Is it possible to live a healthy life by being minimalist in your exercise? By minimizing the amount of effort we expend on the things that make us human, we can physically improve our lives and feel better in the process.

In recent years, there has been a huge push to incorporate exercise into the daily routines of people all over the world. However, there has been a similar push to make exercise less exhausting, more accessible, and more possible to incorporate into daily life. With the introduction of workout apps, wearable technology, and a seemingly endless amount of new exercise classes, it can be hard to figure out what to do next.

Back in July, I wrote about the power of exercise and how you don’t need to go overboard to get in shape. I took to social media to ask for feedback on how people are applying this message to their own lives, and I was surprised to discover that some people were having second thoughts. Today, I want to share some of the most common concerns I heard, and examine whether the research we have so far supports these concerns.

The majority of individuals believe that getting in shape – and staying in shape – necessitates hours of weekly exercise and meticulous diet planning. This is not the case.

As these tests show, minimalist exercise schedules and flexible nutritional recommendations can work just as well — if not better – than traditional exercise plans.

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It took me 8 hours and 32 minutes to complete this task.

Over the last four months, Marsha has spent that much time in the gym.

Make the calculations. It only takes 32 minutes per week.

What really is the situation? Is this Marsha a slacker?

No.

She works two jobs, is the leader of a Girl Guides group (Girl Scouts in the United States), and plays co-ed volleyball a couple nights a week. Oh, and she’s planning a wedding as well.

She isn’t a slacker in the least. She’s a busy, social, and fun woman who works hard.

Is Marsha recovering from an injury of some sort?

Nope.

She’s in perfect health. She could also work out for 8 hours a week if she wanted to. She, on the other hand, is not interested. Her goal is to get thinner than she’s ever been with as little exercise as possible while still living a normal life.

She’s slimmer than she’s ever been? On a weekly basis of 32 minutes? She has to be insane!

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no

In fact, I’m the one who’s insane. I recommended this program to her because I was the one who recommended it to her. She specifically requested more exercise. But I limited her to four weekly sessions of 32 minutes each.

The workouts were as follows:

  • 2 sprint exercises, each lasting 6 minutes
  • 2 circuit workouts, each lasting 10 minutes

What were the outcomes?

Marsha has dropped a total of 20 pounds of body fat in the last 16 weeks. She went from a weight of 150 pounds to 130 pounds. For every hour spent in the gym, you’ll lose approximately 2.5 pounds of fat.

Do you want to learn how she accomplished it? If that’s the case, keep reading.

Marsha’s training program is simple but effective.

Marsha might have worked out for far longer than 32 minutes per week, as I mentioned earlier.

She could have got out of bed extra early to do some low-intensity aerobics. She could have given up her recreational activities and ceased socializing with her friends after work in order to devote more time to lifting weights. She could have delegated more wedding responsibilities or resigned one of her jobs if she had wanted to.

But why would she go to such lengths?

All of that labor doesn’t merely appear to be a waste of time. It appears to be unsustainable. She might be able to do it for a time. But ultimately, she’d either lose motivation or a life incident would force her to abandon her unrealistic training routine.

So, while I was considering her program, I asked myself three questions:

  1. What does she have going on in her life? (The answer is a resounding yes.)
  2. What kind of gym experience and expertise does she have? (The answer isn’t much.)
  3. What are some of her flaws? (The upper body, glutes, and anaerobic system are the answers.)

Given these specific requirements, I intended to create a program that required minimal time investment and technical skill development while still producing outstanding outcomes.

(With this method, clients can get started right away without having to rearrange their entire schedule.) It also enables people to get moving without needing to employ a personal trainer to teach them all the necessary motions.)

Marsha learned the entire first phase in only one 30-minute session with me. Following that, no workout lasted more than ten minutes.

So, what was the format of the show? Here’s where she started in week one.

1st day – 10 min

10 reps of close-grip push-ups Kettlebell swings x 20 Inverted rows x 10 1 minute of rest Rep 5 times more.

2nd day – 6 minutes

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds on a treadmill at 8 mph with a 10% inclination. 15 seconds of pause (standing on side of treadmill) Repeat 5 times with a 2 minute walk in between.

