Joe De Sena isn’t your average fitness guru—you’re much more likely to find him lugging a log through the woods than running on an elliptical. As the founder of Spartan Race, which hosts more than 200 extreme obstacle course events around the country each year, De Sena made his name on unconventional workouts. “I just love carrying heavy things up mountains,” De Sena said. “My workout style is always centered on mobility and flexibility, at its core, so I’m always carrying stuff, hiking with whatever I have.” He’ll crawl, jump, and run in the rain, or channel his past experience working construction by carrying a sheet of plywood up the mountain or a file cabinet up the stairs. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t think there’s a bad place to do burpees. He’s even happy to do them at McDonald’s, while spreading the gospel of more activity, less French fries.
The Spartan philosophy is simple: “Push harder, do more with less, be healthy. Sweat. It’s just about being comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. Humans, he says, are meant to jump, run, crawl, and climb. And feel free to DIY your home workouts, whether that means jumping over a bucket, squatting with a full laundry basket, or lugging jugs of water (which, he points out, weighs 8 pound per gallon). “In my mind, there’s nothing really unique about it—it’s what a human being was meant to do.”
He may not have set out to become a fitness personality, but he’s nevertheless managed to spread his philosophy to millions of race-goers. Spartan Races come in 3-, 8-, and 13-mile varieties, with up to 40 obstacles depending on the length. Obstacles range from climbing cargo nets and crawling under barbed wire, to jumping over fire and throwing spears (De Sena’s favorite). They even host children’s races with all the usual obstacles miniaturized. For beginners looking to embark on the Spartan journey, he recommends Bikram yoga because it can help prevent injury.
We asked De Sena to demo a Spartan-style workout that anyone can do at home. In the above video, he takes us through his morning routine, which focuses on body weight moves—like burpees, windshield wipers, and box jumps—mixed with yoga poses for increased flexibility. We filmed him working out in the Health studios, but De Sena says he prefers the elements to the cameras. “I want to be outside in the dirt, under the barbed wire with people,” he says.