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Minimalistic Training: The need of the hour for serious trainees sitting on office chairs

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
- Bruce Lee

How much time do we really need to invest every week into our training in order to get the results we need? I would say that highly depends upon the way we define 'results' but let's just say for most of us, they are the following:

1. Fat loss: or the ability to fit into old clothes, see our six pack or not get any skin folds in our hands while we pinch our waist.
2. Muscle Gain: Our arms should fill the sleeves of our shirts, the weight on the weighing scale should increase, shoulders should be broader, bigger calves etc.

Of course there are other benefits which can result out of exercise such as improved strength of the involved muscle groups, better flexibility, improved cardiovascular output, more capillarity, improved grip, better spinal health, stronger joints etc but honestly, who is really concerned about the more boring aspects?

Keeping in mind the above two benefits, here's a good news: You really do not need to do each and every exercise in existence using every equipment available in your gym. A few very rewarding exercises done with very basic equipment can deliver the results you need. To understand how we should carry out exercise selection when we are on a time budget, consider that all the movements of the human body that can be trained with strength training can be broadly classified into the following big groups:

1. Push - Like a Push Up, A military press, a Handstand press etc
2. Pull - Like a Pull Up, a Row or a Bicep Curl
3. Hinge - A kettlebell swing or a deadlift are fine examples
4. Squat - As the name says, we all know the drill: Barbell Squats, One legged squats, even lunges.
5. Bracing the core - Anything which forces the core and abdominal musculature to prevent movement of the spine in any direction. A plank, a Pallof Press or an Ab Wheel rollout fit the bill.

Of course, a lot of other noise also exists in the annals of exercise science literature and magazines, but, really, any exercise you pick up, can fall into one of these categories. The effort required in designing a minimalist program thus gets highly simplified once you know that you only need to pick one exercise from each category. Here's how you can do it.

Day 1
1. Incline Bench Press - 2 x 5
2. Pull Ups - 3 x 5
3. Deadlifts - 2 x 5
4. Front loaded pistols - 2 x 5
5. Ab wheel Rollouts - 5 x 5

Day 2
1. Overhead kettlebell Press - 2 x 5
2. Bicep Curls - 2 x 5
3. Good Mornings - 2 x 5
4. Front Squats - 2 x 5
5. Janda Sit Ups - 5 x 5

Day 3
Same as Day 1.

... And so on.

The immediate follow up question is: where are the rest of the chest, back and leg movements? An important principle to adhere to when designing minimalist programs is to remove all redundancy from the blueprint. A dumbbell chest fly is a great exercise but is probably not what you are looking for when writing a minimalist strength workout. So is the case with exercises such as leg extensions, forearm curls, calf raises etc. If you notice, we are looking at taking out single joint movements from the mix and using more multi joint and big movements. In other words, we are looking towards the inclusion of high reward or 'high bang for your buck' movements here.

The above template is for someone who can train at least three days a week. However, an even smaller workout frequency is also possible. In fact, if you choose the right exercises and training volume considerations, its possible to train even twice a week and keep getting the gains.

Here's how a sample split might look like:

Day 1:

1. Squat - 3-4 sets of 10 reps
2. Bench Press - 3 - 4 sets of 10 reps
3. Narrow grip bench press - 3 x 10
4. Barbell Drag Curls - 3 x 10
5.  Hanging Leg Raises: 3 x 10 - 12

Day 2.

1. Deadlift - 5 x 2
2. Bench Press - 3 - 4 sets of 10 reps
3. Leg Curls - 3 x 10
4. Standing Calf Raises - 3 x 10
5. The hardstyle plank - 3 x 10 - 12 second solid tight holds with breathing.

The weight to be selected on these exercises should be something which can be lifted with good technique for about 12 reps. Except the deadlift where relatively higher percentages of your one rep max can be employed. Take about two days as rest days between both the training days.

I agree that you may not be able to reap some of the benefits of a full fledged higher frequency training program on such a minimalistic template, but the price paid in terms of the lost few benefits can be recovered in all the precious time you have reclaimed while you are not training.  Not only work, you can now willingly spend that newfound time in many more beautiful things that can make life better such as spending more time with family, shopping, traveling or completing that book which you have been reading from a long time now.

By the way, the similar methodology of reduction of what can be done away with, can be utilized if you are training at home with minimal equipment or are traveling a lot. Something like following can be your helpful aid in such cases:

Day 1:
1. One legged Squats(Pistols or rear leg elevated skater squats): 5 x 6 - 8
2. Decline Push Ups: 3 x 10 - 12
3. TRX Bodyweight rows: 4 x 8 - 10
4. Janda Sit Ups using the TRX: 5 x 5

The TRX suspension trainer can be your best friend when on the road

Day 2: 

1. TRX rear foot elevated lunge : 4 x 6 - 8
2. Clap Push Ups: 3 x 8 - 10
3. Towel bodyweight rows:  3 x 10 - 12
4. Superman Push Ups: 5 x 5

You can even do a timed circuit of these exercises back to back resting for 3 to 5 minutes between each circuit to add a varied stimulus. Most of the exercises mentioned in these templates may be unfamiliar to many. I'd suggest doing a googe search on them to understand the underlying mechanics and technique points first.

Practice a moderate pace cardiovascular taxing activity such as a brisk walk, rope skipping or jog on a few days apart from the training ones.

The times logged on any of these templates, even if you reach to the advanced exercise variations, should not be more than 20 to 30 minutes; way less than what a usual training session takes. In fact, do not be surprised if the first few workouts are unbelievably short. It's all a part of the plan.

Although these are mere guidelines to experiment with and stimulate your imagination to design your own programs, the point I am aiming at here is that it is highly possible to train with minimal equipment and time to get maximal and distinguished results.

You can expect a sustained improvement in your body composition, conditioning and strength if you log your workouts every session and keep making the necessary progressive changes to your split with time.

Minimalism for maximum results

Practicing abbreviated programs can go a long way in teaching us how little we require in terms of variety and how, most new and stylized exercise variations are often mere inventions to keep you all excited and entertained. Getting stronger and fitter can be a boring endeavor, let's face it. But with time we get to learn how it is all the more necessary to stay committed to the program.And of course, let's not forget that we have a beautiful life out of the gym as well which needs a bigger part of us. Minimalism helps us achieve just that. I'll be wriring more on minimalism in the coming posts. As always would love to hear from you!