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The Tarzan Routine
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Ellington Darden, Ph.D.

The Tarzan Routine:
A New HIT Workout

Here's a routine that will help your running,
jumping, and swinging ability.

I have a four-year-old son, Tyler, who is big into the Disney animated movies. He's already seen about 25 of them and he often watches one at night before he goes to bed. Some of his favorites are Buzz Lightyear, The Incredibles, Tarzan, and Tarzan II.

Tyler is especially fond of Tarzan II, The Legend Begins because it's the story about a young boy growing up in the jungle. As a result, Tyler stalks around on all fours, jumps off of various objects, and swings on low-hanging tree limbs in our yard. He also knows how to terrorize our two house cats with his screeching yells. It's fun to watch him as he tries to emulate his little hero.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, as I was thinking of some interesting gifts to buy Tyler, I couldn't help but remember back to my childhood in Texas during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Saturday mornings at the movies were popular activities for the kids in my neighborhood – and one of our favorite heroes was Tarzan.

This Tarzan, however, wasn't animated. He was played by Olympic athlete, Johnny Weissmuller. Weissmuller was tall, lean, and muscular throughout his chest and shoulders. What an inspiration Weissmuller was for us kids to run, jump, and swing.

Before his starring role in Tarzan, Weissmuller won five gold medals in swimming at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics. Throughout his swimming career, he held 51 individual world records – which was quite an athletic achievement.

Because of my positive recollections, I put "Tarzan" into Google and was surprised to find thousands of listings. One of the first to appear was www.Tarzanmovieguide.com, which briefly reviewed all the Weissmuller films. What memories the film sketches evoked.

Within another 10 minutes, I had located and ordered for Tyler, what I considered to be a risky Christmas gift: The Tarzan Collection on four DVDs, which supplied six classic films from the 1930s and 1940s featuring Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane.

Would Tyler like these old-style, black-and-white movies – which lack the color, razzle-dazzle, Dolby sound, and the latest technology of today's DVDs?

Tarzan and Jane

On the night of December 27th, Tyler and I spent 90 minutes with Tarzan the Ape Man, the first movie in the series. At first Tyler was restless because the movie progressed at a slow pace. Then, that famous Tarzan yell preceded Tarzan's appearance by 30 seconds or so. That got his attention.

When Tarzan made his entrance, he was swinging through the tall trees on vines, which seemed to stretch seamlessly for a half mile. Tyler liked that.

Then, there was Tarzan battling the lion, fighting the rhino, and a lot of swimming amongst the hippos and crocodiles. In the middle of it all was Tarzan's kidnapping of Jane Parker, who was visiting her father, and the enviable "attraction."

Finally, the visiting entourage, including Jane, was captured by pygmies – who had devised some interesting torture techniques that involved a killer gorilla. But arriving just in time for the rescue was our hero Tarzan, with his herd of faithful elephants.

"Daddy, let's watch it again," Tyler said enthusiastically as the credits rolled. Or . . . "ungawa, ungawa" . . . which is Tarzanese for YES, or about anything else he wants it to mean.

I knew then that I had picked a winner.

Boy, What a Boy!

Over the rest of the week, we watched the other episodes: Tarzan and His Mate, Tarzan Escapes, Tarzan Finds a Son, Tarzan's Secret Treasure, and Tarzan's New York Adventure. We especially enjoyed the last three, which brought Boy, played by Johnny Sheffield, into the story.

In those last three movies, Boy progressed in age from about 5 years to 9 – which captured Tyler's attention because he wants to be a "big boy now." Plus, Boy got to carry and use his own special knife, which was about half the size of the one Tarzan kept for protection on his right hip. That impressed Tyler because he's wanted a real knife for more than a year.

The critics rated Tarzan and His Mate the
best of the bunch. Weissmuller's physique certainly looked
the most muscular in this one. Our favorite, however,
was Tarzan's New York Adventure. Tarzan looked rather
natty wearing his tailor-made double-breasted suit.

Although the old Tarzan movies are certainly tame in action and razzle-dazzle, compared to The Incredibles, there's something simple, basic, and straightforward about them. You know quickly who the good guys and the bad guys are. There are no misleading characters, no red herrings, no complicated plots, and no laser guns. They are all as elementary as, "Me Tarzan, you Jane, him Boy."

The black-and-white Tarzans are refreshing and easy on the ears, eyes, and head . . . matched up to the multi-million dollar, computer-animated, Pixar/Disney productions, such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc.

Tarzan most definitely makes you feel like building a tree house and going ape.

Inspired by Tarzan's adventures, and the eminence of 2006, I decided to change the three HIT routines that I had been alternating for the last year to something more basic and simple.

Tyler often hangs around the gym as I'm training. To stimulate his interest, as well as mine, I'm calling this new workout the Tarzan Routine.

Me Tarzan, You Follow

I've been using the Tarzan Routine since the first of January 2006 and I like it a lot. It's for anyone who has more than a year's worth of training experience and especially for those of you over 40 years of age.

