Over thinking things used to be a bad habit of mine.
I still catch myself doing it sometimes, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as it once was.
I used to think I needed to include every possible exercise variation and training methodology in order to make a great program for myself. My workouts would typically include more than five exercises, usually in the 6-10 range. I would spend too much time doing corrective type exercises that I didn’t really need at the time. I would get really random sometimes and spend an entire workout messing around on a TRX.
In my observation, simplicity seems to thrive over complexity in many situations, especially in regards to exercise programming. I’ve found that I’m much more productive when I focus on what’s really important in a good program.
Rather than picking too many exercises to get through, I now pick 2-3 key movements to concentrate on for the day and put almost all of my energy toward them. This way, I’m able to get much more work done on the lifts that benefit me the most and I avoid putting a lackluster effort into anything.
Rather than wasting time doing a bunch of different activation drills and corrective movements, I only do what I need to do on that particular day. Assuming I’m not feeling especially sore/tight in any areas, some foam rolling, joint mobilizations, and a quick barbell complex is usually enough. I try not to spend any more than 15 minutes tops on a complete warm-up.
Rather than getting too attached to one particular piece of equipment, I now realize that things like TRX’s, kettlebells, bands, ropes, and plyo boxes are all nothing more than tools in the toolbox. They all have value, but none of them have magical fitness powers, and they should be treated accordingly.
Long story short, I’ve learned to simplify things in regards to lifting. Doing this has helped me tremendously. Here’s how you can do it too 🙂
With so much unique equipment and training styles, designing a program can become very easy to overcomplicate. Don’t get caught up in trying to include everything you can possibly fit.
First and foremost, you must move well. Possessing the ability to perform the fundamental human movements correctly is critical. By addressing the various mobility and stability needs throughout the body before loading the basic movements you will be setting yourself up for great success down the road.
The foundation of your program should be made up of the biggest movements that hit the most amount of muscle. Performed properly, the squat and the deadlift are the head honchos. Becoming strong in these two exercises alone is going to work wonders for your body.
It’s important to include pushing and pulling motions too. In my experience overhead pressing, pull-ups done from straps or rings, advanced pushup variations, and all different types of rows pretty much cover all the bases.
For core training, include loaded carries or some type of anti-extension/anti-rotation exercise. Just a few sets here should be sufficient unless you have a glaring weakness.
Creating a program from just the basics is easy and effective. Here’s a simple 4 day/week upper-lower split that only uses two exercises each workout.
- Day 1: Bilateral knee dominant + unilateral hip dominant + core/loaded carries
- Day 2: Bilateral vertical push/pull + unilateral horizontal push/pull + core/loaded carries
- Day 3: Bilateral hip dominant + unilateral knee dominant + core/loaded carries
- Day 4: Bilateral horizontal push/pull + unilateral vertical push/pull + core/loaded carries
If we fill this template in with actual exercises, it might look something like this:
- Day 1: Front squat + Single-Leg RDL + Barbell rollout
- Day 2: Push press + Single-arm dumbbell row + Trap bar farmers walk
- Day 3: Conventional deadlift + Anterior loaded reverse lunge + Banded pallof press
- Day 4: TRX/Ring pull-up + Single-arm dumbbell bench + Dumbbell suitcase carry
Provided that you follow the principles of progressive overload and recover well, you can get pretty damn strong on these 12 exercises alone.
Don’t think that the workouts are going to be easy just because of the low amount of exercises. If you choose to train this way, you shouldn’t be following the novice 3 sets of 10 approach.
I’m encouraging you to really get after those first two movements. Lots of sets, lots of quality reps, and zero missed lifts! Remember there is no shame in reducing your training loads to focus on movement skill and technique.
Beyond the Basics
The basic template is a great starting point. If you don’t have a ton of time to train, it will definitely produce results if you’re consistent with it.
Going beyond the basic template can take your training efforts a step further. Your first order of business should be to include something more than just the standard strength exercises. This opens up some more options depending on your goals.
For power development, include some explosive type movements into your workouts 3-4 times per week. This could include any type of olympic lift variation, sprint work, or plyo’s. It’s as simple as starting a training session with a few sets of hang snatches or ending a session with some short sprints. Here’s a sample:
- Day 1: Hang clean + Back squat + Single leg hip bridge + RKC plank
- Day 2: Hang snatch high pull + Single-arm DB push press + TRX inverted row + KB waiter walk
- Day 3: Box jump + Snatch grip deadlift + Bulgarian split squat + Turkish get-up
- Day 4: Band resisted KB swing + Plyo pushup + TRX/Ring pull-up + Sprints
For conditioning, try implementing some type of metabolic finisher at the end of each workout. There are a ton of options for this. Some good examples would be Airdyne tabatas, sled drags, prowler pushes, or high-rep kettlebell swings. For example:
- Day 1: Back squat + Single-leg back extension + Hanging leg raise + 500 – 1000 m row
- Day 2: Barbell OHP + Single-arm DB row + OH barbell carry + KB swing 30:30 interval for 5 rounds
- Day 3: Jefferson deadlift + Single-leg squat + TRX fallouts + Prowler push x 100′ for 5 rounds
- Day 4: Flat bench press + Pull-up + DB farmers walk + Airdyne tabata (20/10 x8 rounds)
For increased work capacity, you should be focusing on one thing: Doing more work in less time. Complexes are going to be your best friend here. Experiment with barbell, bodyweight, dumbbell, and kettlebell complexes with both lower and higher rep ranges. And for another example:
- Day 1: Safety bar squats + DB single-leg RDL + Hollow body iso hold + Barbell complex for lower reps
- Day 2: Push jerk + Face pull + DB goblet carry + 8 minute max pull-ups
- Day 3: Pull through + Walking lunge + Plank row + Body weight complex for higher reps
- Day 4: DB bench press + TRX wide grip pull-ups + KB offset carry + 4 minute max pushups
The key here is to realize you can’t get better at everything at the same time. Don’t expect to truly address power, strength, conditioning, and work capacity all in the same workout. Sure, you could technically cover each area, but it’s going to be extremely difficult to recover from and more than likely not optimal.
Everything Else (but not really)
We’ve covered the basics, which is your barebones approach to strength training.
We’ve also gone a little bit beyond the basics, which takes your minimalist strength program and adds in an extra focus area.
So what’s left? Well, a lot. Way too much to cover in a short blog post. And honestly, introducing too many new methods too soon often leads to training inconsistencies. This is a problem because the number one factor that is going to determine your results from training is consistency.
Therefore, stick to the basics until you’ve become proficient. And when you do introduce something new to the routine, ease into it! Chances are you’ll probably have to take something out when you add something in. Again, don’t try to improve everything at once, because it will not work optimally.
Master the basic movement patterns first.
Then strengthen those patterns.
Then start to add some more variety based on your specific training goals.
And when your training doesn’t seem to be going as great as originally planned, just keep training!
Your persistence will undoubtedly be rewarded.