses and dips before going for the real total.
Each test has form requirements for the test to count.
Bench Press: You must touch the bar to the chest and lock out each rep. You can pause at the top, but failing to get a rep or racking the weight ends the exercise.
Chin-up: Use a shoulder width grip or less. You must get the chin over the bar and lower to a complete hang for one second. You can hang longer if you want, but failure to get over the bar or letting go ends the exercise.
Overhead Press: You must lock out the elbows at the top and come to a quick pause at the bottom. Racking the bar or missing a rep ends the exercise.
Dips: You must begin in the top extended position and lower until the elbow has a 90 degree angle or greater. You can pause at the top but touching the feet, releasing the grip, or failure to execute a rep ends the exercise.
Curl: You must raise the barbell to the height of the chin and lower to full extension for 1 second. No swaying or leaning back is allowed at the upper body. Releasing the bar or failure to execute a rep ends the exercise.
A very important point: if you reach 20 repetitions on any exercise, that's the maximum score. Even if you can do more, 20 signifies the end.
Once you've performed all five events or run out of time, add up your total number of reps. A total score of 100 is the ultimate goal for this test.
Below is a rating scale:
0-10 – Low Man on totem pole
10-20 – Skinny Man or Man Boobs
20-30 – Average Man
30-40 – Wing Man
40-50 – Door Man
50-60 – Athletic Man
60-70 – He Man
70-80 – Super Man
80-90 – Mega Man
90-100 – Man of War
So What Does It Mean?
Is this the be-all, end-all of fitness? Hardly. Is it a measure of fitness that's rarely tested during some of the classic strength and or power tests? You bet.
Before you knock it, try it – after performing the Manathlon, I guarantee you'll not only be enlightened, but also inspired to improve your score.
You can argue success in this event requires strength endurance, but to rep out with your bodyweight on the bench press, you first have to be really strong.
Speaking of strong, by adding the element of time, my Mantathlon also tests another area of manliness not often challenged during a classic one-rep max test: mental toughness.
You'll find the ticking clock will create a point during the event where you might mentally give in. There will be reps you don't get the first time, not because they're impossible, but because you're not yet able to access the mental stamina to dig them out.
As your scores improve due to familiarity with the test, so will your mental toughness, which is an added benefit to the strength gains you'll see as you train to increase your score.
The New Olympics?
Maybe the Baron was misinterpreted? Perhaps he wanted people to carry the horse and the swordfight to the death? We'll never know. But know this: when you perform the Mantathlon, it will leave you hungry for more!