First, a look at the exercises:

Rest for 2 minutes.

Rest for 2 minutes.

Try to arrange your equipment so you can do exercise 1, 2, and 3, with minimum rest in between. The same holds for exercise 4 and 5, and exercise 6, 7, and 8.

You also have several choices: squat or leg press, calf raise or wrist curl, and trunk curl or reverse trunk curl. Or, you may alternate between the two. Personally, I like sticking to the same exercises for at least two weeks, but some of you may require the needed variety.

I recommend that you do the movements in good form (approximately 3 seconds on the positive and 3 seconds on the negative) for one set of 8 to 12 repetitions. Be sure and keep all your repetitions smooth. Add resistance when you can do 12 or more repetitions.

Do the routine no more than twice each week.

You Load, Me Lift . . . Weight and Repetitions

At 62 years of age, here are the weights and the repetitions I performed during my workout on January 17, 2006.

The entire routine took me 12 minutes to perform. And I got very good cardiovascular involvement from it.

Try the Tarzan Routine several times and let me know your thoughts. It just may be a workout you'll want to continue with for several months.

Where's Cheeta?

It's late afternoon and a pleasant 70 degrees outside. I'm logging off my computer because Tarzan's due in the back yard to join Boy and Cheeta.

Remember Cheeta? He's that mischievous baby chimpanzee. Our black cat, Bumps, is assuming Cheeta's role, at least in Tyler's mind.

But first we must get rid of our shirts. Tarzan and Boy never wear shirts in the jungle. Everybody knows that . . . according to Tyler.

Cheeta (Bumps the cat) watches somewhat attentively, and occasionally hisses and rolls over . . . as we run around the yard, jump off boxes, and swing on a few tree limbs.

"Tarzan, stop . . . Cheeta, move back," Boy cautions, as he reaches for his pretend knife. "There's a big lion on the other side of the fence."

Ungawa! I hope we finish our adventure in time for supper.

Four-year-old Tyler Darden, after some swinging in the trees . . . flexes his arms. Tyler is 3-foot 4-inches tall and weighs 52 pounds.

(Photo by Phil Campbell)


Discuss this article | Text Version


Kansas, USA

AS a boy I recieved My first Tarzan Book from my Grandparents On Christmas 1976. It was titled, Tarzan and the Ant Men by edger Rice Buroughs. I fell in love with these stories and soaked up every Tarzan book I could get my hands on. Come to think of it, the art on the cover of these books probably had a great influence on my love of weight lifting. He was depicted very muscular with perfect symetry, always standing over the body of a dead lion or with jane in one arm and a wicked looking knife in the other hand. He was "The rugged individual" quite an American theme.

Hey Drew, When he started writing these books he was married to Emma:). Incidently the city of Tarzana California was once land that belonged to him! Thanks Dr. Darden, for bringing back Fond memories. I guess It's time to take My Sons to the Library.

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Great read Dr Darden - I remember watching those films with my dad when i was young and it brings back some great memories.

I like the Tarzan workout layout too - with the 3 sections / 2min rests.

My 4 year old daughter also loves to 'help' with my home workouts - counting reps and telling me to slow down! Her favorite is my super-slow push ups with my little 'trainer' sitting crosslegged on my shoulders - progression? i'm thinking of the milo/calf priciple here!



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Dr. Darden,
I loved those Edgar Rice Boroughs books! Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.

Your routine is similar to what I'm doing with a 3x/wk, 8 exrecise routine. I'm alternating OP's with lateral raises, and rows with chins, but it's really similar. The way you organized the work/rest periods is something I hadn't thought of. Sort of like interval training. And I am definitlely over 40.
Me try it,Tarzan!
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Texas, USA

It started with Doc Savage. Some kid at school had a PB with some golden-skinned guy with a really exaggerated widow's peak.

"Who's that guy with the goofy haircut?" I asked.

"Doc Savage. He fights crime with his 5 friends."

I was on my best behavior for a month, showing my friend that I could read a book without leaving a crease. These books were borrowed from his big brother and he'd be dead meat if they were blemished in the least.

I guess he got tired of my begging and loaned me one and that was it. I was smitten.

I soon found myself going to bookstores at the mall any chance I got. The guys at the flea market were a good source too, for someone on my budget. It was there that I discovered Edgard Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan).

I had already seen some of the Tarzan movies on Saturday afternoons, but the books were another thing entirely.

I love those old movies, but I could see how they might hold little interest for today's overstimulated kids.

I think you may be hitting this at the right time, Doc, before Tyler gets infected with the short-attention span virus that's seems to be pandemic these days.

Geez, I sound like an old man! Just let me watch some old movies --- the Universal monster movies are still my favorites --- and I'll be happy. Maybe I should pick-up a Doc Savage book (I have the complete collection now), that'll be sure to bring out "the kid" in me.

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I'll try it out, but with some modifications because I have limited access to training equipment.

