For Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, few can forget the immense change Uncle Iroh undergoes during the third season. Changing from flab to abs all while being detained in an Earth Kingdom prison is one of The Dragon of the West's most popular feat. So, we’re here to ask how effective would his workout be in reality? For those who haven't seen the series, this article will reference spoilers.
Let’s talk about what exercises Iroh does while in the Earth Kingdom prison. In season 3, we see him perform “clapping push-ups” where he does a push-up and then shoves his upper body from the ground, claps, and then repositions his hands, palms down, in order to land. He does “handstand push-ups” which is exactly what the name implies, “one arm chin-ups," and “upside-down sit-ups” where he’s hanging from the ceiling and performs a sit-up.
There’s something to be said about what muscles Iroh is working. In total, he’s working out his chest, triceps, the front of his shoulder, his core, he's back, and his biceps. Iroh is performing calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) which are exceptionally effective in order to build strength and muscle size.
It’s worth mentioning that from what we see, he is neglecting a lot of the muscles in his legs, his lower back, and on the sides of his core (obliques) which are important in order to make sure his lower body can support his (now heavier) upper body. That being said, the exercises we do see are incredibly difficult to perform for the average person, heck, even their standard variants can be a real challenge, too. So, how does Iroh do it?
Well, in fitness, there's a phenomenon called “muscle memory” which is where muscles very easily return to their previous size after someone has begun to work out after an extended period of not, according to an article by Popular Science. The reason this is brought up is that Iroh is an ex-war general, a military man. He would’ve been training day in and day out during his time in the military and would’ve been extremely fit and strong. So, realistically, it would be easier for Uncle Iroh to regain his lost strength in a relatively short amount of time due to the real-life phenomenon of muscle memory added to the strength he already possessed.
So, is Iroh's transformation realistic? Yes, though not exactly doable for the average person. Iroh had the benefit of muscle memory, his pre-existing strength, and ultimately, a very determined mentality to break out of the prison and while not mentioned here, mentality can make the world of difference. Check out the first-hand experience of Big Herc on the mentality of working out while in prison via Prison Talk on Youtube.
By Nicholas James