The MacGyver TV show was about a guy who made complicated machines or devices out of ordinary things. For instance, he could take down a helicopter with a fan, a dough-scraper, and some duct tape. Similarly, he could use a light bulb to make a set of lock picks.

While visiting Portland recently, Christian Thibaudeau, when faced with having to get a workout in a woefully equipped hotel weight room, found himself playing MacGyver. While he didn't exactly invent a reverse hyper machine using a toilet seat and a coffeemaker, he did a fair share of improvising and came up with a pretty good workout. This is the story of the routine he invented and the events that led to it.

I'm the kind of guy who might change clothes three or four times a day. Otherwise my clothes get soaked in sweat (one of the downsides of having high T levels, I guess) and I become very uncomfortable. And, as the movie says, you wouldn't like me when I'm uncomfortable!

So there I was, stuck in an airplane. Wait, make that a grounded airplane. That's right. The day is August 14th, the day the lights went out on the East Coast. The Beast was there that day. Unfortunately, The Beast was supposed to be elsewhere.

As some of you may know, August 16th was the date Mike Mahler and I had chosen to conduct our joint workshop. So I planned my trip from Montreal to Portland for the14th, with a stop over in Minneapolis.

Well it just happened that a certain generalized blackout grounded our plane in Montreal for over two hours.

I was getting uncomfortable as over 25% of my body fluids were now clinging to my shirt. The fact that the A/C in the plane was down didn't exactly contribute to my well being either!

It gets worse....

I finally left, 2 hours late. I thought I was out of the woods. Wrong. The delay had me arrive in Minneapolis just in time for my connecting flight. I had all of 15 minutes to board the plane through gate D3, which was (typical!) on the other side of the airport. I made it, but not before throwing a few grandmas and children out of the way. I was tired, out of breath, and most of all, stinky as hell! But at least I was going in the right direction.

Where's the hidden camera?

Finally, Portland Oregon! I arrived safely; tired, hungry, stinky but safely. Now all I had to do was to find my luggage, go to my hotel, and get a good night's sleep.

Another problem.... my luggage was either on a lunch break or it didn't get loaded on the plane because it was nowhere to be found. After looking for over an hour I went to the airline counter and they told me that my luggage was still in Minneapolis taking in a Twins game and that they'd deliver it to me the next day.

Did I mention I was uncomfortable?

What kind of bad movie is this?

After much waiting and pondering I decided to just get some sleep at my hotel. After all, tomorrow will be another day and all that Hallmark stuff. Well, just as I entered the lobby something felt.... odd. Now, it may sound like I'm making this up but trust me, I'm not. I walked to the counter and learned that the hotel was full. Because I was late, they rented my room to somebody else. Try to find a hotel at 2:00 in the morning in a town you know nothing about; it's impossible!

I still managed to do it, and eventually got to sleep at 4:30 AM (which was equivalent to 7:30 AM for me because of the time zone difference).

Did I mention that I was uncomfortable? And hungry? Well, I was.

After the rain....

The next day was a bit better. I got to move back to my hotel and they gave me a free night to make up for what happened. And I did get to eat to satiety. I still had no change of clothes so I went to a local shop and bought a tank top and shorts and went down to the hotel's "Executive Fitness Center" (yep, you read that correctly!).

At least I'd get a decent workout, which would help me relax a bit. For the first time in 2 days I was actually happy. Well, my demeanor quickly changed when I saw the "gym."

See, by "executive" they really mean "Richard Simmons." The heaviest weight was a pair of 25-pound dumbbells. No bar, no plates, not even a single machine (which I would have been able to tolerate, given the situation). Only a lone bench, a Swiss ball and some treadmills and stationary bikes.

I still had to work out, otherwise I'd probably burst! So I came up with the "MacGyver" training program. Actually it did turn out to be a very good and intense workout, which left me sore the day after.

My girlfriend, a competitive bodybuilder, did the workout with me and also found it to be quite effective. So here it is, "The MacGyver Workout." You may find it useful one day when you don't have access to a gym.

The McGyver workout

A1 ; A2 ; A3 (triceps/chest/anterior deltoid superset)

A1. Bodyweight triceps extension

5 x max reps

301 tempo

No rest

It may not look like it, but this is a rather advanced drill. I find it to be one of the best possible triceps exercises. Make sure that you lift your body only by extending your arm at the elbow, not by pressing with the shoulders/chest.

