Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Minimalist series: step 1, getting started!


This is a series of post that I will write to help people who want to be their own personal trainers. Most of all it will be about high lighting the concept of simplicity and how you can get strong and fit using little but your own fantasy and a lot of hard work.

Now, this will not be about becoming a bodybuilder or a power lifter or to shred belly fat in 6 weeks or whatever. It will be about getting super strong using your own body and to have fun with it. To get awesomely strong will be a marathon and not a sprint. No quick fixes here.

If you like to hit the gym, equipment will be there in abundance. If you do like me and train at home, you’ll have to get a few items somewhere along the road.
This is my list:

 Door way pullup bar, a MUST have! No way around that one.
 Pushup handles, after a while they will be great for taking pushups further
Some free weights, start with adjustable dumbbells and some plates
Rings are a great way to push training further. I like metolius rock rings a lot because I like to train my grip. Gymnastic rings are great to and you can also make your own, using cargo bands.

At first, we start with some basic training to know your level and find what you like. For this, you’ll do good with a pullup bar.  I recommend starting with a very simple training routine:

Three to five days per week, you will be doing the same routine. Even strong individuals can benefit from this bare bones routine and maybe even see it as a wakeup call to work on your weak links. I’m a believer that you should be able to dominate your own body before trying to dominate the weights or harder progressions such as gymnastics, so here it goes:

1.       Pushups
2.       Pull-ups OR inverted rows
3.       Squats OR Bulgarian split squat
4.       hip thrusts

Basic, fool proof and humbling. You will pick a variation of the exercise that’s pretty demanding. If you already can do 100 squats in a set, do a harder variation like the Bulgarian split squat for instance, feel free to add weight.

 If you are great at pushups, do close grip pushups or put your feet on a chair to make it harder. If you can’t do pushups, do them on your knees.

I doubt that many are so extremely good at pull-ups that they can’t benefit from strict wide grip pull-ups with slow tempo but add weight in a backpack if you want!

If you can’t do pull-ups at all, do timed pullup lowerings. Jump up to the bar and lower yourself for a set time, say 5 seconds. Count this as your reps instead!

An alternative to pull-ups is rows, done with weights or with your body weight. You’ll find it on google, either “bent over rows” or “inverted rows” can be done if pull-ups are too hard or you don’t have a bar for it yet. The most spartan thing to do would be inverted rows under your dinner table, so no excuses to neglect the important muscles of the back!

 Hip thrusts are for your lower back, glutes and hamstrings. You are lying on the floor with feet on the ground close to your butt and raising your hips up high and then down again. Slow and controlled and if it’s too easy, do it on one leg and/or put your feet on a chair for greater resistance. Same here, add a weight plate in your lap to make it harder. Google it.

What you will do now is to find you max number of repetitions for each of your chosen exercises and multiply it with 2.5. The number you get is your target amount of repetitions for your workout.

If you can do 10 pullups, that number equals 25 reps. You will do 25 reps in as few sets as possible and when you manage that in just 3 sets, you increase your total reps with 10% for the next session. This is the way of progression!
An example workout, showing the pushups part, would be:

Pushups (tested max reps 15): total reps for the workout is then 15x2.5= 37.5. Make it 38.

Set one: 15 reps
Set two: 13 reps
Set three: 11 reps

Three sets and I’ve done 39 reps. This means I will increase my total reps for next session with 10% (that’s 4 reps) so next time, I’ll go 38+4=42 reps total!

Then comes pull-ups (tested max 5 reps): total reps for the workout 5x2.5=12.5. Make it 13.

Set one: 5 reps
Set two: 4 reps
Set three: 2 reps
Set four: 2 reps

I couldn’t get my 13 reps in three sets so I will have 13 as my target reps next session as well.

You continue this way squats and hip thrusts as well, only increasing your reps when you hit target in three sets or less. You will do this same workout every time you train and add nothing else if you are new to this type of thing! Use it and really build up your numbers, it will build a great base for future training endeavors.

This is a beginner’s routine but it can serve a purpose if you just want a break from weight training, want to get some training done during vacations or you can even add it to your current regimen, as your bodyweight training day of the week!

Train good!


  1. Hey Alex, great article! The only thing I would do different is not do push-ups off the knees. When I have beginners that can't do a proper push up, I start them on the wall, then move down to my balance bar, then down to a bench, then to the floor. I've read the mechanics of knee push-ups don't translate to a proper floor push-up.
    What do you think?

  2. Hi!
    Thank you! I think you have great alternatives, and I'm sure there are many that work well for this routine. I think the most important thing, when using this training program is to find some variation that's challengeing but not really maximal.

    For someone wanting to learn a movement, Aris article that was published just after this one, would be a great option. Just work the movement every single day.

    My program here will teach you to handle an increasing volume in a challengeing rep range (15- 30 total would be great)and lay the foundation for being ready to inrease the intensity to low rep work with a maintained high frequency and volume.

    So in the case of choice of pushup variation, just using one that you can handle for 10-15 reps on you first set would be ideal and your style of progression makes that easy to track down. Thanks for your tips!

  3. Thanks for the article! How often would you recommend working a movement in this way? 3x/week?

  4. With bodyweight exercises, all I do, and all I have my trainees do, is to begin with a total of 10, and add 1 to the total in each workout. Whether the 10 is a straight set of 10, or 5,3,2, or 4,3,2,1, or 2 reps x 5 sets, or even 10 singles, simply doesn't matter. Do what you're comfortable with, and if you know the next rep will be grindy and rough, don't do it - just rest and try again in a minute.

    By this method, you find that the most you can do in one go will increase. For chinups I've seen it as, on day 1 being able to do 3 in one go, build from 10 to 30 over 21 workouts never using more than 3 reps in one go, now on workout #22 they try and find they can do 8 in one go.

    Of course, the person may not have the willpower to add one to their chinups in every workout. In this case they can just do the same total reps each time. After a month or so they retest their max, and this is what we find.

    Doing a total of 10 regularly gets you 3 or so reps.
    Total 20, gets 5.
    Total 30, gets 6-8.
    Total 50 get 10 or so.

    Squats you find it's more 1:1, ie you end up doing your total in one set. Pushups and dips it's around 1:2 or 1:3.