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Minimalist Workouts

For a long time I used to fit myself around training. I used to complete a predetermined workout, at a set time, on a set day, that I had decided the week before regardless of how I felt on the day. It took me a while to realise, after burning out for the umpteenth time, this was backwards thinking.

My dream is simple; enjoy life physically & unrestricted in any endeavours I pursue.

Epiphany! Training should fit around me and enhance my life giving me tonnes of time and energy to do and enjoy all the things I love, here’s a few of mine:

  • Running and growing aps
  • Rock climbing
  • Learning about the incredible mind and body
  • Socialising with friends and family
  • Looking after my dogs

But how?

I am not an Olympian or professional athlete, while I’m awake anyway, so I don’t need a professional athletes training regimen. Not to mention gone are the days when I want to spend hours and all my energy in the gym or need my training to be perfect. However, I still recognise that no matter who you are exercise can hugely enhance life. So I came up with minimalist workouts with these key components:

What to consider to create a highly effective minimalist workout:

Prioritise the goal

Choose the area of most significance to you right now:

  • Performance
  • Vitality
  • Body shape
  • Injury rehab

‘but what about….’ or ‘but I need to do that otherwise….’ or ‘but more is better…..’

Unlike sir mix a lot I don’t like big buts, destroy them. I know it’s scary, but fear not, focusing on one goal still has positive carryover into others if designed well, not as much if it were your priority, but still positive results none the less. I focus on performance – my bouldering is improving and yet my energy is great, my abs still look decent and my backs holding up.

Complete a Needs Analysis

A needs analysis figures out what I need to get where I want to be by looking at myself and my goal:

  1. What does the goal need vs. what do I need to achieve the goal?
  2. What imbalances exist that need to be corrected?
  3. Activity specific unwinding to keep in balance and healthy
  4. Existing imbalances – tight muscles? lacking mobility? Posture? stability?

I then know exactly what I need and from this I can create my minimalist highly effective workouts by stretching & mobilising what’s tight, choosing big bang exercises, using circuits instead of stations and using reactive sets.

Stretching & Mobilising what’s tight – As with everything, required level of flexibility is personal to you. Generally follow the principle that if it’s tight or restricted it needs stretching and/or mobilising, if it’s not tight, leave it. There’s exceptions to the rule such as developing sport specific flexibility, but this principle will serve you well in most situations. This is because hypermobility disrupts the body and compromises joint stability.

Choosing high carryover big bang exercises – Carryover is the ability to apply a skill learned in one situation to a different but similar situation. Carryover is a spectrum, every training activity has a percentage carryover, and except for practicing the sport or task itself no conditioning activity has 100% carryover. So what we can do in the gym is choose exercises that have a higher carryover to the desired goal. Decide if an exercise has high carryover by considering among others:

  • Muscles used
  • Heart rate disruption
  • Movement patterns
  • Closed vs. Open chain
  • Righting vs. Equilibrium reflex
  • Bio motor abilities
  • Movement Complexity
  • Work : Rest ratio

Some examples:

  • For a rock climber a pull up will have a lot more carryover than a lat pull down.
  • To tone the arms bicep curls will have a lot more carryover than a calf raise.
  • To burn calories & disrupt heart rate a deadlift will have more carryover than bicep curls.

Big bang exercises: train multiple wins at once. Characteristics of big bang exercises:

  • Combining movement patterns
  • Multi-plane loading & stability
  • Multiple bio-motor abilities
  • Heaps of muscles
  • High nervous system
  • Task stabilisers & prime mover to work together

That makes them my favourite exercises. Remember qualify yourself for any exercise, skill and ability and always train with good form.


Using Circuits instead of stations – An exercise “circuit” is one completion of all exercises in a programme only pausing to set up for the next exercise or take a couple of breaths followed by resting, the length of which varies depending on the force generation ability you are training for (endurance 60s, Strength 2-5m, Power 3-5m). Then repeat the circuit for however many sets you have chosen (see reactive sets). Simply think of a circuit as go, go, go rest, repeat.

Applying Reactive Sets – The Reactive sets principle is deciding how many sets my mind and body needs today. I love reaction sets because life is never static; my energy, how my body feels, where my minds at, motivation and time available all vary week to week. The higher these are = more sets, lower = less sets. So to ensure I fit my training sessions in, but they remain adaptable for my week I use anything from 2-5 sets.

I end up with a highly effective minimalist workout that has a flexible energy demand and fits in with my week.


I believe everyone has the capacity to fit exercise into their life at any point regardless of circumstances and goals because exercise is so highly adaptable and individual. Use these rules to help develop your own minimalist workouts and as ever, please don’t hesitate to ask for any help that you need.

Stay Healthy,
Ross

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