3rd day – 10 min

10 reps of close-grip push-ups Air squats with hands behind head x 20 Swiss ball crunches 1 minute of rest Rep 5 times more.

4th day – 6 minutes

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds on a treadmill at 8 mph with a 10% inclination. 15 seconds of pause (standing on side of treadmill) Repeat 5 times with a 2 minute walk in between.

Marsha’s fitness program notes

Here are a few critical notes I offered her for the program, in addition to arranging these workouts. These are essential for getting the kind of results she did.

Progression

Start with the exact numbers above and add one thing to each subsequent workout to make it more difficult.

This includes doing more repetitions or cutting the rest time between rounds in strength workouts. In sprinting workouts, this entails raising the incline, speed, or number of sprints performed.

It doesn’t matter what you chose; all that matters is that you do one thing better than the prior time. Also, each increase should be tiny. It may appear simple at first. However, you will ultimately reach your performance limits, and subsequent increases will be slower.

Rest and Workout Frequency

If feasible, alternate your workouts every other day, with one day off in between. If that isn’t an option, take a day off after two workouts in a row.

Other recreational activities (such as walking, volleyball, and so on) are fine and can be scheduled anytime you like. These recreational activities, however, will be in addition to, not in instead of, the workouts listed above. They aren’t required, of course. You’ll get in terrific condition just by doing this.

Workout Journal

Purchase a tiny spiral-bound notebook and record all of your workouts. Keep track of how long it took you to finish. On strength days, keep track of how many reps and sets you do. Also, keep track of the intensity of your sprints (speed and incline) as well as the number of reps you complete.

This book will assist you in determining which changes (progression) to make each week. You won’t recall what you did the week before if you don’t have it.

Duration

Follow this routine for four weeks and then, if necessary, recalibrate. It only takes 32 minutes of activity every week, or slightly more than 2 hours per month. As a result, there are no justifications for not completing all of the workouts. Of course, if you have to miss an exercise for some reason, that’s acceptable. Just make sure you don’t miss two in a row.

That’s all there is to the program. It’s straightforward, concise, difficult, and long-term. And, most significantly, it is effective.

Marsha’s adventure

I’d want to say a few words about Marsha’s workout experience throughout the course of the 16 weeks. These will help you understand both what she concentrated on and what she battled with more fully.

So What if You’re Weak and Deconditioned?

Marsha was so out of shape during the first week that she couldn’t complete any of the workouts. She could only do 3-4 push-ups, for example. And the circuits are only 4 rounds long. Despite the fact that it was difficult for her ego, she showed resiliency and persevered.

Keep in mind that growth requires accomplishing a little bit more each week. That’s just what she did. She was able to execute a GI-Jane-worthy 20 push-ups at the conclusion of the eighth week. She also completed eight rounds of sprints at 8.0 mph on a 12% gradient. I’m sure she’s delighted she persevered.

Changes in the Program Every Month

Every four weeks, I made minor adjustments to the circuit days’ exercise selection. Every new training phase presented her with a distinct type of muscular activation.

For the entire 16 weeks, nothing changed except for a few exercise swaps and the steady progress she was making. The workouts remained the same length. As she became more fit, we just jammed more training into each session.

Progression Must Be Monitored

Marsha was quite conscientious about her growth, which I must emphasize. Every week, she increased the resistance by a tiny amount, added another rep, or increased the treadmill slope or speed by a small amount. This is quite important.

She progressed from being very weak and deconditioned to being remarkably strong and fit at the end of the 16-week program. Even I was taken aback by how rapidly her fitness improved and how much we witnessed with this simplistic approach.

Begin with the basics.

If there’s one thing Marsha’s experience has taught us, it’s this: Start with a program that is even easier than you believe you can handle when starting a new workout routine. Yes, it will begin slowly (which is the point). Yes, it will smear your ego (“Damn it! I can do more!”) However, taking it easy at first will help you acquire a few crucial habits.

