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Swimming, sprinting and *lots* of pullups: how to get a Lara Croft body

Is Lara Croft the most physically-competent character in videogames? At the risk of upsetting fans of literally anyone else, let’s just go ahead and say: yes, yes she is. Ezio might edge it at parkour and swan-diving, Kratos is slightly better at pushing giant rocks, Snake is fractionally more advanced at judo and Drake is vastly superior at looking like he’s going to die whenever he tries climbing anything… but Lara can do all of those things and other stuff. In early games she was a front-somersaulting, shark-murdering polygonal uber-wench, and now she’s added archery, stealth and pickaxe-fighting to the list.

Lara is the best, and you should be more like her. 

More importantly, you should train like her. “Training with functional movements, not just to burn fat or build muscle, has benefits that go way beyond looking good in shorts and a tank top,” says personal trainer Jessica Wolny. “As well as building you a more balanced, less injury-prone body, it’ll make you more physically capable, confident, and able to do, say, a Tough Mudder or hit the bouldering wall at a moment’s notice.” It’s also, arguably, more fun than endless, joyless curls. Here’s how to build a Tomb-ready body…without having your own palatial obstacle course and live-in butler. 

Old-school. In the early games, half of Lara’s puzzles involved being able to shove a granite block the size of a family hatchback: implausible, but a good idea. “Pushing or dragging things works basically every muscle you have, and it’s very hard to do ‘wrong',” says Wolny. “More and more gyms are introducing sleds – or Prowlers – but if that isn’t an option, put a couple of plates on a towel and shove it along the gym floor.” Failing that, you could actually push your car.

It doesn’t have to mean bouncing between rooftops and risking fail-gif infamy: basic parkour is really just about learning to move through your environment slightly more efficiently. Start with the precision jump: it’ll work your glutes, calves and hamstrings, and all you need is a place to jump around. Make a mark on the floor (or aim for a bench, curb, or something similarly stable) and try to land on it. Next up, move to the basic vaults (speed, dash and kong) and then to the climb-up (AKA the easy way to get from the bottom of a thing to on top of it) and its attendant exercises, the cat hang and the shimmy. At worst, you’ll never be stymied by a locked park gate again. 

Technically, swinging from arm to arm – as seen in Spartan Races, Ninja Warrior and monkey documentaries – is called brachiation, and it’s sorely missing from most workouts. First, you’ll want to make sure your shoulders are in shape: aim to spend 60 seconds in a dead hang from a pull-up bar, doing it in as few sets as possible until you can manage the whole time in one go. With that done, you can graduate to the side-to-side swing, the front-and-back, or – if you’re sure your rotator cuffs won’t explode – the one-arm dangle. It’ll come in handy when you get to…

Climbing, let’s be clear, is the business. Yes, there’s grip and upper-body strength involved, but really, when you get at it seriously, it’s a full-body pursuit, demanding bracing amounts of core strength, coordination and hip mobility (the latter so you can turn side-on to the wall with moves like the high step or drop knee). Best would be to hit your local wall for a spot of bouldering (climbing on low walls, which doesn’t require harnesses, ropes or even friends), but if you’ve got a hankering to train at home, work your static ability with climber-style ‘Frenchie’ pullups, and throw in some planks to get your abs overhang-ready. Oh, and do this quick hip mobility circuit once a day. Honestly, it’ll help.

If anything, Lara’s swimming ability has *regressed* during the Raiders – in Underworld she could hold her breath for a reasonably-paltry 27 seconds without taking damage, while in Rise it’s down to a shameful 11. Still, whatever she’s been doing, swimming is still a) Excellent full-body cardio b) Low-impact/injury and c) The best thing you can do in the gym to improve your chances of surviving a yacht crash. Think efficiency, not effort: by lengthening your stroke, splaying your fingers and getting your breathing right, you’ll be able to go further, with less exertion. Total Immersion Swimming has your virtual back. 

There’s nothing wrong with long, slow distance running – it’ll make you more aerobically efficient, and improve your recovery from other sorts of exercise – but to torch fat and build fast-twitch muscle, sprints are the prescription. The rule of thumb: aim to do about a mile (total) and rest lots – do 4 x 400m and you can probably get away with 90 seconds of rest, but for all-out 100-metre sprints you’ll need at least 45 seconds per dash. 

Obviously. The exact martial art Lara does is unclear – it’s some mixture of kickboxing, gymnastics and horribly brutal knife-fighting – but you’ll never go far wrong by learning to hit things, which is a fine workout for your arms, shoulders, core and (if you do it right) legs. You might as well at least learn to throw them properly, but once that’s sorted you’re best placed doing a handful of 2-3 minute rounds, or by finishing another session with 30 seconds of all-out punching, then 30 seconds of rest, repeated 10 times. 

How the hell do you fit all this training into a weekly schedule? By being an independently-wealthy grave-robber, that’s how. That said, if you’ve got a relatively flexible schedule, there’s no reason you can’t fit it all in. Here’s how. 

Do 20 seconds of squatting, rest for 10 seconds. Go for 4 minutes total

Explode off the ground as high as possible on each rep

Then, for 10 minutes, alternate every 30 seconds:

Warm up with footwork, then do 3 x 3 minute rounds of skipping 

4 x 30-seconds of all-out punching alternating with 30 seconds’ rest

Warm up, then mark out a 50-metre track. Every minute, on the minute, run along it and back, for a total of 100 metres. Repeat for 10 minutes

Then do 5 rounds of…

3 pullups followed by a 10 second dead hang

5 x 3 minute rounds of kickboxing on the bag, focus on technique

15 seconds all-out on the bag, 45 seconds footwork

Sprint with weighted sled: 10 x 20m, making the sled heavier each round

Want to pack more muscle than Marcus Fenix? Find out how you can get a Gears of War body here.

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