“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” -Steve Jobs
If you were to ask a stranger on the street to come up with a word to describe an effective exercise program, you might hear things like intense, insane or brutal. You might even hear catch phrases like “muscle confusion”. But would you expect to hear the word “simple”?
Probably not and I believe this to be a bad thing. Here’s why: simplicity forces you to strip away all of the fluff. It carves away the excess like an artist revealing a beautiful sculpture that was once hidden in an ordinary block of stone.
Most of you have heard of the 80/20 rule in some form or fashion. For many of us in the fitness industry, the 80/20 rule stands for something to the effect of eating “clean” 80 percent of the time and being a little more “flexible” the other 20 percent of the time. However, Pareto, the Italian economist, held that the 80/20 rule meant that 80 percent of the results came from 20 percent of the causes. So taken in fitness terms, 80 percent of the benefits you reap from exercise are likely coming from 20 percent of the exercises you are doing. In order to get the most bang from your exercise buck, would it not make sense to focus on those vital moves resulting in your 80 percent? In order to do that, you must simplify.
Another reason to seek simplicity in your workouts is that you are more likely to do them. It is very easy to talk yourself out of a convoluted workout regime. That argument becomes tougher to make when the program is simple. The more steps you add, the more layers to put in your workout, the less consistent you will be. Consistency is the key to results of any kind.
What does a simple workout look like? At Project Fitness, we train in patterns, not muscle groups. We do this for a couple of reasons.
1) It is closer to how you move in life. I’ve never seen a seated leg extension happen outside of a gym.
2) Training in patterns allows you to hit more muscle with each exercise.
This allows for time efficiency, effectiveness and (drum roll please)… simplicity. You don’t need a separate exercise for your quadriceps muscles, your hamstrings and your glutes. All you need is a hip-hinge pattern like a deadlift or kettlebell swing. Want to work those shoulders and tone the arms? Try pushups and you get both of those areas plus your core. Here is a simple workout template that you can follow with just about any fitness goal:
Exercise 1- Lower Body: Lunge, Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Squat (pick one of these)
Exercise 2- Upper Body Push: Horizontal or vertical (pick one of these)
Exercise 3- Upper Body Pull: Horizontal or vertical (pick one of these)
Examples of the push patterns would be pushups or overhead presses.
Examples of the pulls would be lat-pulldowns or dumbbell rows. Perform whatever three exercises you choose in a circuit for 3-5 rounds of 6-10 reps and adjust the weight as needed to complete the target number of reps.
With a workout program like this, even on days when life is hectic, you can get into the gym and do 3 sets of 6 reps and be done in 15-20 minutes. On days when you have more time and energy, increase the reps, the number of sets or both and get after it.
As Coach Dan John says, a workout like this is, “Simple but not easy.”