If you regularly read any fitness magazines or websites or, if you talk to anyone involved in the fitness industry, chances are that you’ve heard of hundreds of different exercises and dozens of different training programs.
There is also a good chance that at some stage you’ve tried to design some form of ‘ultimate program’ that incorporates dozens of different weight training exercises, a running program and the latest sport-specific exercises.
If this sounds like you, don’t feel too bad – it’s happened to nearly everyone at some stage!
The problem is that when bombarded by the huge volume of information that’s now readily available, it’s easy to develop paralysis by analysis and what I like to call exercise attention deficit disorder.
This leads to programs that try to do a lot and achieve very little.
You see, somewhere in between the triple-drop set of Zottman curls, Arnold presses and worrying about your form on wobble-board crunches, you lose sight of the most important parts of a successful training program – intensity and consistency.
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If you want to get good at something, work it hard and work it consistently – and don’t do a bunch of extraneous junk.
Through experience, I’ve discovered that, in the majority of cases, you can achieve superior results by focusing on a handful of fundamental exercises instead of taking a shotgun approach to your workouts.
This is not to say that over a period of six or 12 months you can’t do a wide variety of exercises and programs, just that at any one time it can be beneficial to cut back the complexity of your program and instead devote your energy to the few key exercises or workouts that are going to take you closer to your chosen goal.
So let’s look at some examples of minimalist programs that deliver the goods.
Goal 1 – Muscle Mass
Unless you are on steroids, the programs in bodybuilding mags are a fantasy.
Instead of doing four exercises for each body part, try doing one big compound exercise per body part and train two to three big exercises in a session.
Split your training into two workouts and do each one twice a week.
To achieve impressive muscle growth, the most important factor is to increase your volume of repetitions – so aim for 10 or 12 sets of five with moderately heavy weights.
A sample program might look like this:
> Monday – dumbbell shoulder press 10 x 5, barbell deadlift 10 x 5, situps 3 x 15
> Tuesday – barebell bench press 10 x 5, barbell squat 10 x 5, pullups 5 x 10
> Wednesday – rest
> Thursday and Friday repeat the workouts. Eat lots of good clean food with plenty of protein.
No drop sets, super sets, isolation exercises or the like – just hard work on the big basics.
After six weeks on this program you can drop the volume to 5 x 5 and add two to four sessions of cardio to strip back any fat you’ve gained with the muscle.
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Goal 2 – Pre-enlistment fitness
The goal here is very simple – pass a test consisting of pushups, situps and running and hopefully have the general strength and resilience to survive basic training.
Run intervals of 200 to 800m on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a longer run or practice beep test on Saturday.
Three days a week, a strength and muscular endurance program that covers the test elements as well as some basic strengthening exercises. Try the following.
> kettlebell swings 5 x 20
> pushups 5 x 80% of your max
> situps 5 x 75% of your max
> kettlebell shoulder press 5 x 5 each arm
> pullups or assisted pull-ups 5 x 8-10
Goal 3 – Infantry fitness
Choose two conditioning methods (I suggest running and kettlebell snatches) and perform four to five sessions a week, alternating between shorter, harder sessions and some longer sessions.
For example, one day do 100 snatches in minimum time, the next day do a 5km run, then say five x 50 snatches, four x 800m runs and so on.
Two days a week, do a low-rep, high-weight strength program focusing on deadlifts, overhead pressing and heavy core work.
Finish off with two days a week of pushups, situps and pull-ups.
The key to all these programs is to train consistently and to apply maximum concentration to each exercise as you do it. When you run, run fast – when you lift weights, lift the heaviest weights you can handle for the required reps.
If you stop worrying about your program design so much and pursue these few basic exercises with absolute dedication and intensity, you’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve on a minimalist program.