A2. Push ups with elevated feet

5 x max reps

501 tempo

No rest

Probably everybody knows this drill. And for most, it's not that challenging. However, when performed right after a maximum set of bodyweight triceps extensions, it really is torture for the triceps! Make sure that you keep your hands shoulder-width and the elbows close to the body.

A3. L-Seat

5 x burn set

No special tempo, but hold the contracted position for 1-2 seconds on each rep

120 seconds of rest

This has always been one of my favorite drills. I often include a "burn set" of this exercise after all my triceps workouts. This time, I did 5 "burn" sets (one at the end of each superset). A burn set consists of doing reps to failure; resting 5 seconds and doing a few more reps; resting 10 seconds and doing a few more reps; and resting 15 seconds and doing a last rep or two.

After one of these supersets you'll feel that your arms are going to fall off. Don't let that happen as you have five total supersets to do!

B1 ; B2 (Upper back/posterior deltoids superset)

B1. Lying chin-ups

5 x max

331 tempo

No rest

I can now officially say that I have trained on the treadmill! This is a pretty good exercise for the upper back. It can be a bit easy if you have a decent strength base so I suggest maintaining a 3-second static contraction at the top of each rep to make it more interesting. Keep your body straight at all times.

B2. Lying chin-up static hold

5 x max time

120 seconds of rest

On the last rep of each set of lying chin-ups you execute a static action for as long as possible (aim for 45-60 seconds). This is really going to fry your upper back and arm flexors (especially biceps).

C1 ; C2; C3 (Lower body superset)

C1. 1-leg squat

5 x 5 per leg

311 tempo

No rest

This is an extremely challenging exercise as it requires both strength and balance. You can start to learn this drill by holding on to something, working your way up to "free" 1-leg squats with weights.

C2. Iso pull

5 x 45-60 seconds

No rest

I devised this drill when I remembered something my grandpa would always say:

"I'm so strong that I can sit myself in a bathtub and lift it off the ground."

This is obviously impossible, but it's the basis for this exercise. Notice how I put my feet on the metal support under the bench, preventing it from moving regardless of how hard I pull. From this position I execute a maximum duration isometric contraction of 45-60 seconds, pulling as hard as possible. Remember to breathe during the exercise or you may pass out. This is actually a very good drill to do in-season with most athletes, especially football and hockey players.

C3. 2/1 Hip extension

5 x 10 (5/5)

51X tempo

180 seconds rest


To make this exercise effective you must really drive your feet into the bench to lift the hips and keep the hamstrings tight during the entire movement, especially on the way down. You do 5 reps per leg, or 10 total reps (going up explosively with two legs, going down slowly, one leg at a time).

D1 ; D2; D3 (Shoulders and biceps)

D1. Isometric hammer curl + rep out

6 x 45-60 seconds + reps to failure

No rest

We only had 25lb dumbbells at the executive gym, which is way too light to decently work the biceps. So, we held the weight for duration. We kept it in the mid-range portion, flexing the biceps as hard as humanly possible, and holding the weights there for 45-60 seconds. We'd then grab a lighter pair of dumbbells and do full-range reps to failure.

D2. Isometric lateral raises + rep out

6 x 45-60 seconds + reps to failure

No rest

Hold the dumbbells in the position where the shoulders are fully contracted and hold for 45-60 seconds. Then, grab a lighter pair of dumbbells and do full-range reps to failure.

D3. Isometric press + rep out

6 x 45-60 seconds + reps to failure

120 seconds rest

Hold the bells in the mid-range position of a shoulder press and hold for 45-60 seconds. Then, grab a lighter pair of dumbbells and do full-range reps to failure.

This is the MacGyver workout!

As you'll quickly find out, this will actually be one of the hardest workout you'll ever do! It won't do much for absolute strength, but it's a fantastic routine to build muscle mass – epecially if you don't have much equipment available.

If you like pain, try it out. You wont be sorry!

Christian Thibaudeau specializes in building bodies that perform as well as they look. He is one of the most sought-after coaches by the world's top athletes and bodybuilders. Check out the Christian Thibaudeau Coaching Forum.