Being practical

Early motivation causes us to exaggerate our abilities. So we take on an unsustainable problem. Starting slowly allows us to develop an exercise routine that we can stick to while maintaining other vital aspects of our lives.

Consistency

You’ll no longer skip workouts. The excuses start to fade when you realize it’ll just take you 6 or 10 minutes to workout. And you develop the habit of working out rather than skipping workouts (which some people get quite good at).

Progression

This is the most common mistake people make while beginning a new program. The first week is a flurry of activity. Because you’re sore, week two is a regress. You’re struggling to equal Week 1 in Week 3. And so forth. Why not take it slowly at first, focusing on getting a bit better each week? This is crucial for long-term success.

Marsha did a fantastic job in the end. Marsha’s strategy, hopefully, taught you a few things. The fitness routine, of course, was only a small portion of the overall experience. Let’s speak about nutrition now.

Marsha’s easy-to-follow nutrition plan

Exercise doesn’t function very well without a strong diet program, as I’ve stated many times before – especially when physical change is the goal. Check out the following articles for further information:

Marsha’s transformation was thus aided by proper nourishment. We kept it as simple as possible, just like the training program.

I just handed her the nutrition notes below and asked her to repeat my expectations to me (aloud) to ensure she understood them.

A word on hunger and physical activity

People who engage in strenuous activity are more likely to become hungry. This results in overeating and weight gain. As a result, the most crucial thing you can do is keep a tight eye on your food consumption and make sure you’re not overeating. The trick is to be aware. (Fortunately, the low-intensity exercise will also help keep hunger at bay.)

Follow these easy instructions if you want to speed things up even further.

  • Slowly consume each meal.
  • Consume around four meals per day (every 4 hours or so).
  • With each meal, include lean protein, lentils, and plenty of vegetables.
  • White, starchy carbs should be avoided (breads, pasta, rice, chips, etc).
  • Fruit should be avoided.
  • Drinking your calories is not a good idea (use lots of water or coffee and tea instead).
  • Allow yourself one day per week to eat whatever you want.

I didn’t even offer her a diet to follow, contrary to popular belief. In fact, I almost never prescribe a diet to anyone. Instead of diets, 99.5 percent of my customers receive instructions and habits to follow. This is something I do for three main reasons:

  1. When things are “normal,” people aren’t very successful at sticking to diets.
  2. When conditions are “abnormal,” people completely abandon their diet.
  3. When a diet is suggested, people do not learn anything.

If you’re still undecided about the habits and recommendations strategy (vs. the diet approach), consider the following.

What’s better: getting started quickly with a complex diet… and then quitting after a month? Alternatively, you might begin more slowly and systematically… and, like Marsha, shedding 20 pounds of fat in 16 weeks?

Wait! G-Flux, how about it?

Those of you who have followed me for a time are probably scratching your heads, wondering how I could promote such a simple program.

I mean, I’m the man who came up with the theory that you’ll need at least 5 hours of exercise every week to be genuinely satisfied with your body.

And I’m the man who’s written about how boosting your energy flow, or G-Flux, can help you improve your body composition by both adding lean mass and reducing fat mass.

Isn’t this program, then, in direct opposition to their beliefs?

No, not at all. I mean, if you have the time and enjoy exercise (as do the majority of our PN readers), I still believe that 5 hours of exercise per week is ideal.

(And remember, you don’t have to go to the gym for the entire 5 hours.)

What if, on the other hand, you don’t have the time? Or maybe you’re new to fitness and aren’t sure if you’ll enjoy it? What will you do with the 5-hour recommendation if you’re in either situation? If anything, it serves as an excuse for not exercising.

“I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to perform that 5-hour thing.” So what’s the point of working out in the first place? I’ll begin next week…or next month.”

Bullshit! I recommend that you get started right away.

If you have to, start with 5 minutes per week. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend on it. You’ll eventually find the ideal amount of exercise: just enough to assist you achieve your fitness goals while not interfering with your other life objectives.

