I've spent most of my life trying to be in shape - "trying" being the operative word. As a highschool teenager with my first plastic-infused-with-concrete weight set (thanks Uncle Bill!) plus my Joe Weider supplements (who knows what they were - scary, huh?), I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. But I felt good doing it. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't hurt myself significantly in some way.
I was always "the skinny guy," which did affect my self confidence since the term skinny, at least in my mind, implied weakness. So I was bound and determined to bulk up and show everyone that I was not weak. It was - and still is, to some degree - a big motivator for me. I suppose it's hard to kick those old teenage mindsets.
Moving on to my college years at the University of Georgia, I made a point of taking Weight Training for Fitness courses under Coach Sam Mrvos - a definitively intense character who played for and served as a strength coach for the Bulldog's athletic teams. He had a very logical, systematic program for increasing strength and maintaining fitness. It was through him that I developed my own simplifed, personalized system for strength and conditioning that lasts to this day. In fact, it's so simple, a caveman could do it... And I'm writing about it today in an effort to help you develop YOUR OWN exercise regimen. But let me give you just a little more personal background information first, as I think it's very important with respect to effectiveness:
We all see the advertisements showing hunky guys and supermodels sporting lean physiques and six-pack abs. Most people look at them and think that getting in that sort of shape is a pipe dream. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not. Here I am at 48 years old and I can say with 100% certainty that I'm currently in the best shape of my life, and in the best health ever as well. I've done it with simple dietary changes and working out only 2.5 times per week, at LESS THAN A HALF HOUR PER SESSION. I emphasize "less than a half hour" because many people think you have to spend endless hours at the gym to get in great shape - a myth that I dispelled in a previous blog post. Yes, you CAN actually squeeze in a fantastic, ligitimate, health-producing workout in 15 minutes or less, and I do so quite frequently. Here's how:
I've already mentioned the 4 Primal Essential Movements (PEMs) in that same blog post linked above, but here they are again:
All of these can be done in the comfort of your own home and without weights. Of course, if you want to add bulk, definition, and/or make your workout more challenging, you'll need to add weight. I do this with simple, adjustable weight belts that you can get inexpensively from Amazon.
Personally, I prefer to separate each PEM into it's own workout session, although many people may opt for a single, general workout consisting of one or more sets of each PEM. For the sake of expediency, however, I find that focusing on 1 PEM per workout is much more time-efficient.
Let's assume you're just now starting out on a new workout regimen. First you want to determine how often you want to exercise. Typically I will start clients out at an easily-achievable goal of twice per week, giving them at least 48 hours between sessions for adequate recuperation, minimizing the risk of excessive inflammation. So, print up a calendar and start tracking the days that you exercise. Take it easy on yourself and don't set any particular days as "workout days," unless that's something that motivates you. I find that it's easiest to simply workout on the days that you can find the spare 15 to 30 minutes necessary.
Now, take one of the PEMs listed above, and do 3 sets of as many of those movements as you can, taking about 2 or 3 minutes between sets to catch your breath. When you're done with the 3 sets, mark it on your calendar and track how many repetitions you performed per set - this will allow you to track your improvement over time, which is highly motivational for most people. Congratulations! You've officially completed a workout day!
For me, while I do consider 3 sets of a PEM to be a workout, it's not enough to quench my thirst for a bit more bulkiness, per my "skinny guy" neurosis mentioned above. So I will usually supplement those 3 sets with supplemental exercises geared towards stressing those same muscles. Take for example the push-ups, which focus mainly on the chest and triceps. After performing my baseline 3 PEM sets, I'll throw in 2 to 3 tabata sets consisting of dumbell flies/tricep extensions and/or bench press/diamond pushups. Since tabata sets are only 4 minutes in duration, you can easily make great gains in a very short amount of additional time.
But let's not limit ourselves to ONLY the PEMs. Other exercises such as kettle bell swings, swimming, playing sports, or anything where you physically exert yourself at levels above 75% of your max heart rate COUNT! For example, I recently had to chop down a medium-sized dead tree in my back yard. Not having a chainsaw, I needed to use an old wood-handled axe for the task. Since it took a solid 45 minutes of blood, sweat and tears, I marked it down as a workout day. Keep in mind that you CAN and SHOULD take these liberties when it comes to accomplishing your workout goals. Stay flexible in your schedule, and you'll find yourself in the best shape of your life in no time!
One more exercise that everyone should implement is sprints. Sprint sessions are absolutely crucial for optimal health, as I've outlined in a prior blog post. Please read that post if you're not familiar with the benefits. Sprint sessions are usually very quick, taking me only about 15 to 20 minutes to log 3 to 5 sprint sets, so they're easily incorporated into your workout regimen. Plus, you only need to sprint once every 1 to 2 weeks to derive the main benefits! Trust me, perform a sprint session once per week (or even every other week) 3 times, and you will notice a remarkable improvement in your daily energy levels. It's quite possibly the very best primal workout across the board.
One last tip - The advice in this post is geared towards making you a fat-burning beast. You will not become a fat-burning beast unless your diet is properly aligned with Primal principles. In other words, you need to reduce your carbohydrate intake to about 150 grams of carbs or less per day, depending on your current health status. (You'll need to drop it to about 100 grams/day or less if weight loss is your goal; or if that's not the case and you're in pretty good shape already, then you can increase that mark to 200 grams/day.) The goal is to transform your metabolism to preferentially burn fat for energy, and you simply cannot do that if you're still consuming the wildly excessive carbs of the standard American diet.
Best of luck, and if you have any questions, comments, or would like my advice for your own individual exercise regimen, make sure to contact me via: