There’s times when the workload either at home or in the office hits a tipping point and something’s gotta give. In the perfect world you could always priorities training over everything else but this is not a perfect world It’s a world filled with distractions, some which are urgent and justify tapering your training to an absolute minimum.
Then there’s times when training has lost it’s appeal and seems as desirable as washing that dirty baking tray that’s been sitting on the counter since last night’s roast pork dinner. To clean it you have to slip into the full body protection suit with glasses and gloves and all to avoid any grease spillage on those new Levi’s you just bought. I get it. That’s how training can sometimes seem when there are work, family and life worries on your mind.
At those times you still want to keep the momentum and avoid the hardship of starting a training program from a scratch after prolonged hiatus. And the best way to keep the momentum going is to make your training as simple and minimalistic as possible. Remove the thinking part of it and just go through the movements. If it means that you have to get everything done in 25 minutes, so be it. And if you have extra time, what you’ll often find is that training for 25 minutes sparks the flame and you’ll end up going for longer.
Tricking yourself to go longer is not the goal here though. The idea is to make a deal with yourself that if you move for 25 minutes and want to stop after that, it’s completely fine. You don’t have to justify why you stopped. It’s all cool. 25 minutes of training was the agreement you made with yourself.
How to Build a Minimalistic Training Program
Sure, you could go and do 25 minutes of bicep curls and tricep extensions. But to make the most out of the limited time you’ve got, choose movements that challenge the most, if not all of the basic human movement patterns. Hitting the most movement patterns means hitting the most muscles.
- Push – push up, some form of press press
- Pull – TRX row, chin up
- Hinge – deadlift, kettlebell swing, single leg deadlift
- Squat – goblet squat, single leg squat
- Carry – suitcase, farmer, overhead. Carry the neighbor’s 25kg labrador (with permission) up the hill if you have to
- Ground movement – crawl, different forms of get ups
You don’t have to hit all the patterns within a 25 minute session. You can and it’s possible to cover them all, but failing that aim to cover all few times throughout the week.
Programming for Minimalistic Training Plan
I’ll be honest here, I don’t think complicated programming and periodization serves a purpose for general fitness enthusiast who has to juggle life, work, family and feeding the neighborhood’s renegade possum Ernesto on a regular bases. The rests periods happen without planning with travel and other commitments as well as occasionally being sick. Nine out of ten times the training goal is not some competition in a six months time. Rather, the goal is to train for tomorrow and the gradual improvement (or even maintenance) of one’s movement skills, strength and health.
Why would you grind through each session like an Olympic athlete, keeping yourself on the edge, possibly risking an injury when the risk far outweighs the benefits? You don’t have to train like an athlete.
Easy Strength Approach
Keep it simple. One of my favorite’s is to follow Easy Strength by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline. In it’s simplicity it’s to do each movement each training day while alternating between easy, medium and hard load and never going to failure.
One of my clients went from a 140kg deadlift to a 165kg in two months without ever lifting heavier than 140kg, while staying at the same bodyweight. Not once did he grind his sets. It was always “easy” or close to it.
But the best part was that he was consistent with his training because the training plan didn’t require him to be in the gym hours on end. If he had 30 minutes he’d come in and do one or two lifts after the warm up and leave. When he had more time he might add some single leg work and what-not to top it up. It was all about how much time he had and how he felt on the day.
Dan John has written about Easy Strength at length so there’s no reason for me to explain it again. I’ll just say that you need to know how to perform the movements before starting the program. Check these links for more on Easy Strength:
Other Ways to “Easy Strength”
I’ve steered away from barbell training because I don’t like how it makes my body feel the next day. It doesn’t jive with my back, or my hips or the knees. I call this the “tall man syndrome”.
As of late I’ve done Turkish Get Ups and prowler pushes or drags with some TRX rows sprinkled on top. That’s it. The goal of this program has been to teach myself that I can finish each workout while feeling fresh instead of grinding myself to the ground. Something which I’ve been a master of throughout my whole training life. Hence, why I used to be injured, all. the. time.
The usual session is a full body warmup followed by five single get ups on each side, followed by 3-5 sets of 30 meters on the the prowler and 8-12 reps on the TRX. Taking whatever rest I need between each Get Up and adding some mobility work in if I feel like I need it. After finishing the get ups I move to the next exercise. Again taking my time with the sets. If I am pressed for time I rest less or even do less work.
I do this on three days a week and on the fourth day I do the Get Ups and TRX and just mess around with split stance deadlifts or half kneeling presses since I don’t happen to have a turf or a prowler in our 5×2 meter garage.
How To Progress
Once the get ups get easier pick up a heavier ‘bell. Or add a rep or two on each side, although I wouldn’t really “rep out” on them since they require a decent level of concentration. The other way to progress is to slow them down and hold each position for 5-10 seconds.
Sure, it’s a very slow progress but progress nevertheless. I am in no hurry and I am definitely in no hurry whatsoever to get myself injured, again. Been through that cycle too many times to count.
Essentially with this sort of approach you are trading your short-term goals for your long-term goals. You trade aggressively pushing your limits and possibly risking injury for longevity by slowly hinging yourself forward. This works well if you have no urgent competition or other limited timeline to reach your goal.
The only requirement to being successful with this approach is that you have to have a high tolerance for boredom. But you can get past this by adding variety to your warm-up. Use the warm-ups to spice up your training by going through the movement patterns that need work: crawl, squat, single leg stuff, few carries and extra hinging for those glutes.