Commentary, Fitness

Minimalist Workouts, Maximal Results

I’ll let you in on a little known fitness secret. You don’t need any equipment to achieve the best fitness of your life. You could achieve all your goals with nothing but your bodyweight. A barbell, a set of dumbbells or a kettlebell can provide you with all the variety you need for a lifetime of fitness.

You don’t need many exercises. A few big functional exercises can hit every muscle. This actually provides a better workout than typical “kitchen sink” approach.

I want to show you how simple workouts can be. You can do many of them at home or outside on a nice day! Everyone should take their fitness outside as much as possible!

I’ve designed each of these minimalist workouts to address different fitness goals. These are a few examples. A creative mind can develop dozens of similar workouts. But, before I discuss the workouts, I want you to realize three things:

You have time to workout.

Each of these workouts take 20 minutes or less. You don’t need to leave home to do them. You can do rounds or sets between changing diapers or stirring spaghetti sauce.

Most trainers and gyms try to dazzle you with unnecessary variety.

The machines, inflatable balls, ab-doers, crunch bars and vibrating plates are worse than useless. They are getting in the way of simple and effective workouts.

A routine of functional compound exercises trains every muscle in the body. The term “functional” is sometimes used to justify all kinds wacky exercises. But functional means an exercise has carryover to activities. These are the exercises to focus on. Most of us want to feel better and live better.

The kettlebell swing will help you shovel your driveway.

Doing overhead barbell squats balancing on a Swiss ball will help you get to the Emergency room. Do things with purpose. Don’t try to look hardcore. Be practical. Get strong, in the fundamentals!

Minimalist workouts contains few exercises. On paper they don’t look that exciting. This is what makes them effective. There’s nothing fancy, only the time tested basics. No machines, no audience to impress and no fancy toys to play with. You’ll repeat the routines enough to master the movements and see improvement.

You should only change your workout when it stops producing results!

Too much variety is keeping you from the focus and repetition necessary to make progress. Simplify!

I hear people say all the time they are trying to “confuse” their muscles. If your muscles could tell you how confused they are, they’d tell you to settle down and get focused. You don’t need confusion, you need clarity.

Less is more!

Many of us believe that more is better. If doing 2 sets of deadlifts is great, doing 5 sets must be better! We love torturing ourselves, because someone told us that hard work always pays off.

I like to think of exercise as medicine. The right dose is helpful. But too much of a good thing can harm you. One Tylenol will kill your headache. A whole bottle will kill you.

Try this experiment, which will work for pretty much everyone who is not a trained lifter. Begin with a weight that you could perform 8 to 10 crisp reps with if you had to. Perform two sets of 5 deadlifts, three days a week for a month. Each workout, increase the weight by 5 pounds . Most untrained exercisers will increase their deadlift by 60 pounds in 4 weeks! Not bad progress at all!

I’ve never found that you need any more than a minimal, but progressive approach to make incredible gains. For for gaining strength, three sets instead of two might not work any better. Sometimes more sets will result in more sloppy reps.

Strength is a skill. Like any other skill, it’s not practice that makes you better. It’s effective practice. It’s much better to end the workout long before technique degrades.

If you are improving at two sets, doing more is making you tired for no reason. Why risk bad technique, fatigue and burnout for no reward? Training is not about burning yourself out completing epic workouts. It’s about consistent long term improvement.

Practice in small concentrated doses. Frequent, fresh and Flawless.

A Minimalist Strength Workout:

This is my personal favourite combination. You’ll need to fight the feeling that you aren’t doing enough work. You will absolutely be stronger performing this workout two or three times a week.

1A) Traditional Barbell Deadlift, 2 sets of 5 reps. 3-5 minutes of rest between sets.

1B) Overhead Barbell Press, 2 Sets of 5 reps. 3-5 minutes of rest between sets

Start the training cycle with a lightweight. Add five pounds more to the bar every workout. Every fourth workout, scale back 15lbs. You’ll be going four steps forward, three steps back. Essentially you are making gains, and consolidating them.

Never Miss A Rep. If there is ever a doubt that you can’t complete the set, lower the weight. Teach the body how to succeed, not to fail. Sloppy, “survival mode” reps will not make you stronger. This is training not competition.

Don’t grunt. Don’t scream bang weights or make a show of yourself. You could show up at the gym in your golf shirt and slacks, bang out a few quality sets and confuse everyone with your results.

A Conditioning Workout:

Conditioning workouts improve your stamina and cardiovascular capacity. They also provide a great calorie burn for those looking to lose weight. You could do traditional cardiovascular exercises. Instead, I use the time with my clients to also develop explosive and functional strength.

Recently, I’ve had great results with this combination:

1a) 10 Heavy Kettlebell Swings

1b) Farmer’s Walk, ½ bodyweight in each hand (heavy!), 30 seconds.

Rest long enough between rounds to breathe through your nose and recover your grip. Work for about 10 minutes on this pair. It makes a great finisher and will help you be the go-to guy or gal for opening jars.

A Muscle Building Routine:

1A) Goblet Squats 5 x 5

1B) Single Arm Overhead Press (Kettlebell or Dumbell) 5 x 5

The key to this little gem is to keep the rest periods short. Take 60 seconds between each exercise in the pair. Lift a weight that allows you to complete all the reps in the workout without failure. This will usually a weight you could lift for 8-10 times in each exercise.

Finally, try not to over think things. The most important thing is to get moving! If you are stuck or confused, simplify more!

Side note: If you are unfamiliar with any of these movements have any mobility limitations or injuries, make sure to seek out a qualified coach or instructor before starting! I recommend getting a Functional Movement Screen before beginning any fitness activity. Use these routines at your own risk.

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