Today I am going to share an article I originally wrote for my friend JC Deen’s website. I’ve tweaked a few things since that article debuted late last year, but the main concept is still there – showing you how you can spend the least amount of time in the gym without sacrificing results.
There is a devastating plague that’s infiltrated the world of women’s strength training, and I’m not just talking about the foolish “light weight and high rep” recommendations touted in fitness magazines and on the internet. No, what I’m referring to are the marathon workouts performed multiple days per week with the primary goal being to achieve as much fatigue as possible and leave the trainee writhing on the floor in sweat, exhaustion, and agony.
Marathon-train-till-you-drop-workouts are especially terrible for beginners. Women beginner strength trainees need to focus on a few basic exercises so they can learn movements/patterns quickly and build a base level of strength.
While some men are guilty of this as well, it’s primarily women who think if they don’t end a workout completely exhausted and drenched in sweat that they didn’t “do enough”. And if they can’t dedicate at least 60 solid minutes to training, they don’t see a point in training at all. As a result they perform session after session of circuits, conditioning work, and anything else that has them sweating, panting, and working themselves into a puddle of sweat.
I know a lot of women thrive on this type of training and can follow such routines long-term; they enjoy it and get results. That’s great and I encourage them to keep doing what works for them.
However, I have witnessed some women perform these marathon workouts only to quickly burnout and stop coming to the gym all together within a few weeks. For such individuals it’s not practical to perform such gruesome, long workouts on a consistent basis. And because they think that exhausting workouts are the best way to get results, they stop training all together assuming it’s hopeless to even try something different, and less fatiguing.
Ladies, it’s entirely possible to spend much less time in the gym and still reap the benefits you desire from your training program. Furthermore, it’s even possible to enjoy your training and leave the gym feeling energized and not wiped out.
This is Your Challenge
For some women, it’s going to be intimidating to do “so little work” each week. Undoubtedly some will look at the following program and scoff exclaiming, “There is no way I can get results from so little training!”
I’ve heard it all before, but I know these minimalist training routines work because it’s what my clients and I have used for years when we want to spend minimum time in the gym but still reap excellent results. And don’t worry, ladies, even if your main goal is looking better naked, such a simple (notice that I said simple and not easy) training program is just the ticket.
So if you’re ready to get great results, spend less time in the gym, get stronger, have more energy, and actually enjoy your training, then keep reading for a sample training program.
Note – acceptable exercise alternatives and training equipment are in parenthesis
- Squat (or front squat or Goblet squat)
- Deadlift (or trap bar deadlift or rack pulls)
- Reverse lunge (may use a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or weight vest)
- Hip thrust (or back extension)
- Standing barbell overhead press (only if you have healthy shoulders and proper thoracic mobility – may also use dumbbells or kettlebells. If you can’t properly perform, or tolerate, overhead pressing, substitute a horizontal push such as push-ups or dumbbell bench press)
- Chin-ups (use bands for assistance if you can’t perform them with your bodyweight. I prefer, and recommend, you use a Jungle Gym or some other suspension trainer device because it’s much more shoulder and elbow friendly. If this isn’t an option, stick with a neutral grip).
- Push-ups (or parallel bar dips or bench press if you can perform at least 10 perfect push-ups)
- Inverted rows (I prefer these be performed on a Jungle Gym, but you may also use a barbell set in a power rack; may also do one arm dumbbell rows)
- Farmer walks
- Waiter carries (only if you have proper thoracic mobility; use a dumbbell or kettlebell)
Note – if bodyweight exercises such as inverted rows, push-ups, chin-ups, and parallel bar dips are too easy, add weight via weight plates, weight vest, chain belt with weight plates, chains, or bands.
That brief list of exercises is all you will use for this training program.
Welcome to the world of minimalist training – it works.
Now that you know which exercises you’ll be using, let’s get to the sample training program. You’ll be performing three total body strength training sessions each week, on non-consecutive days. Something like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday works well for most people. I recommend you schedule your training days when you know you’re fresh and have the most energy.
For example, if Monday’s are crazy for you, don’t train on Monday’s! Set yourself up for success from the beginning.
Warning! This program may cause a drastic increase in Self Confidence!
Note – keep in mind that you may use the acceptable alternative exercises listed above, but only those alternatives.
