Less is more.
Sometimes having too much choice is a bad thing. I’m often bewildered to to point of drooling when faced with a Starbucks menu board. Surely it’s all just coffee? Do you actually need all the possible permutations that you’re presented with? Or is it a marketing ploy that allows you to feel good about yourself because you’ve managed to make at least one decision in a long day of disappointment and being shit on by your boss?
When it comes to exercise the choice passes from bewildering and hurtles towards terrifying. As a first timer to regular planned exercise you have many decisions to make:
- What type of training? Weights? Cardio? Crossfit? Football? Rugby? Martial arts? Strength? Fitness? Weight loss? Weight gain?
- How often should I train? Once a week? Every day?
- Are there certain exercises I should definitely include? Are there others that I should avoid?
- How long should I train for? An hour? Three? 10 mins?
The choices for the more advanced trainer are even more complicated:
- How many reps?
- How many sets?
- How much rest between sets?
- Should I split up my body parts? And if so how?
- Chest and back trained together? Quads and hamstrings trained on different days?
- Fast reps?
- Slow reps?
- Compound exercises or isolation or both?
If you have more then one goal things get muddier still. At the moment I’m trying to lose bodyfat but maintain as much muscle mass as possible. Trying to organise and plan this has been causing me sleepless nights.
On one hand I need to do lots of weights – which is not a problem. On the other hand I should be doing tons of cardio and conditioning – which is a major problem as I’m lazy.
There’s not enough days in the week nor hours in the day to fit it all in.
I’ve been training, more or less consistently, for about 27 years – which is a ridiculous amount of time. In that time I’ve tried every possible training method, exercise selection and program you could care to mention. In the past 12 months I’ve done 5/3/1, Westside, Strongman, Powerlifting, Muay Thai, Circuit Training, German Volume Training, 5/3/1 again, Bodybuilding and probably 5/3/1 yet again.
Although all these training methods are as different from each other as you could care to mention they all had, for me, one thing in common – I trained like a demented drunken monkey on every one.
I’m not a natural athlete, after decades of slog all I’ve managed to do is be reasonably average. I’m not the strongest guy in the gym, not the fittest, not the fastest and certainly not in the best shape. BUT, I push myself hard. You may well be better then me in every measurable way but I will happily take myself to the verge of death or insanity 100 times during the course of a workout.
So, as good as all my previous workouts have been there has always been one small thing fecking the whole thing up, and that thing is me.
Jim Wendler and Dan John have recently published articles about doing less, simplifying things and making what you do count. Which got me thinking that training less is the one thing I have never done.
I should make it clear that by “doing less” what I mean is doing less weight training. One of the first things we say to newbies when we have a chat on the gym sofa is that training makes you weaker and smaller. It’s recovery from training that makes you stronger and bigger. We say that to them and then go into the gym and do a 90 minute leg session for the second time that week.
What would you do if you only could train twice a week but still wanted to get stronger and generally more awesome?
That’s the question I put to myself and the first thing I thought of was to get rid of all the useless, pointless crap. So, that’s out with the one-arm cable tricep kickbacks then. Next you want to include the exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. That would be Squat, Deadlift and Bench Press – obviously.
By doing deadlift and bench press on one day and squat and bench press on another day later on in the week I get plenty of time to actually do some other type of training and, crucially, recover.
This is what I did today:
Deadlift – 5 sets of 2 reps
Bench press – 4 sets of 10 reps
Military press, lat pulldowns, curl and pushdowns – all for 3 sets of 10 reps.
I really do think that this might work quite well for me. As long as I make each set count and I push the weight on my main lifts I shouldn’t get any weaker or smaller. Plus it will give me the time, energy and inclination to focus my attentions on the missing fat-burning aspect of my training.
Smurfs and peacocks,