Tim Ferris refers to this as the “Minimum Effective Dose” in his book The 4 Hour Body. The following is taken from the book:

“The minimal effective dosage (MED) is simply defined as the least dose required to achieve a desired result…. Anything over the MED is a waste of time. At ordinary air pressure, the MED for boiling water is 212°F (100°C). When something is boiled, it is boiled. It will not become ‘more cooked’ at higher heat. Higher temperatures just use more resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

If 15 minutes in the sun is required to generate a melanin response, 15 minutes is your tanning MED. More than 15 minutes is unnecessary and will only result in burns and a forced beach break…”

Marsha found that 32 minutes a week was plenty. A little more was required for me.

Minimalism as a form of exercise is something I’ve been experimenting with.

My life has altered dramatically during the previous few years. I bought a house, married, and had a baby girl with my wife, and PN has grown significantly.

As a result, I have less time to go to the gym than I have ever had. Not only that, but I’m lacking in desire.

Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy working out. But I’m not willing to sacrifice time with my family – or time spent doing important PN work that benefits people – in order to do more squats.

That’s why Marsha’s findings made me so happy. I was so ecstatic that I tried my own workout minimalism experiment.

Now, with 20 years of gym expertise and a history of higher-volume training, I’ve decided to create a program that incorporates a bit more workout volume with a little more complexity.

The program, however, is still relatively limited. Without the optional recovery activities, the overall time commitment is 80 minutes per week. 140 minutes if you include the optional routines.

The following is a description of the fat-loss program:

WEEK 1

Monday (Upper body circuit – 20 minutes) is the first day of the week.

Warm-up for the upper body 20 reps of close-grip push-ups Reverse hypers x 10 Inverted rows x 20 Flat DB press x 10 Bent over DB rows x 10 Band crunches x 10 Repeat 5 times with a 1-minute rest in between.

Tuesday (Treadmill sprints for 7 minutes) Day 2

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds at 8 mph with a 10% gradient. 15 seconds of pause Rep 6 times more. A two-minute stroll

Wednesday (Rest or recovery – 30 minutes) is the third day.

Light riding for 30 minutes (or complete rest)

Day 4 – Thursday (45 minutes of lower body strength)

Warm-up for the lower body A1. 5 reps of front squats A2. Leg curls with a Swiss ball, 5-10 reps B1. 5 reps of deadlifts B2. 5–10 reps of dumbbell squats C1. 5 x 8-10 repetitions of kettlebell swings 5 x 8-10 repetitions of speed deadlifts

Friday (Treadmill sprints – 7 minutes) Day 5

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds at 8 mph with a 10% gradient. 15 seconds of pause Rep 6 times more. A two-minute stroll

Day 6 – Saturday (30 minutes of rest or recovery)

Light riding for 30 minutes (or complete rest)

WEEK 2

Monday (45 minutes of upper body strength)

Warm-up for the upper body A1. 5 repetitions flat DB press A2. 5–10 reps of pull-ups B1. 5 repetitions bent over rows B2. 5–10 repetitions of low cable crossover C1. Bench press with a lot of force 5 reps x 8-10 reps C2. Inverted explosive rows 5 reps x 8-10 reps

Tuesday (Treadmill sprints for 7 minutes) Day 2

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds at 8 mph with a 10% gradient. 15 seconds of pause Rep 6 times more. A two-minute stroll

Wednesday (Rest or recovery – 30 minutes) is the third day.

Light riding for 30 minutes (or complete rest)

(Lower body circuit – 20 minutes) Day 4 – Thursday

Warm-up for the lower body Rest 1 minute and repeat 5 times. Air Squats x 20 KB Swings x 20 Front Squat x 10 Lunges x 10 Band crunches x 10 Reverse hypers x 10

Friday (Treadmill sprints – 7 minutes) Day 5

A two-minute stroll Sprint for 15 seconds at 8 mph with a 10% gradient. 15 seconds of pause Rep 6 times more. A two-minute stroll

Day 6 – Saturday (30 minutes of rest or recovery)

Light riding for 30 minutes (or complete rest)

I committed to following this program for at least 8 weeks when I devised it — 4 weeks of week 1 and 4 weeks of week 2. (I like it so much that I kept up with it for four months and counting.)