Training Day 1
1) Deadlift – 4×6 (4 sets, 6 reps)
2a) Standing barbell or dumbbell overhead press – 3×6-8, 1×10
2b) Suspended/ring chin-ups – 3×6-8, 1×10-12
3) Farmer walks – 5 sets x 30-50 yards
Training Day 2
1a) Reverse lunge – 3×8, 1×12-15 each leg
1b) Suspended inverted row – 3×8, 1×10-12
2a) Hip thrust – 1×8, 2×10, 1×12-20
2b) Push-ups – 3×8, 1×10-12
3) Waiter carry – 4 sets each arm for 30-50 yards
Training Day 3
1) Squat – 2×6, 1×10, 1×15
2a) Parallel bar dips or dumbbell bench press – 3×6, 1×8-10
2b) 1 arm dumbbell row – 3×8, 1×10-12
3) KB swings – 4×15-20
4) Farmer walks – 3 sets x 60-80 yards or Jump rope intervals for 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest for a total of 6-10 minutes
5) Moonwalk – until you reach awesomeness-overload
Okay, so you don’t HAVE to moonwalk, but it’s fun and great for leveling up your awesomeness.
You Must Work HARD
If you’re going to do a minimum amount of work, you must put in a lot of effort. The program outlined above is very simple, but that does not mean it will be easy.
Challenge yourself and prepare to get a little uncomfortable under the bar. I’m in no way encouraging you to push so hard that your form deteriorates, but I am telling you to push hard. Leave a rep in the tank, but no more than two.
I have worked with numerous clients who claimed to “train hard” before I trained them, but they were really holding themselves back. They’d want to stop a set short because they had to strain a little and things got uncomfortable. It wasn’t uncommon for them to think a set was “over” when in reality they had at least three more perfect reps left in them.
Don’t stop the set because it’s getting tough – stop the set when you know you have one more perfect rep, or two, left in you.. If you end the set knowing you could do three or more reps while maintaining proper form, you aren’t training hard enough.
You Must Improve Your Performance
Improving your performance is the name of the game with this minimalist training program. If you’re not improving, then you aren’t challenging your body, and you won’t get the results you should.
Each week you must do one of three things:
1) Use more weight than last week (even if it’s just a single pound)
2) Perform more reps with the same weight (even if it’s just a single rep)
3) Use better form. It’s impossible to get better every week without fail, and some days you just won’t have the strength. In that case, really focus on making your form picture perfect.
In the case of the farmer walk and waiter carry, you can also walk longer distances or decrease your rest periods between sets.
Improved performance while maintaining proper form – that is what you will focus on throughout the duration of this training program.
What about Cardio?
There will be no crazy metabolic circuits, high intensity interval training, or anything like that in this training program.
Why? There’s nothing wrong with hill sprints or interval training, but I want you to apply 100 percent effort into the weight training sessions. I want you to be fresh and focused and improving your performance on the exercises listed above. That’s where the majority of your results will come from, and so that’s where I want you to focus your efforts and energy.
The only cardio that is acceptable on this program is brisk walking. You can do it first thing in the morning, after your training sessions, or any time you prefer. And please note that I said brisk walking and not jogging.
Keep the walks limited to 40 minutes, and no more. Personally I like to walk first thing in the morning most days of the week (good ole morning dogs walks), that way I get some activity every day, get fresh air and sunshine, and keep my pup healthy and active. Plus, the walks will aid recovery from the weight training sessions and allow you to acquire some extra movement; this is very valuable since most people spend the majority of their days sitting.
This does not mean you should stop doing extra-curricular activities that you enjoy such as hiking, rock climbing, or any other physical activity. In fact, I encourage you to be active in a fun way. I’m simply encouraging you to avoid traditional cardio exercise such as the elliptical machine, etc.
What Do You Do with the Extra Time?
If this program is much less work than you’re used to doing on a weekly basis, you’re probably wondering what you should do with the extra time you’ll have on your hands.
Do something fun with your friends and family. Start a new hobby. Explore the world. Try some new recipes in the kitchen. There is more to living then spending every spare moment in the gym or working out. Take advantage of this opportunity and discover something new, or do something you once loved but haven’t done in a while.
You can also take this time to focus on other things that will help you achieve your body composition and performance goals such as nutrition, but that’s a completely different article all together (start with Beautiful Badass Nutrition Principles).
Are You up to the Challenge?
The program outlined in this article may appear to be “too easy”, but I challenge you to give it an honest shot for six weeks. Work hard, improve your performance, and see what happens. Because you are only training a few basic exercises, you should be able to focus entirely on those three training sessions each week and make consistent progress.
But make sure you follow the program completely as written. Don’t start throwing in things like crunches, curls, kick backs, and sprints and then ask me why the program didn’t work.
Never, ever underestimate the effectiveness of a Sane and Simple regimen.
Finally, this is an excellent quote from Dan John that sums things up quite nicely:
“I think many of us think this way: If it’s free or simple or easy to understand, it can’t be as good as something that’s expensive, complicated and difficult to figure out on your own”.
When you’re done with that routine and ready to move on to something else, browse the Lift Like a Girl Bookstore to find the next program for you. And if you want help choosing the best program for you, then send me an email at nia(at)niashanks.com.