Sandbag deadlift-imitate putting a girl on my shoulders.
Donkey Calf Raise

Dumbbell Press
Dip between chairs

Wreslter's Bridge-I know people say it's dangerous, but I haven't hurt myself yet.
Dumbbell Stiff legged deadlift.
Trunk Curl

I can't post photos or anything..don't have any. If I can haul a 270 pound sandbag to my shoulders..then I guess I'll call it a success.

This is my first post

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Tennessee, USA

62 and those poundages in that amount of time. I'm impressed to say the least.
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JJ McClinton

How do you do the prone back extension on the Bowflex? I haven't seen anything in the literature (the book, or the workout guides) that this was an option. Would like to know how to do this movement on Bowflex as it would save me from getting additional equipment. Any response would be appreciated.
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Ellington Darden


For the prone back extension, set up the Bowflex machine for the leg curl exercise. Put about 50 pounds on each side for stability purposes. Remove the angled seat bottom and place nearby. Now lie face down on the machine as if you're going to do a leg curl, but you won't be able to because there's no place to put your torso. If you make a few adjustments (moving forward or backward with your entire body) until you get the feel just right, you can bend at the waist and move up and down. For comfort, you may also want to place a cushion under your front hips.

The movement works pretty well, once you get the hang of it.

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Dr. Darden, could I change the routine like that?

1. Squat immediately followed by
2. Chins immediately followed by
3. reverse wrist curl with barbell

Rest for 2 minutes.

4. Dips immediately followed by
5. Pushups superslow 7/7

Rest for 2 minutes.

SLDL immediately followed by
Weighted Crunches
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Ellington Darden

Mr. HIT,

Yeah, those are some fine alternative exercises.

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Dr. Darden,
You wrote this was an especially good routine for those over 40. Any particular reason?
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Dr Darden,

I have been interested in getting a thick handled barbell for awhile. I have heard good things about them, especially for curls. Any recommendations on where I can purchase one?

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Ellington Darden


For the best thick-handled barbells, go to www.blackironstrength.com.

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I love the Tarzan routine, although I do another routine (8 exercises) one other day for a 3x/wk frequency. I have reached the point where I can do more that 12 chins (even winded righjt after the leg presses). Should I maybe do a row, or lat pull so I can add more wight?
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Ellington Darden


Yes, you could substitute either one for the chin.

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im 14. am i old enough to take protein and amino acid supplements,(those are the only ones i know about) so in general am i old enough to take a body building supplement
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Kansas, USA

ihaveabowflex wrote:
im 14. am i old enough to take protein and amino acid supplements,(those are the only ones i know about) so in general am i old enough to take a body building supplement

Save your allowance youngster! Having said that, you are old enough to take supplements with your parents permission but you just don't need them.

At your age just make it a habit to eat clean and get plenty of sleep. Make your workouts fun and you'll find it easier to make this lifestyle a habit that will stay with you for life. Good Luck!

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ihaveabowflex wrote:
im 14. am i old enough to take protein and amino acid supplements,(those are the only ones i know about) so in general am i old enough to take a body building supplement

Give creatine a shot. It's cheap and it works for a lot of people. It'll help you in sports, too. I don't think amino acids or protein supplements are necessary. Yeah, you do need protein, but you don't need as much as the muscle magazines say you do. They lie a lot to get you to buy their products. Just eat a normal amount of animal products everyday and you should be fine.
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Have fun! And watch those old Tarzan movies.
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Mi name is Dima and I am from Ukraine.

I am an advocate of HIT and the works of Dr. Ellington Darden, Arthur Jones and Mike Mentzer.

I think that THE NEW HIT is one of the best Books ever published over the world. I'm glad that we have this Book translated into russian. UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVEN'T ANY WORKS OF ARTHUR JONES TRANSLATED IN UKRAINE AND RUSSIA.

The Tarzan Routine is one that allow us to feel real BB vork - remember, how many Athletes made their muscles without any machines.

But, I think that it would be better to abbreviate this routine and divide it into two part.

What do you think abour REGULAR DEADLIFT?


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Dr. Darden,

Nice looking routine. I am very impressed by the weights and repetitions you get. Good for anyone let alone 62 years old! You weigh 190 lbs. - how tall are you? Are you in fairly lean condition? If you were to guestimate - what % bodyfat?


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Ellington Darden


I'm 5' 11" tall and my percent body fat is probably around 15. I made my mind up last week to get it down to 10 percent. I'll be applying exactly what I recommend in A Flat Stomach ASAP.

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One thing about all the Tarzans ...

Ever wonder why they didn't have beards ?

Everyone was as clean shaven as a lawyer going to court for an important trial. Sure, they had that big knife but come on ... thay aren't getting a shave like that with it.

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Ellington Darden wrote:

I'm 5' 11" tall and my percent body fat is probably around 15. I made my mind up last week to get it down to 10 percent. I'll be applying exactly what I recommend in A Flat Stomach ASAP.


Hi Dr. Darden,

I have one more question. In 1979 when Zane was visiting - Jones measured your arm at I believe 15.75" at a bodyweight of approximately 175. What do your arms measure at 190?

Thanks and keep us apprised of your progress with the fat loss.


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