My program, like Marsha’s, was built on progression. I started with lesser weights and intensity than I believed I could handle. I kept a workout log for each session. I also used the progression concept to do a bit more each week than the week before. For the past 16 weeks, I’ve been able to do just a little bit more each week.

For example, over the course of four months, I progressed from six sprints at eight miles per hour and a ten percent elevation to ten sprints at nine miles per hour and a twelve percent gradient. For me, that would have been impossible at first.

With two exceptions, I followed my recommendations to Marsha in terms of diet:

  • Because my workout volume was dwindling, I cut back on my calories to maintain my weight loss.
  • I also fasted for an entire day once a week (more on this in a future article).

So, here’s the nutrition plan (which isn’t overly complicated).

  1. Consume fewer calories than normal.
  2. Slowly consume each meal.
  3. Consume around four meals per day (every 4 hours or so)
  4. Each meal should include lean protein, lentils, and plenty of vegetables.
  5. White, starchy carbs should be avoided (breads, pasta, rice, chips, etc)
  6. Fruit should be avoided.
  7. Don’t consume any calories (used lots of water or coffee and tea instead)
  8. Eat whatever you want one day a week.
  9. I didn’t eat anything for one day a week (more on this in a future article)

Everything went off without a hitch. So far (4 months into the regimen), I’ve dropped roughly 15 pounds of body fat – and I didn’t have much fat to shed to begin with.

Plus, despite approaching 40 years of age, my strength is good, my fitness is excellent, and I am as thin as I’ve ever been in my life. In fact, if I ever wanted to compete in a physique contest, I’m probably 3-4 weeks away from being in “contest shape.”

More significantly, I’m having a lot of fun with this strategy. I’ve had to perform more rigorous, bodybuilding-style diets in the past to get to this level of body fat. I felt awful — like the walking dead – on these calorie-restricted short-term diets. And I’d binge the day my “diet” ended. After a few weeks, I looked as if I hadn’t lost any weight.

Is this the plan? So, I’m back to normal. As if I’m not even trying to lose weight. Marsha had said something similar to me. There is no fog in my head. There are no insatiable appetites. There’s no such thing as a crippling lack of motivation.

Sure, we have to say no to an ice cream desire now and then. On our “eat whatever we want” day, though, we can always have some ice cream. All we have to do now is wait a few days.

So, where do we go from here?

Marsha hasn’t given up yet. She believes she’ll be happiest when she’s about 120 pounds and a little slimmer.

For me, my present body weight and composition are satisfactory. So, for the next year, my goal is to maintain my current body composition (and this minimalist approach).

The days of bulking up and slimming down are long gone in my life. “I want to get large… no, I want to get slim… no, I want to get huge,” I used to say. Now, I just want to get big.

Now all I want is a diet and exercise plan that keeps me thin, healthy, strong, and in shape. One that isn’t predicated on a cycle of uneasy overeating followed by uneasy undereating. One that I can simply “do” every day for as long as I wish.

If you want the same thing from a training and nutrition plan – something that allows you to get in great shape while still having a life – you should try your own workout minimalism experiment.

Find your own personal minimum effective weekly exercise dose, stop stressing over your fitness routine, and get out there and have some fun.

Of course, if you need help with fat loss or muscle gain, give us a call. We’d be pleased to assist you in determining the lowest effective dose for you.

Better eating, moving, and living.

The realm of health and fitness can be perplexing at times. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

 

It will teach you the optimal diet, exercise, and lifestyle strategies that are specific to you.

 

Exercising is pretty simple: you go for a run, or you lift weights, or you do some yoga. But what if you exercise less? What if you exercise enough that you don’t need to exercise at all? In my last post, I reported on a study that examined the effects of exercise on the mind. I also discussed a similar study that examined the effects of not exercising. This time, I’ll look at two more studies on the subject of minimal exercise.. Read more about mark’s daily apple minimum effective dose and let us know what you think.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • minimum effective dose running
  • minimum effective dose cardio
  • minimum effective dose pull ups
  • barbell logic minimum effective dose
  • starting strength minimum effective dose
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