I am 41 years old and five days a week for an hour a day I practice being a “Viking.”
I know, I know… you are thinking of me on a ship, crossing the high seas, looting a monastery and returning home to claim my prize as a “conqueror.” Although, that would be very cool, that’s not the case.
I have watched “The Last Kingdom” and “Vikings.” I love those shows, but now I am doing the real thing, well, sort of…
For the past month I have been doing a new workout system called “Viking Quest.”
Viking Quest is a new workout method. It was started by three Norwegian brothers- Olaf, Sven and Ragnar (yes, like the show “Vikings”) Gunderson. These guys turned a business into a fitness crusade.
Two weeks I saw a ratty flyer for “Viking Quest” at the YMCA, where I swim. It read- “Do you want to change your life? Do you like having fun? Than become a Viking!”
I was in the dark about the venture and had no idea would kind of training I would encounter. When I showed up I got a proper introduction to the Viking lifestyle.
When I first arrived, I was met by a very fit, tall guy with long blond hair in a ponytail.
He came up to me and introduced himself. “Hi, my name is Sven, if you have trouble saying it just call me ‘Seven.” A few seconds a carbon copy of Sven showed up. It was his brother Olaf.
They spoke English with slight Norwegian accents. They look like testosterone incarnate and extras from the warrior movie “300.” They had steely gazes, cobblestone abs and broad, chiseled shoulders.
I held up the flyer and said, “I saw your flyer. I thought it would be cool to be a Viking.”
Both men smiled. Olaf said, “Then you’ve come to the right the place.”
The Brothers Gunderson
The three brothers share a passion for historic series like “Game of Thrones,” “Braveheart,” and “Vikings.” Olaf used to be an actor and knows the period roles demand a certain look.
Olaf, is the oldest at 33 years old, and Sven, is the middle brother at 31 years old. They tower over most of the students at 6’5” and 6’5” respectively. Ragnor is the youngest and the runt of the litter at 6”1 and 29 years old.
Their easygoing smiles can turn into surly sneers at a moment’s notice, especially if they feel we’re not putting out.
The brothers’ hometown is Bergen, Norway- the city where most Viking expeditions started from. They moved to Iceland as kids and later lived all over the world.
No matter where they went never forgot their Viking roots. “Gunderson is an old Norse name. We can trace it back to 9th and 10th centuries Vikings,” said Ragnor.
Sven came to Purdue University for a degree in engineering and ended up staying. His brothers followed a few years later.
These three brothers have developed a fitness regime that is just like the physical lifestyle of their burly, seafaring namesakes.
Olaf said, “People like to eat Paleolithic diets. They eat food that is native and available to our ancestors. We wanted to do a paleo workout. No machines, just exercises that build practical strength.”
Everything we do focuses on functional fitness. We do exercises like hurling 20 pound rocks and scale a tree with a rope. It’s all simple and sinister.
Olaf is a leading man with charisma to spare. He laughs and encourages us through the workouts. He is a rogue who reminds me of Han Solo.
His brothers are just as fun but serious when it comes to working out.
Olaf lived for a while in London. He got into acting. He made sure he honed his choreography and fighting skills. He got an advanced gold certificate in sword fighting from the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat.
He starred as an extra in a few swashbuckling films, but nothing came of it. He decided to start a new workout method based on what he learned.
There is just one major caveat: You must submit to every cruel and unusual whim the brothers come up with.
All the stuff we do is something you see in “Vikings.” We row on machines, fight in the “shield wall” and have lots of fun doing macho things in a manly way, even the girls- they’re called “shield maidens.”
There are twelve of us in class today- nine men and three women standing around a converted warehouse.
We are anxious. It shows up in our unconscious movements- shifting feet, tapping fingers and darting eyes.
I smile nervously at one of my brothers-in-pain. Loud, metal music blasts from overhead speakers. It adds an almost tangible intensity as our our profane, superhero-size fitness director Olaf walks into the room on one side. His brother Sven walks in on the other side.
They meander up and down our ranks.
“You, shield wall. You, on the rower. You, shield wall. You, on the rower,” says Olaf. You will do the warm-ups for five minutes. Give it all you got, or die trying.”
Muffled curses are lost in the blaring wail of Metallica. Each one of us moans at the immensity of our task. It allows Olaf and Sven to determine our fitness level.
The shield wall is the most basic warm-up.
The basic unit of this is the “shield wall.” We use 6 pound practice shields to form a wall of shields. The shields overlap, your partner benefits from the protection of your shield and you from him.
We line-up in even numbers and smash the shields together. Pushing, grunting and yelling we try to collapse the other wall. It doesn’t require a lot of skill, but shoving and fencing with 2 pound wooden practice swords wears you out.
The shields and swords alone are innocent-looking torture devices. I am a blur of whirling, spinning, and straining legs. I push, pull and flail my arms. I bring my sword down over and over again on my opponent’s shield.
My legs are pushing forward as I lean into my shield. My grimace hardens and my breathing becomes frantic as the seconds tick by. Neither side is giving in or giving up.
Then it’s over. My five minutes are up. I am on my back gasping for air. My quads feel like they have battery acid in them. My right arm feels like a jackhammer. Sore and worn out, I hear the next dreaded words.
“Next exercise,” shouts Olaf.
Every bead of sweat falling off my head is well earned from every weight I’ve pumped.
Olaf says” I want you to put on your helmet, grab your shield and unsheathe your sword. You’re going into battle. Today you’re going to fill like a lion.”
I pick up my shield and sword. I feel like a lion, more importantly, I feel like a Viking.
My blood is Italian. My nationality is American. My heart is Viking. This is lots of fun.